Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Archive for January, 2010

Dear Parent/Guardian…

Alright, you asked for it… actually, no, scrap that. You didn’t. But I did mention that, amidst the Ker-Plunk accessories and spider droppings in the loft, I’d found another priceless artefact from my 1980s school days. And – excitingly – here it is…

(FOR A MUCH BIGGER VERSION OF THIS, CLICK HERE!)

Yes, a bona fide letter! Signed by our shiny-domed headmaster Mr Metcalfe and distributed to the grotty footsoldiers of 1CW by Mrs Bush during morning registration. Chris Byers and I hadn’t quite cranked up our ‘Statler and Waldorf’ routine by July 1987, so we’ll have had to sneer and grumble about Mr Metcalfe’s words of wisdom from opposite ends of the classroom. In fact, in 1987, I was forming an unbelievably annoying double act at the front of the class with Chris Selden… tousle-haired Douglas Adams-obsessed genius and the star of Chapter Six of ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’.

I’m still quite proud of the fact that, by July 1987, we were quoting The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy SO MUCH that Mrs Bush – on the verge of a nervous breakdown – actually had to ask us to stop. We were 14, and would respond to her every utterance by smugly whispering ‘The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy has this to say on the subject of…’ before giggling into our ski jacket sleeves. I think it was the Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’s opinion on Mr Ledgerwood that finally forced her to snap.*

(*’Mr Ledgerwood is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how mind-bogglingly big he is. I mean…’ etc)

Anyway, that letter…

1. ‘I would wish to enlist parents’ help in ensuring that all text books etc are returned at the end of this term, including those that may have been overlooked in previous years. Translation: YOUR KIDS ARE ALL THIEVING LITTLE BASTARDS!!! HOW COME, OF THE 250 TRICOLORE FRENCH TEXTOOKS I PAID FOR IN 1981, ONLY 117 OF THEM ARE STILL STACKED  UP IN MRS RICHMOND’S CUPBOARD IN BLOCK 2? CUT ME SOME SLACK HERE!!! WE’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF MRS THATCHER’S LATEST BLOODY RECESSION AND I’M TRYING TO JUGGLE AN EVER-DWINDLING BUDGET WITH BOTH HANDS WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY ATTEMPTING TO EDUCATE YOUR IDLE, LIGHT-FINGERED OFFSPRING AND VAINLY PREPARE THEM FOR A CONSTANTLY SHRINKING EMPLOYMENT MARKET!!!!

Something like that, anyway. Note: When I found Mr Metcalfe’s letter last week, it was tucked inside the front cover of Tricolore 4, in which Jean-Pierre and Marie-Claire visit La Rochelle to buy a Croque Monsieur for their ‘oncle’.  


2. ‘Some parents may be unaware that their child is leaving the site at lunchtime and going into Yarm instead of staying for school lunch’. Something of an understatement, I think… by 1987, if you wanted to find a Conyers School pupil between the hours of 12 and 1pm, then the LAST place you wanted to be looking was Conyers School. The main dining hall was actually serving tumbleweed and chips during this era (possibly literally, actually… I once caught of a glimpse of a cottage pie that looked like it had blown in straight from the streets of Dodge City) 

My house was less than five minutes walk from the Conyers gates, so I didn’t head to Yarm… I just went home. There was no requirement to tell anyone, I just wandered off, and no-one cared.  I didn’t eat a single meal on the school premises between Christmas 1984 and January 1991, when – as sixth formers – me and my snooty, indie snob mates decided there was a hilarious ironic coolness in staying for school dinners, and would sarcastically tuck into spam fritters, chips and semolina while giving each other knowing winks and thumbs up gestures. All done in the most insincere, post-modern fashion imaginable, of course, while quoting endlessly from Vic Reeves Big Night Out (‘You ‘ad to mention Spam Fritters, didn’t yer? YOU WOULDN’T LET IT LIE!!!’) and singing Chesney Hawkes ‘The One and Only’.  

In July 1987 though, I was still enthusiastically tramping home, and my staple diet was a cheese savoury sandwich (bought by my Mum the previous day from the Three Cooks bakery in Yarm High Street) and a packet of Tudor cheese and onion crisps. Sometimes my Dad – working shifts at RAF Linton-on-Ouse by this stage – would be at home, other times the place would be empty. If my Dad was there, we’d invariably watch the telly for an hour, and throw ourselves into the splendidly tatty lunchtime revue that was ‘The Tom O’Connor Roadshow’.


From what I can remember… basically a live variety show broadcast from selection of provincial theatres around the country, with a sparkly-eyed Tom introducing local bands (of the safe ‘sounding a bit like The Shadows’ variety rather than grotty oiks in Half Man Half Biscuit T-shirts), theatre groups and occasional quiz contestants onto the stage. I think ‘former Miss Great Britain’ Debbie Greenwood – a powerful teenage crush of mine – might have been involved as well. We’d giggle sarcastically at all this over industrial-strength pots of tea before – just before I went back to school – I was able to catch the first five minutes of Going For Gold. 

‘The heat is on… the time is right… it’s time for you… TO BUGGER OFF BACK TO SCHOOL, YOU’VE GOT GEOGRAPHY WITH MR MOORE IN FIVE MINUTES’ 

If my Dad wasn’t there, then – inevitably – I would crank up the ZX Spectrum within nanoseconds of walking through the door and throw myself into Match Day or Sabre Wulf while an ageing Poggy Doggy snuffled around the carpet looking for crisp droppings. I’m eternally proud of the fact that I once missed an afternoon registration with Mrs Bush because I was still in the front room at 1.10pm playing Lord of the Rings. I’d sent an SAE and a postal order for £1.99 to an address in the classified adverts of Your Sinclair magazine, and received – by return of post – a full walk-through solution to the game, all printed out on shiny grey ZX Spectrum printer paper. I ate my Three Cooks cheese savoury sandwich on the ferry across the  Brandywine Bridge, and was determined to get to Rivendell before I had to head back for double Physics with Mr Dillon. I failed.


3. ‘Plans have been submitted for alterations to the lay-by’… I have no recollection whatsoever of the parking lay-by at the front of the school ever changing shape during my time at Conyers, so I assume the application was unsuccessful. The Hitch Hikers’ Guide To The Galaxy has this to say on the subject of unsuccessful planning applications… it’s a bypass, you’ve got to build bypasses… I’m game, we’ll see who rusts first… with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’… you should send that in to the Reader’s Digest, they’ve got a page for people like you… etc… etc…

(Actually, all of this Hitch Hikers stuff has reminded me to post this fabulous piece of work by my friend Andrew Orton, which is – frankly – so bloody good it makes me want to throw all of my feeble lifetime achievements into a skip and set fire to them. Take it away, Mr O…)

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If You Like A Lot Of Chocolate On Your Biscuit…

…then you’ve probably got self-esteem issues and a weight problem. Alternatively… join our club! Huge thanks to my former Levendale Primary School compadre (and Conyers class 1CW veteran) Chris Byers, who I met up with last week for the first time in years. We spent a leisurely Wednesday afternoon discussing our school days in scarily obsessive detail, and I’ve now discovered that not ALL of my schoolmates were taken on that legendary 1981 trip to High Force waterfall, during which Messrs Hirst and Millward gleefully dangled each grotty schoolboy in turn over the edge of the precipice.  No, on the same day, Chris and a busload of other unfortunates were taken to see… wait for it… the Cleveland Potash Terminal at Tees Dock!


On reflection, I think I got the better deal, even if I still occasionally have nightmares about plummeting headlong onto the Whin Sill rocks in an orange cagoul, as a shower of Trio biscuits and Hula Hoops cascade into the foaming waters around me.

   
Anyway, Chris revealed – tantalisingly – that he was still in possession of a genuine Levendale Primary School artefact. In 1981, Chris – along with our classmate Tim Scott and my future partner-in-crime Doug Simpson – joined ‘The Famous Five Club’. Yep, THAT Famous Five, the Enid Blyton bunch, whose names I can never remember. Off the top of my head… Dick, Anne, Beaky, Mick and Titch. I think that’s right. I’m guessing this was a fan club run by Puffin Books (or whoever), prompted by the 1978 TV version that I vaguely remember playing warm-up to vintage Leslie Judd-era Blue Peter.

Chris was sure he still had his Famous Five Club membership card somewhere, and – fantastically – he was right…


And on the reverse…

And yes, that’s Doug’s signature. It feels incredibly strange seeing his handwriting again, and brings back a little giddy rush of nostalgia… swimmy-headed memories of reading each others’ rambling stories and random scribblings on cold January mornings in Mrs Keasey’s form room nearly THIRTY SODDING YEARS AGO. Yikes. Chris was wondering why Tim Scott didn’t sign the card as well, but if you look closely at the scan – and I’ve only just noticed this – I think Tim HAS started to sign it, on the line below Doug. There’s definitely a ‘T’ and and ‘I’ there, but it looks like they’ve been written in pencil and then rubbed out! No doubt with a filthy grey rubber containing at least one snapped-off pencil nib embedded into its battle-scarred torso. Maybe Tim had second thoughts, or maybe there’s a darker story to tell here (probably involving a smugglers’ cove, a gypsy girl and one of Uncle Quentin’s strange experiments…) 

I think the only club I ever joined as a kid was – predictably – the Star Wars Fan Club, which I hastily signed up to sometime during my Skywalker-obsessed Summer of 1978. I don’t think I got much for my £3.95 annual membership fee (hey, it was a lot of money in those days) but I remember…

1. A Star Wars knee patch for my trousers (which never got used… I kept it pristine in a shoebox under the bed for years. It’s probably still in the loft somewhere, immaculate and untouched)

2. An ‘iron-on’ transfer for a T-shirt. These were all the rage in the late 1970s, the theory being that you took a plain white T-shirt from your wardrobe and relentlessly pestered your poor, overworked mother to iron the lurid, sticky-backed Star Wars transfer onto the front, thus transforming your drab garment into – HEY PRESTO!!!! – a brilliant, colourful Star Wars T-shirt that would look fabulous for about twenty minutes before Darth Vader’s helmet started to peel off at the edges, then dissolve into a pile of sticky, lurid mush at the bottom of your Mum’s twin-tub washing machine the following Sunday. 

3. A newsletter containing all the LATEST, EXCLUSIVE GOSSIP ABOUT THE STAR WARS UNIVERSE!!! I’ve had to frantically squeeze my brains over the bathroom sink to recall this, but it was called ‘Bantha Tracks’ and had a nice, homespun fanzine quality to it. I’ve probably still got these somewhere as well… I really must get round to sorting through the 2,546 cardboxes boxes of assorted guff in the loft, but I’ll need to take a month off work. Probably worth doing before it all comes through the landing ceiling, though.


I DID find an exciting artefact from my schooldays yesterday, however, but I’ll create an air of entirely unconvincing suspense by waiting until later in the week before posting it on here. Consider that a cliffhanger… (albeit a rubbish one, in which the camera just zooms into my cackling face before the credits roll)

(Utterly pointless bit of true but useless trivia about this advert… it’s Derek Griffiths playing the bongos. There, you can all sleep safely in your beds tonight…)