Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Archive for October, 2010

Welcome Back To Yarm… Mr James Place!

Those of you who stuck with this blog throughout the whole of last year are probably still emotionally scarred by the relentless day-by-day reliving of my 1984 Diary, and I think some of you are still receiving counselling after inadvertantly catching a glimpse of the opening titles to Robin Of Sherwood.

But hey – it was brilliant fun, and one of the lovely things about the whole strange adventure was the way that several of my old 1984 chums – grizzled veterans of Levendale Primary School to a man and, less frequently, a woman – chanced upon these ramblings and decided to get in touch to say hello.

However, one old friend that seemed to have vanished from this mortal plane of existance (leaving behind just a smoking pair of Start-Rite trainers and an unwound TDK D90 containing a dodgy copy of Manic Miner) was James ‘Placie’ Place. In the hazy, sepia-tinted summer of 1984, Placie was a good mate of mine, and featured regularly in my diary. Here he is, aged 11, posing shamelessly on a school trip to York on Monday 16th July 1984…

And you can read about a few of our exploits in this entry here… 

Like me and all of my contemporaries, Placie made the terrifying journey to Conyers secondary school in September 1984. But, within a couple of years, his family had upped sticks and moved to some exotic, far-flung realm of the Commonwealth (Leicestershire) and I never saw or heard from him again. And, as I’ve pointed out on here before, back in the 1980s that was – quite simply – the Natural Order of The Universe. Kids came and went from your school, and that was life… any attempt to ‘stay in touch, hey, we can even write, like proper pen-pals’ was a sign of pitiful feebleness likely to see you branded – brace yourselves – a ‘bloody big nancy’. And that was just from Mr Ledgerwood.

And then, in February this year, I got an e-mail that made my heart leap, my nerves jangle and  ‘James Place has commented on your blog’. WHHATTTTTTT? True though, and it’s on this entry here…

For the next few months, a flurry of e-mails zipped back and forth between us. We talked, naturally, about the same weighty matters that occupy the minds of 37-year-old men the world over.  The Commodore 64 version of Sabre Wulf, whether to aim for ‘Mission’ or ‘World Dom’ when playing Risk during the summer holidays, and the rainy afternoon on Conyers playing field in Winter 1985 when the entire class received a mass order mark from Mr Nielson for – in Mr Place’s own words – ‘a truly piss poor performance’. 

And – get this! – he also revealed that he’d moved back to the North-East in 1992 and was now resident in Northallerton, a mere ten minutes train ride away from our old stamping grounds! (Not that we ever did much stamping when we were kids. ‘Slouching Grounds’ is probably more accurate, or even ‘Kicking Clumps Of White Dog Shit At Christopher Herbert Grounds’)

And so it came to pass (I really need Charlton Heston to read this bit) that, on Saturday 3rd July 2010, JAMES PLACE RETURNED TO YARM. A date in NO WAY selected to coincide with Levendale Primary School summer fete, enabling us to gain full access to our old alma mater and have a good snoop around the classrooms while reminiscing idly about pink custard,  sliced volleys over Mr Strike’s bungalow and the day that Philip Slack told the entire Middle Band that a tarantula had escaped from the local zoo and was loose amongst the coats in the cloakroom outside the boy’s bogs (twenty minutes of blind panic and frantic recitals of the Lord’s Prayer ensued before Mr Millward pointed out, sagely, that Teesside doesn’t actually have a zoo. I was halfway through ‘Forgive us our trespassers’ in front of Mrs Parker’s cupboard when the all-clear came. I had to hurriedly pretend I’d been looking for my R2D2 rubber on the floor). 

It was 24 years since since Placie and I had last met, but – amazingly – we clicked so quickly back into the old rapport that it was a matter of minutes before we were reviving our 1984 plans to organise an all-night ghosthunting stake-out in the old railwayman’s hut at the top of Snaith’s Field. If Christopher Herbert had walked past, we’d undoubtedly have kicked a clump of white dog shit over him, just for old time’s sake. Within five minutes we were back on our old playing field, possibly taking slightly TOO long to wonder whether the sight of two 37-year-old men filming each other at a school fete made us look, well… just a little bit dodgy… 

And yes, as far as Levendale Primary School is concerned, Mr Place and myself are indeed now civil partners. ‘Are you a family?’ asked the nice man collecting the entrance money on the desk in our old school reception. ‘It’s £1.50 each, but only £2 if you buy a family ticket between you’.  

‘Yes we are’, said James, clearly a man with an eye for a bargain. And yes, he put my name down on the signing-in form, just in case things kicked off over the tombola stall. Mind you, with such a heavy police presence, a contre-temps over the PTA raffle seemed a fairly unlikely possibility (Notice the helicopter in the above clip! Nothing as exciting as that ever happened in 1984. The nearest we ever got was pulling our parkas over our heads and walking like giant, zombie bats into the Force 10 hurricane blowing in from Enterpen Close).

It was both amazing and surprisingly intimidating being back inside the school. So much of it is utterly unchanged, and we instantly reverted back to our 11-year-old selves, striding purposefully around the hall, cloakrooms and fields with barely a second glance to get our bearings. And yet all the self-consciousness of pre-teen childhood returned as well… as James says on the video, we felt a bit unnerved being back inside the school, as if – at any moment – a twelve-foot Mr Hirst was going to loom over the top of the library shelves and bellow at us for smearing mud over the Fourth Years’ crepe mosaic of the Tomb of Tutankhamun.

And you know what? This is without a doubt the most utterly predictable thing I’ve EVER written on this blog (and blimey, there’s some stiff competition) but the whole school was just TINY on the inside. Classrooms that – in my mind – were great, sprawling cathedrals of learning now seemed barely big enough to contain a pile of Nina Bawden novels and a BBC Micro computer on a trolley. Still, the hall at least is clearly Grade 2 listed… it hasn’t changed in the slightest since 1984…

You can see the legendary PE ‘apparatus’ on the back wall there (with a few remnants of Gareth ‘Gazzie’ Jones’ tattered fingers still smeared liberally across the top of the sliding rope) and the school dinner serving hatch where a gleeful Doug Simpson once attempted to explain the mysterious of sexual intercourse to me as a sour-faced Mrs Gallon slammed a solid lump of goulash into our plastic trays.

And, on the far side of the hall, the location for my triumphant Christmas 1983 performance as Good King Wenceslas, ‘last looking out’ over a sea of parents in acrilyc cardigans on ‘the feast of Stephen Mason’.

Brilliant to see you again anyway, Mr Place, and – needless to say – we spent the rest of the day (and night) in a succession of Yarm’s finest pubs (and a couple of rubbish ones as well) before attempting one final assault on the old railwayman’s hut at the top of Snaith’s Field. Sadly, neither of us can remember whether it was ‘Mission’ or ‘World Dom’ we were aiming for, but – whatever it was – it seemed to have scared the ghosts away.

And the hut, for that matter. But such is life.