Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Archive for Bob’s Bits And Bobs

High Force Will Be With You… Always

Death!!! Explosions!!! Sexual depravity!!! None of these things feature whatsoever in the next few paragraphs, it’s just the customary nostalgia-obsessed rambling, but I thought at least that might grab your attention after a few months away from regular blog duties. My absence has been down to a tumultuous six months of domestic upheaval, emotional trauma and some pretty hardcore wallpapering, with the occasional SMALL explosion thrown in for good measure. Anyway, we’ve got some catching up to do.

Regular followers of this nonsense (and hello to both of you) might remember me  mentioning, during several sessions of intense regressive therapy, a 1981 school excursion to this place…

Yes, High Force. A bloody big waterfall (as I believe it’s described in this quarter’s edition of the National Trust newsletter) located at the murky source of the River Tees before the Asda shopping trolleys, empty Carlsberg cans and floppy rubber johnnies kick into play about three miles west of Portrack.

In October 1981 – when I was eight – I joined the official Levendale Primary School expedition to this scenic, awe-inspiring death trap, my parents having signed the customary ‘Loco Parentis’ form (which Stephen Mason ALWAYS insisted meant your parents had given their permission for you to travel on a steam train) and packed me off with a blinding white egg sandwich stuffed into an airtight Empire Strikes Back lunchbox, expertly timed to reach dangerous ‘eggy whiffer’ critical mass just as our Compass Royston coach passed through Barnard Castle. The resulting build-up of farty, salad cream-fuelled fumes were enough to remove the eyebrows of any unsuspecting child careless enough to open it in a confined area. I think Christopher Herbet’s crab paste doorstep, shouldered by Geoff Capes into a tiny rectangle of pickle-stained tupperware nearly three decades ago, is still surrounded by sandbags and kept under armed guard by the Green Howards in a cordoned-off area somewhere on the outskirts of Cotherstone.


Two amazing things happened on this fateful day nearly 29 years ago…

1. I managed to eat almost half my Orange Club biscuit before Stephen Mason grabbed the remainder, shouted ‘ACHTUNG, SCHWEINHUNT!!!!!!’ and lobbed it, hand-grenade style, into the cascading waters below.  

2. Each member of our school party was – and there’s no easy way of putting this – taken to the brink of the waterfall by two of our teachers, and ‘encouraged’ to lean over the edge of this sheer, slippery precipice to ‘admire the glory of nature (whether you like it or not)’ with our arms loosely restrained by said teachers to prevent us from plunging, screaming, 120 feet down the jagged cliff face into the roaring, foaming rapids beneath.

We established on this blog last year that one of these teachers was all-round good egg, top bloke and upstanding pillar of the community Mr Hirst, entirely unpeturbed by the prospect of his sensational David Bowie quiff being ruffled by the foam-dotted backdraft (and the odd floppy rubber johnny) from the violent River Tees. I’d long since suspected that the other teacher was his long-term partner-in-crime Mr Millward, but when I met the genial Mr M last year, he denied everything (although, in all honesty, it took a pair of thumbscrews and the threat of Christopher Herbert’s crab paste doorstep to get to admit that he’d ever been a teacher at all)

So I’m now wondering if my long-suffering form teacher Mrs Moore was the other guilty party? Whatever, enough waffling… inbetween the emotional trauma and wallpapering this summer, I went back to High Force and made an uncannily accurate reconstruction of this traumatic formative experience…

Alright, I admit it. Put the crab paste doorstep away. Even as a worldly-wise 37-year-old who can eat a brace of Orange Club biscuits in his own freshly-wallpapered house at his own leisure, I was still decidedly nervy at being allowed to wander idly around the top of such a dangerous-looking precipice. So imagine how I felt, at the age of eight, when I was frogmarched to the the slippery rocks tentatively filmed in the below video, and given a closer look at the glory of nature than I’d ever previously deemed necessary…

In retrospect, I’m only amazed that I didn’t make the 35-mile journey back to Yarm rocking gently back and forth like a shattered Vietnam veteran (‘You don’t know, maaan… you weren’t there….’) and squelching uncomfortably in heavily-soiled Marks and Spencers school trousers. Although I suppose the latter might have come as light relief from the still-overpowering whiff of egg sandwiches and crab paste doorsteps on the bus. Still, it was nice to go back and discover that High Force is still as terrifying and downright dangerous as it as ever was, relatively unscathed by the wagging finger of Health and Safety. Although I’m sure this little nugget of public information wasn’t available for our perusal back in 1981…


TRANSLATION: ‘YOU MIGHT WELL DIE UP HERE AND IF YOU DO, IT’S YOUR OWN STUPID FAULT’. Nothing about throwing half-eaten Orange Club biscuits off the top of the waterfall, though… so, reluctantly, I’ve had to shelve the impending Fischer vs Mason legal action.

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Up The Cleveland Way

Hello all,

A cheeky request, as I know you’re nice people… me and my friend Wez (as featured in at least three chapters of ‘Wiffle Lever!’) are walking the Cleveland Way this week. It’s a 110 mile walk across the North Yorkshire Moors and down the coastline, and we’re trying to do it in five days solid. Neither of us have done anything like this before, so it’s a bit of a challenge for us both! (Especially as Wez has dodgy knees)


To spur us on a bit, we’ve decided to raise a few quid for charity while we’re out there, and our two chosen causes are the RNLI and the RSPCA.

Don’t suppose any of you would be kind enough to chuck a couple of quid to either or both of these noble causes? We’d be very grateful!

I’ve set up a Just Giving page for each charity. It’d be nice to raise a similar sum for both charities, so if you’re not bothered which one you donate to, then pick the one that looks like it needs topping up a bit! 🙂

RNLI – http://www.justgiving.com/fischerwezclevelandway2
RSPCA – http://www.justgiving.com/fischerwezclevelandway

Thanks so much for this… setting off first thing tomorrow, wish us luck!

I’ve been…

…a bit crap at updating this really, haven’t I? Sorry I vanished, it’s been a strange and hectic and slightly traumatic few months. I’ll be back properly soon, and I have exclusive footage of my first meeting with my former Levendale Primary School friend James ‘Placie’ Place in over 24 years. We were standing in a field when a police helicopter suddenly landed fifty yards away, and I spent a couple of minutes genuinely wondering if he might be on the run.

In the meantime, here’s Neville Wanless to wish you all a heartfelt goodnight. Don’t forget to turn your PCs off before you go to bed.

Mr Millward and Mr Hirst… Reunited!

Here’s a little treat for all you Levendale Primary School veterans of the 1980s. I’m afraid – for reasons of national security – that I’m unable to reveal the exact date and location of this meeting, but I recently found myself in the same room as our former teachers Mr Millward and Mr Hirst! The first time such a gathering has taken place since July 1984, when I was sent grumbling down to Middle Band to ‘help Mrs Keasey take the staples out of the walls’.

I did indeed comment that our mini-reunion was like seeing John Lennon and Paul McCartney back together again, although this probably means that Mrs Keasey is George Harrison and Mrs Mulhern is Ringo. And I’m not convinced that either of them would be entirely chuffed about that. Anyway, here you go…

I should probably send out a little apology to Glenn Conroy – he was a perfectly pleasant young lad from my school year who just happened to crop up in conversation a couple of times that night! Glenn, if you ever see this, and you require expensive therapy to deal with it, just send the bill to Mr G Millward, c/o Levendale Primary School, Mount Leven Road, Yarm…

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…)

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…)

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 366

Monday 31st December 1984

I got up at 10.00 and I typed in some more of my Doctor Who program. At 12.00 I had dinner, then I went upstairs and started to type in a game called The Worm game, but I packed it in.

Then I went outside and played on the tarzie, and at 4.00 I came in and played on the Spectrum. I typed in a game called Denbar, and at 8.00 I saw the Morcambe and Wise classics.

Then I brought the Spectrum down and typed in a game called Scrumper. At 12.00 I did the first foot in, and at 12.10 we watched Singin in the rain. I went to bed at 1.50.

Well, blimey… here we are. As a certain TV Time Lord once said, ‘It’s the end… but the moment has been prepared for…’ As per usual, I don’t think I’ve done any preparation whatsoever, but – after 365 consecutive days of living 25 years in the past – it IS the end. Just as it was back in 1984, except… except…

…New Year’s Eve really wasn’t much of a big deal to me as a kid. I suppose there was the excitement of staying up a bit later than usual and (if I was lucky) walking into the house at midnight with a lump of coal from the bunker in my hand, but – essentially – all I really did was sit in the front room with my family watching the telly all night. Which is pretty much what I’d done for the other 365 days of the year as well.

It certainly wasn’t a patch on Christmas Eve. I can describe the details of all my childhood Christmas Eves with a fair bit of clarity, but it’s quite telling that I can only really remember three childhood New Year’s Eves AT ALL… 1984 (which is handy), 1979 (when I stayed at my Gran’s bungalow and watched ‘Will Kenny Everett Make It To 1980′ before my Uncle Trevor took me out into the streets to listen to the sound of the ships’ hooters five miles away at Tees Dock) and 1983 – the day, of course, before this whole strange diary thing began. I was at my Gran’s bungalow again, and remember sitting in the armchair by the front window as Trevor and Rose – my Uncle and Aunt – and their friend Ian Taylor and his girlfriend wandered in from the Endeavour pub at 11.45am, still carrying half-full pints of Harp Lager in their hands. Which I thought was the most decadent and exciting thing I’d ever seen in my life. We chatted until the early hours before I slept on the settee in the front room… and that (as people used to say in the back row of the Classic Cinema) is where we came in. Exactly a year ago tomorrow. Or 26 years ago tomorrow. Whichever way you want to look at it, really.

Anyway, another day – predictably – spent in front of the ZX Spectrum. I’ve tried and failed to track down ‘The Worm Game’ and ‘Denbar’ online somewhere today, but I guess they’re pretty obscure… they’ll have been included in the latest issue of Sinclair Programs magazine, with the BASIC code printed out across half-a-dozen inky pages for me to type in and ‘Run’ myself. Only for the whole bloody computer to crash and the dreaded ‘C: Nonsense In BASIC’ message to appear across the bottom of the screen, like a message from God to GET OUTSIDE AND STOP WASTING YOUR CHILDHOOD.


And ‘The Morecambe and Wise Classics’ was shown on BBC1 as the highlight of their evening schedule, with Ernie Wise himself bravely introducing a lovingly-compiled tribute to Eric himself, who had – to the nation’s utter shock and dismay – died suddenly seven months earlier, in May 1984. My Gran and I snuggled into our armchairs and let ‘Grieg… with him and him’ wash over us as my parents pulled on their best clothes and took the Reliant Scimitar into Yarm High Street for a cheeky couple of pints in the snug of the Cross Keys pub. I think I had the decency to wait until the final credits finished before haring upstairs to collect that bloody ZX Spectrum, and lashing it up to the ‘big telly’ for the next three and a half hours.

So I spent the dying embers of a tumultuous year typing in a bit more code from the pages of Sinclair Programs. ‘Scrumper’ was definitely a game in which a little lumpy character sped backwards and forwards across the bottom of the TV screen collecting falling apples in a basket. While my Gran’s knitting needles clicked and clacked, and the coal fire glowed amiably on the hearth, and Poggy Doggy and Poggles Ponsonby snuffled around looking for stray peanuts, I spent three hours typing in this rubbish and saving it to my creaking cassette recorder (‘R: Tape Loading Error’), then got to actually play the game for FIVE MINUTES before, at 11.45pm, my parents crashed back through the kitchen door and demanded I put BBC1 back on to watch ‘Live Into 85’, hosted by Tom O’Connor from the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland. 

Except they didn’t. They were great about it…  clearly fortified by a couple of John Smiths Bitters apiece, they pulled bottles of gin and tonic from the woody-smelling end cupboard of the sideboard and laughed and cheered as I put ‘Scrumper’ through his paces. The lounge doors were closed, the peanuts finally emerged (as Poggy Doggy laughed and cheered) and three generations of our family were enveloped in a riot of boozy noise and laughter as the seconds ticked down to 1985.

And then we did watch ‘Live Into 85’. Just for a little while. A typical BBC1 New Year’s Eve extravaganza… Bucks Fizz and Chic Murray, Maggie Moone and the Pipes and Drums of British Caledonian Airways. And then we counted down to midnight itself! 5-4-3-2-1… HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

‘Who’s doing the first foot in?’ asked my Gran, already turning crimson after a glass of home-made wine. ‘Come on, get your shoes…’ said my Mum, dragging me by the scruff of the neck, with the ZX Spectrum still tucked under my arm. ‘You’re dark and pretty tall for your age, and you’ll have to do it because your Dad’s too pissed…’ 

So I did. An absolute honour! My and my Mum stumbled back through the kitchen door, and out into the garden as an icy blast of winter darkness tore the breath from the back of our throats. Giggling, I stuck my hand into the coal bunker and pulled out a filthy, black nugget, and then I think we actually went for a walk… not very far, just two minutes around Crossroads roundabout and back again, but enough for me to ruminate on the passing of another year.

‘You’re getting old…’ said my Mum, with a hint of pride in her voice. ‘You’ll be thirteen this year!’

‘God, and FOURTEEN next year!’ I gasped. It seemed impossibly mature, and actually took me aback a little bit. I think I made a half-hearted attempt to be vaguely philosophical and talk loftily about my hopes, dreams and ambitions for the years to come (‘I want… I want to present a stupid local radio show and write a book about meeting Doctor Who fans in provincial hotels…’) before we arrived back at the kitchen door, and I proudly strode across the threshold before mischieviously letting Poggy Doggy have a nibble at the piece of coal I’d been carrying around for the last two minutes in my sweaty right palm.

And then it was back into the front room. I think I had a couple of glasses of home-made wine myself, and the WHOLE FAMILY settled down to watch Singin’ In The Rain… ‘a PROPER film’ said my Dad, swigging gin and tonic and refreshing everyone’s glasses. It was 12.10am when the opening credits rolled, and – at 1.50am – when it finished, all four of us were still lazing happily around our various settees and armchairs having basked in the glow of ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’, ‘Good Mornin’ and that sensational title song for the first two hours of the brand new year. And my Dad never missing the opportunity to rekindle his dormant teenage lust for sensational leggy guest star Cyd Charisse. 

And then a BBC announcer turned up to wish us all a Happy New Year, remind us that ‘our colleagues at Radio 2 will be broadcasting throughout the night’ and play the National Anthem before switching off all the lights at TV Centre and plunging the nation into metaphorical darkness. I helped my Mum and my Gran tidy up the glasses, bottles and peanut bowls, gave Poggy Doggy a cheeky scratch on the neck, brushed my teeth (pretty sloppily, probably… I tended just to make a few ‘tooth-brushing-type-noises’ to keep my mother happy) and went to bed dreaming of Denbar and The Worm Game. 

And when I woke up it was another year.

And that really is the end… but the moment HAS been prepared for.

I’ve laughed and cried writing this blog this year. Absolutely literally. Sitting by myself, at the PC in the spare room, barking with laughter. Or – just as often – full of tears and snot and heartache and regret. And do you know why? Because 1984 was the year I grew up. I didn’t realise it at the time, or even a year ago when I started doing this, but throughout the course of the year I went from being a very naive child to a slightly annoying adolescent. And it’s an hilarious and painful journey… from playing on bikes to writing computer games, from painting at primary school to peering through microscopes at the beginning of seven years of scary secondary education.  

But it was a brilliant journey to make at the time, and it’s been almost as much fun to make it again. There have been days when I didn’t want to write an entry… when work was tight, family duties were calling, when I was ill, knackered, depressed or on holiday. But – without exception – as soon as I forced myself to sit down and write – the words and the memories started flowing like my Dad’s home-made wine. Yes, slightly lumpy, and with a frequent bitter after-taste.


Thanks SO much for everyone who has come along for the journey. To everyone who has posted their own memories of 1984, their own memories of me (you swines!), or – indeed – just read silently and happily as I’ve hammered this stuff out every day. Huge thanks and love, obviously, to my family… who have taken the whole thing in tremendous spirit and helped out with their own recollections wherever something sprang to mind. To my Mum (Doreen) and Dad (Geoff), to my Uncle Trevor and Auntie Rose (and their son Chris, who was a toddler in 1984 but still counts!) to my Auntie Norma and… well, everyone else that got a mention along the way. And, of course, to my Gran… Mary Eliza Atkinson, who died in 1989 but would have chuckled along to this rubbish with the rest of them.

Massive thanks to the old schoolfriends who popped up and helped out and equally took their ribbing in good faith… to Gareth Jones, Ian Oswald, Chris Byers, Tom Stainer, Joanne Oxley, Claire Otterson, Janet Haigh and Ian Farrage (have I missed anyone? If so pipe up… my memory of 1984 is great, but short-term I’m a dead loss these days!) And also to my old teachers Mark Hirst and Geoff Millward… meeting up with you both again after 25 years was one of THE highlights of my year. An absolutely thrill to see you both again, and I really can’t thank you enough for your contributions.

And bloody hell! Alan Garner posted here as well! Was that just a dream, or did it actually, really happen?

So there you are. Naturally I’ll still be scribbling here regularly, so please pop by, and obviously all the 1984 stuff will stay here for posterity, so feel free to pass it on to anyone you think might be interested. And keep commenting if you like! I’m happy to talk about all of this stuff until Arnold The Cow comes home.

And, lastly, I dedicate the whole thing – every last word – with love and utter respect to my friend Doug Simpson. Doug died in October 2008, just short of his 36th birthday, and I found my 1984 diary about three weeks after that. I miss you, Doug. You brought fun and filth and light and laughter into my life, and I’ll hold you close to my heart forever.


Happy New Year, everyone.

See you on the other side.