The best (and worst) Toys of the 1980s (Part 2)

Etch-A-Sketch

This was the precursor to the Laptop. A Laptop that could only run Microsoft Paint in black and white.  It had a monochrome screen so everything you drew looked like it was set in the 1930s.  I’m not sure what the appeal of the Etch-a-Sketch was because a pencil and a sketch pad was infinitely more enjoyable. and easier to use. and cheaper. and were already in your house.

If you weren’t used to which knob did what, or which direction went which way, you’d always twist one of the knobs in the wrong direction to make the cat you were drawing now have whiskers coming out of places it shouldn’t have whiskers.  Diagonals were a challenge too as were circles so you could forget drawing Pacman eating a bag of Doritos.  If you wanted to keep the picture you’d drawn, you either had to take a Polaroid of the screen or you had to frame it and then go out and buy another Etch-a-sketch.

To remove the picture you’d etched and sketched, in order to draw another one, you had to shake it up and down so the polystyrene beads inside smoothed out and recoated the glass with aluminium powder.  My mission was to remove all the powder from the glass by meticulously moving the needle up and down the screen, 1 nanometre at a time.

This is what happens when you’ve worn out all the actual uses for a toy; you start inventing different uses for it. Like when you’d got bored of riding your bike, you’d turn it upside down and turn the pedal with your hand to see how fast you could make the back-wheel spin. Action Man became a teaching hospital specimen and the one of the speakers from your hi-fi became a makeshift stool when you had friends over and not enough seats.

Raleigh Chopper

Made of steel, making it ridiculously heavy, with one wheel bigger than the other resulting in involuntary wheelies and the fact it wobbled when you got up any kind of speed, the Raleigh Chopper was a death trap.

Add in the fact it had a T-bar gear stick not three inches away from your groin, there were plenty of opportunities for birth control if you braked too hard.  First released in 1969, it was still a big seller in the 1980s until the BMX took over.  The film ‘Raleigh Chopper Bandits’ didn’t quite have the same ring to it but would definitely have been a better film.  The main draw for this bike was the sofa it had on the back in place of a conventional saddle.  You could fit three maybe four of your friends on the back and take them for a short weekend break in Rhyl.  The low-drop handle bars and the addition of a kick stand made you feel like a Hells Angel too; only with less tattoos (apart from the ones you got inside bubble gum which you licked and pressed onto the back of your hand).

Purple people eater

In 1958, Sheb Wooley had a song called the one eyed one horned flyin’ purple people eater. In it, there is a monster that wants to join a rock and roll band and tries to achieve this by eating purple people.  In 1982, I thought I’d never sleep again when I got a Waddingtons Purple People Eater. It was made of rubber; a creepy latex type of rubber with a face that would have given Freddie Krueger nightmares.

The premise of the game was much like that of Operation – you had to remove the people from its mouth with a pair of tweezers without touching the sides.  If you did touch it, its right eye lit up and it screamed a scream that made my soul temporarily leave my body.  There’s an online legend I read in which a young chap’s dad used to wear the rubber monster over his head and chase him around the house.  He still sleeps with both eyes open. Forty. Years. Later.

Hungry hippos

These days, the single biggest cause of repetitive strain injury is typing on keyboards. In the 80s it was Hungry Hippos giving us all carpal-tunnel syndrome. A game for up to four players, each taking their place behind a hippo with a lever on its back. Marbles are released into the playing area and each player has to smash the lever down as many times as possible in order to extend the hippo’s telescopic neck to grab as many marbles as possible. A game of luck, then, which invariably ended up with someone slamming the lever into the table so hard, the entire game was catapulted across the room into your Nan’s face whilst she was watching Metal Mickey.

If you get a chance, take a look at the commercial from the 1980s. It features four children pressing their lever lethargically for 30 seconds, looking like it’s not possible to have less fun. Then one of the kids shouts ‘I’ve won’ in the least excited voice of all time. The other three kids look relieved rather than upset that they’ve lost and they’re now allowed to leave and go wash the dishes or count the blades of grass in the back garden, you know, something less tedious.

Mr Frosty

This was the greatest lie ever told to an eight-year-old. Mr. Frosty was a plastic snowman with a blue hat and a circle cut out of his tummy. It was supposed to be an ice cone maker.  However, in the television advert, someone put an ice cube into the hole in his head, popped the hat back on (to use as a kind of plunger) and then turned the handle on his back. What came out of the hole in his tummy was perfectly crushed ice, the type slush puppies are made of.

Taken from Pingu's episode of 'Where are they now?'

In reality, the handle wouldn’t turn and would eventually snap off – either that or 1% of the ice would shave after a few minutes because it had melted.  What ice you were able to get out was then covered with syrup dispensed from a penguin’s head. The E numbers gave you the energy to turn the handle and shave the ice just like the advert!

Girl’s world

“What’s this you’ve given me for Christmas Mummy? Ooh, a disembodied head! Thanks Mum!”  Girl’s World was the slightly sexist Christmas gift for lovers of make overs and future YouTube beauty influencers. Its reason for existing was to practice your hairdressing and make-up skills; the manufacturers forgetting that each person who received one also had their own head to practice these things on, all they really needed was a much cheaper mirror and a £1.99 make-up set from Woolworths.

With the Girl’s World came some shampoo, conditioner (which seemed to work on nylon hair), rollers, a brush, a comb and some fake make-up which was designed to be washed off the dummy’s face once you were done.  The make-up consisted of eyeshadow (colours ABBA would be scared to wear), blusher and lipstick. Most people who owned one got bored with it one day, cut its hair, ruined it, put it back in the box, put it on top of the wardrobe and never played with it again.

Swingball

Ahh, the quintessentially English pastime of a gentle game of tennis.  Wearing a white jumper and shorts combo, using a fuzzy little ball, two friends gently pat the ball back and forth over a net followed by finger sandwiches and a glass of Pimms. What fun!

Then… there’s Swingball.

It was an attempt to recreate Tennis but without all the ‘having to go and get the ball which has gone over a hedge’ business. It also eradicated the difficult ‘serving’ part too, so what went wrong?  Well, for a start, the ball was attached to a rubber band connected to a spiral on top of a stick which had been hammered six feet into the ground.  It didn’t resemble tennis in the slightest.

The point of the game was to try and get the ball to spiral around the stick until it reached either the top or bottom (depending on which you preferred) before your opponent did.  What was supposed to be a relaxing game of chivalry soon descended into a frenzied pair of hyped-up children going berserk and smashing the tennis ball with more energy than either has put into the entire rest of their lives.

The ball would inevitably detach from the string after one last furious wallop of the racquet and fly through the glass of next door’s greenhouse.  The participants would all then immediately scatter and deny ever having heard of swingball, and when questioned, tell the next-door neighbour that the stick in the back garden is part of an old washing line the previous owners of the house had.

The best and worst of School in the 1980s

School in the 1980s

School in the 1980s was great. It was just after corporal punishment was abolished and teachers weren’t subject to rigorous testing by OFSTED, so they’d spend a lot of time out of the classroom drinking whisky in the staff room or crying in the cloakrooms allowing you and your mates to have winnet[1] fights. Here are a few of the things happening in schools in the 1980s you might remember.

Traffic Surveys

It felt like we had to do a traffic survey every few weeks at Primary School. The teacher would shove a clipboard and pen in our hands then tell us to go stand near a busy road and count the cars.  Sometimes, we even had to record how many cars of each colour had passed in the allotted time period. This all seemed very educational; the possibilities for workshops and subsequent lessons seemed limitless. We could have discussed pollution and its impact on the environment, the process through which town and city planners pass to design and build new roads and traffic calming measures – the list is endless.  However, we never so much as drew a bar graph or even collated a table of data with which to forecast or interpret trends via data analysis techniques. It only dawned on me much later in life (probably five minutes ago actually) that there were never any teachers with us when we were standing on the side of the road for three hours.  Come to think of it, the teacher was always in a strangely good mood when we finally came back to school, had slightly red cheeks and called us all his ‘best mate’.

Clang Ball

There is no other way to describe this item of playground equipment than a ‘clang ball’. It was the sound it made as it hit the asphalt and the sound it made in the back of your brain when someone hit you in the face with one.  Don’t confuse these with the light plastic ‘penny floaters’ which you could buy from all good newsagents for the princely sum of £1.  No, these were made with industrial grade plastic, always unfathomably over-inflated and covered in pimples with all the properties of a jellyfish.  These balls bounced higher than any ball, travelled faster than any ball and removed skin when it so much as touched your aura.

Compass

A compass was three things in one. It was a lethal weapon, a tool to draw circles and something you could use to gouge graffiti into your school desk. Back before health and safety was something people cared about, these were handed to children without discrimination to use as they saw fit.  Of course, drawing perfect circles was hugely necessary in the teachings of Pythagoras, John Venn and the inventor of the Olympics logo.  Not so much for the rest of your life after leaving school. If you get caught by the police in public with one of these dangerous weapons, your excuse needs to be better than, ‘I just love Geometry so much’.

Free Milk

At the age of four, I’d never ever wanted to drink milk of my own accord.  I’d drink it from my cereal bowl when I’d overestimated the cereal to milk ratio, but never on it’s own from a glass.  However, just before morning play time at infant school, the teacher would march us all down the corridor to a crate of tiny milk bottles by the Headmaster’s study.  She’d then instruct us to take one each (complete with straw) and make our way back to the classroom.  We all had to sit on a square of carpet in the corner of the room, stick the straw into the foil lid (like an elaborate kind of CapriSun) and sit in awkward silence punctuated by slurping and swallowing noises.

It went down a treat and I would always hang around the door of the classroom when I’d finished my bottle, peeking down the corridor to see if there were any left after the other classes had been to get theirs.

Once the bell rang for playtime, you’d go out and play. One thing I don’t recommend, and it makes me gag to think of it now, is to go and run around for fifteen minutes when you’re full of milk. The reason being, you’ll very soon not be full of milk.

Gloy gum

This was a clear type of honey coloured glue in a bottle with a rubber top which acted as an applicator. I defy anyone reading this right now to deny they used to cover their hands in it, wait for it to dry and then peel it off like some weird zombie with a fetish.

It’s more common cousin was PVA glue which came in tall white bottles. This was used for the exact same thing and sometimes, craft projects.

Shatterproof rulers

These 30cm beasts had to be carried in a school bag because they wouldn’t fit in a pencil case. I much preferred my six inch one. It never got in the way and it did the job adequately. I’m still talking about my ruler by the way. The 30cm version had the words ‘shatterproof’ or ‘Shatter Resistant’ printed in huge letters down the middle. I’m not sure what people were doing with rulers beforehand that prompted a company to start advertising that their rulers were shatterproof.  We’d re-enact scenes from ‘Robin of Sherwood’ using rulers as swords whilst the teacher was out of the room, but I don’t think we were ever in any danger of ending up with bits of shattered ruler in our eye balls.

At the age of seven, I thought the word ‘shatterproof’ meant ‘indestructible’ and took it as a challenge.  ‘Of course I can shatter it’, I thought to myself, and promptly bent it in half until it snapped. ‘Ha, I showed them!’, I thought and to my delight, I’d created two six-inch rulers! What a good day that was!

[1] Chewed up paper blown through a biro with the ink removed

Click Bait

The fact we're all desensitised to everything these days and nothing seems implausible, journalists have to think up ways of getting us to click on their articles to sell us stuff with piles of adverts that pop up, interrupt the bit of screen you were reading or just freeze the page altogether for a few minutes meaning you can't scroll down to read the rest of the article or even click on the advert which has frozen your screen.

Here is a recent example I found which not only shows how over-the-top journalists have to be, but also, how literally anything is deemed newsworthy these days.  The link to the article was this :

There are three issues in that one sentence headline.  The word 'shoppers', the word 'hysterics' and the word 'awkward'.  Let's take a look at the article... (Link here (if it still works))

Shoppers have poked fun at B&M after a supplier made an unfortunate spelling error on a product sold in stores. An eagle-eyed shopper noticed the error on a set of star sign-themed mugs sold in B&M when they were out shopping.

Eagle eyed? You need the eyes of an Eagle to spot a spelling error on a cup? Really?

Posting on Reddit, they uploaded a picture of the typo.

The article was posted by one person - the headline was 'shoppers' when in fact it was one shopper. The other people who were in 'hysterics' were people reading Reddit. Now, I warn you to brace yourself. The hilarious misprint that follows could cause either a hernia or one of those laughs where snot comes out. Ready for 'hysterics'...?

The star sign "Pisces" was misspelled as "Pices" on the mug, which features a gold drawing of the constellation.

“Take a trip to your local B&M for your 'Pices' mug," they posted on Reddit, reports Mirror Online.

The dictionary defines hysterics as 'a wildly emotional and exaggerated reaction.' Nope - me neither. If you follow the link to the Mirror website, their headline was 'B&M shoppers in stitches over awkward spelling mistake on Christmas mug'.  First, it's not a Christmas mug, it's got a zodiac sign on it and secondly - 'in stitches'?? I'm picturing people wandering up the aisle in B&M, catching a glimpse of the cup, choking on their own saliva and doubling over, unable the breathe through hilarity induced convulsions. And thirdly, what's awkward about it? If they had printed your internet history on the mug and your wife saw it - yeah, that's awkward. But only because she'll see all the Christmas presents I've bought her. However, 'Pices' isn't awkward.

The Mirror continued with 'The star sign "Pisces" was spelt wrong - reading "Pices" instead - as any astrology enthusiast would be quick to notice.' Astrology enthusiast? Or just someone over the age of six who can spell? They go on 'Tickled by the spelling blunder, people fled to the comments to share their thoughts'. Fled to? You can't flee towards something, you flee from something surely? They fled from B&M to the comments section? There are people writing articles for the Mirror without a basic command of the English language.  No surprise there I suppose. They finish the article with 'It comes as some shoppers fear whether they will be able to get their Christmas gifts this year at all due to shortages brought by Brexit and a lack of lorry drivers.' The entire article was obviously there to mention Brexit, their entire narrative for everything that's gone wrong in the last 2 years, even though it had nothing at all to do with it.  Anyway, back to the Chronicle :

The blunder inspired replies from fellow Reddit users.

I hope you've recovered from the hysterical photo enough to read on... and, whilst I'm being pedantic, I might as well point out that the constellation on the cup is inaccurate (there should be three stars top left and it should be rotated to the right about twenty degrees.) Anyway -

"LOL I might get this for my mom. She's a Pisces and a teacher so it will doubly annoy her," wrote one.

LOL? Did you really LOL? If you were in hysterics or in stitches, shouldn't that have been ROFLMAO? And, 'Mom?' Yeah, an american person could well find themselves in a B&M but it sounds more like they're not one of the 'shoppers' the article accuses of finding things that aren't funny, funny - but more someone in America trawling the internet for hilarious side-splitting photographs of mild spelling mistakes.

Another said: "Got my eye on that Sagittaring mug next to it.”

I don't know how this Redditer didn't get on Mock the Week. And I now think I'm missing something. Is 'pices' a street term for bumhole? I've just checked on the dark web and apparently there are some people who call public lice 'pice'. But there's about eight of them and they're all 12 years old.

A B&M spokesperson told the Daily Star: “We’re aware of a handful of mugs with a spelling error made by our supplier.” B&M is a popular spot for bargain hunters, with shops around the North East.

If you see me lying on the floor in a B&M by the mugs, in the foetal position, shaking uncontrollably in a puddle of my own drool, don't worry, you'll know what's happened.

The top 10 best TV Theme Tunes of the 80s

In the 80s, there were two things that had my full attention. The music chart and everything in it, and the television. Three channels became four in the early 80s, giving us 33% more choice of what to watch. Adverts burned into our memories forever, actors, comedians, variety acts, singers and presenters became part of our families. People with discernible talent, invited into our living rooms to do the things they did with skill, charisma and questionable personal lives.

Alongside the music of the decade which is still played on radio these days, some music that carved itself into our cerebellums isn't heard at all - until someone says something like, 'Remember Rainbow?' and the theme tune pops into your head like a faulty toaster. Well, I've done another arbitrary list of something - this time, theme tunes as actual pieces of music, and what I think were the best ones of the 1980s. There's a video accompanying this too so go watch that and transport yourself back to your youth, or to a time before you were born if that's something you think you'll enjoy.

10. Mr Benn

I enjoyed jolly theme tunes, especially the ones on Kids TV shows. The 70s was a golden age for Children's television (where this particular show was from). There was an innocence about it you don't get with the weird stuff they have these days. The theme to Mr Benn was an orchestral ensemble of clarinets, xylophones and other things played by real musicians. The melody skips about into unexpected areas with an almost Rimsky-Korsakov sensibility to it.  It's in stark contrast to the theme of the show however, as Mr Benn is a sad character who has to escape his real humdrum life by going into a costume shop, getting slipped something medicinal by the shopkeeper and believing he goes on adventures based on whatever costume he'd try on that day. It's in this list because it was shown again and again in the early 80s at lunch time. The music is credited as composed by Don Warren, (which was Duncan Lamont's pseudonym).

9. Knightmare

A synth-based one this. With thunder, horses, whooshes and power-drums, you couldn't help but get excited for the show to come. It was composed by a bloke called Ed Welch, who will appear again in this list. He also co-composed the Icelandic entry in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1995. It wasn't called Ja Ja Ding-Dong though.

8. The Incredible Hulk

Before Marvel was bought by Disney and everything was produced by computers and people with loads of letters after their names, The big green grumpy idiot was the subject of a modest television show which tapped into the heart of what it must be like to get angry indiscriminately at things that don't concern you and start lashing out at people you don't know - much like a Facebook argument.  In the recent movies he's Bruce Banner - in the tv show, he's David for some reason. When he got angry he turned into Lou Ferrigno and back again. At the end of the show, David Banner would leave the town he'd smashed up and wander off into the distance, trying to hitch-hike along to the saddest music known to mankind.  The tune was called 'The Lonely Man' and featured on an album which was released containing all the incidental music from the show, all composed by Joe Harnell. In his early days, he was taught by Leonard Bernstein and even accompanied Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich on stage from the piano. Quite a career!

7. The A-Team

Probably one of the most famous tv theme tunes of all time. Full of excitement, it accompanies the opening credits perfectly. Trucks flipping over, helicopters flying into the camera, Hannibal dressed as a dinosaur smoking a cigar, Murdoch talking to a sock puppet, Mr. T. smiling, a car smashing through a wall and then being chased by a helicopter followed by a jeep flipping over, again. Brilliant!  The theme tune was composed by Mike Post (LA Law, Quantum Leap, Magnum PI and Hill Street Blues) and Pete Carpenter (Bewitched).

6. Thundercats

After watching the intro to this, you need a cup of tea and a lie down. It's just too exciting. The music is frantic, the montage of the cats themselves running, jumping, fighting, floating and watching their swords getting longer is all too much for an 8 year old, especially after two cans of fanta and a packet of space dust. 'Feel the magic, hear the roar - Thundercats are loose' - then Mumra appears and you pass out from the excitement only to wake up and find you've missed the entire episode and you're now watching Grandstand. Bernard Hoffer wrote the theme tune; there's not a lot of information about him knocking about but he also wrote the theme for SilverHawks. Whatever that is.

5. The Moomins

This family of Hippos and hangers-on is still very popular due to the artwork and stylings. The music is gorgeous. Like an excerpt from a Mozart opera. It's ethereal, magical and drags you straight off into the weird world of Moominvalley. Because the soundtrack is so weird, it gives you a Proustian rush - much like most of the things you heard, smelled or tasted for the first time as a child will do - associative involuntary memories. It was written by Graeme Miller and Steve Shill, two post-punk composers using rudimentary synthesizers. It works too.

4. Knight Rider

Electronic music had taken over a little bit by the time Knightrider came along but it's metallic robot-like bleepy bloopy computer-game-like arpeggiated bubbling set the scene perfectly. David Hasselhoff's perm, the whooshing red light on the front of the car and the moment he presses 'Turbo Boost' and jumps over a 3 foot hedge, all combine to send you back to that moment you were sitting directly in front of the television in your superman pyjamas and Sooty slippers, drooling at the thought of having a car that could talk.  The main theme is taken from the Brass Band piece 'March and Procession of Bacchus From Silvia' by Leo Delibes. The rest is a lift from Harry Thumann's 'Sphinx' which you can check out here.

3. Bod

Chaotic but clever. This theme was written by someone who understood music  to a very fine degree. It's not whistlable, although I do find myself still trying from time to time, and it's not catchy - but it hooks you in and wakes you up. According to the 'internet' Derek Griffiths wrote the music - I do remember him singing the doobeedoos in this and other themes (each character had their own) but wasn't aware he was a musician with writing chops of this standard. He sang on loads of kids TV stuff and was the voice of SuperTed. I saw him in a production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast as Lumiere in 1998 - I still remember it, he was that good.

2. Cockleshell Bay

Heartbreaking. It takes real skill to compose music like this. I used to try and play it on the piano when I was first learning and couldn't understand why notes that weren't in that key were being used - then understood that it's in two different keys that keep swapping - that's what gives the whole thing that bittersweet feel without jarring you out of the atmosphere. Genius really. It made you feel a bit melancholy, totally out of keeping with the theme of the show - two kids living in a B&B because their Dad couldn't face going back to work in a factory. Good times.  The program started as a feature on Rainbow (hence the rainbow in the image) but became it's own thing after a while. The tune was composed by David Rohl and Stuart J. Wolstenholme, neither of which are in the Foo Fighters.

1.Blockbusters

Written by the same bloke who did Knightmare, this is the archetypal quiz show theme tune that beats even Who wants to be a Millionaire and Countdown.  The clever use of the opening of Beethoven's 5th Symphony is played just as the composer's head flips into view in the opening credits. Ed Welch also wrote songs for Cilla Black, Shirley Bassey and Davy Jones, then wrote theme songs for The National Lottery, Catchphrase and Thomas and Friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Christmas, but it’s not Christmas

It's Christmas, but it's not Christmas

Every year I trawl the shops looking for stuff to add to my ever increasing hoard of Christmas decorations to the point the roof is going to be slowly prised off my house to allow all the baubles, trees and light-up snowmen to protrude. However, this year, there has been a shift - possibly because everything has already been invented so designers are trying to come up with new ideas for Christmas decorations by using things that are nothing to do with Christmas and hoping none of us notice and buy them anyway. Well I'm here to tell you to stop it! Just take a look at what they're trying to trick us into purchasing...

First up, The Range who have these gems on sale :

Along with jingling bells, Christmas carols and the smell of cinnamon, the thing I associate most with Christmas is the sound of a tractor. So what better than Santa riding into town on a steam tractor with a variety of colourful lights and an ornament that 'Makes a tractor sound'. That'll be lovely on Christmas day as your centrepiece on the dining table.

Not only is this animal, native to South America, dressed in a hat and scarf (when it's actually covered in a natural hat and scarf known as wool) but it's being dragged into the Christmas genre against its will. It doesn't want anything to do with Christmas. Look at its face.

All of Santa's Reindeer are dead and finally, planes have been invented. Much more reliable and faster than Reindeer, the downside is that Santa is now contributing to climate change. The fact this plane has no roof isn't very practical for trips to and from the North Pole. But how will he deliver the presents if there's nowhere to land?

Santa's training with the paratroopers has finally paid off as he just parachutes into your chimney. He's made of acrylic too so if you've left your fire on he's in trouble. Not sure how he's meant to get back up into the plane which I assume he's left on autopilot?  Hang on... sold out? Of course it is! They just flew off the shelves  (or whatever the internet equivalent is).

Nothing Christmassy about a bear or a Penny-Farthing I hear you say. Hang on - just put some totally out of perspective Christmas  trees around it and boom, you've got a Christmas bear on a bike. An absolutely massive bike.

 

This is just getting ridiculous now. How do you make an animal that lived 90 million years before Christmas was invented, Christmassy? Make it green and attach lights to it's torso so it looks like a Christmas tree, pop a Santa hat on it's head, make it hold a garland saying 'Tree Rex' and make it play Christmas music when you press it's foot. We'll never get to see a real T-Rex so who knows, maybe this is what they looked like?

I see what they've done here. Everyone associates snow with Christmas so naturally, any animal who also lives where it's snowing is automatically classed as a Christmas animal. No. A Polar Bear has nothing to do with Christmas - bar the fact they live in the same continent as Santa. So do Walruses but they're no more or less Christmassy than a Polar Bear!  However, this one is playing the saxophone which decreases its Christmas factor by at least 28%  Saxophones aren't Christmassy even if you get one for Christmas.

 

Penguins don't live in the North Pole so one couldn't have possibly even met Santa let alone allow themselves to be embroiled in this winter festival built around a baby being born in a stable in Palestine. Still, pop a Santa hat on anything and you can call it a Christmas decoration...

They're not even trying now. What is a Scandi bird? Scandinavian bird? Only if Santa does actually live in Lapland (Finland - Scandinavia) would this be relevant but again, not every animal that lives in Lapland is Christmassy. Wolverines live in Lapland. I've never seen Hugh Jackman in a Christmas film.

Sometimes you don't even need to pop a santa hat on something, just sprinkle snow on it and it becomes an instant Christmassy decoration. There's a review on this which says : "This ornament is plenty good enough to look great at Christmas and bring a smile to your face every time you look at him." You can't argue with that like. It's listed as 'Orange' too, but it's not. I used to get an orange in my Christmas stocking so maybe this is how they've tried to tie it in?

Not Christmas. This is from Next - I wonder what they're going to do next year? Put a Santa Hat on a Tarantula? Sprinkle snow on a crab? Dress a snake up as Jesus?

 

Again from Next - how Christmassy, some severed elf heads to hang from your bony featureless tree of death

 

From Roov.com, there's nothing better than the gift of a Christmas Lobster and at a very affordable £9.49, you can hang one in every room!

 

and finally, TK Maxx have come up with an alternative to Turkey this year. Complete with a pair of earmuffs, the only way to tie Ostriches in with Christmas is to make them completely white, give them built-up shoes and a silver beak.  That's it, you've completely ruined christmas for everyone. I hope you're happy.

The best and worst of 80s Food (Part 2)

Curly Wurly

Curly Wurlies are a kind of chocolate trellis up which you can train strawberry laces. Seemingly random wiggling and intersecting snakes of caramel are enrobed in chocolate. As with most of Cadbury’s products, they’re not as large now as they were in the 80s. Or maybe that’s because my hands are bigger these days and they seem smaller by comparison? Or it could be a perspective thing as my arms are longer now and they’re further away from my eyes?

Discos

These are crisps which have been shaped into circles (hence the name) and flavoured with the most powerful essences at mankind’s command. The Salt and Vinegar ones could remove the enamel from your teeth and cause at least one of your eyes to do a 360. Forget the Ghost Chilli Challenge, try eating that triangular collection of flavoured dust that collected in the bottom corner of the packet without passing out.

Flumps

What I’ve just read, I don’t like or believe. Apparently, there is no singular Flump. One of these squishy items of confectionary is called a ‘Flumps’.

One Flumps.

Does this mean that more than one Flumps is called some Flumpses? I always thought they were named as such because they were fluffy lumps. Lumps of pink, yellow and white marshmallow, usually spiralled around each other.

Having said all that, you haven’t lived unless you’ve tried the chocolate covered flumps they sell in the bigger confectionery shops in shopping centres. Forget Mana or Nectar – I think the Gods all sit around on gold thrones knocking back bags of chocolate flumps.

Love Hearts

These were a bit creepy. They were aimed at kids yet they were emblazoned with slogans such as ‘Tease me’, ‘Will you’ and ‘True lips’. I think you were supposed to offer one to someone you liked, making sure the next one in the packet carried a slogan which represented your sentiments. Offering someone a Love Heart was the 80s version of Tinder. Eating the offered Love Heart was the equivalent of swiping right. Shaking your head and walking away was swiping left and taking the packet out of someone’s hand and throwing it over a wall was the equivalent of blocking them and contacting the authorities.

The makers of Love Hearts tried to move with the times by including phrases in the 90s such as ‘Fax me’ and ‘Page me’; these days I’m told they have ‘Tweet me’, ‘Take a Selfie’, ‘Increase my self-worth by clicking like on my social media post’ and ‘That TikTok dance you did in Aldi’s car park will come back to haunt you worse than that picture of your dad in the 70s with his walrus ‘tashe and mullet’.

Monster Munch

These were referred to as ‘crisps’ for some reason. However, inside the packet you’d find some oil with three corn representations of a monster’s foot floating in it. Because the ‘crisps’ were so massive, you only got a maximum of four in the bag and they left a greasy residue on your fingers that you could only remove with trade-strength fairy liquid or two tubs of Swarfega. The Pickled Onion ones measured fifteen on the ‘Disco Scale’; Not enough to affect your eyesight, but sufficient to stop you tasting anything else for a few days.  Eating the beef flavour ones would mean that your fingers would smell of beef for the next thirteen years.

Skips

These are the Marmite of ‘crisps’. You either love them or you think they’re alright (or you don’t really like them much). Like Monster Munch, they’re not your archetypal crisp in that they’re made of corn rather than potato. The majesty of these shell shaped things was contained in the fact they melted away to nothing on your tongue. The most famous Skip flavour is Prawn Cocktail. KP did release other flavours but none caught on and so the humble prawn remains king of the Skips.

The advert for Skips in the 80s was weird. It featured a man smashing up his house; breaking the television and punching holes in the walls. Then he and his wife start eating Skips and everything goes all bendy. Everybody then rushed out to the shops thinking they’d released a new range of LSD flavoured Skips.

 

Smith’s Salt ‘n’ Shake Crisps

Now owned by Walkers, these were crisps which you could customise. As we’ve discussed, some crisps came with far too much flavour; having the option to ‘dial it down’ would have improved many people’s enjoyment of their chosen snack. Smiths recognised this and essentially started selling naked crisps. The crisps in the pack were not flavoured at all. Inside the bag you’d find a small blue pouch which contained the salt you’d normally find plastered all over your fried potato snacks. It gave you the ability to tailor the level of salt you required.

This was great in theory but in practice, you’d tip the salt into the bag, shake the packet up and down (which sometimes resulted in dropping the bag or causing crisps to fly out into the air), then find that two of the crisps had all the salt and the rest had none.

Alphabetti spaghetti

I’m not sure if these pasta letters in a tangy tomato sauce were meant to be educational or not. AlphaBetti Spaghetti was probably invented to teach children how to spell but we mostly just used it to make rude words. Introduced back in the 60s, Heinz have since developed their range to include pasta shapes of Bob the Builder, Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig, Minions and the thing they created to brainwash children and their parents into buying anything remotely related to it, Frozen. I think it’s meant to make eating processed food fun or to be used as a gateway to harder pastas such as Rigatoni and Spirelli.

Battenburg cake

Everything about Battenburg is wrong. It ruined Sunday evenings for me when it was brought to the table with the ham sandwiches and bowls of wagon wheel crisps. Marzipan, as a concept, needs to do one and as for the pointless and weird-tasting coloured sponge, likewise.

Why, when all other desserts and cakes exist would this be the choice you make? Even if the apocalypse had come all the Nandos had been destroyed and you hadn’t eaten for two weeks, you’d still think twice about putting a slice of Battenburg in your mouth.

This evil ‘cake’ was created in 1884 and one hundred years later, was still spreading misery around the country. We need to ban this now, who’s with me?

www.petition.co.uk/banbattenburg

The Ballad of Michael Collins (the NASA one!)

Something has bothered me since 1969. It was six years before I was born but it’s definitely bothered me since 1969.

Imagine you’re ten years old. Your parents have just told you that you’re going to Disneyland. You’re the type of child whose soul is filled with whimsy and possibilities. You’re the one who usually organises the potato printing parties and brings the bags of swizzell sticks. You get in the car/bus/helicopter and off you go. Your rosy cheeks reddening with anticipation as the hours tick by, your supplies of Werthers dwindling, your heart thumping faster and faster as you near the front gates and see a 12 foot Cinderella winking at you from the top of a huge plastic castle.

The car pulls into the car park and everyone gets out – except you.

You’re told you have to stay in the car, circle the park and await their return whilst looking after the ‘equipment’. Everyone then toddles off into the park and (via CB radio) give you a running commentary of all the breathtaking things they’re doing whilst you’re stuck in the hot car with nothing but a puzzle book and a pen that doesn’t work. You’re not allowed out. Not even allowed to wind the window down to allow a cheeky fart to escape.

You wait until everyone else comes back, full of their stories of adventure and wonder, then imagine what could have been as they drive you home again.

Spare a thought for Michael Collins. He went to the moon. He wasn’t allowed to actually go ‘on’ the moon however. Yes, he got to leave earth’s atmosphere, see a big white ball of rock a bit closer up than usual (albeit out of a window with really really thick reinforced glass), and then sit in the command module on his own for the entire day while his friends went outside, leapt about on the universe’s biggest bouncy castle, went down in the history of forever for saying some iconic lines and then give Michael a running commentary about how amazing the whole thing was with the caveat, ‘but you’re not allowed out to play’, like he’d been grounded for being naughty on the way through the Troposphere.

It’s like that bit in Home Alone where everyone gets pizza and even though Kevin hasn’t done anything wrong, he gets no pizza and sent to his room (both scenarios contain someone called Buzz. Coincidence? I don’t think so.)

“Didn’t want to stand on the moon anyway.”

Despite Collins being able to debunk the moon-landings conspiracy theories first hand, I can’t help thinking he would have felt he was part of a smaller, more personal conspiracy about why he wasn’t allowed outside. That must have followed him throughout his life from that point. Like when he squeezed the ketchup and mysteriously, there was none left or when he couldn’t find one of his socks (it’s the Government!) or when he waited in a queue at Disneyland for four hours and when he got to the front, they closed the ride for the night (it’s the Illuminati!!). Why is it always me? He must think. Probably.

Poor Michael.