Thursday, 8 July 2010

Nineties Nostalgia: Incredible Games

I tried starting a blog called Nineties Nostalgia a while ago, inspired by various discussions I'd had with other people around my age about TV shows, toys and the like from our childhoods. One thing I found interesting about these discussions was how I could easily chat away and find so much common ground with different people simply because we'd grown up in the same era - we all remember The Spice Girls, Fun House and so on, even if we've grown up to have wildly different interests today. Unfortunately I couldn't really write enough posts to justify a new blog for it, so NN will just have to be an occasional series appearing on my "regular" blog. So...

Push my button! The first '90s TV show I'll be looking at for fun is the children's game show Incredible Games, one of those shows that people remember but struggle to remember the name of. This aired in the mid '90s on CBBC (back when it was a segment of BBC1 and BBC2 rather than a channel in its own right) on Sunday mornings and Tuesday afternoons. In a nutshell, imagine The Crystal Maze for kids, or a futuristic Fun House, and you get a rough idea.
Incredible Games was set inside a skyscraper with a jolly, talking lift (played by David Walliams in the first series and Gary Parker in the second) taking a team of three contestants up the building. On each floor, the kids faced a different challenge, which would test them mentally or physically (and often looked like a lot of fun).
One of the most famous games was The Dark Knight, which was a bit like the life-sized wizards' chess in Harry Potter. The kids had to make their way across a giant chessboard with alternating moves forwards and sideways, while avoiding capture by the Dark Knight. Whenever people try to remember this show, they often describe the Dark Knight as being like Darth Vader, as well as talk about how scary he was. Although he sounded a lot like Mr Vader, his costume looked a bit lower-budget than that of Luke's father, but the set probably cost a few bob as it featured squares lighting up to show the contestants' previous moves (these lit squares were the only thing the Dark Knight could see) and fireworks going off when a contestant made it safely to the other side of the board.
I spent ages trying to remember what it was that the Knight used to say, because I could remember his voice but not the words... it sounded something like "ah-ooooo" in a Darth Vader type voice. I managed to conjure up a memory of him saying, "Eranu!" but immediately realised that that couldn't have been right as he probably wasn't played by Vic Reeves. Now I realise that he just said, "Moooove!" Funnily enough, he was played by the man who also played Tinky Winky in Teletubbies. A versatile actor I suppose.
If kids were unlucky enough to get caught by the Dark Knight, he would cover them with his cloak and they would disappear. In the second series, they would reappear in giant laundry baskets in the basement, where their teammates had to find them.
The Dark Knight segment of Incredible Games is not to be confused with a game in Knightmare in which kids guided an avatar around a computer-generated dungeon (For some reason, some people confuse the two!). The other show that people sometimes confuse with Incredible Games is Terror Towers. They all scared small children at the time so I supposed it's easy to mix them up.
As well as the dreaded Dark Knight, other famous games included The Victorian Schoolmaster (He would ask the contestants questions and they had to answer with the answer to the previous question. Every time they got it wrong, the teacher would tip buckets of gunge slightly; if this happened three times, the kids got gunged) and Alphabet Soup (The Crystal Maze meets Countdown: the contestants went into a kitchen and shrank, then two of them would swim in a soup bowl and fish out magnetic letters, which the third would use to spell out words on the fridge).
If the team won enough points, they could go Through the roof (i.e. up to the Penthouse suite of the tower block) and win prizes. In the second series, they had to search the Penthouse for keys to the prizes (a bit like Fun House or Finders Keepers).
Some children's TV is never as good as you remembered it, but I think it's safe to say that Incredible Games actually was as good as I remembered, at least if the celebrity special from series one with Keith Chegwin, Phillipa Forrester and Roland Rivron is anything to go by (although I don't remember David Walliams' lift sounding so much like a pre-House Hugh Laurie).
More info:
The Eye Shield

Monday, 9 June 2008

Writer frightened by mad man affecting exam, but then calmed by llamas and other pun fun.

(Yes, the title of this post may be terrible, but persevere and all will be explained...)

I've just finished all my coursework and exams, which means that I've pretty much finished university now. It's been a hectic three years in which I have found myself doing things that I never before imagined I would: Running away from rural pyromaniacs, being the cop from the Village People for a night, taking up Morris dancing and folk music (both much better than their reputations!), and living next door to a daytime soap opera. Not to mention falling in love, falling out of it, trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life, battling numerous job application forms, and briefly becoming addicted to Neighbours before bitterly realising that there are better things on TV and life is too short to be "like, ironic" so I'd be better off spending my time watching TV shows I actually like instead.

Anyway, on with the soap next door... With thousands of people around and too many names to remember, many of us have taken to making up secret nicknames for staff and fellow students that we gossip about. These are often descriptive (e.g. Tall Guy With Hat, Tiny Tiny Girl) or involve comparisons to famous people (e.g. Chris de Burgh, Elvis) and fictional characters (e.g. Nick from My Family, Dev from Corrie). In my final year, I moved into a newly-built flat with 2 new flatmates: Rex, who I've known since I started uni, because he's a fellow Law student, and Hannah, a stranger who replied to our advert for a new flatmate. The block of flats was full of (mostly rich and noisy) students and opposite a large house that was also full of the rich and noisy type of student. While Rex and I found a few others who were like us (work hard, play hard, and willing to meet new people), we found the majority in the block and house just seemed to play hard all the time, and only played with others like them. As I don't spend all day shrieking about ponies and rugby or revving up an oversized phallus (I mean sports car) like a nouveau riche boy racer, I didn't really fit in with that bunch. That type are known by various names across the country - rahs/rars/ras, yahs/yars, posh chavs, trendy wendys, hooray henrys, tarquins and jessicas, sloanes/sloaneys/sloane rangers, etc. None of them seemed to ever do any work, particularly the boys in the house opposite, who spent virtually every day wandering around topless (whatever the weather) in their back garden, occasionally weightlifting or playing volleyball. They really remind me of the American daytime soap operas that the ever-brilliant Charlie Brooker shows from about 1 minute onwards in this clip.
Rex and I soon nicknamed them "The Hollyoaks Crowd" or "The Hollyoaks Lot" after the British daytime soap Hollyoaks, which is about a bunch of students who never appear to study. After a while, we just called them "The Hollyoaks" and its become our collective noun for them and people like them, even though in the TV show, Hollyoaks is a place, not a group of people.
It's great because we can talk about them without them ever knowing. That may sound very bitchy, but we have reasons to bitch about them: The ones in the flat above ours stomp around (it seems like our ceiling it going to cave in), shriek and get too excited about just about everything in their lives, play loud and repetitive music and throw their cigarette ash at us; others from the block (we're not sure which flat they're in but they're definitely in the block) keep waking us up by talking and shouting in the car park or throwing things at the windows; and the ones in the house opposite have held parties so noisy that residents of nearby roads called the police. We like to party as much as any other students, but it's absolutely crazy for them to behave like this when both them and us are finalists and it's the middle of exam season. As a result of some berk deciding to tell some bint his entire life story in the car park one night, I didn't get much sleep before my commercial law exam, so that didn't exactly put me in an exam-taking mood.
Hannah turned out a bit weird as well. Not only did she barely speak to either of us in the six months that we lived together, she cancelled our internet and phone line for no apparent reason and stole our wine (surely the ultimate flatmate crime!). We saw her every day (it's hard not to when you live with someone) and tried making small talk with her every time, but apart from a couple of drunken conversations at the start of the academic year, I'd be lucky to get more than a "hi" out of her, even though she's incredibly chatty with her clique of old friends. Like me, she is from Sussex, which is very embarrassing because she seemed to confirm the "snobby southerner" stereotype that I have spent the past couple of years trying to dispel.
Halfway through the year, she emailed us from her room (!) to tell us that she would be studying in Amsterdam for the next six months and would be renting out her room to someone else for the rest of the academic year (three months). Obviously, it's difficult to find someone who wants a three-month contract, especially at such short notice, so a sub-tenant was never found. She committed a final flatmate sin a couple of months ago when she emptied her room, handed her key to the landlords and generally appeared to have left for good: I asked whether I could have her room, seeing as it was bigger than mine and on the quieter side of the block (hers overlooked the garden while mine overlooked the carpark). She was getting a much better deal than me because we paid exactly the same rent. Although the landlords were OK with my plan, they needed her permission as she was still paying rent for her room, even though she wasn't using it at all (not even to store stuff in) and wasn't likely to use it again in the future. She refused. The moral of this story? Er... don't live with total nutters, I guess.
Talking of morals/nutters... Mary Whitehouse may be dead, but her spirit, it seems, lives on. The sleepy seaside resort of Worthing, West Sussex has been in the news lately because it is apparently the only place in Britain where a "staying safe" leaflet for children aged 8-11 has had to be withdrawn, due to a few parents complaining that their little darlings might be traumatised by reading naughty words like "sex." Worthing is notoriously Victorian, both architecturally and culturally (although whatever 19th century charm it might have had has mostly been demolished to make way for tower blocks, making Oscar Wilde's then-fashionable holiday destination look increasingly like one of his later haunts: Reading). I've had a look at the leaflet and personally I think it's so innocent that even the aforementioned Mrs Whitehouse might think the parents were being over-prudish. It's nowhere near as rude as some of the jokes and gossip that me and my friends shared when we were 8 years old, and we weren't as bad as some kids.
While on the subject of naughtiness, I have been getting absolutely addicted to BitTorrent and have discovered and re-discovered many good, bad and ugly TV programmes. One that I've recently downloaded was Channel 5's infamous Naked Jungle, a gameshow for nudists. I remember it being one of the most talked-about shows on TV when it was broadcast, so when it turned up online I decided there was no harm in finding out what all that fuss was about. It's pretty much what the title suggests - some naked people in a jungle. Even the presenter Keith Chegwin is stark bollock naked, apart from a hat (non-Chegwin-fanciers may be disappointed to find that it's not strategically placed like a stripper's). It makes me wonder whether the people behind the camera were naked as well, because Cheggers and the contestants seem pretty confident about baring all.
It's bizarre because there is no real reason for everyone to be naked - it's just an ordinary Crystal Maze-type show, only with calm naturists instead of overexcitable people in shellsuits (Actually, the Hollyoaks in the flat upstairs have a tendency to jump up and down and shriek "Oh my God!" whenever anything happens, a lot like particularly thick Crystal Maze contestants. I'm tempted to go up there to check whether their flat is divided into rooms or Zones). Naked Jungle's contestants run around completing obstacle courses and collecting fig leaves for the chance to win £5000, which they could have done fully-clothed (it's not like they're picking up figleaves with prehensile penises or anything like that). The nudity must have been just a gimmick to boost ratings or give Whitehouse a heart attack (I suppose you can't blame TV-makers for having either of those aims). Since then, Channel 5 has dropped its "films, football and fucking" image and now imports tons of hit American dramas. Despite the sopfest that is Grey's Anatomy, I'm grateful for this change as it means that I can now watch House, which is fast becoming one of my favourite programmes and stars our own Hugh Laurie.
Despite the Worthing story above, the local newspapers in Sussex have recently reported a few stories that are much more cheerful, including one with the headline "Llama drama makes farmer calmer," which makes you wonder if the spirit of Dr Seuss also lives on in the area. I think that headline is quite amusing and the only way it could be any better would be if the llama farmer was called Dara Palmer, grew bananas from Palma on a farm in Falmer, and sang "Karma Chameleon" with Bananarama.
I was hoping to end this post with some more punning headlines, but I haven't been able to find many (it's times like this that I really miss The Big Breakfast and its "Pundown" feature), so instead here are some headlines for serious stories that are so badly-phrased that they turn out quite funny. These have been circulating the internet for a very long time now, but you may still find them amusing...

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Experts Say
Include Your Children When Baking Cookies
Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
Drunks Get Nine Months in Violin Case
Iraqi Head Seeks Arms
Is There a Ring of Debris around Uranus?
Prostitutes Appeal to Pope
Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
British Left Waffles on Falkland Islands
Teacher Strikes Idle Kids
Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead
Plane Too Close to Ground, Crash Probe Told
Miners Refuse to Work After Death
Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
Stolen Painting Found by Tree
Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
War Dims Hope for Peace
If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last a While
Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide
Man Struck by Lightning Faces Battery Charge
New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Space
Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
Two Sisters Reunited after 18 Years in Checkout Counter
Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge
Headless Body Found in Topless Bar
Heat Wave Linked to Temperatures
Enraged Cow Injures Farmer with Axe
Two Soviet Ships Collide, One Dies
Deer Kill 17,000
British Union Finds Dwarfs in Short Supply
Arson Suspect is Held in Massachusetts Fire
Survivor of Siamese Twins Joins Parents
3 Men Murdered, 2 Die
Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim
Queen Mary Gets Bottom Painted
Soviet Virgin Lands Short of Goal Again
Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Weapons
Over 200 Japanese Live On Water
Statistics show teen pregnancy drops off significantly after age 25
Murdered Body Found, Police Treating Case As Homicide
Never Withhold Herpes Infection From Loved One
Tiger Woods plays with own balls, Nike says
Man Minus Ear Waives Hearing
Lawmen from Mexico barbecue guests
Cause of AIDs Found: Scientists
Chef Throws His Heart into Helping Feed Needy
Eye Drops off Shelf
Lung Cancer in Women Mushrooms
Dr. Ruth to Talk About Sex with Newspaper Editors
Air Head Fired
Stud Tires Out
Death Star to Inaugurate Frequent-Flyer Plan

Current mood: Relaxing

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Things to do with spoons when bored

  • Comfort-eat.
  • Make a hot beverage.
  • Play the spoons... maybe try watching this man or this other man for inspiration.
  • Use them as miniature golf clubs (you could use small round things such as Revels, Maltesers or Cheese Footballs as golf balls).
  • Recreate this advert (I take no responsibility for any injury caused, and presumably neither do the ad's creators).
  • Look at your reflection in the back of a spoon, to create the illusion that you are Ant out of Ant & Dec.
  • Make a loose fist, place the second and third fingers against the back of a tablespoon, and move your first and fourth fingers up and down. The reflection will look like a naked sailor doing the washing-up.

Current mood: procrastinating when I ought to be doing something important.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

It's a new dawn, a new day, a new life, and I feel like blogging.

I thought it was about time that I started adding fancy stuff like tags to my blog that I have cultivated for ages... then I decided I might as well get a whole fresh new look. I'm leaving that old blog up as it is (if it's not broke, don't fix it) but starting up this new one that's pretty much a continuation of it.
Hopefully this one should look even more sleek and stylish (i've even slimmed-down my username!), even if it's filled with the same old silliness. I've also decided to add a "current mood" at the end of each post, illustrated with a (hopefully mildly amusing) picture. At the moment I'm rather chipper because I've finished a few essays and I'm drinking Jagermeister and coke (an excellent combination), and I'm very tempted to drink enough to get hyper and attempt to dance a celebratory jig around my new, pokey little flat. So, current mood: happy/dancey/high.