Thursday, 5 December 2019

The best and worst food and drink of the 80s (Part 1)

Angel Delight




If the manufacturer, Birds, asked for two words to perfectly sum up what just happened in your mouth after placing a spoonful of this weird substance into it, neither Angel nor Delight would enter your mind.  This 'instant dessert' begins its life as an innocuous powder whose horrific destiny remains cloaked in anticipation and whimsy.  However, you then have to get off your arse, go to the fridge, open the fridge, remove a bottle of milk, open the milk, add a specifically measured out quantity of milk to the powder, whisk the abominable marriage of liquid and powder that acts like it doesn't want to be in the liquid until your arm gets really tired (8 seconds) and then leave it to slowly congeal for ten minutes whilst you put the top back on the milk, put it back in the fridge and then put the empty Angel Delight packet in the bin.  Under which trades description act is this considered instant? Instant shouldn't involve all that manual labour and waiting around.  Even instant coffee requires the boiling of a kettle!! A twix is instant! Maybe they should start calling them Instant Twixes? However, I digress... Once you've managed to concoct this pink gloopy violation against nature which looks more like something that would fall out of the back of a unicorn, you can finally tuck in.  Angel Delight always reminds me of the day I discovered my gag reflex.  I'm aware that some people find this entire debacle acceptable and eat tons of the stuff but consider this: There's the pink flavour but they've also sold it in the following flavours : Black Cherry, bubblegum, popcorn and butter mint - it's as if the texture wasn't enough to send you to the bathroom to shave your tongue.


American Cream Soda




The pop man (a bloke with a drop-side flatbed pickup with various bottles of fizzy drinks on the back) came in many guises in the 1980s. There was the Villa pop man, the Corona pop man and the Armani of the fizzy drinks delivery vehicles, the BARR pop man.  They would travel around the neighbourhood hawking glass ridged bottles with metal screw caps in crates of as many litres as your sinuses could handle before you passed out from the resulting nosebleeds.  Then, the following week, you'd return your empties and receive a deposit of ten English pence as a kind of delayed discount.  Flavours were as exotic or as common as you'd like; whether you were a straight lemonade person or a dandelion and burdock person (nobody has ever seen a burdock in the wild by the way, they're a complete myth), they catered to your taste and removed your teeth by slowly dissolving them in sugary volcanic fluids over a period of weeks. The milkman tried to get in on the act towards the back end of the 80s by delivering orange juice in milk-bottles with orange foil lids but we knew better - that was healthy and we were buggered if we were putting anything other than he-man jellies, chewits and flying saucers in our mush, all washed down with non-diet extra-caffeinated double strength Panda Cola.  Then came Asda and Kwik Save with their smart price cola by the gallon and the memory of the pop man faded.  One thing that never faded however was the memory of American Cream Soda. Whether you loved or hated it, you never forgot the flavour. It was called cream soda because it was meant to taste of ice cream and some lunatics would actually put ice cream in the drink itself so that you got a lovely greasy film on the top and ruined both things at the same time. The original drink back in the 1800s was made with egg whites and flour, which the Victorians believed were the ideal ingredients for a refreshing drink. Idiots.



Arctic Roll




It's bad enough combining sponge and ice cream in the first place (or 'crossing the streams' as I call it) without choosing sponge which tastes like it's been infused with Michael Owen's personality and the ice cream equivalent of being punched in the face. The ice cream I talk of is the type you find in Screwballs; it stays frozen for about twelve seconds after taking it out of the freezer before the whole dessert collapses into a kind of vanilla sponge puree.  I think people bought them in the 80s because they were 3p each and had the word 'arctic' in it, which sounded exotic, Like Polar Bears and Eskimos. Quite who allowed them to call this a 'dessert' however, needs to be removed from the dessert naming council along with whoever allowed Macarons to exist. These people are the true enemies of society.



Babycham



There were quite a few ways to achieve underage drinking with a degree of legitimacy in the 80s.  Top Deck, Rum Raisin Chocolate, Chocolate Liqueurs at Christmas and what was advertised as 'a bit like champagne but a 'baby' version so it's alright to give to your kids on new years eve', Babycham.  It had Bambi on the front for a start and it was sweet and fizzy! In what world did they think kids wouldn't be interested? Their advertising campaign featured a bloke who looked like he could bench-press a polar bear going up to the bar, overhearing someone order a babycham only to interject, look meanly at the bar tender and say (in a voice so butch, it had it's own set of testicles) 'Hey, I'd love a babycham'.  'Wow', I thought, 'it's not just a drink for those of a feminine persuasion, even huge blokes into weightlifting and wrestling (both of which involve spandex and one of which involves sweaty men sitting on other equally sweaty men) like it'.  So, at the age of thirteen on New Year's Eve, I'd wade through four bottles of the stuff and pass out under the kitchen table with half a melted wispa stuck to my face. Good times.



Ice Pops



Ah, the days of thinking that 10ml of diluted cordial, pumped into a long thin plastic pouch which had been frozen could satisfy your every need.  When you analyse the humble icepop, it becomes apparent that, had someone charged you 5p then defrosted one and served it to you in a thimble, you'd be outraged. Yet here you were, trying to get the thing open, losing two teeth and an eye in the process, borrowing your dad's band-saw to finally get the NASA sealed polythene open then sucking all of the cordial out of the mixture, getting brain freeze three times and then tipping it upside down to drain the last droplets of overflavoured syrup into your now furry gob. And to this day, nobody knows what flavour the blue ones were.  Some will try and convince you that they were raspberry but don't believe them - raspberries are not blue. I've seen one. Ice pops of course had an evil cousin, that was the 'tip top' carton which was sold in some underground corner shops at room temperature. It masqueraded as a drink and allowed you to pop a thin red straw through its thin plastic lid to 'enjoy'.  However, proper, wholesome corner shops froze them into a fat short ice pop.  Sucking at one of these for about three days removed all of the cordial and left behind a small block of ice which was no use to anyone. Still, for 10p, it gave you something to do and you saved loads of money on actual meals. The modern equivalent of the Ice Pop and the frozen Tip Top is the Callipo - somehow managing to combine the horror of both at fifteen times the price.


Lucozade




Whenever I think about being ill in the 80s, it reminds me of two things - Heinz Tomato Soup and Lucozade.  Lucozade these days is all isotonic this and sports drink that but I remember when it came in one flavour; woodlouse.  Wikipedia describes Lucozade as a 'slightly orange-flavoured' drink. It was as slightly orange flavoured as the inside of my belly button.  It came in a horrible orangy-yellow bottle wrapped in the loudest cellophane known to mankind.  I think Lucozade might be a descendant of that 'cure all ailments' tonic that travelling salesmen would sell outside the circus in cowboy days.  It was originally called 'Glucozade' in the 20s before diabetes was invented and then marketed as an energy drink in the 30s with the slogan 'Lucozade aids recovery'.    It took Daley Thompson to convince people you could drink it if you were healthy and John Barnes to convince us that it was in balance with our body fluids. Let's just take a minute to think about John Barnes' body fluids. Done that? Good.  I was always suspicious of drinks that wouldn't tell you what flavour they were.  Tizer and Vimto were like that - they'd sneak things into your body before it was law to put the ingredients on the back and then when they were forced to by the nutrition police, they made things up like safflower and black carrot. Nobody knows what they are!  Cosmetic products these days advertise on TV with phrases like 'Now containing Splankadank bean extract and hydro-anti-firming-night-agent-ahol'.  We lap it up because we assume it must be good for us.  Not me however, I'm still suspicious of things that aren't named after their ingredients. If it's not called Lemon drops or beefy fingers, I'm not eating it.



Um Bongo



I'm not so sure the advert for this fruity drink was accurate you know. It told us that it was concocted by a Hippo, a Rhino, a Python, a marmoset and a Parrot.  The reason I don't believe this is that I don't think that lot would get on without eating each other never mind form an effective and efficient team where they respected each members choice of fruit to enter the cocktail.  Just imagine trying to make an alcoholic punch for your house party by canvassing opinion as to what should go into it, then ejecting the person who suggests putting Baileys and Tequila in it.  If it was up to me, the Python would be out of the committee because it picked the Passion Fruit which has no business here or anywhere there are civilised people.  Also, the Rhino was given exclusive naming rights probably because nobody argued when he said 'I know, we'll call it um bongo'. There's also no empirical evidence that anyone in the Congo actually drinks this stuff.


Tab Clear




I used to love it when this was available in the shops because I could do my 'packet of tabs' joke. It would probably still be funny today if it was still on sale. It was purported to be Coca Cola but clear.  I never understood what that was all about - why sell a drink that tastes exactly like another drink but change the colour? Whatever the reason, I had exactly one can of the stuff, thought it tasted like being thrown off a bus and then it disappeared from shops within the year. Most people obviously agreed!

These would be great in a zombie apocalypse or in a nuclear winter.  I think the use by dates are about fifty years in the future aren't they? Tinned pies. Who thought of putting a pie in a tin?  In fact there are worse things I've seen in tins. For beginners, tinned 'burgers' (covered in lard), which reminds me of that meat you can buy that's in the shape of a bear's face to get kids to eat it! Anyway, back to the point;  canned whole chicken(!), ox tongue(!) and prawns(??).  You. Don't. Put. Prawns. In. A. Tin. If memory serves, you don't even open the Fray Bentos tin to cook it. They always came in one of those hampers you ordered to come three weeks before Christmas which always had one of those disgusting caramel jelly puddings that would sit at the back of your cupboard until you had a new kitchen fitted twenty years later. You'd find it sitting on top of the Fray Bentos pie which was still in date and looked strangely tempting.


Orangina



The slogan for this was 'Shake it to wake it'. The last thing I want is my drink becoming sentient before I imbibe it. The selling point for this was the funky shaped bottles which masked the fact you were getting just two sips for three times the price of fifteen time the volume of comparable orangeade. It was the Perrier of fizzy orange and it had bits floating in it.  You have to shake it to fluff up the bits so they didn't all come out in a disgusting lump of orange pulp like drinking from a spittoon.  It's only weirdos who buy orange with pulp and only the really weird weirdos who pay over the odds for a barely discernible hint of fizzy orange with floating debris.


Capri-sun



Sardines. Has there ever been a product whose contents are as unworthy of the amount of effort you have to put in to open it? A tin of sardines is like one of those 'escape the room' games.  You have to locate a key, attach it to a sliver of metal which is cunningly hidden under the livery and once attached (using your degree in physics) you can begin the 'unwinding' process.  It takes at least an hour to complete, makes both of your hands spasm into a kind of claw which you're unable to move for at least another hour and creates a razor-sharp metal edge that could make light work of a coconut. Then you look inside the tin, wretch, and tip the contents into the bin and go and get an apple instead.  There were many products on sale in the 80s that were near to impossible to open, especially if you couldn't find the tin opener and found yourself stabbing at the top of a can of soup with a carving knife.  These days of course they have ring pulls and other genius solutions, however, Capri-sun continue to persist with the quasi-foil packet which is impossible to pierce.  They give you a straw and they've helpfully shaved one of the ends into a scalpel to make it 'easy' to pop into the 'entry point' which is signified by a small round silver target.  However, when you finally manage to exert enough force to penetrate this foil disc, your grip on the pouch is such, all the liquid inside comes squirting out into your eyes, disorientating you, covering the lino in slippy fruit juice and sending you to A&E via the air ambulance.  Either that or you can snip the top off with a pair of scissors; of course, you'll just need to free the scissors from the hard plastic clam-shell packaging and diamond strength twist-ties clamping the scissors together first.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

The best and worst of 80's television (Part 1)

The best and worst of 80's television (Part 1)

With only three channels to choose from at the start of the decade it was very much 'you get what you’re given and like it'.  This might account for why some adverts were inexplicably popular and why everyone in the country knew who the Krankies were.  Channel 4 appeared in 1982 and brought us what we’d been waiting for since the invention of television – Countdown.  The four channels, much like the four horsemen of the apocalypse, brought much pestilence into our living rooms.  Mostly Dallas and Dynasty, but also Eastenders and Brookside so things weren’t all bad.  Growing up in the 1980s though meant cartoons, people in colourful outfits shouting at us to make things out of old fairy liquid bottles (the big white ones with the red cap) and making us listen to an old, saggy cloth cat.

Bagpuss


It took me years to work out who Kevin Day reminded me of. If you Google image him, you’ll see it’s everyone’s favourite lazy pink and white stuffed cat.  There were only 13 episodes ever made of Bagpuss, though because it was repeated ad infinitum at lunch times and I had a shocking short term memory, it felt like 113.  The shop that Bagpuss lived in didn’t sell anything; a lot like shops on the Highstreet these days! A little girl would come by every now and then to leave lost and broken things in the window so that their owners could come and collect them.  Once she left, the shop became a bit like Toy Story in that all the stuff in there came to life.  A frog with a banjo, a doll with a face like she’d just sat on a hairbrush...



...a stuffy wooden woodpecker (the irony) who spent the entire time whinging about the mice (who had creepily climbed out of the 2D pattern on the fireplace). 

Bagpuss, like any manager, sat around yawning, not doing much, barking orders at his ‘staff’ and took all the credit once the item had been fixed or whatever.  He’d then do a huge yawn, go back to sleep and send all the things that had come to life, back to being lifeless disaffected statues with no discernible purpose or personality.  The plot would have been much the same had it been set in my local branch of McDonalds.

Button Moon


A wonderful tale of irresponsible parenting this.  Mr. Spoon was so called because he had spoons for arms making my name, Mr. Arms. He had a wife and young daughter but that didn’t stop him pursuing his extremely dangerous hobby of astronavigation.  Travelling to a 2-dimensional moon made of a huge yellow button upon which various creatures made out of kitchen utensils lived. 

The suspicious thing is, it was Mrs. Spoon who made the rocket in which he travelled to the moon, out of a Heinz beans can and a funnel and then and gifted it to her husband, knowing full well he had no opposable thumbs with which to steer it. Let’s just say, I’m pretty sure she wanted him out of the way for some reason.  We never saw what was going on back on Trash planet when Mr. Spoon was fraternising with aliens.  My guess is that she was getting some stubborn stains off her wok with the ‘Scrub Buddy’ she had for hair.

Cockleshell Bay
 


Cockleshell Bay had one of the most heart-breaking theme tunes of all time.  Listen Here  Second only to the one on the end of ‘The Incredible Hulk’ TV series. Listen Here.  Either could happily be played over a montage on the news of a report on something awful.  This was meant to be an upbeat kids TV show and after listening to the theme at the end, I’d wander off back to school after my lunch, rethinking my life choices.  I was only four!

Robin and Rosie Cockle (dressed like early versions of Freddie Krueger) lived in the Bucket and Spade guest house with their parents.  Their dad, Chris Cockle bought the guest house because he didn’t want to work in a factory anymore. This is a backstory I identify with more and more in later life; completely lost on me back then.  It was the other characters that creeped me out.  First, they had a ‘Gran’ who wasn’t actually their Gran, they just called her Gran.  She helped out around the house and it wasn’t clear why – or if she got paid.  The kids had a fisherman ‘friend’ called Mr. Ship (who had sideboards like shredded wheat) who was at least in his 50s. Nothing dodgy about that in the 80s though.  Mr. McGinty was also hanging around with his face like every photofit you’ve ever seen on Crimewatch.  He owned a donkey called ‘Fury’ whose choice of name was never elaborated on although it probably had undiagnosed anger management issues and an intelligent Seagull called Ben Gunn; named after the character in Treasure Island.  I think all animals should have a first name and a surname.  In fact, I've just started calling my cat Trevor Dobson.


Rainbow
 

This was one of the most iconic kids TV shows of all time.  It was a little bit like Sesame Street with the ‘puppets interacting with humans’ theme, all of which became legendary.  The characters, who all lived in a kind of foster home together (and did nothing but argue with each other all day) included Zippy (a warning of what happens when cousins marry), George (a pink hippo with no moral fibre), Bungle (a distant relative of Chewbacca) and Geoffrey who was their legal guardian. 


Zippy’s eyes were stuck on and he couldn’t blink (or he was on something to help keep him awake); George on the other hand had blinkable eyes with long pink eyelashes.  This is probably the source of the animosity between the two.  Whenever anyone got annoyed with Zippy, they’d just zip his mouth shut.  I distinctly remember the episode where Zippy realised he could simply unzip it himself however. He then descended into a life of crime with his new life in a world without consequence. 

Bungle spent most of the time whinging about Zippy and wandering around naked. In one episode, he’d just been in the bath and entered the room with his lower half covered with a towel.  He also wore full-body pyjamas for bed.  1970s Bungle looked like it had crawled out of Wes Craven’s imagination...

"Good evening, I'm here to eat your soul"
...whilst the 1980s Bungle looked a lot friendlier and less likely to eat your children.  There were stories, arguments, whinging, arguments and Rod, Jane and Freddy who’d pop in, sing a song and pop back out again.  What fun!

The Test Card


The girl on Test Card F could see into your soul.  Staring out, sucking the very essence from you as you sat munching on your Coco Pops, waiting for that day’s television to start.  She had a distinct Mona Lisa quality to her; her enigmatic smile saying either ‘I know what you did last summer’ or ‘what do you mean, noughts and crosses is a two-player game? Creepy the clown here tells me his moves in my thoughts and I write them on the board’ followed by that weird teeth-lips thing Hannibal Lecter does after saying ‘with a nice chianti’.  Ironically, the clown looks like something the killer in Silence of the Lambs would have made as a trophy.  I realise now that these things were used for the same reason you do a ‘test print’ on your printer to make sure all the colours work whilst wasting 80% of your ink which cost £400.

The Flumps


An absolutely gorgeous children’s TV program this.  Hard to believe there were only 13 episodes ever made of this family of living pompoms.  We didn’t have any indication of their life expectancy but there were three generations in the Flump household. 

A strange race of creatures, their faces were expressionless and incapable of movement but their fingers would wiggle about excitedly, betraying their inner sentiments.  Each Flump was a stereotype, teaching kids that Father Flump (and therefore all fathers) only did DIY, Mother Flump (and therefore all mothers) just tidied up, cooked and looked after the children and Grandpa Flump spent his twilight days playing the Flumpet or sleeping in his comfy chair with the newspaper over his face. 

There were three children Flumps; Perkin, Posie and Pootle, the latter wearing a white bobble hat and skipping about the place with wide-eyed innocent abandon as he had not yet been exposed to the horrors of reality.

 The Moomins



The Moomins was an early version of Keeping up with the Kardashians.  Strange characters with large posteriors communicating in a strange language and living in a fantasy world. Characters included Moominmamma (the matriarch), Moominpappa (the patriarch) and Moomintroll (the one who bothered people on the internet).  Little My was an anarchist who sabotaged everyone’s happiness, including my own, Sniff was a Kangaroo-dog (or a dog that was bitten by a radioactive kangaroo), Snork Maiden was what you’d expect to find hiding in a wardrobe in a haunted house, Snufkin was a transient character who wandered in and out of the story as he pleased and Too-Ticky, who was the only character who didn’t hibernate. 

I thought the Moomins were Hippos but they're not; maybe they’re homeless tortoises?  The theme tune to the show was an absolute delight however listen here, a masterclass of Piccolos and Tubas. 

My enduring memory of this show was that no stories ever really came to a satisfactory conclusion during the episode you were watching, preferring to leave you hanging until the next episode when the story from the previous week was skilfully ignored.  I never did find out whether they survived that storm at sea.  Anyone?

Thundercats


Whilst the title of this show has now seeped into the unconscious of all who saw it in the 80s.  Watch the intro on YouTube here and you’ll pass out with excitement.  The cats of course were humanoid aliens with feline sensibilities.  There was Lion-O (the stuff you cover kitchen floors with), who would hold his sword aloft and watch it get exponentially larger whilst shouting ‘Thundercats – Ho’, to which Cheetara would reply, ‘I wish you’d stop calling me that’.   There was also Panthro (a panther), Tygra (a tiger), WilyKit and WilyKat (together making a chocolate covered wafer snack) and Snarf – who was adopted. 

The most glorious of all the characters though was the wonderful Mumm-ra who was a demon-priest, the ever-living source of evil with powers of sorcery and an unlimited lifespan.  He’d creep out of his coffin, incant something about the ancient spirits and then give out an angry roar through the awful strings of saliva between his lips.  His only weakness was mirrors. Seeing himself forced him to retreat into his little pyramid.  If only they’d invented snapchat filters.

Bod
Bod was a perfectly bald baby who had mastered bi-pedal movement and lived in a bleak featureless wilderness of primary colours with his vertical-eyed Auntie.  Aunt Flo’s nose looked exactly like her eyes (or she had three eyes and couldn’t smell anything), her ears were on her cheeks and her 4-strands-of-hair-fringe always faced the front whichever way she turned her head.  She also carried a small meatball on her head wherever she went.  Bod, in his yellow mini-dress, shared his realm with various municipal workers.  If you were going to think up names for characters you’ve created which include a policeman, a farmer and a postman – then spend many many months in deep thought, you'd probably give up and just use the names Farmer Barleymow, PC Copper and Frank the Postman.

At the start of the program, Bod would begin as a tiny dot in the distance and wander towards us with the creepiest look on his face you can imagine, getting closer and closer but then stopping short of actually climbing out of the TV screen like the horror movie The Ring.  PC Copper kept his helmet on by hooking the chinstrap to the underside of his moustache which would spring forward every time he spoke as if his breath could be measured on the Fujita scale.  His eyes were also vertical, suggesting the world of Bod was inhabited by lizard-creatures wearing human skin-suits to hoodwink Bod, whose eyes were made of apple pips.  I might be looking into this too much.

Bullseye
 

Bullseye was shown on a Sunday evening when everyone was in the house because there were no shops open and sitting in front of the television munching on an evening meal consisting of triangle cut ham and peas pudding sandwiches, a communal bowl of crisps, wagon wheels and/or arctic roll, Vienetta or Mr Kipling’s French Fancies. 

It was presented by the hugely underrated Jim Bowen who always looked like he didn’t know he was supposed to be hosting the program, which I’m sure was deliberate.  Darts was one of the biggest sports shown on television in the 80s and the creators of this show jumped on that to centre the entire program around throwing small missiles at round segmented targets eight feet away to win a series of amazing and terrible prizes.

Three couples competed against each other; one dart player and one non-dart player; though there seemed to be no rule against having one dart player and another dart player with decent a grasp of general knowledge.  The non-dart player was required to throw darts in later rounds and it soon turned out that their knowledge of the Boer War was usurped by their inability to throw a dart in a straight line when they failed to win any prizes. 

In the first round, contestants had to select a question category such as ‘History’ and then watch as their dart player friend missed that category on the board and instead hit ‘Astrophysics’.  In the next round, the contestants played for the amount of money equivalent to the score their dart-player friend achieved – usually around £26.  The third round presented the contestants with a prize board – eight red sections and a Bullseye where plopping your dart into the red bit could win you prizes such as a hostess trolley, rocking chair, chemistry set, a £1 carriage clock, a Yamaha keyboard with eight keys or a terrarium! 

The drama would really ramp up when, after winning two of the eight prizes which were worth a total of £4.78, the contestants were asked if they wanted to gamble those against the mystery prize or take the money they won in round two and the amazing prizes.  The contestants would often reply with ‘we’ve had a lovely day’ and then take their prizes home. 

The gamble came in the shape of a game where they only had to score 101 or more with six darts.  It can be done in two, but bearing in mind the non-dart player nearly speared Tony Green to the wall with one of their darts during the prize round, it’s not a foregone conclusion.  It always seemed that if the contestants failed, the star prize would be a new car and if they won, they’d quickly switch the prize behind the screen and wheel out a caravan or speed boat.

Mr Benn


Mr Benn was an animated middle-aged man in a suit and bowler hat who hated his real life so much, he went into a fancy dress shop, put on a costume, had a delusional episode in which he went on an adventure linked to his costume before returning the costume without paying for or hiring it then went back to his monotonous existence in which he wears a suit to make himself feel a modicum of self-worth.  The show had a lot in common with the Walter Mitty stories though Benn himself doesn’t wander around bragging about his adventures to anyone.  Saying things like ‘I’ve just been to space and had a fight with three aliens that looked like seahorses’ would probably have earned him a trip to the hospital. I’m convinced the shopkeeper was slipping Mr Benn something whenever he came into the shop.  The BBC never did broadcast the episode where Mr Benn went into the magic changing room with the sparkly thong and nipple tassels.
Chorlton and the Wheelies
 

Chorlton was a Happiness Dragon who lived in Wheelie World, a town inhabited by creatures who travelled about the place on wheels.  The world was in perpetual conflict with Fenella the witch (who was Welsh with missing teeth and a huge green face) who didn’t want anyone to enjoy themselves (she went on to write scripts for Mrs Brown’s Boys) but Chorlton (who had absolutely no idea she was evil, or knew anything about anything or how to do it) would greet her by saying ‘ey up little old lady’ and unknowingly counteract Fenella’s unhappiness spells just by being alive.  Fenella’s best friends and allies were a sentient spell book and a telescope.

One of the more surreal moments in the program occurred when Fenella’s son turned up.  He was so tall, all we ever saw was his leg.  We never saw the episode where she had to explain to him that he was adopted.
 

Wizbit


I’m not afraid to admit that I loved Paul Daniels and his magic shows were a thing of wonder in the 80s.  He was also a very natural and funny quiz show host (I also like Noel Edmunds btw) but this show, as fun as it was through the eyes of a ten year old, had some themes which would have freaked John Lennon out at the time he was writing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. 

Wizbit was an alien trying to learn about earth but you couldn’t sympathise because he was a huge yellow hat with arms and legs and eyes that stopped you sleeping for weeks.  To top the nightmare off, his bestie was an eight foot tall rabbit with a constant pained sinister expression on his extremely wide face. 


Professor Doom was the antagonist whose evil plans would be thwarted weekly by solving some lateral thinking puzzles.  You couldn’t get in to the town of Puzzleopolis unless you solved a puzzle and just outside the town was a talking purple slimy bog.  I’m sure the program makers were trying to coin a quotable catchphrase like ‘Fandabidozi’, ‘What you talkn’ ‘bout Willis’, ‘Hey you guys’ or ‘I pity the fool’ when they made Wizbit’s magic word ‘Ostagazuzulum’.  Nobody has ever used this word in the real world with their own mouth out loud.

Chock-A-Block
 

Chock-a-block was a massive yellow computer which filled the room and had less processing power than a Nokia 3310.  It had a TV screen, microphone, tape recorder, buttons and graphics off Ceefax. Much like a Nokia 3310. The program was presented by someone dressed in white overalls, playing the part of the ‘technician’ that maintained the computer (the one who switched it off and on again when it crashed).  The best part was guessing if it would be Fred Harris or Carol Leader who rode in on the chock-a-truck (an electric car which was the precursor of the Nissan Leaf). 
 
The ‘block’ in the title was actually the mass-storage media the computer used, like a USB stick but an early 80s version which more resembled those 8-track cartridges from the 70s.  There were songs, rocking the blocks to find the rhyming pairs and stories.  After all the fun, Chocka-bloke or Chocka-girl would drive away and turn off all the lights.
Orm and Cheep
 

This was a puppet show which paired a baby bird (Cheep) and a worm (Orm), co-habiting.  Cheep’s entire focus is on learning to fly but until he grows proper feathers, he befriends the imaginatively named Snail, Mole and Mouse.  He did have some mortal enemies in Rat, Cat and Crow who all wanted to have Cheep for lunch.  As with many of the puppets in the shows I’ve mentioned so far, the creators decided to give them immovable expressions so whatever mood they were in, they’d still looked shocked or overjoyed. 
 
It reminds me of the time Eamonn Holmes tweeted out some tragic news (when he was the anchor on Sky News) and in his general profile picture, he was laughing.  In Cheep’s case, he looked like he’d just sat on something pointy and Orm (with his massive bulging eyes) looked like he’d just seen something in the woods of which he will ne’er speak again.  Although the series never ran long enough for Cheep to grow his flight feathers and turn into an adult bird, there was bound to be a moment when he turned to his worm friend and saw him as food. 

Knightmare 

This was a Kids TV program everyone who was a child in the 80s wanted to go on.  However, nobody wanted to be the one who had to wear a massive helmet on their head and be told what to do.  The helmet was to shield the dungeoneer’s sight as they were just shuffling around a blank TV studio and the graphics of the rooms in Castle Knightmare were added with computer trickery later. 
 
Four children entered the lair of a creepy man with glassy eyes and a dubious beard and one was sent out into the studio to ‘play’ the game whilst the other three watched on using a TV monitor.  There were puzzles, obstacles and characters to interact with.  Mostly, the three advisers would spend more time describing the room the dungeoneer had entered down to the minutia of the colour of the bricks on the east wall than telling their stricken colleague that there were rotating blades of death coming towards them and they should ‘take one sidestep to the left’. 

He-Man and the masters of the Universe

There wasn’t a person alive in the 80s who didn’t know who He-Man was.  Based on a range of toys, rather than trying to cash in the other way around like certain films set amongst the stars where there were some wars going on, He-Man began in 1983 and ran for two years with 130 episodes.  It’s hard to imagine that it was possible to fight Skeletor that many times, but he managed it.  He-Man’s real name was Adam and in the credits he tells us that he discovered he had magic powers the day he held aloft his sword and shouted ‘By the power of Grayskull’.  Why he did this the first time isn’t clear – it’s not like he was sitting around the palace, bored, wondering what to do next with all his money and blonde bob.  “I know”, he must have thought, “I’ll go outside, hold my sword aloft and just shout things – anything – whatever comes into my head.  That’ll pass a few hours.”  Luckily, he just happened upon those now immortal words.  Not only this, but when his body is engulfed by lightning and various other dangerous looking lasers, making his muscular structure a little bit more muscular, his clothes turn into a strappy-top and his trousers into fluffy knickers, then he points his glowing electrically charged sword at his cat! Luckily, it didn’t turn Cringer into a kebab and caused him to grow a helmet and saddle from nowhere.  Then He-man runs up to the television screen and punches it full force in the face, causing the name of the executive producer to appear.

He-Man only told a select few people about his magic sword, those being Man-at-Arms (real name Duncan) and Orko, a creepy flying dress with eyes, a scarf and a pointy hat whose magic often went wrong.  Teela wasn’t allowed to know that He-man and Adam were the same person yet an inter-dimensional idiot with blue pointy ears was? 
 
My favourite character of all however, for two reasons, is Mekaneck, who had a mechanical prosthetic telescopic neck.  Firstly, he was the tastiest of all the He-Man jellies and secondly, his son was called Philip.  Philip Mekaneck. (True story) 

Skeletor was of course the most famous of all the arch-enemies. A confusing beast until this very day.  Firstly, his voice was the least scary in all of Eternia; he sounded like a trapped Peacock with piles.  Also, he could fire magic out of his fingers but always decided on conjouring some giant beetle or monster made out of chewing gum to have a fight with He-Man instead of shooting his magic directly at He-Man’s face.  Thirdly, Skeletor’s face was a skull; his name was Skeletor (indicating his resemblance to a skeleton) but his body was rippling with muscles in his tight fitting blue spandex outfit.  For that reason, from this day on, I shall only ever call him Skullator.

 


Sunday, 28 July 2019

The worst sweets of the 1980s (Part 1)


Everybody has had a quarter of something haven’t they? Someone, at some point, decided that a quarter of a pound (4 ounces or 113.398 grams) was the perfect measure of any kind of confectionary kept in jars.  I don’t know if kids these days go into a shop and ask for 113.398 grams of cola cubes but if they don’t, they should. 
 
The shop keeper would grab the jar from a high shelf, unscrew the top and empty the contents into a large silver gravy boat attached to a series of numbers with a red needle which would crawl up the scale the more sweets were decanted into said handleless-gravy-boat.  They’d take a sweet out, then put it back in, take it out and put it back in because the needle wouldn’t settle on exactly four ounces.  Then they’d pour the meticulously measured sweets into a white paper bag, fold the top and write the price on it in black crayon.  Buying a quarter of Trillions meant you got hundreds of sweets whereas a quarter of Raspberry Ruffles resulted in barely three or four.  You had to choose wisely! In order for you to do so (should you ever find yourself transported back to the 80s via an elaborate accident) here’s a guide to the worst of all the confectionary the 1980s had to offer.

Candy Cigarettes
Adults who want to give up smoking have nicotine patches and gum but what if you want to start smoking?  How do you begin gently and make your way up to filterless cigars?  Look no further.  There were a few different kinds of candy cigarettes.  There were the ones that looked exactly like cigarettes in boxes labelled almost identically to the real thing too.  Marlboro became ‘Marboro’, Camel became ‘Acmel’ and some even had a picture of a bloke on the front puffing away on his carcinogenic ‘treat’ with a smiling boy gazing up at him lovingly, laughing and longing for the days when he can have emphysema and a mechanical device with which to speak with the slogan ‘Just like Dad’ in gold letters.
 

The 80s however toned it down slightly by plying us with simple white candy sticks with a blob of red colouring at one end to make it clear which end was ‘lit’ and which end to eat it from.  Then we had the chocolate ones which were wrapped in paper.  Nobody ever told us whether the paper was edible; it didn’t taste edible but we’d eat it anyway.  Maybe it was carcinogenic to make us feel just like the grown-ups?

Sweet Tobacco

Not hooked on smoking yet?  Go further back in time to a period when pipes and roll-ups were all the rage.  Sweet Tobacco (or Spanish Gold) was made of coconut strands dipped in chocolate powder and sold in small foil pouches just like the real thing! I never tried to set fire to it but it would probably have singed my eyebrows off.
 

Old Jamaica
Now that you’re a 40-a-day smoker, why not start drinking too?  How can children legally ply themselves with alcohol though? With chocolate covered raisins absolutely dripping in rum!  If that’s not enough then you could wash it down with a can of Top Deck.  This was a brand that included flavours such as Limeade and Lager and Lemonade and Lager.  This was a soft drink for kids which contained actual alcohol – the can proudly stated that the drink was ‘not over 0.2% proof’.  After downing six cans of this during playtime, it was common for everyone to start slapping each other on the back, attempting to remain upright and declaring that everyone present was their best friend.
 

Turkish Delight
What exactly was this abomination? If you’re one of the weirdos who actually likes Turkish Delight, please close this browser and never return.  The worst kind of this was the one covered in dust, probably icing sugar, trying to disguise the jellied wasp stings beneath.  At least the chocolate covered one masked the horror of what it contained, slightly.  The thing that makes The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe so outlandishly implausible and far-fetched is the fact Edmund asks the witch for more Turkish Delight. That. Would. Never. Happen.  However, being met in a forest by a faun is quite possible.
 

Liquorice Allsorts
Has anyone ever put one of those bobbly blue liquorice Allsorts in their mouth and swallowed it? It tastes of being punched in the face, being electrocuted whilst simultaneously gargling with hot vinegar.  Why would they make these? Why would they put them in bags and charge us to eat them?  Why?

 

Flying Saucers
Two discs of sugar paper, joined around the rim with intolerably fizzy sherbet in between.  You put them on your tongue, let the paper melt and wait for the sherbet to fall out, stinging your salivary glands and causing water to jet from your eyes like a drinking fountain.



Dairy Milk Dispenser
Christmas wasn’t Christmas as a child without a personal mini Dairy Milk vending machine.  This red plastic tiny replica of a vending machine ejected bite-sized nuggets of dairy milk chocolate every time you pushed a two-pence-piece into one of the two slots.  Part toy, part money box, once all the chocolate was gone, the apparatus was rendered useless.  Unless you also had some…

 

Terry’s Neapolitans
I know I’m about 35 years late with this life-hack but these rectangular bite-sized variously flavoured chocolates were the ideal size to fit into the Dairy Milk Dispenser.  These tasty little chocolates came in dark, milk, orange and coffee flavours but none of them actually tasted like any of these flavours.
 

Chocolate cups
Coming in at a princely 3p per cup, these were chunks of chocolate contained in brightly coloured foil fairy-cake cases.  The odd thing about them was the fact they tasted cold (they were also sold under the name ‘icy cups’) which was just witchcraft to an eight year old.  Turns out however, that it’s just the hydrogenated coconut oil stealing your body heat and clogging up your coronary arteries.  So it was all fun, wasn’t it?
 

Fizz Bombs
Remember the days when you didn’t want your taste buds to work for a few weeks?  When you wanted the inside of your mouth to resemble the back of an Armadillo?  When you wanted to pull faces your face couldn’t ever hope to pull?  When you wanted the outer layer of enamel stripped from your teeth?  Then fizz bombs were for you.  They were nonsensically fizzy round coarse sweets just small enough to pop into your mouth; the level of fizz was such, they’d be in a tub under clear supervision by the shopkeeper on the counter in front of them in order to enact the one-per-customer rule enforceable by law (or at least it should have been).
 

Foam Shrimps
Only in the nightmares of Tim Burton has anything so foul existed.  Not only were they a ghastly shade of pink but they had an embossed impression of a dead shrimp printed into them.  This, however, wasn’t deemed disgusting enough so the manufacturers decided to make them out of packing material (or possibly asbestos).  These were on sale for a great numbers of years, which means someone was eating them. Who was eating them? And their sister product, the foam bananas. They were even worse and I think I’m right in saying there was also a product made of the same foam-stuff which looked like a set of false teeth.  This only supports the theory that kids will eat anything. Bogeys. Ear wax. That stuff you find in your belly button.  The worst of all though is the foam shrimp.  I’d rather eat someone else’s ear wax.
 

Screwball
All of the sweets mentioned so far are riddled with memories of childhood, but in the harsh spotlight of adulthood, the products themselves are actually a bit scary.  However excited you might have been to get a screwball as a child, I defy anyone to remember actually enjoying one.  Forget the ones you’d get from the Mr. Whippy Ice Cream Van, they had actual ice cream in.  The ones I’m talking about came pre-packaged in a cone shaped piece of opaque plastic. They’d usually been lying at the bottom of a chest freezer in a dark corner of your local sweet shop for a good few months past their sell-by date.  You’d eagerly grab one (having to lean into the freezer so far, you were in serious danger of falling in and becoming a human screwball) with a sense of excitement unparalleled in your short existence.  Even if you’d already been through the horror of eating one, the allure was still the same because at the bottom of the ‘ice cream’ was a secret. A tempting cheeky secret. A bubble-gum ball which was frozen solid.  They’d cost you your entire pocket money so they also held the same prestige as a pair of Dunlop trainers do these days. 
They used to be a laughing stock in the 80s, being the cheapest of all the branded trainers and to make it through an entire day at school in a pair of Dunlops without being given a purple-nurple was an achievement.  Dunlop then slapped a £70 price tag on their trainers and all of a sudden, they’re prestigious and cool and everyone is wearing them with normal coloured nurples.  My point being, the 10p price tag of a Screwball elevated it into the elite of all confectionary and therefore, like caviar or Foie Gras, you were never allowed to admit that they were disgusting.
 

The cardboard lid would come off and reveal a tiny shovel with which to eat the Ice Cream.  However, it wasn’t Ice Cream, it was curdled milk which tasted like a blended Woodlice milkshake the likes of which wouldn’t even be offered on ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here’.  After forcing the gloopy non-Ice-Cream down and fighting back the tears, you’d discover the treasure of the Sierra Madre. A glacial sphere of pseudo-bubble-gum.  Once you’d managed to warm the bubble-gum up to mouth temperature, you’d still crack a molar on the outer shell.  Should you manage to make it pliable enough to chew, blowing a bubble with what now resembled crab paste, was impossible.  My advice, save your money up then buy a pack of Hubba-Bubba and a Vienetta.

Bone Shakers
There’s nothing like a replica plastic coffin and candy bones to bring the harsh reality of the transience of human existence home to a six-year-old child.  Sweets were too colourful, too much fun and too tasty to teach you of the impending doom lurking in your future so Swizzels Matlow decided to redress the balance.  Inside the coffin you’d find various candy bones which you could clip together to make a skeleton with one arm and one leg.  To make a full skeleton you needed to buy at least two.  Recently, an empty coffin (which originally cost about 8p) went on e-bay for £48. 
 

Caramac
One of life’s biggest unanswered questions. For what reason does this quasi-chocolate-tribute-act exist?
 
 

Candy Watches
Before Apple watches and FitBits, we had elastic string with candy beads and a massive clock face which you wore on your wrist (if there was something wrong with you) and then ate whist it was still on your wrist. I think it was meant to engender the same level of respect from your peer group as a Rolex does for an adult – that being, people stare at you with disdain for the fact you value yourself by what brand your watch is rather than through your societal interactions.  At least that's how I felt when I was seven years old and I saw someone wearing and then eating their candy watch.

They also came in a necklace version witch was exactly the same but without the massive piece of candy with the time emblazoned on it.  You’d pop the necklace on, bite some of the candy off, wetting the elastic in the process and then twang the string back in place, covering your neck in coloured saliva. Lovely.
Ironically, the time on these watches is exactly what happened to you when you ate too many candy watches
 
Choc Dips

Now we’re talking.  Choc Dips came in a little cardboard pot with a foil lid.  Peeling back the lid would uncover a small reservoir of Nutella-style chocolate spread and an arsenal of bread sticks to ‘go at it’ with.  There were two ways to eat a Choc Dip.  The first was the carefully measure how much Nutella you scooped out with each breadstick to ensure you weren’t either left with too much chocolate and nothing to scoop it out with (your finger usually sufficed) or no chocolate left and a surfeit of breadsticks which were disgusting eaten on their own.  Then they went a ruined it by bringing out a cheese version.  It was basically fondue for kids.
 
 
Highland Toffee

Toffee in any format is a bad idea.  It’s just so much hard work for very little reward.  You might remember those presents unimaginative Aunties would buy you for Christmas; a foil tray containing a block of toffee with a small silver hammer.  The fact you needed a hammer to eat it, put it up there with crabs and coconuts.  Too much hard work, not enough pleasure.
 
Firstly, getting the wrapper off a Highland Toffee was like trying to peel apart a supermarket carrier bag.  Once you’d broken into it, it was either too warm and would start to flop over to one side or it would be rock hard and remove at least three fillings.  Like I always say, just because it’s chewy doesn’t mean it’s good.  I don’t know why I always say that.

Push Pops
Remember those huge red dummies you could buy at fairgrounds, suck all day, get most of the stuff usually found down the back of the sofa stuck to it and then throw away with the thing almost exactly the same size it was when you bought it? Well, Push Pops were that condensed into a single stick which lurked inside a plastic tube until you pushed it and it popped out like the worst brand of lipstick ever.  This product also suffered from the saliva problem in that your spit would gather in the bottom of the tube to greet you on your next visit; all cold and congealed like yesterday’s pizza. Delicious.
 

Bubble-gum machines
I was never sure that the money needed to manufacture the metal stand, the glass container, mechanism for taking the money etc. would ever be made back and become profitable when all it sold was balls of bubble-gum for one penny each. They would probably become profitable in year six and in year seven make £3.21 profit.
 

These machines stood outside of most corner shops and invited you to slip a penny (or sometimes, in more affluent areas, a two pence coin) into the slot and turn a handle through 180 degrees until you received a satisfying clunk.  Turning the handle a further 180 degrees would cause a bubble-gum ball to drop into the dispensing tunnel.  You had to lift a small silver door and take your prize.  No hygiene involved at all.  Posh towns had these machines but they were 10p and you won (paid for) a small plastic ball containing a toy or something. Like Kinder Surprise without the chocolate.

Bazooka Joe

Chewing gum came in several different forms in the 80s.  All of it ended up under the desk at school.  This was a standard block of gum but it came wrapped in a comic, albeit a very small one.  Sadly, Bazooka Joe didn’t own a rocket launcher, he was a young boy who wore an eyepatch for an undisclosed reason. Maybe it was that day he tried to eat too many Bazooka Joes at once.  The comic strip was usually four cells long and featured a ‘hilarious’ joke alongside an advert for a bit of merch which wasn’t worth the wrapper it was printed on (3p).  Probably unrelated and made by a different company entirely, the kids who used to buy Bazooka Joes slowly progressed to buying bubble gum which came packaged with a transfer tattoo.  You licked your hand and pressed it against your skin to transfer the picture of a yellow smiley face.  The same children then became entranced by Acid House music and rave parties.
 
Pick ‘n’ Mix

Pick ‘n’ Mix was only available in very special places in the world.  Your local corner shop or supermarket didn’t have one so you usually had to travel to your nearest city and find a Woolworths (R.I.P.) or a cinema.  As previously mentioned, the weight of the sweet determined how many you could have, especially if it wasn’t you who was paying for it.  You’d find yourself standing in front of a series of plastic containers each filled with a different sweet and each with a plastic scoop protruding from it.  The idea was to get at least one of each of your favourites instead of having to buy a bag full of just one type of sweet.  However, you reach a pot containing your favourite sweet and scoop hundreds of them into your bag.  Regardless of how few sweets you thought you’d stuffed in your bag, once you got them on the scales you’d always have to put at least half back to bring the cost down under £5, then looking in the bag to see you’ve only got three cola bottles and a jelly crocodile.
 
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