We all know there is a cost of living crisis going on, right? Turn on the news and there is an endless list of reasons to feel like, what is the bloody point. Brexit, Tories, Ukraine, fuel costs, heating prices, covid…oh the list goes on and on.
Well on the upside, and it is a very small upside when compared to the yawning chasm of doom of the downside, our company gave us each £1000 to ease the strain of the burden of the rocketing costs of just being alive.
So what did I do, you ask? Did I put it towards my heating and electric bill, which is about to double? Did I put into savings for a rainy day? Maybe I donated it to those more needy that I am?
Did I fuck. I bought a pizza oven, that is what I did.
I have cancer, as I have written about before, and whilst not the worst type, it has certainly given me more of a ‘French’ approach to life recently. You knwo what I mean. If I was French and I had been given £1000 then I know for a fact that I’d be bollocks deep in brie and baguettes whilst sipping on red wine and contemplated what industrial action to take next.
Yup, so with my blue and white stripy t shirt on and a string of onions around my neck I thumbed my chin to the world and took my pedal bike to the internet and ordered one of these. (That is the last of my French stereotyping I promise)
Oh and how glad I am that I did.
I still need to get a table for it, but I did also pick up a little garden kitchen table this for the prep toop, and with a shop bought dough and a few choice toppings I hooked it up, turned it on, and waited for 30 minutes. It can do a 16 inch pizza apparently, but I am still waiting for the large pizza peel so kept it small to start. Mrs afterwards is away at a spa with her mum and sister and niece this weekend so it was just us boys at home…
The dough was a bit rubbish, but I fashioned a pizza-ish shape and chucked it in and 80 seconds later we had a perfectly cooked pizza! Our Tom thought it was fabulous, and Sam agreed wholeheartedly as he wolfed his down, still somewhat hungover from the night before.
I then played about and made a few more and didn’t burn them too much, especially given it gets to 500 C.
By the time I had fed everyone a few times, including a special one for the dog, it was time for mine I was ready to sit down with a bottle of rose prosecco and my anchovy and Pineapple pizza! But alas there was no pineapple, so it was just anchovies, and my god it was good. Crisp base, delicious toppings and a wood oven taste even though it is a gas oven. They do one with wood but I wasn’t overly fussed by pushing the boat out too much. I was quick and easy.
Oh and I realise you may have thoughts on pineapple and anchovies. Well you’re just wrong, ok. It is a perfect balance of salt and sweet. I do occasionally throw olives on, or I will have Roquefort for the saltiness, but keep your pizza gatekeeping to yourself! 🙂
The kids helped clear up kind of and then disappeared, and I then had a nap in the hut with the dog. I think it was the prosecco to be honest.
Anyway, I am off work this week and imagine it will be pizza most nights…
Oh this is very much about the Double D’s! There are no weird stories, no shenanigans, just the joy of…actually no wait. Let us start with the nearly rans, and maybe a wee smattering of shenanigans, because they are absolute corkers indeed.
You have to start with Donkey King, right? I first played this in 1982 inDurban in South Africa. We had moved from the UK in the December and soon after went down to Durban for 3 weeks. I remember the smell of the hotel to this day whenever I smell a plastic beach ball, and I recall as clear as day having these little pop cycle motor bike toys you pulled a rip cord on and fired them down the hotel hallways. It was also the first time I had a Samosa. Oh and I got my first Album – Eye of the Tiger, because it was the year Rocky 3 came out with Mr T! Funny what you remember isn’t it…
And sweet baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph I remember Donkey Kong in the hotel foyer! Everyone knows it I know, but what a game. It was so bloody hard though, do you remember how hard? And of course it gave us our first introduction to Mario. Pacman, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong – it is up there in the pantheon of greats and rightly so.
I was pretty shit at it mind, but that did not matter. It was a bloody work of art and persists as a thing of beauty to this day! I played it again this morning and yup, I am still as rubbish as ever and completely panic when those oil barrels come careering after me!
A ore significant game for me though is this beauty, Dig Dig. It was just always around and even now I can hear the theme music in my head. The thing about it was that when you started you could achieve something. You would inflate enemies or drop rocks on their heads and you felt like Billy Big Bollocks. You felt like you could conquer it. And then it just got faster and faster, with no other real change in dynamics and you were well and truly screwed. the music sped up to and it filled you with a pure terror as you knew you were finished.
But oh baby there is a reigning champ that cannot be defeated in the D category. The Double D. The game that I played for so long with my mates Granville and Mouse, a game that was just there down at the Palm Tree shops for what felt like forever.
It was clumsy and brutal, and I wasn’t great but I just loved it. Kicking, elbowing and crowbar face smashing my way across the screen after school every day was such a joy.
Like a lot of the games I love, I think it was just the right game at the right time. It isn’t that special for many reasons, but it was to me and my god those brutal whip wielding bitches in purple were packing some ass in those jump suits!
I don’t have my computer because my eldest has taken over the room where my computer Is so I am having to dictate this voice to text because I’m not very fast at typing on my phone.
anyway, whete were we. Oh yes, C.
C is for Centipede as I mentioned in the title.
As it turns out, Centipede is not a game I enjoyed. In fact, I bloody hated it.
It was difficult, far too fast moving, confusing, but more than anything it had a track ball as a controller which when you’re 11 years old might look pretty cool but you soon realise that you have neither the dexterity nor the hand eye coordination to be any good at all.
It matters to me though because I remember very clearly moving to South Africa and there being a hotel nearby and in the foyer was centipede.
It was supposed to be for hotel guests only but occasionally you could sneak in and if you weren’t too unruly and especially if you were on your own then there was a jolly good chance you might get to play it. The excitement soon wore off though when you realise just how difficult it was, and oh how unrewarding. But then there you are stuck in this horrible limbo because this was the only game that was in the lobby of the hotel, so you didn’t have a choice of anything else.
Even now I can remember playing it over and over again just because it was there , and it was new, and made loud noises and had shiny lights and it was just part of this wonderful new world of video games that was there for us to conquer. It’s a bit like asteroid really, there was just something about it that I found almost impossible to love but I still played it far more than I ought to have. We were compelled, drawn in and consumed by the hunt for the high score…
Now if you want a list of games beginning with the letter C that I absolutely adored, well that was pretty easy. I had to reduce it to just a handful, And like each of the games I’ve talked about so far I can remember where I played them and when I played them and how I felt at the time.
Secunda, where I grew up, had a shopping centre and in that shopping centre was one of the many sort of café places you would get in South Africa which were effectively a combination of a takeaway and a small supermarket. In the entrance to almost every one of these cafes you would find a number of arcade machines.
I played both Commando and Cabal at the place which we called the ‘OK shopping centre’.
I was probably about 14 or 15 and I clearly remember one day having spent a couple of hours with a few friends playing Cabal, walking out and there was this girl who I thought was rather lovely. Her name was Lisa.
For a reason which escapes me even now I started to swear profusely. Just pointlessly dropping s and f bombs. Maybe even a c bomb.
Perhaps I thought that by swearing it made me some sort of bad-ass. I must have figured that girls were drawn to filthy mouthed young men. I also remember that I was wearing a pair of white shoes that day, mocassin kinda things, so I’m not really sure that the combination of some sort of strange sailor shoes and profanity was ever going to catch any young lady’s eye.
Might explain why I was almost 17 before I got my first girlfriend.
Maybe if I’d offered some cunting bastard flowers that might have worked. No? You’re probably right…
It’s funny that even 35 years later I remember that moment so very clearly and thinking, what a stupid twat you are Michael.
Anyway let’s finish this piece with mentioning Circus Charlie which was an absolutely brilliant little side scrolling game where you were a circus clown and you had to jump through hoops and ride lions and do all sorts of ridiculous things. It was just great fun and pretty easy and it made you think you could achieve great things.
And then of course there is Chopper Lifter, which was an absolutely stunning helicopter shooter kinda thing and my God I spent so many hours playing that game. I played that after school down at the Palm Tree shops for what seemed like years and whilst I was never any good even now when I play it the memories come flooding back and every pixel and Beep is a memory from my childhood
Will try keep these to no more than 200 words. Today the photo below was posted by Fandango as a prompt. Head over to see him, hes a thoroughtly decent chap.
After all of these years, she is still the beautiful girl I fell in love with. Though time has taken its inevitable toll, on both head and heart, there is still that same sparkle in her eyes which so ensnared me what is now a lifetime ago.
Lines paint a picture of a life well lived across her face, and even if now frail, everyone assembled in the room knows she remains a force of such joy and ferocious endeavour, and that she carries still more fervently a love quite fierce and unquenchable for those she calls friends or family, of which assembled now are as many as the days she has lived.
Tears hide that glint now though, and as I stretch out my hand to comfort her she turns slowly to where we spent those many nights, sat quietly, listening to the crackle and hiss of the ‘soundies’ she loved so dearly, and which she taught me to adore nearly as much as I adored her.
I hear my name across the hubbub of the busy room, and somewhere there is an open door as I feel the cold air of December blow through me. It will be Christmas soon. One more reason to celebrate, one more year to look back on. One more year with her.
Children’s voices drift in and out of earshot as I watch her, still light on her feet as she embraces old friends, her silver hair pulled in a tight bun on top of her head. I prefer it when she lets it hang loose, the way it cascades around her face and onto her shoulders, and oh the hours I have spent watching her in front of the mirror brushing it. She would laugh and tell me not to stare so much, but these were some of my happiest moments. Just us. Together.
I feel a tug, pulling me away. Probably one of the grand children I suspect. Cheeks red from the cold and hair tousled, eyes bright and filled with mischief. I allow myself to be led away, and the room becomes quiet. And then, in that moment, a sadness and an understanding descends up on me I look down and I am alone, there is no small hand in mine. I smile as I finger the ring that has sat on my finger these fifty years.
In the distant now I see her turn towards me, my favourite dress of pale blue contrasted against the dark backdrop of the room. She brushes the hair from her face and smiles as I mouth my last goodbye.
There were a few contenders here, and when it came down to it I ended with a top 3 that I found it hard to separate. All games that I love for different reasons, games that I remember feeding endless 20 cent coins into, coins that I tended to steal from my mum’s purse.
The memories associated with these games are not necessarily what I was playing, but where. I grew up in Secunda in what is now Mpumalanga in South Africa, and after a few years living in a trailer we moved to this house below. Its changed very little in 30 years, and was not far from what we called ‘The Palm Trees Shops’. Named so because there were a load of palm trees around the car park there. It was at that small complex that we played most of our games in the eighties. Whether on the way back from school or because I had been sent to the shops, or simply because I had a few Rand to spend, that is where we tended to end up.
But that was not the case for these 3 games. Oh no, for these beauties we had to travel. We would get on our bikes and head across town to Fotis cafe (I think that was the name), and it was there that I recall playing these 3.
Bomb Jack, Bubble Bobble, and Bermuda Triangle.
They were all amazing for different reasons, and having played all 3 today they still are. Bermuda Triangle and Bubble Bobble offered simultaneous 2 player – so that was a great shared experience, whilst Bomb Jack was a single player.
Bermuda Triangle was a shooter, standard fare in many ways, though a bit different in that you would scroll both up and down the screen as you progressed, whilst upgrading speed and weapons as many of the flight shooters did – and still do. There was also a time travel element – though this served to mostly offer new environments and enemies – with no real explanation. I made little sense but it was a lot of fun.
Bubble Bobble involved collecting things and popping bubbles and capturing enemies, and Bomb Jack was all about capturing…well, bombs…You would fly around the screen, leaping and floating with all manner of mechanical creatures trying to kill you.
So none of them made a lot of sense, so what , that wasn’t really the point. What mattered was progressing further, clearing more levels, attaining higher scores. This mattered. A lot.
They were more fun though because we were on other peoples turf. Hit a high score and unseat the local champ I you felt like the king of the fucking world as I typed MIC next to the new high score. You knew that some local kid would be along at some point, and pick up that gauntlet, knowing we had been over and messed about on his patch.
Hell, we might as well as fingered his sister so personal was it. (We only went as far as discussing light fingering back then as we were still rather young.) Not that any of us had partaken in such things, but we’d heard about it. From the older kids.
I chose Bomb Jack as number one because I remember one of the lads that used to be rather good at it, and he was a real Dick. Vincent. There was this back and forth, month after month, with my mate Granville ending up being his Bomb Jack nemesis. Vincent did end up being the winner I think, and then one day the machine was just gone – and that was it, challenge over.
Curiously they never actually bumped into each other at the machine, though if I recall correctly I think Granville did actually finger his sister in later years.
Games have been, and continue to be, a big part of my life.
Atari, Xbox, Nintendo, Playstation, Civilization, Oddworld…oh the things that spring to mind that could fill endless blogs, and for almost as far back as I can recall there has been something pinging away as a soundtrack to my life.
In the early days that soundtrack was a blissful 8-Bit, and so, for the next 26 posts, I am going to explore an A-Z of those early games that I continue to play today, and the memories that accompany them.
I have the pleasure of owning an arcade machine, and inside it sits a rather old laptop. And on that laptop sit about 4000 games, stretching back nearly 50 years.
Ready for A?
Well without a doubt the game that stood out for me was ALTERED BEAST! It was a side scrolling monster horror kinda vibe with a Greek god thing going on, and you played a loin cloth wearing chap who would transform to a variety of curious overpowered creatures as you punch and kick your way through the levels. It was almost impossible to defeat as you progressed through the levels, unless of course you pumped in coin after coin…
What makes this so special though was where and when I played it. I grew up in South Africa you seem, and I played it on a trip with my friend’s family to Sun City. Sun City was this entertainment and holiday paradise set up to allow international acts to bypass the international restrictions associated with anti apartheid bans. Or that is how I remember it, I don’t plan on doing too much research here, we all know how the truth can spoil a good story.
I remember it like it was yesterday, me and Granville pumping in 20cent coins and pressing ‘continue’ in an attempt to progress further and further. The levels became more and more ludicrous, the enemies more difficult, and by the time we realised we were never going to defeat the game the money had ran out. But god what a glorious failure it seemed at the time. Nearly 40 years later I remember it more clearly than the birth of my kids. Seriously…
A notable mention must also go to Amidar, which I played in Durban in 1982 at the age of 11 on our first holiday down to the coast. It was hard, despite seemingly simple demands of moving your character over a series of lines to enclose squares to clear the level. Again, such insanely vivid memories still from 4 decades ago, and the smell of beach ball plastic still reminds me of that holiday. Take a kid from Hull to Africa and show him the Indian Ocean and those kind of things stick with you forever. I still find it impossible to this day, and when I pressed start earlier today so many memories came flooding back.
Oh and god this one…it very nearly won top slot. It was a close call.
The endless hours me, Granville and Mouse spent playing this at Fotis Cafe in Secunda. The TV show was out at the time, remember that? Stringfellow Hawk (Jan Michal Vincent) tearing up the skies and defeating all manner of Foe in his helicopter. So very badass. And at the end of the show Stringfellow Hawk would often be seen playing the strings of his cello on the edge of a lake as a Hawk flew by. I kid you fucking not. Literally stringfellow hawk being a fellow playing strings to a hawk.
Oh and don’t forget Afterburner. But Ill shut up now. But you remember it right?
And I know I didn’t mention Asteroids. It deserves a place right? Well not with me. It is a game I found so difficult that even no I cannot bring myself to play it. From the off you know you are doomed, and I could never get into it because it offered me no hope at all. So I simply declined to allow it to tempt me, because it was better than me. I know that.
Something that was sat in my drafts. Probably a response to a long lost prompt.
Through bleary eyes, Walter could make out moving shapes, dark forms contrasted against an expanse of bright white. There was something even brighter directly above him which he thought must be lights, and despite wanting to, he was suddenly very aware that he was unable to move.
“Where am I?” he mumbled, his mouth dry and tongue thick in his mouth.
“Ooh, he’s awake,” said an excited voice from somewhere behind him. “Is it time, can we start?”
“Hello?” said Walter, attempting but failing to turn his head towards the voice. “Is someone there?” he continued, which they most obviously were.
“Soon,” came a second voice in reply. “it’s nearly time.”
It was a calm voice. It was a reassuring voice. It was the sort of voice that doctors and tax accountants use when they tell you that everything is just fine, and you should trust them, and you absolutely should not worry about a thing. It was the sort of voice that would convince you not to worry when, in every possible way conceivable, you absolutely were not fine and you most certainly ought to be worrying.
That is, you ought to worry if you were perhaps fond of the use of your legs or, you would prefer not to spend long lonely nights in a small cell with an aggressive sex offender with a penchant for small-mouthed school teachers simply because you’d allowed your wife’s cousin to do your tax returns.
Which just so happened to be what Walter was. A teacher that is, not a sex offender. Whether his mouth was small or not was entirely a matter of opinion.
Walter called out again, his eyes now growing accustomed to the bright lights and clean starkness of the room he found himself in. He coughed politely.
“Hello, I’m sorry but there seems to be a mistake. I’m not supposed to be here, I’m meant to be at…,” Walter paused, his thoughts were elusive and fuzzy, and just out of reach. There was a vague recollection of a bright light in the dark, and he knew there was a pub involved. Then he remembered. “I’m meant to be at a colleague’s leaving party. Thoroughly good chap, fort years serv-, “
Walter’s words faded into silence as a dark shape blocked out the lights above him, and immediately Walter knew things were not going to be fine. Not at all.
The logical part of Walter’s brain considered telling his vocal cords to scream, and that he probably wasn’t going to make the party and that he had wasted ten pounds on that mug with ‘retired, go ask someone else on it’.
It then quickly decided that it wanted absolutely nothing to do with this entire affair and instead chose to leave Walter’s mouth hanging open, and to go think about anything else apart from what it was seeing. It then promptly took itself into a dark corner with a nice cup of tea, leaving Walter wholly on his own with the creature that stood over him.
“Fetch the probes, little one,” it said with it’s calm and reassuring voice, in a most un-assuring way. “let’s see what this one’s bottom tells us about these people.”
I know I am a grown man and that I should know better. I know I can produce things of a more edifying nature. I know should be a better example to my children and generally a better human being but alas I am not.
I sought another pic from Pixabay to go with it as further inspiration..
And I made this. Mostly a stream of consciousness, no real editing, just some fun with an idea…:
The ‘click-fizz’ of the opening can caused Brian to stir from his nap. Excited neurons darting across the primary auditory pathways of his temporal lobe, back and forth in frenzied stimulation, a primal response triggered as he slept. His brain processed the inputs, considering past and potential future behaviour in relation to the ‘click-fizz’, the likelihood of a positive outcome to that input, the propensity for one ‘click-fizz’ to result in many more ‘click fizzes’ and subsequently having a jolly good time being had by all. It then determined that an appropriate response to the stimulation would be to wake up and cause Brian to lick his lips.
“Yes please,” Brian said, reaching out an empty hand and sighing. His eyes opened slowly as his fingers clasped around the can he found placed into them.
“You seen that?” came a response.
Brian opened the can and straightened himself on the bench where he had been resting his eyes.
“Seen what, Carl?” Brian asked, opening the can, and taking a drink. It was not as cold as he would have liked but given the circumstances it would most certainly do. That is to say that given that when he went to sleep, he did not have any beer, and, now that he was awake he did, those were circumstances that now seemed decidedly in his favour.
“That,” said Carl, pointing into the sky.
It was hardly necessary for Carl to point given that directly in front of them, looming over the horizon, was something that was quite obviously the moon, but it stretched from one periphery of his vision to the other. Streams of reflected sunlight danced and swirled from the surface, and it had all of the appearance of a golden ball of flame.
“Well, that’s not mean to be there or look like that, is it.” Brian responded quite matter of fact, taking another drink. He paused for a moment, allowing himself to take in the full scene unfolding before him. Ten years on the streets and you think you’ve seen everything, but here he was, surprised once more. “Probably explains why everyone is running around rather panicked,” he added.
“You think?” said Carl, finishing his beer in one long slow gulp, and dropping the can on the grass beneath the park bench where they sat. He then opened a second.
“I’m no astrologist, but I’m pretty sure, yes. I imagine we ought to be panicking too.”
“You mean Astronomer.” Said Carl. “And yes, we could panic, I guess. But what would be the point.”
“Do I?” Brian asked.
“Yes. You mean astronomer. Not astrologist, that’s something completely different.”
Brian looked up into the sky again, then down to his beer, and then back into the sky.
“I expect you’re right on both points then,” Brian continued, “
He sat for a while and watched as a bride ran past them heading somewhere other than the direction that she was running from. She seemed quite determined, and she let her shoes and bouquet fall to the floor before disappearing behind two cars that had managed to have a quite inconvenient head on collision, smoke billowing from one as passengers staggered from both, pointing wildly at the sky.
“That’s a bit of a waste of good shoes,” said Brian, nodding to where they lay in the street.
“You think?” Carl replied taking another drink and opening a third can before he had finished his second. He motioned to the sky with a can in his hand, been spilling down his arm. “That thing’s getting bigger and bigger, so I doubt very much we will need very much of anything in a while.”
“Really?” said Brian as the wail of sirens echoed out across the city. “How much beer do you have?” he asked.
“Oh more than enough my friend,“ said Carl, offering his can to Brian as a toast, “more than enough.”
Will try keep these to no more than 200 words. Today the photo below was posted:
Nostrils flared and thin slits of bright yellow eyes blinked as they surveyed the unexpected scene below, glittering embers from the fire spiralling into the night, the fiery gold-red shards mixing with the stars of a million unexplored galaxies.
Well, unexplored to these creatures, came the thought, accompanied by a low guttural snarl. Green blue scales rippled in the dying light and a small red panel blinked on a wrist communicator. He punched in coordinates, confirming his location for extraction, and melted into the night and continued to watch.
Living hidden amongst them these many years had shown him their capacity for love, their ability to create from nothing great works of art, and he sighed as he reflected on the wonder of this young and beautiful race.
He had seen the best in them and smiled as he thought of the potential of these people.
But those before him were not those people.
Tonight, when the seventh reconnaissance fleet tore through the atmosphere and filled the skies with death, snuffing out their light and claiming the resources of this world for the First Galactic Emperor, he would sleep like a child at its mothers bosom.
But no, these were not those people. These were hipsters, and he would not miss them at all.