Saturday, October 28, 2006

James May, Action Man

Found this article on the Top Gear site, about the wonderful programme James May put together last Christmas: James May's Top Toys which has since been repeated at least once. Keep an eye out for a repeat this year.

"For several weeks now, I've been beavering away at my desk working on a project completely unrelated to Top Gear. I've been asked by the BBC to make Gear a one-hour Christmas special about toys, and I have to admit that I'm enjoying myself immensely. Toys are nostalgic, evocative and, above all, still great fun. Scalextric, for example, is really nothing more than an elaborate way of connecting the terminals of a 12-volt transformer to an electric motor.

If sir had pointed out that this phenomenon was the basis of all domestic motor racing, the physics lab would have been a happier place. Likewise the train set, which works in exactly the same way. I love a good train set, and a collection of Dinkies, a Mamod steam engine and a really big box of Meccano or Lego.

These things are magical and offer an immediate and welcome respite from the tedium of adulthood. The downside of all this, however, is that I'm reminded of some truly tedious toys that I'd rightly forgotten."

Friday, October 20, 2006


Ok, strange one this. I make this post because my mum reminded me yesterday that it was on the day of the Aberfan disaster - 21st October 1966 that Mum and Dad moved us from Pontypool to Cardiff, with myself a baby in a pram, and my four year old sister.

It's a shocking story - Aberfan, especially for those of us in Wales close to the event. My grandfather drove there on the day with blankets to help.

Please take some time to visit this site or one of the many others that cover the tragic story, and learn about the greed of the mine managers and the appalling attitude that the government has had to the victims of the Aberfan disaster ever since.

Aberfan: how it happened :-BBC animated graphic
"At 9.15 am on Friday, October 21, 1966 a waste tip slid down a mountainside into the mining village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales. It first destroyed a farm cottage in its path, killing all the occupants. At Pantglas Junior School, just below, the children had just returned to their classes after singing All Things Bright and Beautiful at their assembly. It was sunny on the mountain but foggy in the village, with visibility about 50 yards. The tipping gang up the mountain had seen the slide start, but could not raise the alarm because their telephone cable had been repeatedly stolen. (The Tribunal of Inquiry later established that the disaster happened so quickly that a telephone warning would not have saved lives.) Down in the village, nobody saw anything, but everybody heard the noise. Gaynor Minett, an eight-year-old at the school, remembered four years later: It was a tremendous rumbling sound and all the school went dead. You could hear a pin drop. Everyone just froze in their seats. I just managed to get up and I reached the end of my desk when the sound got louder and nearer, until I could see the black out of the window. I can't remember any more but I woke up to find that a horrible nightmare had just begun in front of my eyes. The slide engulfed the school and about 20 houses in the village before coming to rest. Then there was total silence. George Williams, who was trapped in the wreckage, remembered that 'In that silence you couldn't hear a bird or a child'.

144 people died in the Aberfan disaster: 116 of them were school children. About half of the children at Pantglas Junior School, and five of their teachers, were killed. So horrifying was the disaster that everybody wanted to do something. Hundreds of people stopped what they were doing, threw a shovel in the car, and drove to Aberfan to try and help with the rescue. It was futile; the untrained rescuers merely got in the way of the trained rescue teams. Nobody was rescued alive after 11am on the day of the disaster, but it was nearly a week before all the bodies were recovered. "

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Summer days

This is where I spent 80% of my childhood. Summers were hot, winters were cold. Remember when the climate did what it was supposed to do? Wish it was like that now, seems like it's just rain, rain, rain these days, and hard to tell one season from the other.

The rocks here were where I learned to climb, and scrape my knees and test my courage trying to tackle the "witches nose" a sticky out rock bit that was really tricky, you proved yourself by climbing across onto it then sitting there. I did it once, I was 8 years old. Life was so much simpler then

They called it the Quarry, not sure if there ever was a quarry site here, but roads got named after it. I lived along this road til I was 14, and bought my first house near there 20 years later.

I had wonderful memories of it as a kid, but when I was older and walked my dog here it had all changed, teenage kids sat on the new swings installed (cos kids cant make their own games these days) and smoked and drank cider and smashed bottles on the path.

The people had changed, gone were the wonderful neighbourly types, replaced by antisocial arseholes with superiority complexes. I hated living there as a grown up, and was never happier than the day we moved away. Sad really.

Summers were filled with 8 hour football games, played out on sloping pictures kicking plastic footballs kicked through t shirt goalposts. I also remember orange squash, my Man utd shirt, hayfever, sunburnt legs & calomine lotion, making grass blades whistle between your thumbs, sliding on cardboard boxes on the dried grass slopes, bazooka joe gum, cola bottles, dandelion and burdock, sardines on toast for dinner (lunch)
I also remember laughing and being happy.

Winter of '82

I was 17 when we had this great snowfall in Cardiff. These photos I stole of the BBC website, sorry if its a problem, but I doubt anyone is going to read this from there!

I should have been revising for my lower sixth January exams when this snowfall hit just around new years if I remember correctly. I think it was probably the last great snowfall of my youth. I had discovered wine, women and song, lots of the former, plenty of the latter and very little of the middle one considering I'd just been introduced to the delights of "Dumpsville", my innocent age was nearly over.
I remember the cars on Newport Rd being brought to a standstill, I remember cleaning the drive for my mum and dad, and there are somewhere pictures of me taken with mums Polaroid camera, her gift from Dad for xmas that year.


Aha!!! At last found this little beauty on e Bay: Payday!!!!

Now this was one of the best, Xmas oooh well I'd reckon on '75 but info I found says this is a 1979 edition, but I'd have been 14 then, and into rock music and guitars, so i'd have been past the board game playing age. I distinctly remember being up about 6 in the morning dark outside, presents open, and mum and dad going back to bed, while me and sis played this one, whilst chomping my way through the first of many selection boxes! Like an idiots version of monopoloy, but much more fun. They still make it it seems, but this is the version I had and loved. Bidding for this baby, suprise my sister on boxing day this year with it!


Oh boy, just came across this old chestnut: Masterpiece

Yup, you can still buy it it seems, even if it's second hand. This was a family favourite in our household, well me and my sister anyway, one year around about 1975-6 I'd reckon. We never really "got" the rules, but thoroughly enjoyed holding our own little auctions, smugly grinning when we managed to palm off a fake to one another during a frantic bidding session! Not up there with Monopoly or Scrabble or Cluedo, but a definite blast from the past.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

They call me Baby Driver ...Vroom Vroom part 2

Just found a pic of one of the cars, they were Ford Shadows, the colour on this one is close to how mine was, as I said earlier one was blue and one was red, so just visualise this one in red for the complete rose tinted picture.

Oh how I dreamed of the 6 wheeled Tyrrel, the black JPS or even the glorious red ferrari...long before the days of Schumacher and co, this was just post Graham Hill, and into the James Hunt/Nikki Lauder era. Back when Formula 1 was still a life or death game.

They call me Baby Driver ...Vroom Vroom

Every boys dream toy when I was a kid was Scalextric, slot car racing. I had this set but I cant find a picture of the cars yet. I had this one sometime around about 75-76 I think. I had one blue car and one red, as on the box. It came with this scale speed calculator thing that was my first experience of "Mind Fuck"

Anyway...with this set you could have a "figure of 8" or standard "oval" layout, complete with high speed banking which apparently made it marginally easier to keeop the cars on while going around corners. I still recall spending most of the time fetching the cars from under the sofa.

I later expanded my set by buying some extra track from Grimwades, a second hand shop in the Canton area of Cardiff. I bought extra straights, including a chicane and some barrier pieces which didn't really help keep the cars on but made the crashes a little more spectacular. After months of mindless "figure of 8ing"(funny how you could do repetitive stuff without losing your temper in those childhood days) I found that if you fixed all the straights together in one long line you could 'shoot' the cars off the end at the front room wall, the first stages of teenage rebellion??

Well the one thing that stands out the most is that the same Christmas that I got this, my sister got Simon and Garfunkels "Brudge Over Troubled Water" and I always hung around for Baby Driver to come on the Stereogram so I could wind the cars up along with the race car rev sound at the end of the track....sad???...Fuck I was only a kid!


The probable cause of my high dental bills now I'm a "grown-up", ladies and gentlemen I give you...Toffo's.

They came in original Toffee flavour, and then they also did a mixed one with flavours like banana and strawberry and mint.

Ooooh the cavaties!

Album war

Mild nostalgia here just seeing some of those album covers...Boston, Joe Jackson!!

First single 45rpm

The Sweet - Teenage Rampage! (no2 Feb 1974)

What a great record, and cost me about 75p (???) and wa maybe bought from Woolworths in Cardiff's Queen Street. (where my Dad used to but those shocking Top of the Pops records from)

Though I'm not 100% sure about the cost for sure or the shop, I am sure that it taught me a lesson. That is that B sides are often better, and this in turn probably turned me on to being an album person rather than a singles person.

The B side was called "Own Up, Take A Look At Yourself". I've recently downloaded said B side, and then went on to buy the album, which I've yet to listen to, but its there for the rainy days or winter!

We want Sweet, we want Sweet ...

All over the land
The kids are finally startin' to get the upper hand
They're out in the streets, they turn on the heat
And soon they could be completely in command
Imagine the sensation of teenage occupation
At thirteen they'll be learning
But at fourteen they'll be burnin'
But there's something in the air
Of which we all will be aware
But they don't care, no, no, no, no... so
Come join the revolution, get yourself a constitution
Come join the revolution now
And recognise your age it's a teenage rampage
Turn another page on the teenage rampage now
So recognise your age it's a teenage rampage
Turn another page on the teenage rampage now!
They're getting it on, ain't doing it wrong
And they're gonna do it, it won't be long
They gotta be heard, they got the word that really belongs
And now they're coming on strong
Imagine the formation of teenage legislation
At thirteen they were fooling
But at sixteen they'll be rulin'
And there's something in the air
of which we all will be aware
But they don't care, no, no, no, no... so
Come join the revolution, get yourself a constitution
Come join the revolution now
And recognise your age it's a teenage rampage
Turn another page on the teenage rampage now
So recognise your age it's a teenage rampage
Turn another page on the teenage rampage now!
There's something in the air
Of which we all will be aware, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah... so
Come join the revolution, get yourself a constitution
Come join the revolution now
And recognise your age it's a teenage rampage
Turn another page on the teenage rampage now
So recognise your age it's a teenage rampage
Turn another page on the teenage rampage now!

Push to kick


Wow, another one of those Christmas memories. My overriding memory of this one was finding it under my parents bed when I went hunting for pressies in the run up to Christmas 9 (This must have been about '74-75)

They usually kept the pressies in the top right hand cupboard in the wardrobe above my dads clothes, but obviously this one was too big for there and made its way under the bed. Didnt fool old Sherlock for long tho'. I was able to pull the box out, and ease the lid up and sneak a peak at those wonderfull richly coloured blue and red players. I was a big Man Utd fan in those days (dont even watch football any more) and I swear one of the red team was the spitting image of Lou Macari. Unlike many toys and games, this one did live up to expectations, and I found it absorbing to be able to choreagraph these little men, and allow Man Utd (red) to regularly thrash Everton (blue) on a thrice daily basis.

They also made Super Striker, where the goal keepers actually dived. My mate Tim (who always seemed to out do me) had Super Striker, and tho' it looked amazing on the adverts in reality it was pretty shit, and my working class version where the goalkeeper just threw the ball from his frozen arm. One up for me there then!!!

It's long since the days where I could play striker for hours on end lost in my own innocent little world, but I've got a bid up for Striker on e bay at the moment, hopefully another little piece of the nostalgia jigsaw will droip into place in the next week or so.

Where it all started

My nostalgia kick started for real last year when I was 40. E bay was the cause of much of my joy because I was able to take a look at lots of toys from my childhood, ones that had particular and poignant memories.

The one toy that seemed to hang high in my memory was this one...the Space 1999 Eagle transporter.

It must have been about 1974-5, and I had it for Christmas (lots of stuff here will have associations with christmas memories) and I remember going to buy it with my Nan in Whitchurch village here in Cardiff. There was a toy shop there which had these wonderful looking die cast models everywhere, but it was the Eagle that had caught my eye. We didnt get to see Space 1999 to often here in Wales, because for some reason the Tv channels neglected to show it very often. I think it was in a magazine called "Look In" that they showed the TV schedules of kids TV and it always seemed to be on in Anglia or Thames or some other region other than Wales. So it was a bit of a holy grail for me, a rarity. I recall looking forward to getting this toy more than anything else at christmas that year. I think my main present that year was Striker (more of which later) but I held this metal toy in some sort of awe for the moths leading up to Dec 25th that year, imagining all the great (imaginary) scenes I could play out with it.
When I got it I have to say I was a little disappointed, it didnt fly, no smoke came out, no sounds. Juts a little switchy thing on the top to let the Pod drop and the doors on the pod opened. Even the colour was wrong, the cabin was green and in the series it was all white.

I did have some fun with it, I remember winding my sister up with it during a boxing day showing of Dr Zhivago as she gawped at Omar Sharif, but it was a bit of a damp squib.

However that didnt stop me buying a new one last year on ebay....£30 this time, for a new model, bigger, better and whiter than before, and now taking pride of place in my nostalgia collection. This was also my first taste of nostalgia being a let down. I waited for delivery, tramped down to the sorting office cos it wouldnt fit through the letter box, ripped open the package in the car and held it there in my hands...childhood revisited! Funny, still had all the worries of mortgages and work weighing me down.

Whats it all about

This is an idea i've been kicking around for a while. As the world spirals out of control into a quagmire of religious confrontation, environmental catastrophe, media control and American domination I like to harken back to a previous time when things seemed simpler and happier. I think its mainly to do with being a kid, when you're a kid things like war and politics dont seem to matter, at least they didnt when i was a kid. All that mattered was 'what's the weather like', can i go out, can I go to so and so's house to play subbuteo/scalectrix/top trumps etc.

I know there are a few sites about that cover this stuff, but this is mine, and if you want to contribute, please e mail me at and I'll see what I can do.

I hope you have fun, and lose yourself in some memories, please leave comments just to cheer me along or correct facts.

Back to the 70's.....