Space Invaders

Space Invaders screen shotNot just the name of a crap crisp, Space Invaders were the big video game of the late Seventies and early Eighties. According to wikipedia the game was invented in 1978 (so like the Rubik’s Cube it qualifies for popandcrisps even though it didn’t filter through to most of us until the eighties).

In the original game, strange skull-like aliens in regimented armies would blip across the screen to be shot at by your ship at the bottom, with houses in between that would provide shelter but be gradually destroyed by the alien fire and your own fire.

There are generally two types of rank-file aliens, sometimes more, and a mothership style saucer that flies across the top once in a while. Each time the aliens blip across the screen, they go down another row and get quicker. If they get to the bottom before you’ve shot them all, you’ve lost. They can also shoot you and if you lose all your lives you’ve also lost. After you’ve destroyed all the aliens, another batch appears, which is exactly the same as before so not like going up a level (although in some games they start quicker or lower on each new screen).

The best replica free-web space invaders game I’ve found is this site.  According to that site, the targets in the game were originally soldiers not aliens, but this was thought inappropriate for children to be shooting at.

I had a hand-held space invaders game in about 1982, and before this I would watch the demos in the arcade under my Dad’s flat, him refusing to give me 10p for a game. Other games in the arcade were Tracer and Pac-man and a strange caterpillar game, of which I also loved to watch demos.

Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room


The Bionic Woman

Lindsay Wagner as Jaime SommersI named my doll Jamie after Jamie Summers, the bionic woman (although I’ve just found out from Wikipedia that her name was spelled Jaime Sommers). Anyway the fact that I named my one and only doll after her demonstrates how much I loved the character and the programme. Although The Bionic Woman was a spin-off from The Six Million Dollar Man (who cost about as much as a house in London would today so maybe not that expensive), for me Jamie was much more important than Steve Austin. Lindsay Wagner in 2007 receiving TV Land awardJamie was played by Lindsay Wagner who I always thought looked like she could be a member of my family and I imagined being like her when I grew up. And wow, she is still beautiful now. Isn’t it amazing what a bit of bionics can do for you? She only looks a couple of years older than me! One of the things that was excellent about having a bionic woman was that in most of the other action programmes around at the time, the woman would be the victim. But like with Charlie’s Angels and Wonderwoman, this was the new idea that women didn’t always have to be rescued but could rescue themselves. Annoyingly though, they were still soppy over men and swooning as soon as the male rescuer turned up. For instance, the whole reason that Jamie was bionic was because she was Steve’s girlfriend and if she hadn’t been then she’d have just died or been disabled after her skydiving accident. The Bionic Woman with the Bionic DogThere was also a fabulous dog called Maximillion who used to bite through iron bars to escape from the cages he kept getting shut in. When he did this, the film went into slow motion and there was this strange echoing music, the same as when Jamie jumped or listened through her bionic ear. I always marvelled at how he bit through the metal but my mum, ever ready to dispel my sense of wonder, told me that they were probably made of sugar. The Bionic Woman was remade in 2007 but according to Wikipedia was stalled during the Great Writers’ Strike and then didn’t continue. I haven’t watched any of it as I was quite cynical that it might spoil my memories of the original so I can’t comment on whether it’s any good.

Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room

Close Encounters

One of the posters for Close EncountersThe full title of the film was Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but everyone called it Close Encounters for short. This was a modern aliens film, before which all sci-fi films had cast the aliens as hostile invaders. Though the mind control business was a bit scary, especially things like the repetitive tune (buh-buh-buh-boo-boooo) and the mashed potato mountain, the film was essentially about a benign visitation with attempted communication.

Richard Dreyfuss, who was in Jaws, played the lead character (according to Wikipedia, director Steven Spielberg wanted Steve McQueen in this role). He was a normal American bloke who had witnessed a flying saucer along with a group of others. Afterwards all of the people who had been there had visions of a mountain and had that tune in their heads. It became more imperative as time went on and he started to build the mountain in his home, which prompted his wife to leave him. I loved this bit because he was acting completely crazy and she was worried about what people would think. aliens in silhouette on Close Encounters

All the people went up to the mountain even though officials had tried to block it off and met the spaceship, which played music. People came out of the spaceship, and they were all past abductees. We saw the aliens right at the end and even then only in silhouette. It was quite a simplistic storyline, but the power of it was in the special effects and the strength of the characters as they were slowly driven crazy by the calling to visit the mountain.

I first saw the film in the early Eighties but it was made in the 1977 so warrants a place here. We used to sing the tune in a spooky way whenever we were thinking of UFOs. I had to have ‘the third kind’ explained to me, as I’m sure many others did, because it was an era of sequels and I wondered what had happened to the first two films.

Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room

Rubik’s Cube

Rubik's Cube pic on WikipediaThe Rubik’s Cube shot to worldwide obsession in the early 1980’s. I think I was about eleven or twelve when I first had a go on one. However, it warrants a popandcrisps moment because it came out of the Seventies. Invented in 1974, it was repackaged worldwide in 1979 for a 1980 launch, according to wikipedia.

There has been a recent upsurge in the Rubik’s Cube and related toys for a new generation, and my son had one for his birthday last week. The satisfying crunching sound it makes when you turn a slice took me right back! I remember the solutions I was determined to work out without the books and the agonies of those last few corners.

We bought one from the market and didn’t find out until after a few weeks of hard graft that the stickers had come off two of the central squares and been replaced incorrectly! The way we discovered this was that the corner pieces didn’t match up and would be impossible. I think it was a red and a green, which meant that there should have been a red-yellow-orange square and there wasn’t one! I’d like to think that this was a genuine mistake – perhaps by someone who was colour blind – rather than a deliberate piece of mischief with the culprit chuckling over our potential frustration.

Eventually I took the Rubik’s Cube apart, like I took everything apart, to see how it worked. I was fascinated by the simple design of interlocking plastic cubes. I did put it back together again, but it never worked as well and bits would fall off it if you were too heavy-handed. I’m not the only one who has done this, as I found out there is a specialist site for taking stuff apart.

I’ve just been on the Rubik’s Cube website and it has some great games!

Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room

Computer Technology

Hello lady, I am a man and therefore I press these buttons while you stand in a flowery dress and watch me.At the beginning of the seventies, the standard image of a computer would be a whole room full of equipment with flashing lights and punchcards. This was the sort of computer I would see on the TV as I was growing up. A bit like the deck of Star Trek. Computers were operated by very clever old men in glasses and not at all for children.

By the early eighties, the computer might be a small black box that a teenage boy had made from a kit (girls weren’t allowed them, like with the chopper, you needed a penis or your head would explode with the complexity and having too much blood in it). Those rooms of computers still existed but they were called ‘mainframes’ or ‘supercomputers’.

Flyer for ZX Spectrum from Lost Boy Blog

Observe the wondrous technotronic that was the ZX Spectrum – a MASSIVE 16KRAM!! Full 8 Colours, High Speed Load and Save – 16k in 100 seconds. We were wowed by the supersonic BASIC language with the possibility of upper and lower case characters OMG.

If anyone talked about a computer in 1980 in the general outside university computer departments world, they were usually talking about the little box that you plugged into your TV and you could write your own programs on, the Commodore Vic20. This is a very drastic change from the room-computer. Looking back, the Vic20 actually wasn’t that little – like a huge clunky keyboard with a bump at the back that held the microprocessor. And you had to plug in a tape recorder (yes! tape!) if you wanted to save anything. But compared to the giant incomprehensible flashy light rooms, it was little. Then the BBC Microcomputers came into schools and there was no looking back.

The main change from my perspective was that computers became interesting. Prior to being able to have a computer in your home and program a video game onto it and play the game, the only reason anyone would use a computer would be to do technical work-related boring processes that only balding old clever men in glasses do.

The internet was already being born around this time but only the military and universities knew about it. And the only people using it were the balding old men in glasses, and maybe a few very clever women who’d managed to get to the top by pretending they weren’t women. And certainly no children and teenagers. So think on how lucky you are, childers, to be living now and not then. (Yes I am an old bitter betch today.)

I think it was well into the late eighties before I’d heard of email and didn’t see a webpage until the nineties. But it was computers like the ZX Spectrum, BBC Microcomputer and Vic20 that started the interest in children who then became the adults who made it all happen. So.

Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room