Kate Moss could rock up in a bin bag with a banana peel for a broach and we’d still flock to the shops to imitate the look. It takes some extra-terrestrial beauty to take an item of clothing we wouldn’t usually be found dead in and turn it into the next season’s must-have.
Before Kate, there were the Spice Girls with their platform trainers, Madonna with her underwear as outerwear, and before that, there was Jane Fonda.
In a decade that was obsessed with hard bodies, health and exercise, Fonda was the reigning queen. Daughter of actor Henry Fonda, Jane started out as a model, but quickly won over audiences with her roles in films like Barbarella and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and quickly established herself as a sex symbol. Cashing in on her body and previous experience as a ballerina, Fonda released Jane Fonda Workout in 1982, which sold 17 million copies and was the first in a series of an impressive 23 videos, 5 books, and 13 audio programs, carving out a second, equally successful career.
Knowing we could never get anywhere near her angelic perfection, we conveniently settled for the next best thing: Jane’s body-hugging lycra leggings with contrasting thong leotard, waist-cinching belt, colourful headband and, last yet anything but least, leg warmers. And Fonda wasn’t the only poster child for this look back in the 80s, as actress/singer Olivia Newton John and 80′s breakfast television show TV.AM’s workout guru ‘Mad Lizzie’, aslo made it their own, with the video for Olivia’s hit record Physical giving her the perfect excuse to get totally ‘lycra-ed’ up!
And with films like Fame, Flashdance and Footloose drawing huge audiences, leg warmers were the epitome of theatre school cool. We truly believed we were just a pair of thick-knitted ankle tubes away from breaking into a perfectly choreographed and harmonised song and dance in the school’s cafeteria. Of course, we soon discovered that a pair of leg warmers has no effect nor use to anyone not continually stretching and flexing, and despite a short resurgence mid-nineties, they have since been banned to fashion’s fancy dress section.
If leg warmers were the only trend coming out of the 80s’ aerobics craze, we would probably think back on that time with more fondness than shame. Unfortunately, the most unforgiving of all unforgiving fabrics – spandex – managed to creep into the limelight. Let me tell you, for once and for all, spandex only looks good on dancers with buns of steel and virile rockers in the prime of their life. If you’re not in one of those two exclusive categories, step away from the lycra. It is just not that into you.
Jane Fonda’s bottom was impeccable, and who doesn’t remember MC Hammer’s Can’t Touch This video in which three girls work their tight, spandex-clad booties choreographically bouncing bum bags? No wonder we all succumbed.
However 80s r&b star Bobby Brown’s bad decision to sport a pair of unflattering black cycling shorts, complete with red socks and black dress shoes, in the video for Every Little Step, is up there with the moment he figured taking drugs was a good idea! And let’s not get started on Mr Motivator!
A Marmite-like relic of our childhood, bicycle shorts made a very brief fashion comeback as an addition to flirty summer dresses two season’s ago, but nobody really fell for it. Even Jane Fonda knows better: in her 2010 comeback exercise video Prime Fit the now 72-year old still wears a tight-fitted top and her signature belt, but has traded the lycra for a pair of plain, black fitness trousers – without leg warmers. And when the trend-setting legend herself says it’s over, believe me, it is over.
The first computer I ever saw, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum was about the size of a large paperback book, jet black (save the rainbow flash of colours zipping across the bottom corner) with tiny grey rubber keys.
Invented by balding scientist Sir Clive Sinclair in 1984, the Spectrum was one of the first home computers. Plugged into the telly, you could play games in your own front room! Granted, they were all rubbish, but I wasn’t allowed in arcades, so to me, they were like stepping into TRON.
If you could go back in time to visit the eight-year-old me, and swap my Spectrum for an XBOX, it would be like giving a caveman a Cornetto. I’d love it for five minutes and then throw up, my body unable to comprehend the assault of colours, music and hard-core violence. (That is exactly what would happen if you gave a caveman a Cornetto)
For one, all the games for the Spectrum were on cassette tapes.
While this made copying your mate’s games pretty easy (all you needed was a tape-to-tape HiFi) it did mean that most Spectrum games took at least eight minutes to load. EIGHT MINUTES. Can you imagine any child today waiting eight minutes for Call of Duty to load? No, they’d be off spray-painting the library.
I found those eight minutes quite handy – you could pop downstairs for some toast and cup of tea and be back before the game had loaded. That way, you also avoided the EXCRUCIATING loading noises. Like scraping a cat’s claws down a blackboard while simultaneously putting its tail in a George Foreman grill. No one who owned a Spectrum will ever forget that noise – and it lasted EIGHT MINUTES.
(Later, when the games became more complicated, you often had to inset ANOTHER cassette tape and wait AGAIN. Even then around 75 per cent of the time, you’d just get an ERROR message and have to start over.)
However, if you were patient, you were rewarded with an embarrassment of riches.
Take the game Horace Goes Skiing for example. Check out these state of the art graphics. And the gameplay! You could move Horace left AND right!
Another staple of the Spectrum was the text based adventure game. These dispensed with graphics and moving characters completely, opting instead for descriptions of what was happening. The player would simply type instructions such as ‘go north’ to move to the next location.
But the rubbish nature of the graphics eventually forced programmers to be wildly creative with gameplay resulting in some of the cleverest, most inventive games ever made.
Sinclair brought out a 128k memory version, allowing software companies to make games like Chaos (chess with wizards), Laser Squad, (vast tactical warfare) and Elite (a never-ending space trading game). Soon, the Spectrum had become the most popular home computer in Europe. Kids at school that had the rival Commodore 64 were losers – the ‘Speccy’ was king.
Back then, you didn’t need 72 programmers, voice-artists, musicians and script-writers to make a game. Anyone could learn to code games on their own machine, meaning there was no end to the bizarre titles that came out. If a programmer had an idea, they could make a game out of it.
Want a somersaulting egg that solves puzzles? No problem, you had Dizzy – a sort of Indiana Jones.
Then there was Paperboy (you just had to deliver papers), Marble Madness (you were a marble), School Daze (you were a naughty schoolboy who had to terrorise fellow pupils without getting detention) and Jet Set Willy (not too sure what happened in that one…)
I loved my Spectrum more than it was normal to love a stupid noisy box of wires. It became more than a hobby – hunting down second hand games at car boot sales and devouring both monthly fan magazines, Sinclair User and Your Sinclair.
Even when Amiga’s, Mega Drive and Nintendo arrived, I stuck with my old Speccy. The new games dried up, but there was still a hardcore fan base still programming their own. I still remember the last ever issue of Your Sinclair – a massive double edition that paid tribute over a decade of Sir Clive’s revolutionary home computer. It was like Michael Jackson had died.
Now, the entire concept of the Spectrum is so alien to today’s youth, it’s hard to believe they even existed. But they did, and I’ve still got mine in the loft somewhere to prove it. I’ve got an XBOX now, and while the games look like Hollywood movies and you can spend hours recreating World Cup finals against 12 year-olds on the other side of the world, I’d still rather sit through eight minutes of screeching and play a two-dimensional black and white game featuring a somersaulting egg every time.
For kids growing up in the 90s, it was the one toy you and all your friends had to have. The idea of having a virtual playmate to feed and play with was just so much fun! The obsession with the Tamagotchi as it was known was definitely a phase I went through! I had a white and pink one, and it could be attached as a key ring with a little chain. The idea of mothering this ‘child’ from birth, and essentially seeing it grow made me feel responsible and important. I think this was its fascination for many kids out there.
Convincing our parents to let us wear heels, practising our signature, daydreaming of marriage, lining our eyes with kohl pencil and daily checking blossoming boobs and pubes: at primary school we were absolutely obsessed with growing up. Therefore, one of the trends that hit us in the early nineties was paradoxically surprising: pacifiers.
Long before R-Patz had us coming down with a serious case of Twilight Fever, and kids actually read with their eyes and everything, a craze hit the 90’s faster than Kevin Bacon’s feet in Footloose- that phenomenon was the teenage fright fest novel series Point Horror.
Bulky, grey, chunky and with buttons which could be seen from outer space; no I’m not talking about Saved By The Bell’s Zach Morris’ cell phone, but the best thing to come from the 80’s (apart from George Michael’s Club Tropicana speedos…) it is of course the Nintendo Game Boy.
It’s said that DNA is the building block of life but I would beg to differ. When having a building block contest there really is one that trumps them all…Lego of course! Its tiny form belies its mighty power but any child (particularly one who grew up in the 80s – before advanced computer games really took over every young boy (and girls) playtime) will tell of the magical properties held in the little bricks. And plus, what other toy has a whole theme park dedicated to its cause!?!
When you look at some kid’s TV characters/toys today, it’s astounding that children don’t run away from them screaming in fright. Take for example the terrifying cast of In The Night Garden, who look like they should be locked away in a secure unit, I wonder how many parents have to soothe their distressed offspring from nightmares about Igglepiggle, Makka Pakka and the rest.
But this love for frightening visages is not restricted to today’s tots! When I cast my mind back to my own childhood, a familiar face looms into my memory – that of the Cabbage Patch Kid. Although undoubtedly one of the most popular dolls of the 80s, there’s no denying the fact that they had faces only a mother could love. With giant puffy cheeks, woolen hair, stumpy limbs and staring eyes they didn’t look like any baby I’d ever seen! But their distinctiveness certainly didn’t stop them from doing well.
With today being the 76th birthday of the late children’s author Roger Hargreaves, what better way to celebrate than with an ode to the original Mr Men and Little Miss books, of which he was the creator and writer.
When we were young and the future was still wide open, our favourite past-time was to colour it in with fantasies. Scientifically supported fantasies, mind you. The one that drew most on an ability I could actually use later in life, was calculating the percentage of love or the mathematical compatibility between you and another person, preferably your love interest of that particular week. With a bit of plain old math you’d know within minutes whether it was worth chasing the boy or girl of your dreams.
For those of you who’ve never indulged in this widely respected practice, here’s how it works. Write down your name and the name of the person you fancy, then count how many times you see the letters L O V E S. You will end up with a five-digit number – one digit for each letter. Then simply add up the first and second, the second and third, the third and fourth, and the fourth and fifth. Rinse and repeat until you end up with a two-digit percentage representing the chance of romantic success.
Now, these were binding percentages: if the result was anywhere below 50 percent, you might as well break up immediately as you’d be doomed to fail anyway. Fortunately, pre-teen girls are both helpless romantics and conniving little monsters. We were not going to let cold, hard science steal our dreams and soon found ways to manipulate the results. You could either add last names or leave them out, or include or exclude the letters L O V E S when it came to counting, and simply pick your favourite result. For example, I’ve just calculated the compatibility percentage for the man who recently asked me to marry him (unfortunately, I said yes before even thinking of checking whether science agreed) and the four trustworthy percentages my little research resulted in were 26, 42, 68 and 94 – you can guess which one I’m sticking with for now. However much fun math is, the absolute favourite fortune-telling technique was the chatterbox, or cootie-catcher. In these days of Xboxes, iPads, the Internet and trashy-but-addictive reality TV shows, it’s almost unimaginable that once-upon-a-time young girls could actually enjoy themselves for hours with just one silly sheet of paper. Even though we probably should have cared more about our professional futures, recycling and the ozone layer, all our hormone-ridden brains wanted to know was when and whom we would marry, how many kids we’d have and what their names would be.
Moreover, it seemed of vital importance to avoid getting imaginarily hitched to the class nerd or have children named Silly ans Billy. After all, one’s ‘destiny’ was dependent upon the number of switches and the choice of arbitrary colours. We would spend hours giggling producing them, and all breaks were filled with hysterical pre-teen laughter. It didn’t really matter what the results were, any outcome was hilarious. Perhaps we were simply craving the nosy, slightly worried looks the boys threw us while we let faith decide on their destiny. How about that for feminism?
By the time we expanded our spouse search beyond the playground and decorated our bedroom walls with posters of the heartthrobs-du-moment, they too were included in the chatterbox. One lucky morning, destiny told me I would marry Leonardo DiCaprio after he’d asked me at to the local supermarket and I would give birth to twins named Ann and Rose. I decided then and there that I would just omit the supermarket bit when I would retell the story to the 27 grandchildren me and Leo would have, according to the chatterbox.
If only we could trust a simple piece of origami or adding up some numbers when it comes to today’s bigger life questions. What job shall I look for? Where should I live? Should I buy these shoes and eat noodles all month? I’ve already nicked a sheet of paper from the office printer, and am folding my future as we speak. Anyone want to marry both Ant and Dec?