Tag Archives: holidays

Spotlight on

28 Feb

Hello everyone a while back I started up what I thought would be a regular feature on this blog by introducing readers to writers I felt deserved wider recognition for their craft. Today I want to introduce you to Irene Roberts a writer who is from Wigan like myself. Irene is a big retro fan so as you can imagine we get on famously though we’ve only just become friends. Irene was a regular columnist for the local Past Forward magazine up until around 2010. I love her work and hope you do too, ladies and gentlemen, Irene Roberts…spotlight

The Dream

IN THE dream I am a child again, running over the back-field to the ‘pens’where the men keep hens and pigeons. I run in slow motion – I don’t mean to – that’s just how it is in the dream – that, and the strange silence. I can see my dad chatting with a pal by the pigeon-cotes, and he waves to me, the fragrant aroma of his pipe-tobacco mingling with the scent of privet and rosebay willow-herb, filling the air with familiar, comforting smells of childhood. High above, an aeroplane, inaudible in the odd silence, leaves a trail of white vapour in a perfect summer sky. I feel safe here, in the past, and I hold on to the dream, not wanting to wake up, because I know that, whilst I dream, my mam will still be at home in the kitchen, standing on the pegged rug in her faded cross-over pinny, humming to herself as she makes potato pies – a family one in the big brown dish and two tiny ones in little white, illicit ‘British Rail’ cups – a regular Saturday-teatime treat for my friend Christine and me.

She likes a ‘flutter’ on the horses, does mam – sixpence each way on “Newsboy” – and I hurry with her down the back entry to a house where bets are laid out on the table, and where the bookie’s wife and unmarried daughter are always ready for a gossip. There is a plaster Alsatian dog on a crocheted runner on top of a huge radiogram which, come Sunday dinnertime, will broadcast ‘Two-way Family Favourites’ . . . “And now a request from B.F.P.O. 17” . . . followed by ‘The Billy Cotton Bandshow’.


Over the fireplace is a mirror etched with a picture of a crinoline lady in a garden. I can see that room yet, and I can hear the clock ticking and the fire crackling. Mam was the Mrs Malaprop of Ince – always getting her words wrong and mixing proverbs with a kind of reckless abandon: “A bird in th’and”, she would state dramatically, “gathers no moss!” – and then she would laugh with us, good naturedly, at her own mistakes. Those precious moments have gone down in history in our family – lovely reminders of that patient, gentle soul whose whole world lay in the vicinity of the damp little terraced house that was her home.

A bus-ride into Wigan, with a look round Woolworths and a cup of tea in Gorner’s Café, was a treat, and half a day at Southport was her holiday. We went from Ince Station, our feet echoing over the covered elevated walkway of wooden planks, and I tried not to look at the ground so far below. My dad bought our tickets from the little ticket-office, and there was a tiny waiting-room whose coal-fire lay unlit on our summer outings. Oh! The thrill as the train chugged into the station, filling the air with the heady smell of steam on a sunny June morning – it was enough to make you dizzy!

We sat in long narrow carriages with pictures above the seats and leather straps to let the windows up or down, and I can still feel the tingle of excitement as the guard blew his whistle and the train gathered speed. My dad always recited the stations between Wigan and Southport: Gathurst, Appley Bridge, Parbold …. And somewhere along the way there was a bone-works which stunk to high heaven, and the thud-thud of carriage windows being shut was like machine gun fire!


Arriving in Southport, we always went to ‘Mary’s Café’ for our dinner; the building that was ‘Mary’s’ is still there, just down a side street – no longer a café, and seen today through misty eyes and memories, but in the dream we can still go inside. A ride on the miniature railway and a turn on the ‘caterpillar’, and all too soon it was time to go home.

As we walked from Ince Station the evening sun slanted on terraced rows, throwing into shadow the corner-shop with its huge potato-scales and its tiny toffee-scales. On the shelves, bundles of firewood and packets of Omo with 4d off jostled for space with ‘Twink’ home-perms and bottles of ‘Drene’ shampoo. Cards hung haphazardly on the walls, each holding a dozen combs or babies’ dummies or the little bottles of patent medicines in which our mams had such faith. Strings of paper bags hung on nails by the “penny tray” – little white three-cornered ones for sweets and square brown ones for fruit and vegetables; everything else went straight into the customer’s own shopping basket, or a threepenny brown paper carrier bag with string handles – there were no plastic carriers in our little world.

Today there is a fish-andchip shop in Ince Green Lane; in my childhood it was the Co-op – in the dream it still is. Everyone called it ‘t’cworp’ or ‘t’stores’ then, and there were chairs to sit on; the lady assistants wore little caps with “C.W.S.” on, and served you personally, reckoning up your bill at the speed of light on long slips of paper, licking pencils which they kept behind their ears, and our mams collected little yellow ‘checks’ which they stuck onto a card for their ‘Divi’.

Just further down the lane was ‘Little Amy’s’ offlicence, which was in a time warp even then! Ancient, faded showcards portrayed young ladies of a bygone era enjoying Bulmer’s cider – the only decoration to grace Amy’s, apart from the sticky yellow flypaper hanging by the one dim electric lightbulb. Packets of crisps were kept in a blue tin with a Union Jack painted on each side, and we bought ‘Spangles’ and ‘Penny Arrows’, ‘Black-Jacks’ and ‘Sherbet Fountains’; does anyone remember …. Not boxes, but bars of milk-tray chocolate – six different flavours all in one bar? We pretended to smoke our ‘sweet cigarettes’, which in these so-called enlightened days have to be called ‘candy sticks’ in case they encourage children to smoke, and yet I must have eaten enough to sink a battleship, and never once had the urge to try the real thing. download


As I emerge from Amy’s dim little shop into the brilliant sunshine, my mind begins to wake from the dream, but I fight it – I want to stay, just for a while, in my childhood, where old ladies sit out on chairs in the sun, watching ‘t’childer’ at play – little girls jumping into skipping-ropes …. “All in together girls, very fine weather girls”……. or whipping tops along the pavement with whips made out of ‘banding’ – a kind of tubular string which my Aunty Mary brought home from the Empress Mill. I walk, a child again, through a vanished world of rag-bone men and gas-lamps, of factory-hooters and outside toilets, of jagged pieces of glass stuck into cement on the tops of walls to deter thieves, and of running to the shop for a ’gas-shilling’ when the gas was ‘begging’.

I know that, if I stay asleep, I can still go on the Labour-Club trip and I will be given 10 shillings in a brown envelope to spend at Southport or Blackpool; and, twice a year, I can visit Silcock’s Fair on the spare land, with its toffee-apples and candy-floss, where the older girls, sporting beehive hairdos and stiletto heels, eye up the fair-lads who stand fearlessly on the waltzer, spinning the screaming girls dizzily round to the strains of ‘Cathy’s Clown’ or Bryan Hyland’s haunting ‘Sealed with a Kiss’. The fair came twice a year – once in the spring and once in the tingling autumn dusk, when we entered a magic world of glitter and flashing lights, and it is only when we wake from the dream that we see it as a few square yards of tattered gaiety set between back-yards and factory walls.

I always know when the dream is ending; I am running, again in slowmotion, down Ince Green Lane, over flagstones whose every crack and crevice is as familiar as my own hands. Little terraced homes, long demolished, still stand, and friendly neighbours, kneeling with buckets and donkey-stones, slowly smile and nod as I pass by in the eerie silence. Our terraced row stood back from the road, invisible until you reached it, and strangely, in the dream, I never do reach it – never get to see again the little row of six houses where I grew up, but I know it is there, waiting for me, just out of sight. I wake, slowly and reluctantly at first, and then I remember that this is a very special day; the past is a dream and I must let it go – the present is real and it’s here, and I have a wedding to go to!

Mam and Dad didn’t live to see the day; they never got to meet our Beccy, my lovely daughter -in- law, but they would have loved her as I do. I see their faces, smiling through the mists of time, but today they must stay behind in the dream, as I walk down the path of a lovely old London church, 200 miles and a million years away from my childhood home, to witness their grandson’s wedding. Their little girl is today the bridegroom’s mother, and I am conscious, as I enter the cool, dim interior of the church, that I must walk slowly with dignity, as befits my role. But the child in me is running – running through the clear air of a sparkling sunlit morning long ago, running for the sheer joy of living, as only a child knows how, across the back-field and down the dear, familiar road that will take me home. 

Irene Roberts


What I did on my holidays

6 Oct

What I did on my Holidays 

new brighton

Hope you all had a great summer and the weather has been quite decent this year for a change. Mind you as I look out from the turret of Topping Towers it’s raining quite heavily as I type this. Now back when I was a youngster 300 years ago it was sunny every day of the school holidays and we would travel to foreign lands like Morecambe, Rhyl and New Brighton. What those dumps I hear you say? Now then don’t be so cheeky they were quite exotic and magical places in the 50’s and 60’s. Come on let’s travel back and take a look.

As a family our main holiday would tend to be Blackpool or Butlin’s but day trips out were an important part of the summer holidays especially Southport and it’s a thriving place today but I want to focus on the local seaside resorts that faded and died. New Brighton attracted thousands of people to its seashore in the 1960’s when I was a nipper. Hard to imagine if you visit the place today but once upon a time it rivalled Blackpool and had a bigger tower than the Fylde coast one.

The tower was a whopping 567 feet high! Built in 1900 it was dismantled in 1919 because the owners couldn’t afford to maintain it so they sold it for scrap. Six men were killed in the building of the tower and one fireman fell 90 feet to his death from a six inch wide beam trying to tackle a blaze. On one occasion a woman and her child had to spend the night up at the top of the structure after the lift closed. They didn’t even bother making a complaint when they were discovered the next morning. They were made of sterner stuff in those days.

The big draw for me about going to New Brighton was the journey to get there. Train from Wigan to Liverpool and then the walk through the city to the docks. Hustle and bustle, buildings so big they took your breath away, grime, smoke and tons of atmosphere. Then you got to the docks! Ships jostling for position, big and small all huffing and puffing, some bound for lands I had only read about like the Isle of Man! Our ship was only a smallish one, the New Brighton ferry, but for a little while I was Fletcher Christian on board The Bounty.

New Brighton had a decent funfair, not on a par with Blackpool but enough to keep kids entertained. The giant tower had long since disappeared before I was born but the massive tower building still stood and housed the Beatles more times than anywhere else bar The Cavern. It also had a massive outdoor swimming pool that hosted beauty contests. The Tower Building was destroyed by fire a recurring theme sadly throughout seaside demise.

The pier where you alighted from the ferry at New Brighton is long gone and you can no longer get there by boat. You can however get a ferry across the Mersey and walk the couple of miles to New Brighton along a flat promenade. It’s a pleasant trip on a nice day and you can hunt for the ghosts of former glories as you make your way there.

Not much of Morecambe’s glories remain I’m sad to say but it was similar to New Brighton in the 50’s and 60’s. Funfair, giant open air swimming pool, theatres and all the trimmings of a jolly day out. Morecambe even had its own version of SeaWorld with a dolphin show in the 1960’s and I vaguely remember going unless my minds playing tricks. It definitely had an old sailing ship moored there and I went on it. The ship was used in the films Treasure Island and Moby Dick and it was a classic old vessel but sadly it was destroyed by fire in the early seventies.

Moby Dick

Moby Dick

Morecambe used to be known as “Little Bradford” because of the Yorkshire folk who travelled there by train. The funfair at Morecambe which opened in 1906 underwent many changes not least in 1987 when it was remarketed as “Frontierland” a Western style theme park with the same rides tarted up. It wasn’t a success and in 2000 it was closed down with all the rides finding new homes apart from the Polo Tower which was left standing. I’m surprised that tower didn’t find a buyer after all it must have made a mint! Geddit? Mint? Polo? Oh please yourselves.

More indignity was heaped on Morecambe when in 1994 Crinkly Bottom or Blobbyland opened its doors. The ahem brainchild of Noel Edmonds it closed 13 weeks after opening due to a disinterested public and lost 2 million pounds from the local council funds. Colin Crompton of Wheeltappers and Shunters fame once said of Morecambe “There are some nice drives out of Morecambe. ANY road out of Morecambe is a nice drive”

Before I move onto the seaside resort of Rhyl I thought I would give you a flavour of what it was like to be a kid in the 1960’s on a day trip. If it was a sunny most of the day would be spent on the beach. Kids in cossies Mum’s and Dad’s in casual attire with the occasional showing of white flesh when they roused themselves to go paddling in the sea or swimming in the open air pools. Granddad would be in his former best suit now relegated to knocking about wear with sandals and socks plus flat cap. Grandma would be resplendent in summer frock with overcoat and hat.

Every adult had a deckchair while kids sat on the sand or scurried about getting water for the sandcastle moat a pointless task since it disappeared immediately. Butties from home would be opened on the beach and be guaranteed to be sandblasted in seconds giving a gritty texture to your corned beef butty. Buckets and spades were made of tin that rusted as soon as you got them home. Cowboy hats for boys and frilly fringed hats for girls were the de rigour at the seaside. Tin pots of tea filled with scalding water were entrusted with children to carry over a landscape filled with semi naked bodies. We loved it!

Rhyl was one of the few day trips that evolved into a week’s holiday and I stayed here twice both times at the Sunnyvale Camp. The camp opened in the 1920’s and is still going today but the open air swimming pool that I splashed about in is long gone. Hard to believe that Rhyl was a booming tourist destination back in the day but it’s another of those places that has fell on hard times. Not hard to see why when tourism is your biggest asset. Thankfully the town is getting back on its feet now and I may have to revisit the place for a fresh view.

Rhyl 1960's

In 1962 Rhyl made history by having the world’s first hovercraft passenger service from the resort to Wallasey. It started ferrying (or should that be hovering?) passengers in July that year but it wasn’t a success due to mechanical problems and stopped its service in September 1962. The resort had a decent funfair named Ocean Beach a cracking name reminiscent of American theme parks and another funfair at the Marine Lake. Good theatres, a pier, open air swimming pool, nice beach and lovely countryside nearby all added to the appeal of the place but it just didn’t resonate with me that much really.

Other notable day trips in the summer holidays included trips to Belle Vue funfair and zoo, the Lake District, Chester and the zoo, Southport, Blackpool and still one of my most favourite places in the world Lytham St Annes. I hope you’ve enjoyed this nostalgic trip, don’t forget your sticks of rock and bars of nougat and I’ll see you on the steam train home!

Tony Topping

Wakes Week

12 Feb

ud2hngysWakes Week


Early July 1963 and a sparrow alights upon the roof of a small terraced house that is home to my family but a slum to the bigwigs of Wigan Council. In 18 months time the sparrow, should it survive the smog from the billowing chimneys of both home and industry, will have no rooftops to visit in this part of town, every house will have been cut down by the council reaper.

Being a small boy such things caused no frowns upon me. I did get a little agitated when the paperboy was late delivering my comics to my granddads house and I admit maths gave me a headache at times, such as every time we had a maths lesson but today I had only one thing on my mind…we were going on holiday to Blackpool!

We walked it to the train station from our house in Wallgate with my dad carrying two cases. Tickets bought we joined the throng of people on the platform waiting for the Blackpool train. I just had time to visit the newspaper kiosk and clutching my pennies I eased myself through the masses and prepared myself for the big decision… Dandy Summer Special or Beano Summer Special? Beano, no Dandy, perhaps Beano then, or Dan… “Anthony hurry up the trains coming!” shouted my Mam. Beano it is and I hurried back to Mam, Dad and my two sisters.

The steam train, all smoke and noise, slowed alongside the platform and begrudgingly squealed to a halt, a mighty black dragon eager to move on. Compartment doors banged open and my sisters and I rushed on to save the seats for our parents. Cases safely stored in the overhead netting we set off on our journey. Ten minutes later my Mam got the butties out and I sat back to read my comic, this is the life!


As we got closer to our destination my sisters and I scanned the skyline hoping to be the first to spot the black outline of the famous tower. And then it appeared, the man made monolith of mirth…

We disembarked at Central Station and joined the hosts of holidaymakers packed on the platform, shuffling their way slowly to the exits. Familiar faces lined up with us and I saw some friends from school, Dad his mates from work and Mam… well she knew everyone. A year later and this busy, perfectly good station would be flattened. I hope the Wigan sparrow didn’t come here for his holidays or he might develop a complex.

Outside the station, boys not much older than me waited with homemade trolleys to transport the cases to your lodging house for sixpence. Dad put the cases on one and off we marched like explorers going into an uncharted land. We checked into “Dunroamin” and the landlady Mrs Dunsmilin informed us of the house rules “Breakfast 7am till 8am, off the premises by 9am, no coming back before 4pm, evening meal 5pm till 6pm and the front door is locked at 11:30 pm” She peered down at me and my sisters, like a woman who had found something unpleasant on the sole of her shoe and added “And no running” No running? We’d have to be Stirling Moss to adhere to that timetable.


Unpacked we set off for the beach with its golden sands…hang on where was the sand? Every space on the beach was taken with deckchairs, prams, tea huts, snack vans, ice cream vendors and the population of Mongolia. We managed to find a spot and settled down, Mam and Dad in the chairs and we kids digging into the sand with our tin spades and buckets. Dad even rolled his pants up a bit.

My sisters built a sandcastle and I dug a moat around it, now to fill it with water. I set off for the sea with my bucket, I knew it was out there somewhere but I couldn’t see it for deckchairs. I gingerly made my way through the canvas maze standing on feet, kids, castles, butties, lovelorn couples and mugs of tea. You could have tracked my progress by my apologetic “Sorry… Sorry… really sorry…” Finally I made it through to the beautiful blue… erm… brown sea.

I filled my bucket with water and turned to go back, but where was back? A sea of pink and white flesh faced me, with a few sports jackets thrown into the mix. I tried to retrace my steps but to no avail and people tend to stare aggressively back when you’re looking to see if they are in some way familiar in a “Did I stand on your corns earlier” fashion. Eventually my Dad turned up in his budgies (I acted like I didn’t know him, the state of that cossie) and I followed him back at a respectable distance.

Our evenings were spent in various places, we went to the pictures, a variety show, the Winter Gardens, up and down the prom with all its amusements, but for me the best place of all was inside the Blackpool Tower building.


In there I could wander freely while the rest of the family sat watching the dancers in the ballroom and occasionally got up for a twirl themselves. I loved the building with its ornate tiling and grandeur, appreciating the atmosphere even though I was a child. They had a small zoo in the tower back then though the animals didn’t seem happy in such confined spaces and it was closed down eventually. I had come to see one animal in particular, the Black Panther.

I would sit on a stone bench opposite its cage for ages watching him go back and forth against the bars of his cramped home. I liked it best when we were more or less alone. Then I would stand against the safety rail and try to catch his eye but the panther just carried on with his endless walk to nowhere. I concentrated really hard trying to communicate by telepathy, the innocence of youth and the savage beauty of the beast not quite on the same wavelength. With a heavy heart I bid him a fond farewell and though I never saw the panther again I can still see him in my mind.

My favourite place in the tower was the Aquarium. Down in the depths of the building and dimly lit, I walked amongst the denizens of the deep like a mini Captain Nemo. It was designed to resemble a series of caves with stalactites hanging down adding to the authenticity. In fact the aquarium had been there since 1875 and the tower was built around it. Little wonder I sensed the ghosts of the past at every turn. Some of the fish down here were as big as a Roman shield and unlike the panther they looked straight at me until I was forced to look away with a shudder. The statue of Neptune followed my progress through his kingdom with unblinking eyes…

Friday came around too quickly but with it came our last treat… a visit to the Pleasure Beach! It was our own version of Disneyland, colour, carnival and candy floss. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the World (If you take out the boring Hanging Gardens of Babylon)

With the setting sun came the illuminated lights of the rides and stalls. Primary colours pulsed around the Pleasure Beach, it was magical to a young boy that lived in a little terraced house in a place called Wigan…

Tony Topping

Save the World with 10p!

25 Nov


Save the World with 10p!

Christmas is fast approaching and many a kid’s wish list to Santa will contain some kind of games console in it. Nintendo and Playstation are still going strong in one form or another and the graphics on these modern machines are amazing. Arcade strength graphics have been available in the home for quite a while now. Once upon a time it was very different though and you had to physically enter the shadowy, slightly seedy world of the arcade in person to get your thrills. Let’s travel back to those retro days.
Amusement Arcades have always had that bit of an edge, a bit like betting shops feel to the once a year Grand National punter. From small town to seaside fronts they all are more or less the same, glass fronted doors enable you to see inside and at least one is always ajar enabling you to hear the loud bleeps and bells emanating from the machines. Entering the arcade your senses are assaulted by flashing lights, red, green, blue, yellow, they plead for your attention.
At the heart of the arcade lies the “Change Woman” she sits protected in her see through plastic box, slowly smoking her cigarette. She is old, very old, and she wears too much make up, the Baby Jane of Blackpool. But she has the eyes of a shite hawk and she watches you enter, like a portrait in a haunted house her head keeps still but the eyes, the eyes follow you.
She is not alone in this garish game land, others also watch you with unnatural interest, the “Overall Operators” They come in many guises, some are dressed in smart though dated blazers whilst others wear the light brown coats favoured by Ronnie Barker in “Open all Hours. They move around Baby Jane like worker bees attending their Queen. A large bunch of keys hang from their belts, keepers of the coin castle.
You avert your eyes from the watchers, and look downwards to gaze upon a carpet that Salvador Dali would have rejected as being too far out. Every arcade worth its salt as a carpet like this, usually bright red with other colours seemingly spewed on randomly.
But none of this really matters to you; you are here for one thing only, to save the earth from Space Invaders!
If you get bored of saving humanity from little green men then you could always take to the sea and sink battleships from the safety of your arcade submarine. Or take part in a race along the seaside with your graphic “girlfriend” beside you. Help get a frog across the road or relax with a nice game of golf. It’s all here and all you need is a healthy supply of 10p coins. Well this is a retro article so I will only charge you retro money. Roll up; roll up as I present to you some of the best retro arcade games ever! fbf0c661fbb366bf03d4cb83654bfb1b

The first ever arcade game was “Computer Space” released in 1971 but the first commercially successful coin op game arrived a year later, the legendary “Pong” a ball and paddle tennis type game. Easy to control it was very addictive and it ate my pocket money with alarming speed. The father of all games machines.
In 1976 Midway introduced one of my top ten arcade games “Sea Wolf” You are the commander of a submarine and from your submerged sub you fire torpedoes at ships moving across the top of the screen. The cool thing about this was that you viewed the screen through a periscope and it had the “piiiing piiiing” sound effects. For a few minutes I was onboard the “Seaview” in Voyage to the bottom of the Sea.
Two years later and another giant entered the scene “Space Invaders” Possibly the most addictive game ever it revolutionised the arcade world. One armed bandits had to make way for these machines and Midway couldn’t make them fast enough. The game was so popular in Japan that the country ran short of coins and the production of yens had to be quadrupled. In other countries the crime rate soared as kids robbed shops just so they could play the game.
1979 saw Atari shares soar with the popular “Asteroids” Now I could never get used to this game and would last all of 5 seconds before a huge block of space debris would smash my little ship to pieces. I do appreciate that many others loved it so in the list it goes.
I did love the next game on my list “Galaxian” released the same year as Asteroids but light years in front. This was the first arcade game in full colour and the first game that I ever played on a table. Popular in the pubs but very annoying when your mates put their pints over the screen! It was made by Namco.galaxian
Into the 80’s now and another favourite of mine was “Battlezone” Controlling a wire framed tank you roamed about searching out enemy tanks and the odd flying saucer! The first game to make me jump with surprise when an opposing tank found you and panic stricken you would try back tracking to safety. Your screen would crack when you were hit. “Defender” by Williams came out the same year and was another smash hit though it was fiendishly difficult. Your mission was to stop the alien ships from taking away your humanoids. If they managed to get away with one of them they would mutate and join the aliens! Two faced little so and so’s.
Another all time favourite was “Missile Command” your in charge of three missile bases and must shoot down enemy missiles before they strike you. Little trivia for you, the game featured in Terminator 2. Feel free to use that fact to liven up some boring dinner party.
Next up is the most popular video game of all time, ladies and gentlemen I give you “Pacman” The game was originally called “Puckman” but had to be changed because people were scratching a bit of the “P” out making it into an “F” Those pesky kids eh?
So popular that I don’t need to describe it but I will give you a cheat. When Pacman starts go to the right side of the t junction above. Don’t move but look upwards and if none of the ghosts have seen you then they won’t bother you. What good that is when you have to eat all those dots I don’t know but hey I only write this stuff. pac-man
“Rally X” was a racing maze game that also came out in 1980, a very good year for arcades. You raced your little car around a maze collecting yellow flags. Sounds easy but some bad cars are out to stop you and a timer is ticking down. The first decent driving game.
“Donkey Kong” introduced us to Mario in 1981 though he was a carpenter not a plumber in those days. A giant ape has stolen Mario’s girlfriend Pauline and you must climb ladders etc to reach her at the top of the screen. Mario later teamed up with his brother Luigi in the successful “Mario Bros” franchise. A Nintendo masterpiece.
One of the most frustrating games of this period was “Frogger” by Sega/Gremlin. The game was full of bugs, and not just the ones the frog ate. The idea was to guide your frog across a busy road and then traverse a river by jumping on to logs. Unfortunately the game play was flawed and many a machine was brutally kicked when said frog perished when he reached home. Disclaimer; I’d like to put on record that I never kicked any Frogger machine in a fit of pique, honest.
The first game to capture the F1 experience was “Pole Position” released in 1982 and manufactured by Atari. Now people like me who no normal person would allow behind the wheel of a car could race round a race track. Complete with steering wheel and foot pedals I was the boy racer of 1982. All that was missing was the meet up on Halfords car park.
An even better driving game was released the following year “Spy Hunter” by Bally Midway was a classic chase/shoot em up. You had four weapons at your disposal, machine guns, oil slick, smoke screen and missiles. Best of all was the fact that you could turn off the road into a river and the car would turn into a speedboat! 118124217268
“Track and Field” by Konami was a button basher extraordinaire. Taking part in various athletics events you had to bash the buttons as fast as you could to give some momentum to your little sports guy. The events were 100m dash, long jump, javelin, 110m hurdles, hammer throw and high jump. Up to 4 players could play so all I needed was 3 mates. Oh well forget it!
Onto 1986 now and the bat and ball genre of games reached its apex with “Arkanoid” by Taito. Greatly improving on earlier versions of this type Arkanoid was very addictive as you tried to clear a screen of coloured bricks just to see what the next screen would look like. The answer was another screen full of bricks but in a different pattern. Hey we were easily pleased back in those days!
The same year saw “Out Run” My favourite arcade driving game of all time, good graphics (well by 1986 standards) nice tunes and you got to sit in a mock up Ferrari Testarossa! Oh and did I mention the on screen girlfriend? Yeah she stayed with me all the way down the line, well at least until that first corner when we usually spun off into space.20120519-165207
A year later saw one of the best scrolling shoot em ups ever “1943” The battle of Midway was the setting and your little plane had to shoot down everything in its path picking up bonus weapons and lives along the way. Cracking game and a true classic.
Speaking of classics brings us to my final retro game “Streetfighter” by Capcom. You controlled Ryu (blue player 1) or Ken (red player 2) and fought your way across Japan, U.S.A., China, England and Thailand. Secret moves and multi combination button attacks meant this was no pick up and play game but the novice could get through by pressing every button in a mad panic. Not something that I ever lowered myself to of course, ahem.
Well there you have them, some of my own personal favourites. All of these games were produced before 1990 and they can still be found on piers and in town centres across Britain. You can even get game emulators over the internet and play these games from the safety of your home. Thankfully these early machines are being recognized for their cultural heritage across the world and every effort is being made to preserve them.
It’s just a pity that Baby Jane from Blackpool couldn’t have been pickled and preserved to sit along side them, oh well the smoking ban would have killed her anyway.
Some of my mudhut colleagues favourite retro games were; Wonderboy, Vulcan Venture, World Cup 90, Pacland, Phoenix, Afterburner, Double Dragon, Bombjack, Paperboy, Punch Out and Hyper Sports.
Coming next issue (well maybe) a retro look at the Sinclair Spectrum and the Commodore Amiga including their top rated games.
Keep on bashing those buttons kids.

Tony Topping

My Honeymoon with Italian Ice Cream Men 1982

6 Jun

I got married on the 5th of June 1982 but we had a belated honeymoon in July after I agreed to loosen the purse strings and whisk my newish 20yr old bride off to Blackpool for a week. We stayed in a little boarding house in Charnley Road called “Bramlea House” and shared a dining table with two women in their 30’s and a lovely old couple Ethel and Neville from Rochdale. I got allocated the chair in the middle next to one of the women, the “brassy” mad blonde one of our grub group.bramlea dining room

(The actual dining room at the Bramlea)

Of course the mad blondie picked on me mercilessly “Have you come for a dirty weekend Tony?” she asked me on our first breakfast meeting “No, no” I said “We’ve come for a week” “You’ve come for a dirty week!” she replied just loud enough for the people on a passing tram to look at me with disgust. “No, no” I spluttered with a face redder than the unrealistic plastic tomato ketchup dispenser laid before me “We’ve come for a holiday” Except “holiday” came out in a reluctant elongated “Hollllllidayyyyy” Blondie laughed and nudged me with her sharp elbow “I’m only having you on kid” Aye maybe but it put me off my sausage that morning.

Ah but Blackpool is not known as the Plastic Jewel of the North for nothing and our spirits soon lifted as we walked along the heaving promenade. With the smell of chip fat and burgers adding to


(Blackpool 1982)

hedonistic atmosphere we went for a paddle in the grey/brownish sea whilst children happily shifted the sands with their buckets & spades playing “Find the buried Nappies” Raising my voice so that my wife could hear me over the bingo callers, I held her in my arms and said “Isn’t this bliss darling?” She said nothing in return but looked like she was about to cry. Yes Blackpool has that effect on you…

Now I find it best if you start a relationship by being honest and laying your cards on the table so to speak. With this in mind I got on my wife’s best side by treating her to a pot of tea in Woolies café. Whilst she was putting wrapped cubes of sugar in her bag (for emergencies, novelty value, impress her workmates, passing horses) I told her that I loved her and I also loved football but I had known football for longer therefore I should put that first, seemed reasonable to me. Seconds later I was picking sugar lumps out of my hair, shirt and eyeballs and we came to a new mutual arrangement…

(She didn't buy this by the way)

(She didn’t buy this by the way)

The World Cup Final took place on the Sunday and I was on a promise with Mrs T. Yes I could watch the final if I promised to buy her something nice from Clockhouse in the nearest C & A store. Now then back in the early eighties you didn’t have televisions in hotel bedrooms, crikey you were lucky if you a sink to pee in, you had what was called a “Television Lounge” Which was basically like you Nan’s front room minus your Nan.

A lot of pubs didn’t have televisions either and besides I wanted to watch the final in relative comfort and an armchair pulled up to the TV was the best option. But this was not as simple as it sounded, you see other people were in the hotel and they might want to watch something else that evening, the selfish old buggers.

A plan formulated in my mind and we set it in motion. On the first strike of the dinner gong we would rush downstairs and be first in the dining room. Ignoring the soup of the day starter (Oxtail) we would move directly on to our main meal TV Lounge Blackpool(Chicken with it being a Sunday) and then pass up on the sweet option (Ice cream with tinned mandarins)

It worked like a charm and we rushed back upstairs with the brassy blondes parting retort “Ooo can you not wait you randy little sod?” echoing round Blackpool and District. Mrs T was on first shift in the lounge and she made sure the television was on the BBC channel as I preferred that channels coverage. In the meantime I would get washed and changed for an immediate exit to the pub once the final had finished. I get ready as quick as I can and hurry back down to the TV lounge to see Mrs T sat alone “Has anyone been in?” I ask slightly out of breath “No not a one” she replies before adding “Right I’ll get changed and meet you here later”

Now a lot of the older generation like a bit of a walk after tea before returning to the hotel and I was prepared for this sexagenarian surge pulling my armchair a little closer to the TV in the unlikely event of someone sitting in front of me. There was one flaw in my plan and I would need all my courage to stick to my guns. BBC 2 had “The Alamo” on at the same time as the final so it was my guns against John Wayne and his elderly fan club. alamoposter

They came in the room in bibs and bobs, sat down for a while and said “Are you watching this?” “Oh yes” I replied to which they glared at me and shuffled out the room banging the door behind them. You see the Alamo actually started before the World Cup coverage so I had to pretend I wanted to watch the programme that was on BBC 1 prior to the final. Thanks to the internet I found out what that programme was and I cringed with embarrassment while Mrs T laughed her head off. I wouldn’t let them switch the TV over for “The Alamo” because I wanted to watch “Songs of Praise” with Thora Hird…

I was left in blissful isolation albeit labelled a religious fanatic by half the hotel and a sex maniac by one. Mrs T joined me for the second half which she spent painting her nails as Italians painted their country Azzurro after a 3-1 win over Germany, a game immortalised by Marco Tardelli’s ecstatic celebration after he scored the second goal.


Game over we bounded out the hotel and headed for the nearest pub but before we got there we witnessed the amazing sight of a line of Italian Ice Cream vans driving round, all playing jingles and sounding their horns. Carried away with the euphoria I started waving and yelling at them “Italia, Italia…” Mrs T pulled my arms down and told me to stop it, when I asked her why she said “They’ll be thinking you want to buy an ice cream!” Women eh?


Looking at the hotel now on “Tripadvisor” it’s rated 831st out of 900 B & B’s it wasn’t quite that bad in 1982 I assure you. Mind you that Television Lounge where I watched the World Cup being won is probably split into two bedrooms now. Ah well it lives on in my mind.

Tony Topping


The best Christmas Album ever

20 Dec

Back in the early 70’s on my way home from work on a dark wet night I called into a record store in town to kill some time before catching the bus home.

I was looking for something to provide a backdrop to our family Christmas meal. One of my Mum’s favourite songs is “The Bells of St Mary’s” and seeing that she would be doing all the work on the big day I thought she might like this album.

Album purchased I caught the number 23 bus just outside the Woolworths store and made my way home to Worsley Hall. My mum was in the kitchen with my Aunt Teresa and I took the vinyl out of its sleeve and placed it on my record player in the adjacent “record room”

The record room was usually occupied by me and the pet dog though my dad went in from time to time to play his oldies. When the album got to my mum’s favourite track I opened the kitchen door so she could hear it.

When the Bells of St Mary’s ended my aunt was crying and she asked me to play it again adding that her dad used to sing the song to her. I couldn’t understand this sentimentality at the time, teenagers seldom do, but now older and hopefully wiser I understand her tears.

My record player is long gone and my aunt died years ago but every Christmas this album comes out the box in the attic and the memories come flooding back…

Merry Christmas everyone xx

Tony Topping

Dark Side of the Sun

1 Jun


Well here it is, once more the holiday season is upon us and thoughts turn to sun, fun and frolics after cocktails. Before you get too excited though let me just run you through some of the traps to be aware of in the dark side of the sun…

Flying out

Now the outward journey is normally ok, excited about your hols you put up with the odd wailing kid, the miserable couples who are too cool to smile, the backpacking imbeciles who walk down the plane aisle and catch your head with their bag, the jousting for the upper baggage compartment space, the running commentary from the doting grandparent “Ooooooo are we going on our holidays?” just loud enough for the nearest 15 rows to hear, the knees in your back, the chair in front being pushed back within an inch of your nose, the tension in the terminal prior to boarding as you look round at your fellow passengers and pray you are not seated near them, invariably you are. Oh well several Gin & Tonics later and you float serenely like the clouds outside your aircraft window, looking forward to your long awaited break.

The Hotel hotel-california-neon-sign

We have now arrived and are sat on our air conditioned coach, the local coach driver decides we need some music and so we are “treated” to compilation tapes of Chris De Burgh. Bonnie Tyler and Phil Collins. You scan the coach looking for unsavoury characters and pray they don’t get off at your hotel. They do.

Finally you make your way to your room, first thing your wife does is check the amount of hangers in the wardrobe, you run to the balcony to check the view, a spontaneous “Yes!” confirms a) you can see the beauties round the pool, and b) she has found hangers heaven.

The following morning you are woken at 6:30am by the sunbed soldiers, a loyal band of sad men & women whose mission is to find the best spot round the pool. They save beds for their new found mates as well, each spot having at least a couple of fixed sun brollys, couple of moveable ones plus plastic tables and chairs. They may not occupy these beds till late afternoon or often not at all but still they persist with their dawn raids.

You manage to grab two beds that nobody else wants but there’s no brolly, you look round and spy one on the other side of the pool. After tiptoeing through the sunbed maze you arrive at your prize only to see that it is bent and rusty. Oh well beggars can’t be choosers and you attempt to lift the thing up, only you can’t because there is a large concrete base attached to it. Undeterred you put the brolly at an angle and start to roll it back from whence you came. By now you have a captive audience and people start to sit up to watch the show, embarrassed you roll it faster and get quite a bit of momentum going, so much so that you can’t stop. You plough through the sea of pink and brown bodies and slump triumphant at the side of your wife, she looks disdainfully at your twisted rusting trophy and says “There must be one better than that” Several swear words later and she is not speaking to you for the rest of the day.

Games without Frontiers

Lying on your sunbed you start to snooze off when suddenly a loud voice booms out from a nearby speaker “WATER FITNESS STARTS IN TEN MINUTES IN THE POOL!” the bane of my holiday life makes his/her first appearance, the Holiday Rep.

Frustrated Redcoats they cheerfully trot round the beds trying to entice people to join in their “madcap” games. I usually refuse all attempts to join in the fun because a) I am crap at games, and b) because I don’t want to become one of the Reps groupies.


The groupie’s main role on holiday is to kiss the Reps arse and to enter every event going. Think people who ask Big Brother contestants for their autograph and you get the picture. The blue ribbon event of the day takes place at 3pm, the testerone explosion that is WATER POLO. Look in awe as our mighty warrior makes his way from the bar to the pool, gasp as he enters the water with an unintentional belly flop, wince at his ear piercing yelps of joy as he smashes the ball past the 64yr old bloke in goal.

To the winner goes the spoils and every event winner gets their moment of fame on the hotel stage, here they will receive a certificate and sometimes even a real leather luggage tag. Applause for our heroes ripples through the night air and if our champion is from Scotland or Wales then it is also accompanied by delirious shrieks that start dogs barking in the next resort. Milking the reception and clutching their prizes they do the “pimp roll” as they leave the spotlight, why the swagger? You’re not some Greek God stepping down from Olympus, your just fat bald Bob from Birmingham with a penchant for disturbing tattoos who got lucky at skittles.

I’m leaving on a Jet Plane

Whatever has gone on before is nothing compared to the descent into madness that takes place on your journey home. The coach picks you up and this time you have to endure Simply Red, Spandau Ballet & Duran Duran. As you wind through the streets you notice the little bar that got rave reviews on the internet but you couldn’t find 200yds from your hotel. The Rep at the front of the coach asks everyone to fill in the questionnaire on the plane and to tick the excellent box so that she gets sent to Barbados next year instead of Bognor; I make a mental note to make her a Bognor babe.

Finally you reach the airport, the Rep asks you to wait on the coach while she finds out which checking in desk you go to, several people jump off and follow her.

When she returns with your flight desk number all hell breaks loose, people clamber for their cases and charge into the airport, the great Gold Rush doesn’t come close.


Frantically you search for your queue in amongst several hundred doing the same, you spot it and gallop over as fast as you can, wife carrying her small makeup bag and you making like Ben Hur dragging two cases with squeaky wheels. There are two queues for your flight which one do you choose? The little devil in your head helps you out “The short one? No it’s a trap, go for the long one, trust me” Your inside info proves to be wrong as your queue moves slower than a tectonic plate. You shuffle forward an inch at a time, pick up case, put down case, pick up, put down.

The kids you met on your flight from Manchester are now twice as annoying on your return home. The little brats have now evolved into mad little munchkins, wearing their garish coloured headscarves, boys & girls. Most of the boys wearing fake Italy kits and the girls wearing enough plastic beads in their hair to constitute a fire hazard. Each of them has their own little pull along suitcase with whatever latest Disney creation printed on it. They swing these about bruising every ankle within range.

Finally you are seated on the plane and on your way home; everything that annoyed you on the incoming flight annoys you on the outgoing flight. You try to stay cool as the little TV screen shows a graphic of your planes position and your distance to travel. You watch it, willing it to speed up, the clock shows 4hrs 25mins to Manchester, you read your book to take your mind off it and risk another look later, 4hrs 23mins to Manchester.

I don’t like flying and I start to think dark thoughts, what if there’s a terrorist or a drug crazed loon on board? I comfort myself with the knowledge that the cabin crew are all well trained in the event of an emergency. I take a closer look at my guardians in the air. All the crew are women apart from two blokes who appear to be gay, they were more likely to use Feng Shui than Kung Fu.


And finally you land in Manchester and your almost home and dry but there is one more ordeal to undertake and they have saved the best till last, the horror that is the baggage carousal. Think of the word carousal and you bring to mind gaily painted horse rides on a fairground or maybe a pleasant musical film, whoever gave this name to the swirling snake that carries your cases obviously had a sick sense of humour.

Every vantage point is taken along the snake’s length, a poster reminds you to stand behind the yellow lines, every man, woman and child is in front of the line, some are even riding the snakes back.

Then through the curtains come the first items, the pushchairs, always the pushchairs with one in particular being unclaimed. Then we have a cardboard box bashed in at the corners, this also is unloved and for a while the box and the pushchair compete in their own version of F1. At last the cases come through and everyone moves forward jostling for space, “I think that’s ours George that brown one” people snatch at luggage dragging it off then throwing it back, complete bedlam.

Eventually the line thins out; you spot your cases and rumble squeakily through to meet your taxi. Into the cab and off we go and what’s the first thing the driver says is “It’s been lovely here”

Tony Topping.