Why Everything Was Better Before (Part 3) by Allen Miles

I used to be an absolute slave to nostalgia. In my early-to-mid-twenties it had genuinely taken over my way of thinking because I got it into my head that my life could never be as good as it had been at certain points before. I would spend huge amounts of time by myself with a bottle of wine just harking back to times that I rated as the best of my life and I would never look to the future. It was an idiotic and petulant way to behave, but as the hangover count started to slide from two hundred a year to two dozen, it became clear that I was still a young man, and life was there to be lived. So for a while, the nostalgia was gone.

Yet recently, regular reminiscences have taken place while I’m up late alone on my sofa with another bottle of wine, battering at my keyboard. It all started when I became re-united with my best childhood friend, and co-founder of this site, Martyn. After we left high school, Martyn and I lost touch as he took an apprenticeship and I went to Sixth Form; it sounds like quite a flimsy reason to go our separate ways but it seemed like a huge divide at the time. Over the next ten years Mr Taylor would do lots of very worthy and important things like buying a house, getting married and raising a family, whereas I would spend the decade drinking and behaving like a piece of scum. I did however, end up working with Martyn’s mother-in-law, Dot, and at her fiftieth birthday party four years ago, we got talking again and it was like we’d never been away. Since then, a section of every conversation we’ve had, in the pubs around the area in which we grew up, has been dedicated to stuff we did as kids. Having read Martyn’s Sitting Room diatribe in which he ranted about things not being as good as he once remembered them,  I began to analyze my own recollections of childhood.

The dodgiest character in a TV show since Dirt Barry from Only Fools and Horses.

The dodgiest character in a TV show since Dirty Barry from Only Fools and Horses.

Nothing takes you back to your own childhood like having a child of your own, and when Gabbers is old enough to look back on her infant years, I’d like to hope that she does it with fondness, rather than suspicion. She won’t know until she’s much older that Mr Fox from Peppa Pig is a dodgy, Mickey Pearce-type spiv, or that Madame Gazelle has a picture of the first Velvet Underground album, which features a song called “Heroin”, on her wall, nor will she know that, as myself and my friend Gemma regularly discuss, Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom is full of innuendo and politics. She just wants to jump up and down in muddy puddles. So that made me think, which of my childhood phases seem sinister or subversive through the benefit of adult hindsight?

I don’t remember the summers. Not a single memory I have is illuminated with the June-to-August  HU5 sunshine until the age of about thirteen. My childhood memories are of streetlights reflecting in October puddles with the stench of Hull Fair hotdogs wafting in on the autumn mist; they are of sitting on walls in the February half term beneath a endlessly grey skies with a couple of mates and just being utterly bored. My very first memory is of watching live footage of Valley Parade burning down in 1985 from my late grandparents’ living room while playing with my “numbers and letters.” My next-earliest memory is being driven in my dad’s tiny red work van to buy He-Man figures from Beal’s down Endike Lane. And there we have the first phase. He-Man figures.

He-Man figures in the mid eighties cost about £3.50 each and were made by Mattel. It is probably the most famous action figure line of all time and obviously tied in with the American cartoon, He-Man and The Masters Of The Universe. As a six year-old, I loved it. So much, in fact, that between the years 2002-2006 I actually modelled my haircut on his. I remember, how, as a callow child, I would get a rush of euphoria at the moment in each episode when Prince Adam would metamorphosize into massive, muscle bound He-Man with the triumphant Top Gun-style music in the background. It was all very wholesome, good vs evil stuff, and no-one was ever killed. So surely there was no adult-only undercurrent here?

EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!!!

EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!!!

Hmmm… ok. Look at He-Man, with his golden bob, sculpted torso, hairless chest and furry little pants. And look at his arch enemy, Skeletor, in his black leather studded basque-type thing and his S&M style-hood. And look at the names of some of the other characters in the show; Beast Man, Tung Lashor, Ram-Man, Whip-Lash, Rokk-On, Extendar and, of course, Fisto. Yep, He-Man is the gayest thing in the history of the universe. No wonder no-one ever killed each other, after that week’s particular battle was won or lost they probably all jumped in a hot tub together and got Teela to serve them Babycham whilst listening to a Judy Garland LP.

Fisto and He-Man. I'm not going to caption this.

Fisto and He-Man. I’m not going to caption this.

In hindsight, it’s actually quite an achievement to get such an obvious homosexual message into a mainstream TV show, especially in Republican 80s America, right under the noses of Jerry Falwell and his horrible friends, but I can’t shake the feeling that the writers and producers of this show were all sniggering behind their hands as I handed my hard earned pocket money over for my brand new King Randor figure, there with his meticulous George Michael-style beard, wielding his magic staff.

After the He-Man figures, and brief dalliances with Transformers and Lego, neither of which I regret, came Christmas 1989 when my kid brother Andy and I received our first video game console, the Sega Master System. We spent pretty much every penny of birthday and Christmas money over the next two or three years on Sega games, which were about thirty quid each at the time, meaning we got about five a year. It was an event when we got a new one, we would take weeks deciding which one to buy after reading the reviews in S Magazine over and over again. All the characters and graphics and artwork were really Japanese-y because there were no British software designers back then, and the manuals made about as much sense as professional imbecile Stacy Solomon trying to explain the theory of relativity.

The tiger has just tried to read the instructions.

The tiger has just tried to read the instructions.

The first game we got, for some reason, (possibly due to my dad being pissed) was Great Baseball, in which featureless players in red or blue would scuttle across the field as if they had severe bowel difficulties and when you actually managed to make contact with the (squarish) ball the TV would make a “crowd noise,” which I’ve only heard replicated since when I tried to make my hoover suck up some cat sick. We would get others over the coming months and years, my favourite one was called Psycho Fox, a Mario-clone in which you guided a P.E. kit-wearing fox over various landscapes with a little black bird sat on your shoulder that you could throw at your enemies. Again, it was incredibly Japanese, again it made no sense and it had bizarre characters in it. But we loved it. The whole shebang of video games in the late eighties/early nineties was a completely alien world, all of it was steeped in oriental culture and myths and what not but looking back now all the artwork seemed so beautiful and the bleepy-bloppy sounds that came from the TV sounded so weird. A year or so ago, I downloaded the SMS emulator for my laptop, which allows you to play these games on your PC, and I bought an HDMI cable, which allows you to plug your PC into your telly, and I bought a joypad off ebay which would enable me to have a go on the games without having to use the laptop keyboard, so there I was, ready for my nostalgia trip, about to play the games I’d enjoyed so much as a nine year old, on the telly with a joypad as they were meant to be played. And…

They weren’t very good.

What an absolute pisser, eh? They were really simplistic, they were unbelievably slow and the sounds were absolutely terrible. One of the worst things about them is that you couldn’t save your progress. If you wanted to finish the majority of the games you’d have to do it in one sitting, which would probably take four or five hours. A nine or ten year-old shouldn’t be spending that much time in front of a tv screen moving garishly-coloured blobs across an equally garish background to a soundtrack that was scraped from the Aphex Twin’s waste paper basket. Why weren’t we outside playing football? I haven’t bought a videogame since 1997, it is an area I don’t have a great deal of interest in, and this, along with the Super Nintendo a couple of years later, is how I think of them. I wish I hadn’t re-visited Sega games. I’ve ruined yet another of my memories. But not as much as the next one.

In early 1992, the advent of Sky television, along with one of the all-time classic Panini sticker albums (obviously Italia 90 was the best ever), meant the latest craze in the playground of Appleton Primary School, HU5, was WWF wrestling. How we loved watching those muscle-bound cartoon characters prancing round in their tights and punching each other in the mullet. I remember the first major event that we all took notice of, The Royal Rumble 1992, which was 30 wrestlers coming out at set intervals and being eliminated by being hoiked out over the top ropes. It was won by the legendary Ric Flair, who basically looked like Lieutenant Drebin from Naked Gun in a pair of black pants, and we all looked forward to his title defence against “Macho Man” Randy Savage at Wrestlemania 8. Even though, at the age of ten/eleven, we knew it was fake, we still wondered who would win the matches, we still thought that somehow there was some sport involved. Looking back now, you can’t deny the dazzling showmanship of Shawn Michaels, Hulk Hogan, The Rock and so on, and no-one can argue that it’s very easy to fake what happens at 1:45 here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=569DaOPtHd4 but it’s not a sport, it’s never been a sport. It’s a performance, yet at the age of eleven we honestly thought that it was a honest and clean enterprise, involving athletes who adhered to sporting regulations.

Davey-Boy claimed to have got his ridiculous physique from eating lots of Shredded Wheat.

Davey-Boy claimed to have got his ridiculous physique from eating lots of Shredded Wheat.

Jaysus. How wrong we were. With the blessing/curse of the internet, it is very easy to find out what was going on behind the scenes back then. And how terribly dark it all was. To give you the most upsetting example, the WWF came to Wembley Stadium a few months later, at Summerslam 92, which was such a big deal at the time that even the UK tabloids were covering it, there were guest spots on the likes of GMTV, Going Live and (90s classic here) Gamesmaster. The main event centred around the English wrestler, Wigan’s own Davey-Boy Smith, attempting to win the belt from the Canadian Bret “Hitman” Hart. And obviously he did in front of his own crowd in his own national stadium, as it was scripted and it was all very triumphant and inspiring and all the rest of it, but what we didn’t know at the time is that Smith didn’t know what planet he was on during the match, as he’d spent the previous two weeks monged off his nut on a massive crack bender, and Hart, who was his real life brother-in-law, had to drag him, step-by-step, through every routine they were meant to be doing in the ring. Smith would be dead at the age of forty, having been pumped full of steroids for fifteen years of his life, and looking like someone had plugged a bouncy castle pump into one of his orifices and forgotten to switch it off. You look back as an adult on the promo interviews that they all did and realise that an estimated 75% of the world’s cocaine in the late 80s/early nineties was being consumed by these people (the rest was making its way through Paul Merson) and its completely unsurprising to see how many of them are dead today. Many died through drugs/steroids, there were quite a few suicides, and the less said about what Chris Benoit did the better. What a horrible business.

So there you go. Three of my most fondly remembered childhood phases ruined by the benefit/hinderance of hindsight. Here are a few more brief annihilations of my memories:

If you were born between 1979 and 1983, chances are your favourite film when you were a kid was the one that starred this bloke. State of him.

"I wouldn't let you sleep in my room if you were growing on my ass." People say that to him in real life now.

“I wouldn’t let you sleep in my room if you were growing on my ass.” People say that to him in real life now.

Hero Quest: didn’t understand it then. Don’t understand it now.

When I was seven this was my favourite song. It’s absolutely terrible. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAJIAO_NA3E

Rosie and Jim: a few months ago, myself, Mr Alderson and Mr Woodmansey watched an episode of this at my house on a Classic CITV weekend on Sky. It is the most boring programme I think I’ve ever seen.

Fun House: Great show and all, but Pat Sharp’s haircut is the showbiz equivalent of Stonehenge. No-one has quite worked it out.

In closing, there’s a reason why you grow out of things, and it’s because they only appeal to you when you’re of a certain age. So very few things retain that magic that they had when we were young. A period of nostalgia can be like a hangover in many ways: a mild one is a bittersweet reminder of what happened yesterday, and an intense one makes you wonder what the hell you were thinking while you sit feeling sorry for yourself. Some things from childhood are still brilliant; Roald Dahl books, Maid Marian and Her Merry Men, classic Match Of The Day DVDs and Dangermouse are all regularly enjoyed by myself in my thirty-second year, but the rest of it was of a time and a place and can’t be re-visited. To paraphrase Dr Samuel Johnson: “nostalgia is the last refuge of the moron.”

And they don’t make writers like him anymore.

profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 2 year-old daughter who is into Queens Of The Stone Age. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014

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