Monday, May 6, 2024

The Pali-toys that made me


I have a very distinct memory. It must have been the summer of 1977, and my dad had gone away for a few days on a training course. It didn't happen often, usually once a year or so, but working in mental health I'm sure he had to keep up to date with what was happening with nursing treatments and stuff. He rarely talked about it. Anyway, he'd been away for a few days, and came home with a gift for me. I was, like, nine years old, so getting a new toy was always awesome, but I don't think my dad realised how much of an impact he was going to have. 

He handed me two carded figures – R2-D2 and Chewbacca – and said that he had no idea what they were but the guy in the toy shop said that they were going to be big. They looked really cool, and the Star Wars name at the top of the card flagged something in my memory. 

That summer, 2000AD had produced their "Summer Special Supercomic", a big version of their regular weekly comic with some extra features, some longer stories, and all the 'thrill-power' you could handle. Kinda designed to take with you when you go on holiday, keep the kids quiet for the trip or something. But there was a feature in there with some early photos was a feature on Star Wars

The facts were wildly out in some cases, but the photos were cool, and 2000AD was saying that the movie was going to be really something special. 2000AD was like the bible of cool at the time, and if they said something was going to be good, and the guy in the toy shop said it was going to be big, I needed to know more. 

I opened those two figures carefully (my mum suggested cutting the tops of the blisters to slide the figures out so they could go back in once I'd finished playing with them). They were amazing. I had no idea who these characters were, or what they were going to do, but they were great. But the back of the card said there were another ten figures... 

It was the start of my obsession and love of Star Wars. I eventually completed my set of the first twelve, then the next six, and so on. That summer, my dad bought me the oversized Star Wars comic adaptation (the first half of the movie), and we booked tickets to see it (though there was only one cinema nearby that was showing it – the Dorchester, a long closed movie theatre that opened to just show Star Wars, three times a day, for about six months). We had to book so far in advance, it wouldn't be until early 1978 that we went to see it, and seeing the film just cemented my love of Star Wars even more. 

Those figures, however. No matter how simple, how un-lifelike they were, they were my childhood. I was Luke Skywalker, and could create my own Star Wars adventures with them.

They went on holiday with me. My fondest holiday memory is of a small self-catering cottage in the middle of a huge forest in the Borders of Scotland, near Hawick. Access with down a muddy path you could drive through, and on two sides of the cottage there was nothing but trees, with farmland and fields on the other. It was so quiet. By day I would wander around the forest, my stick of choice became my lightsaber, pretending I was training to become a Jedi. In the evening, I'd retreat to my small room, with my Star Wars figures, making more stories, listening to the soundtrack tape I had (not the official one, I couldn't afford that, so I had "The Sounds of Star Wars by the Sonic All-Stars" on tape). 

Another holiday we had was in North Wales, where most of the time I'd hide in my room playing Star Wars, trying to block out the sounds of my parents watching The Omen and trying to ignore the fact that the self catering cottage we'd rented was right next to a cemetery. I spent those two weeks saving my 'holiday money' as a local toy shop had a snowspeeder in the window. The day before we left, I got my snowspeeder, completely unaware that it was supposed to make sounds. How was I to know, we didn't have internet or anything. I just thought it lit up and that was it... oh well.

I mean, I had other toys. Lego, Scalextric, and so on, but those Star Wars figures were everything. 

Until I discovered roleplaying games. I mean, I loved Star Wars, and my two biggest interests collided when West End Games brought out the Star Wars RPG, but by that time all of my 'play' was either D&D and Runequest, or on the ZX Spectrum. Those figures were sitting on the shelves, still carded (as my mum's advice always held)... and I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

I sold them.

There must have been about 40 figures, the snowspeeder, landspeeder, and a tauntaun (without opening stomach). What the hell was I thinking? This must have been about 1984, just as we moved house. I was thinking I was all grown-up and nonsense, and someone local to me got themselves a bargain. 

And I regretted it ever since. 

For the last twenty-plus years I've regretted it so much I'd find myself looking on Ebay at replacing my collection and swearing at the prices. I could never afford them, not without that elusive lottery win. I'd see the odd one here and there in shops for about £20 each, but even then they'd be faded, without their guns, and I'd never be too sure if they were real or dodgy knock-offs. I was never going to replace them...

It was my birthday last month, and I'd learned that Hasbro had done something remarkable. They'd remade those original figures, carded in a very similar way to them, and released the original twelve in two packs of six. My lovely wife bought me the first set (Han, Chewie, Luke, Leia, Vader, Stormtrooper) and I bought the other six (Obi-Wan, Threepio, Artoo, Tusken Raider, Jawa, Death Squad Commander). 

It was like being ten years old again. The muscle memory kicked in, and just holding them brought back all of the memories of my childhood. The way Han doesn't stand very well, or hold his blaster. The clicky head on Artoo to make 'bleep bloop' noises. The slidey lightsabers that go up the characters arms. 

I have to say it was slightly emotional. It was like that moment when my dad first handed the figures to me. All those memories came flooding back. Sitting at the back of the Dorchester cinema (as that was the only place they'd allow a wheelchair for my mum to park) but being so far back the very top of the screen was cut off from view by the balcony – and my mum almost leaping out of her seat as the Star Destroyer first loomed overhead...

Or us dressing up as the characters for the town carnival, with my dad wearing a carved up black bucket on his head to be Darth Vader.

Reading the novel-sized paperback of the comic adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back not believing they could make those AT-ATs appear on screen... and not believing the revelation of Luke's father in the final act...

Perfect. One of the best birthday gifts ever...

Now to buy some little stands. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Bustin' Makes Me Feel Good


This week it was my birthday. I'm very old. At least, I feel it sometimes. And usually, when a birthday comes along, I'm kinda happy for the day to go by with as little fuss as possible. 

However, this year my lovely wife insisted that (a) I took the day off from work, and (b) did 'something'. So, after four-plus years of not venturing to the cinema we finally made the effort and braved the public to take in the new Ghostbusters movie - Frozen Empire

Okay, disclaimer time – I love Ghostbusters. I always have. I was obsessed with the first movie, saw it when it first came out (in the UK) forty years ago, bought the film on rental VHS from my local video store when it first came out (costing me a pretty penny, saved up over many weeks), and leapt at the opportunity to play the tabletop RPG from WEG. I've written about my love of Ghostbusters many times on this blog, and how it was the game that inspired me to get into game writing. So, you know it has a lot of meaning for me. 

Ghostbusters: Afterlife was a revelation. An incredibly emotional lega-sequel, and I loved it. Always felt it kinda just ended, and needed more and thankfully Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire did just that. 

No major spoilers, but I must say I may not be the best person to review this. The opening titles came up and I was already getting overly emotional. I love the characters. Mckenna Grace is flippin' brilliant as Phoebe, and the writers made the very smart decision to make her the focus of the story. I was particularly interested in the subplot about what happens to all of the ghosts?

It was the only thing that has really bugged me about the series as a whole – what does happen to them all, do they all just get stuffed in the containment grid and it fills up? It's something I tried to cover in Spirits in Manhattan, where the ghosts are captured, contained, and the characters try to either resolve the ghosts' issue that's tying them to this world, or exorcise them completely. It was great to see that issue covered in this movie, though I'd like to see them try to 'resolve' more ghost issues in the future, rather than just shoving them in a bigger box and hoping they don't get out.

Anyway, I digress. Plenty of nods to the older movies, and even the cartoon series I was suitably obsessed with - probably not something an 18-year old should be obsessed with. Cool new villain, some great new characters (Nadeem was great, but then Kumail Nanjiani usually is) and some upgrades to the tech. 

I have to confess, once again, I loved every second of this. While it didn't have the emotional punch in the gut that Ghostbusters: Afterlife had – and let's face it, it could be tricky to do that every movie – it was everything I really wanted from a Ghostbusters movie. I feel like there may be too many characters now, and it'd be great to focus even more on the new Spenglers in future movies, and I really hope there's more. 

Monday, April 1, 2024

Nothing Can Stop Me Now...

I had the notification come through from my domain host that the domain for this website had auto-renewed and I've paid for it for the next couple of years. Just as I was about to delete the whole thing and go into hiding. 

So I'd better use it! 

I had a moment of clarity a few days ago, wondering why I was in such a funk. I suddenly realised that it's the typical frustrations of a creative mind. 

When I was working in retail, as I had for twenty years, a lot of it was okay, and there were some moments where it was absolutely horrific. But while I was there, I had the release in the evenings and on days off, of writing roleplaying games, making stupid videos, writing fiction, and so on, to keep me sane. 

I dreamed of an escape, to get out of retail, to do what I wanted, and to create stuff...

"It didn't turn out the way you wanted it to, it didn't out the way you wanted it, did it?" - NIN

Now I'm out of retail, and I'm doing creative stuff during the day - albeit not necessarily the creative stuff that still bubbles away at the back of my head. However, when the working day finishes I don't have that creative release of doing something personal. I could - as long as it's not RPG related - but that restriction sometimes just makes me want to sit and stare into space or hide. 

I could do something outside of RPGs, but the idea of spending another couple of hours in front of the computer in the evening is off-putting, and my drawing skills have severely diminished since the ol' comic drawing days (not that they were very good then either). I'm sure many artists have the same problem where you look at the page, picture what you want to produce, and when you actually put pencil to paper it is just a mess or nothing like what you had in mind. I get frustrated and give up, returning to the 'stare into space/TV' mentality which I know isn't good for me.

What's the solution? I seriously considered going back to retail recently, until a good friend said to me "Friends don't let friends go back to retail". 

We'll see. Something may happen. I live in hope. 

- D.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

What the heck am I doing here?

It's been a long time since I wrote a blog post. I think the last one was just after Christmas when I was in the middle of my obsession with Alan Wake. Since then, many things have happened, including the demise of my beloved laptop. Ah, my poor beauty. I bought that MacBook Pro with the money I inherited when my mother died and it has served me well for the last eleven-plus years. I'm hoping to get it fixed in the future - after all, it's always good to have something with a CD/DVD drive. 

Otherwise, things have not been great. I mean, around me things are okay - I'm relatively healthy (despite being unfit), and things are happy at home. But I'm just questioning everything I'm doing. What the hell I'm actually doing with my life, and whether I made the right choices over the last 20+ years. 

I'm doubting my work, whether what I'm doing is any good and whether, in the grand scheme of things, it's worth it. 

I'm doubting what I do in my spare time - I just seem to spend all my time doomscrolling or playing stupid match games on my phone and finding it incredibly hard to be enthusiastic about anything. There have been TV series that I've managed to watched (A Shop for Killers was awesome, and I really enjoyed S4 of True Detective), but I can't concentrate on reading a book (I have about five on the go and just can't find the urge to go back to them). I haven't read a comic since I read "DIE". I miss comics, even if I can't afford them. 

The internet is driving me nuts. As Scully said, it's not good for you. I made some unboxing videos which no one watched. Half of my followers on social media are bots or spam. I don't recognise a lot of people I'm friends with on Facebook, and no one really follows me on Bluesky or Threads. 

Hell, I get about 100 people look at this blog. 

I don't know if it's just my frame of mind at the moment, but my domain is due for renewal soon and I'm wondering if I should bother. I had the urge to delete all of my Youtube videos on my channel. 

But I'm not going to - yet. 

I think I just need some time away from it all.

So this is just me saying, don't panic. I'm taking a break. Time out from the world, as they say. Just going to have some me time.

Stay safe everyone.