Fear and Loathing


Well, two: computer journalism. Hunter S sets off for Crete (en route to Olympia), spends long hours chasing the elusive exclusive and finally gets snapped up by a piranha which turns out to be a bear...

ONLY THE ENGLISH weather can turn in just one week from being so hot your skin goes red and peels at the slightest exposure to this shivering, grey autumn! It’s at times like this your mind turns to thoughts of somewhere hot — tropical even. And no, I don’t mean The PCW Show! We’ll come to that later.

Nor am I talking about Bangkok, which is where I should be at this very moment in the company of a pack of jet-lagged journos out on the spree — courtesy of System 3, which was looking for the only place in the world not to have heard of Andy Wright to launch its Thai-boxing simulation Bangkok Knights.

Actually I was down for this last jaunt till I pulled out, if not quite at the eleventh hour certainly some time after News At Ten, and I’m sure you’ll look upon it as a gross dereliction of duty when I tell you the reason. I tried all I could to provide a substitute but my erstwhile compatriot, Leslie B, is still missing in action, held by a fanatical sect of Dragon 32-owners somewhere on the Cardiff/Beirut border.

So instead I’m off to Crete, home of the Minotaur and a lot more old bull besides, taking a rather belated honeymoon. After all, it’s a full four weeks since the wedding and I reckon Madde deserves some sort of reward for putting up with me so long. For the next fortnight the last thing I’ll be thinking of is software — because it seems that for the last four weeks software is all I’ve thought of!

We got married on the Friday — and I can heartily recommend this age-old institution to anyone considering it — and spent the weekend relaxing. Then on Monday morning seven kinds of demons broke loose, the phone started ringing at 9.30 and it didn’t stop all day. Since then life has been unbelievably frantic, hectic and all-round wall-crawlingly crazy!

Which brings us to the topic I was trying to follow this month, before I somehow got waylaid. You see, I thought I might talk about what it’s like being a freelance journalist. Try to get to the nut, as it were. Only I’m not sure that I can capture the sheer lunacy of spending two-and-a-half hours on trains to conduct a 90-minute interview which has to be sent to Ludlow by Red Star the next day!

Most of this panic is for THE GAMES MACHINE, which is going to be so up-to-the-minute that Graeme Kidd will still be printing copies with the Newsfield John Bull outfit on the stand at The PCW Show.

It’s exhausting, chasing exclusive after exclusive, knowing that for every extra minute you spend taking a peek at a Christmas game you’re going to be late for your next appointment...

Which is why it was a drop of calming oil on the troubled waters when the phone rang and it was piranha-keeper Helen Holland, wondering if she could take me to lunch. For a moment I wondered what London Zoo’s aquarium could want with me maybe I’m the only thing in captivity more voracious than those evil small-finned gourmets!

Then I realised Helen is PR person for Piranha software. Too many months in this game and the circuits become somewhat fried... but the promise of a nice calm meal with no hard sell has a soothing effect. Also, Helen hails from Bolton, and we Northerners must stick together.

Piranha is about to move out of its present broom cupboard into something more spacious, and about time too. I’ve heard of concentrated activity, but the only way you could get more work going on in that room would be to pump out the air! Still, there was room for a monitor at least and Helen sat me down in front of it.

Okay, so the Piranha people have made a Boo Boo. They’ve also made a Yogi and some extremely irate picnickers. Yes, the game was an early version of Yogi Bear — sadly not the Spectrum one — and it looks rather addictive.

Boo Boo’s been kidnapped so it’s Big Bear to the rescue, leaping streams, dodging snakes and running from campers across 200-odd screens. Certainly on the Commodore the graphics are everything you could wish for; let’s hope they can capture those cartoon sprites on the Speccy.

The company’s making quite a thing of cartoon and comic tie-ins. As well as Judge Death, they’ve signed up none other than the legendary Roy Of The Rovers — the golden boy who’s never needed handball to win a match!

Helen told me about visiting Fleetway, the publishers of Roy’s exploits. She was greeted by one of the big cheeses there, who proceeded to apologise for Roy’s absence.

But away they go to lunch with Helen — thinking no more about this cute little touch.

After their repast they return to the offices where big cheese comes to her with an apology: Roy nipped in and was sorry that he couldn’t stay, but he signed a book for her. ‘Oh aye,’ thinks Helen, a woman who recognises a footballing wind-up when she meets one (she’s obviously seen Bolton Wanderers play!). She notices a couple of pictures of Roy. ‘Could he sign these for me too?’ she asks, all innocently.

What follows goes to prove that the world of comics is even weirder than the world of computing. The big cheese shouts ‘Hang on a minute, Roy’, then scuttles out of the office to see if he can catch him. Catch him he does, returning with two signed photos for a totally befuddled Helen. After all, Roy is just a fictional character — isn’t he?

Perhaps not (or is it just that madness is catching?), because hopes he’ll be making a personal appearance at The PCW Show, along with a big, blue Berk — and she wasn’t referring to me, but to the hero of Through The Trapdoor.

Helen’s strangest mission for the show was a raid on M&S to buy two dozen pairs of Yogi Bear boxer shorts! What strange images of bizarre orgies went through the assistant’s mind as she cashed them up? 24 men, stark naked apart from the shorts, with Helen in Jellystone Ranger’s uniform spurring them on to greater pleasure with the promise of pickernick baskets? Is this the sort of work a nice Boltonian lass should be doing?

This is Helen’s first PCW Show, and she’s sensibly booked a holiday to follow. She’ll need it. The only way to survive those five days of hell and horror at Olympia is to have the promise of a tong rest afterwards. Either that or follow the Minson advice and stay in a state of temporary psychosis, developing into comatose babbling stupidity for the Sunday.

I know that by the end of the first day my feet will ache, my voice will be hoarse and my wrist will feel like it’s been playing Hyper-Sports nonstop from so much pumping of the flesh. But would I miss it? Not on your life. Pain, agony, craziness — yes, that sort of sums up freelance journalism. And I guess that’s why I love it!

Yours in suntan oil and ouzo