Fear and Loathing

John Minson


It’s the week before Christmas as I write this, and I haven’t bought any cards yet, let alone sent them. The reason is simple. Instead I bought a flat, and with it came all the joys of home ownership, such as holes in the roof. So this column isn’t about computers... it’s about DIY!

I was thinking about the kitchen on the day of the CDS launch for Brian Clough’s Football Fortunes held at Wembley. Do you know how difficult it is to find plain black and white floor tiles? And as I walked up the ramp to the imposing stadium, golden in the winter sun, I wondered if they had plumbing problems too!

I was only an hour late for the reception and the first person I met was Cloughie himself. ‘What’s the matter,’ he quipped, ‘miss the team coach from London?’ But before I could think of a suitably witty response, I noticed the row of BBCs.

‘What’s this,’ I asked Dave Carlos, as he ushered me to one of the computers, ‘a convention for nearly-dead micros?’ But no, it seems that the only completed version of the game was on the Beeb.

I confess that I was less than overjoyed at the thought of having to sample a season as a league team manager, there and then. After all, the black and white strip only reminded me of the kitchen tiles. But there was something intriguing about Football Fortunes. The computer takes care of the book-keeping while the players use cards, counters and a board. It would take too long to describe the full rules, but the basic idea is to create a squad which can go for the double, trading for players with your opponents if need be, but without bankrupting yourself when payday comes round. I managed to top the league but went out in the cup, and so failed to win on management points.

I’ll be interested to see how Football Fortunes does, I believe that it deserves to succeed. After my harangue in the last column about the lack of imagination in the software market, this can only be seen as a positive step. It’s also fun, and lets a group of people share in a computer game.

You can tell how much I enjoyed the experience, because when the time came to eat, I insisted that we stay and finish the season. But the reward for being a manager is good food and good drink too, so when the time came for a tour of the stadium I politely declined.

From the Stadium window I’d seen a Do-It-Yourself store, and my mind wasn’t on turf but vinyl tiles. And Wembley turned out to be a DIY Mecca as well as a sports one. I found them. Now all I needed was to get the cooker installed.

While I was pondering this particular problem, I received a phone call from Roz Hubley. ‘Hi, John, we’ve not met but I’m handling PR For Tigress Designs and Beth Wooding told me that you’re a bit of a foodie. Would you like lunch?’

Well, I’ve been called a lot of things in my time, but my hedonistic over-consumption has never been called foodie-ism before. Still, when the invite is for Ken Lo’s Memories of China, one of the best oriental restaurants in England, you don’t quibble about terms, especially if you’ve not got a cooker.

Actually, I had another reason for accepting. I have a hell of a high regard for the Tigress games-designing team. And it seemed that they didn’t have any particular product to push — they just wanted to rap. Good food and good conversation is a fine way to spend a day. There was plenty of both, as Roz and I tackled such exotic dishes as drunken fish. Too much, again, to recount in one brief column, but part of that conversation revolved around my current obsession — what lies in store for software in ’87.

Tigress, as far as I’m concerned, could be the future. They have the ability to originate new ideas, and ideas which should appeal to a broad range of ages. From the simplicity of Think! to the strategic complexities of They Stole a Million, and the brainbending arcade game, Deactivators. they avoid simple pigeon holes.

The secret of Tigress’s success seems to be that they’re not under pressure to produce so many games a month, like many a large company, but can spend time developing quality ideas which they can see through every stage of production.

Saturday the 13th, (doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?) provided a clash of attractions. While the morning was taken up with a ZX Microfair, Domark were also running the final of their Trivial Pursuit contest. Trivial Pursuit possesses that classic simplicity that makes a game addictive. And it transferred to the computer with amazing success.

But first I made the rounds of the seasonal jamboree in the Horticultural Hall, meeting old mates, avoiding enemies, and finally gravitating to the bar where a benevolent Mr Kidd poured a pint into me before we set off for Domark and The Brewery.

To be honest, they could have been launching Cabbage Patch Dolls — The Game at The Brewery and I’d have been there. That sort of an invite to a Minson is like a magnet to iron filings. But my corrupting influence spread to Graeme, and we rolled up an hour late.

This had its advantages though. We avoided being roped in to run one of the semi-finals in this championship play-off, and were able to scoff the nosh in peace, safe in the knowledge that the CRASH contestant couldn’t lose — because the poor fellow had caught ’flu and couldn’t make it!

John Cooke collects his Ten Grand’s worth of TP set from Johnny Ball while DO and MARK look on

Then upstairs to further stuff ourselves on Trivial Pursuit after dinner mints, complete with a question of no relevance whatsoever in every box (for example: Do too many Trivial Pursuit after dinner mints give you acne?)

Let’s be honest, however much fun it is to play, Trivial Pursuit is unlikely to become a mass spectator sport. Graeme made an excuse about having to see a man about a Microfair and left early. But I hung on in there as the contestants battled to the finish, all under the eagle eyes of Johnny Ball as MC and Cuddly Dave, who seems to get everywhere these days, as adjudicator.

It all got quite tense as John Cooke, the eventual winner, failed to get his final wedge and had to take another run at the centre. And his reward for having a mind full of useless information? A solid gold Trivial Pursuit set, worth a cool ten grand. The beauty of the craftsmanship matched its value.

Meanwhile a battle of titanic proportions was taking place among the assembled press corps, most of whom had entered into the Christmas spirit a good week or two earlier and were now in a state of ecstasy. No, I’m not talking about the side-bets which were being placed on the championship, but the Hacks Award of a gold-plated set of TP playing pieces.

All that was required was to answer ten questions — but to make it harder they were from the Junior Edition. Well maybe the alcohol had taken its toll, or maybe most people hadn’t drunk enough, because in the end the winner only needed nine correct answers to pick up his status symbol.

And who was it, you may ask? Well, who else has a mind so trivial and so childish? But where did I slip up? Well, just to set the record straight, I now know that Time and Relative Dimensions in Space is not better known as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity!

So that’s it! The last column written in 1986 starts off 1987 and I now own some satisfyingly heavy Trivial Pursuit pieces, though not a leak-proof roof. I’ll probably seek sanctuary from my indoor shower at a Christmas Party or two and maybe next month I’ll get to tell you about them.

Yours in F&L