Bunhill: Surrender, or I'll drop my haystack

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The Independent Online
In the absence of war, it seems we just can't get enough war games. How else to explain the 25 per cent rise in pre-tax profit at Games Workshop, which makes toy soldiers and miniature warriors, and has opened nearly 30 stores in the past year?

The prospects for investors in Games Workshop are examined on page 4, but the company has made a strong impression on adults and children alike. It attributes this success to the fact that its toys don't mimic real life; rather, they are fantasy creations such as "chaos warriors" and "space warriors" that let the imagination run wild.

I must admit to having mixed feelings about this, because back in my childhood days both myself and Bunhill the elder went to inordinate lengths to inject an element of reality into our war games. We succeeded up to a point - with toy soldiers, toy bomber planes, toy tanks and toy howitzers - but unfortunately those were low-tech days and there were no such things as miniature missiles or miniature atom bombs.

So we had to improvise. And we did this by taking miniature milk crates and haystacks from my toy farmyard, pretending they were bombs, and then dropping them from the planes on to the soldiers and their surroundings. Despite the rather rough and ready nature of these weapons of destruction, they succeeded admirably in causing carnage as whole armies fell, Lego cities crumbled and harbours made of building bricks were wiped out - with just a little help from my hands. Looking back, the only trick we missed was simulating the effect of an atom bomb: by raiding the vegetable drawer, we could simply have tossed a mushroom in the air every time we scored a direct hit with a milk crate.

So fantasy's fine, but as you can see, real life is not an exclusion zone for imagination. My message, then, to any games maker out there is this: all I want for Christmas is a miniature Tomahawk missile, as used in the Gulf war. I'm not asking for much, just a "smart" weapon which you direct through remote control to turn left at the Lego tower block, hang a right at the wooden fortress, clear the bridge of the model railway, ask directions from Thomas the Tank Engine and then plunge headlong into the toy oil refinery. Oh yes, can I have a box of matches too?

It doesn't grow on trees, you know - oh yes it does. Part 303.

People prone to post-prandial pleasures will tell you that the latest craze in smart restaurants is for liqueurs where pears are lodged inside the bottles to convey a sense of authenticity. So how do they do that?

With the celebrated ship in a bottle, as many readers will know, the hull was simply inserted through the neck and then the rest of the boat was pulled up with strings. Sadly, it has yet be proved scientifically that you can expand and shrink pears with a piece of string, so the makers of the new model liqueurs have had to resort to more bizarre methods.

How bizarre? Well, there is some corner of an Italian field where bottles are supported on sticks to lie horizontally over the branches of pear trees. At this stage, the fruit has only just started growing, so there's no problem fitting the neck over the top of it; after that, it's destined to grow up inside a bottle. Britain's showbiz and sporting stars often complain about living life in a goldfish bowl; well, they should try being a pear.

Pay-per-nick TV

All the rage in the media industry these days is pay-per-view TV, the concept that promises to make millions for television companies and football clubs as viewers are offered unprecedented choice and an unprecedented chance to part with their money - up to pounds 20 for what they used to watch for nothing.

So, as business strives to harness the technology, it comes as something of a surprise to learn that the first pay-per-view TV set, complete with decoder box, was designed by Marconi 35 years ago.

Pictured above, in all its monochrome glory, this was an idea ahead of its time because not even the terrestrial channels had got round to screening football matches. However, for those TV owners with a real sense of occasion, this omission wouldn't have been a problem.

Imagine the scene in a crowded sitting room in England as payment was accepted by the TV station, the signals were unscrambled and the first bottle of beer was guzzled while the opening credits rolled.

The action flowed, the sense of theatre intensified, the protagonists snarled, viewers struggled to find their breath. Hell of a programme, that Dixon of Dock Green. Evenin' all.