Avatar Hamtaro: Ham-Hams Unite!

I had two ideas for another post this month albeit they both stemmed from the same prospect of enraging Kevin and there is no way that I am going to post them within a few days of each other. I do like to space these things out so that Kevin’s wrath does not come down on my like a ton of spiky, explosive bricks. Also, you may as well milk this for all it’s worth because everyone loves winding Kev up as much as I do. With this in mind, let me present you with a little review of the Gameboy Colour game ‘Hamtaro: Ham-Hams Unite!”

Hamtaro is a hugely popular Japanese series of anime, manga and video games. It follows the adventures of a group of SD (super-deformed and very cutesy) hamsters and it’s utterly insane. I want to pretend that this is completely normal but it’s not. I have played through the entire game and I am convinced it was designed by the deranged. Even I, with my bat shit crazy view of the world, found myself exclaiming out loud, not in my head, actual audible sounds, of “Eh?” and “You what?” whilst playing it. It is everything that I was hoping for and an extra box of chocolate carpets to boot.

In it you play the titular Hamtaro, a lovable hamster with a heart as huge as his eyes. The boss of your hamster clubhouse has tasked you with locating all the other twelve hamsters and bringing them back for a special surprise. As a small rodent, the human world is big and full of items that would appear normal to you and me. How are you to convince your peers to abandon whatever they’re doing and head back to he clubhouse? You do this using Ham-Chat. Ham-Chat is the secret language of the Ham-Hams whereby instead of using sensible words to describe and communicate they use slight variations or muddied portmanteaus of colloquialisms. It does seem rather odd that this fully-grown hamster does not understand basic words for ‘happy’, ‘tired’ and ‘hungry’; how has he been getting by all this time? Has he been writing down words on a pad and showing them to friends and family? Where did he buy this pad of paper, from a tiny WH Smiths? Who designed and built a WH Smiths so small only small animals can get in? There are so many questions.

So you get given a few to begin with and set off into the world to learn more words. The more words you learn the more puzzles you can solve. When I say “puzzles” what I mean is… what do I mean? You meet other Ham-Hams and they tell you things such as stories or other Ham-Chat words. You pass these on to other Ham-Hams to help them with whatever problem they’re dealing with. Occasionally you won’t be able to proceed in the area you’re in until you find the right word and backtrack to that point. Occasionally you’ll go through every word you have until you do the right thing. Occasionally you’ll have to play a mini-game where you position Hamtaro in the right place so he can head a strawberry like a football. Fruit sports.

The game is relatively open so you can wander around until you find the right thing for the right place. It’s a series of fetch quests hidden behind a brightly-coloured world of absurdity. There are eighty-five words to find in total. As this is a kid’s game, you are also given the choice of purchasing clothes and items for Hamtaro from specialist shops hidden in the game. Fancy yourself a bit of a dance guru? The words from the back of the box say it all:

“You can create dances with Ham-Chat. Every word gives you a dance step – string words together to make your own original Ham-Jam dances then link up and share with your friends.”

I didn’t get this. I mean I understand hamsters dancing but I didn’t see the point of it meaning I ignored this aspect of the game completely and went back to picking up acorns and rocks.

Though I am a little ashamed to admit it, I am still to complete my Ham-Ham Notebook having only found seventy-six of the eighty-five words in total. I appear to have hit a bit of a block where it seems as if I need to do the tiniest of little things before carrying on with the rest of the game and my poor eyes, all sets of them, don’t have the energy to go scouring through the same levels again and again trying to find whatever it is I need to do.

That said, it is a very engaging and silly game, and I enjoyed the majority of it. I first learned of it at the turn of the century and it took me until this year to play it. Twenty years of anticipation. Twenty years of sometimes looking for it on Ebay and then getting distracted by a box of hammers. As it is quite rare I could only find the game and instruction booklet so I bought a reproduction box from Etsy to house it in. Now it looks all complete and shiny the way it should. Look at it, Kev, bask in how great it looks. That repro box was well worth the money. I only wish everyone could experience the comic mischief of ‘Hamtaro: Ham-Hams Unite!” although the chances of an HD remake or remaster are practically slim to none.

It’s a good job then that there are three (count ’em!) three other Hamtaro games on the Gameboy Colour for me to source and play. Life is good.

Avatar English Wine

What do dogs know that we don’t?

Spend any time with a dog, as I sometimes am privileged to do, and it’s immediately clear that there is some deeper mystery behind their eyes. There’s something else going on that you just can’t quite name.

Kev used to say the same, I’m sure: after a long day grooming one poodle after another, looking into those glassy eyes at the ever-present enigma of the dog conspiracy would wear him down, piece by piece, paw manicure by paw manicure, and he’d return home a shadow of himself to drink himself to sleep.

I think I’ve found a clue. A few days ago I met Digby while I was heading to the shops. Digby is a small dog. Digby was friendly enough, and he was also wearing a striking fluorescent waistcoat that said “follow me for English Wine”.

I feel like Digby’s indiscreet attire might give us all a clue about what exactly dogs are up to.

Are they operating vineyards? Do they press grapes when nobody is looking? Are they all perhaps members of elite wine clubs, secretly laughing at the unbelievable tastelessness of their owners who they see pairing a Beaujolais with fish? Or perhaps they are ruthless sales hounds, hustling for money here and there, tirelessly shifting units to make a secret doggy living?

Digby went in to a sort of shed, and I didn’t want any English Wine, so I didn’t follow him. I suppose that means we’ll never know.

Avatar Dear John

Good morning to you wherever you currently are in the world.

It is a shame when things have to move on. Times change for all of us and I don’t know about you but I always struggle to cope in some way, shape or form. You have been the presenter of Newsround, the presenter of Countryfile, you’re a household name and you never once seem to have given in to the excesses of wealth and fame. That is a shame because everyone needs to let off steam every now and then. Have you never felt as though you had more to give the world, like there was a career waiting in the shadows for you to do something about it?

Have you ever given any thought to a career in rap music?

I believe that you have the raw talent to succeed as Britain’s newest / oldest rapper. You may not have had any experience whatsoever which is fine. Did you ever seen that episode of Louis Theroux where he went to America and tried his hand at rapping? Anyone can do it. I put my hand firmly in the air to be your second in command, your “hype man” as they call it. What this means is what I will start every song by telling everyone how great you are at what you do, setting the stage for what rhymes you start spitting. I reckon that you have a viewpoint which is unique in the world of rap. We can rap about whatever you want: countries, files, antiques, rounds, news, ravens, whatever you like.

I’ve even been thinking about names and even though it could be a cartoon character desperate for a cigarette, how about Craver Crave? Or even Kraver Krave if you really want to knock it out of the park? I will be MC I because everything is a play on words, and it’s kind of like my name but not. It doesn’t have to make sense, nothing makes sense anymore when your’re in a world of giant clocks, money and lurid sex.

If it would help, because I know that you are a happily married man, I can take all the excess that you’d rather not deal with (mainly the groupies, I suppose) and put it in a box away from you. This means you can focus on the important part; the words. I bet you know all the words, I do mean ALL the words, and you’re going to hammer them down like concrete hailstones. This is going to be the best thing you ever did and it would be a supreme honour if you let me help you achieve your goals.

If you are happy to jump right into this I shall include a stamp addressed envelope with this letter so you can write back straight away. You may be a little nervous about this, you may have doubts about your rapping prowess but trust me, you were born for this. You are ready for this. We are ready for this. Now, more than ever, the world needs heroes to shoulder the burdens the others are not prepared for. You’re a good man, John Craven, and I know you’ll make the right decision.

Avatar No radio

Yesterday at work, we were having a quiet afternoon, so I went off to find something useful to do. I ended up at the workbench in one of our upstairs rooms, where I made myself a coffee and spent a few hours fixing up some old PCs that were sitting around awaiting repair.

My plan had been to listen to the radio while I did this. The workbench has a little audio monitoring panel, with green LEDs bouncing up and down like on your dad’s 80s hi-fi, so I turned up the volume and found it playing Radio 1. There were no other controls.

With some difficulty I traced the cables out of the back and found they disappeared, unlabelled, into a hole in the floor. I went to the audio router at the other end of the room and tried switching stations on anything I could find tuned to Radio 1, but none of them were right.

No problem, I thought. It’s the 21st century. I’ll use my phone. So I opened my TuneIn radio app and selected 6music.

The app informed me that this station wasn’t available in my territory due to geographical restrictions. I looked around to confirm my surroundings, and yes, I was indeed sitting in Broadcasting House where 6music is assembled and broadcast, and my phone was connected to the building wi-fi. It was, therefore, legal to listen to that station in my present geographical territory.

Nothing I did would persuade TuneIn radio of that, though, and my coffee was going cold, and the PCs weren’t getting fixed. Sometimes, even when it’s your job to make the radio work, you can’t make the radio work. So I listened to Absolute 80s instead.

Avatar War of Science

There is a war on the horizon.

If you squint for long enough you can see them, dressed in their white lab coats, wafting beakers and bunsen burners around like slices of cheese. Science is in the air, an unmistakable smell that burns and pleases the nostrils in equal measures. There are three factions battling for the lauded position of Kings and Queens of Science. It will be long and it will be bloody. Not everyone will make it through, oh yes, there will be casualties. You best call your loved ones now because you’re definitely going to be late home tonight.

Real science has no place here. That’s a whole different category of its own so it’s staying on the sidelines, cheering on the pretenders and secretly laughing to itself about the whole affair. It’s brought a bag of Haribo and it doesn’t plan on sharing it with anyone else. Behind a veil of thin mist, and a long black trench coat, it nibbles on fried eggs and cola bottles without the surrounding crowd realising what is going on.

So who are these people, these candidates of coercion and comprehension? Pull up a beanie and let’s get started:

  • We Are Scientists

    Not only making a bold claim in their band name alone, ‘We Are Scientists’ are also in the running for best album cover ever for their debut ‘With Love and Squalor’. It’s got so many kitties I lost my shit several times writing this post. So there’s a lot of moxie coming from these Californian power pop masters, the only problem is that none / neither of them are actual scientists. The name was chosen after being mistaken for scientists after taking a rental truck back to the depot. Pop music was never the place a ground for things that made sense. There’s no truth in any of this but, damn, can they write catchy as hell songs.

  • We Are Science

    I actually made a bit of a mistake here. I was under the impression that comedian Marcus Brigstocke had a short-lived science program called ‘We are Science’ which lampooned science for laughs. It was actually called ‘We are History’ and had nothing to do with it so they’re automatically disqualified for not being the thing that I thought it was. Bastards.

  • Nina and the Neurons

    Kids TV can’t keep up anymore which is why the BBC and ITV gave up on it in the afternoons and shoved it onto either early morning slots that nobody knows about or digital channels that you can stream at any hour of the day. When Reuben was small, we would occasionally watch ‘Nina and the Neurons’ because it had bright, colourful graphics and was educational in a non-boring way. It also had, because you cannot get past my troubled history of fancying women on TV, a very attractive host in the guise of Katrina Bryan who, with her Scottish accent and being in front of my eyes, kept my attention. After a very quick check on the good ole’ Google pegs, I cannot see any scientific qualifications to her name. This is further cemented by the fact that she played a pregnant lady in a banned advert for Irn Bru where the dad is slowly coming around to the idea of calling his daughter Fanny by drinking the aforementioned drink. She played a character who was a scientist; good actress, bad science. The only things here are japes and sex appeal.

  • Me and Kev

    I got a ‘D’ in my Chemistry A Level.

    Kev has a Twitter account called ‘Wrong Science’.

I think we know who won this.

Avatar Calendar Conversion

Way back at the start of the year, when we all excitedly built our, now legendary, lego pouring beans calendars, we all deiscovered the small but important flaw that not all the pages actually fit inside.

At the time I shoved in all those that fit, and the rest went in the luxurious golden box it was delivered in. (Which incidentally, still smells of whatever magic they put into laser printers to make colours stick to paper).

Well at the start of the month, the time came when that initial tranche of pages ran out. Giddy, I opened the gold box and wanged in the rest of the year, only to discover it was too baggy and they all fell out every time I moved the thing.

Modifications were needed, and modifications were made…

The holey-bit was trimmed down by removing two layers of the thin bits, and thus a perfect fit was once again achieved.

Don’t worry though, this being Lego, all the spare bits are safely stored on the back.

They’re all ready to be re-fitted when next years calendar refill-block duly arrives from Chris at Christmas.

Avatar Four Word Reviews: King of Stage

After four long months – that’s over nineteen weeks, if you’re counting, or more than a third of a year – I have finally returned home. Just temporarily, for now, you understand: Steve Stevingtons has an important three week “Malcolm in the Middle” conference to attend, so the place is empty. But temporarily or not, here I am. And if I am back at my desk again, you know what that means: it’s time to grit my teeth and endure another dreadful album of unknown provenance. Today, we subject ourselves to Bobby Brown’s 1986 debut album, King of Stage, released when he was just 17.

Read More: Four Word Reviews: King of Stage »

Avatar Birthdingtons lunch

Today I became 36.

Today I had the day off work, and we actually went out! We went out for lunch, do you remember that? I barely do. Being able to go out for lunch.

Well we had to drive all the way to Harrogate to do it because we fancied going to Wagamamas and that was the nearest one that was open, but it was almost, almost, like the before-times.

That, and all the waitresses were dressed as surgeons, and there were screens on the tables, but it was almost like the before-times.

Oh, and you had to pay by using your phone via a website because despite bringing us drinks and food for an hour or so, holding the card machine for us to beep would be just too risky, but it was kind of like the before-times.

Aaaand they only had a limited menu, because… reasons, but it was a bit like the before-times.

OK so it was nothing like the before times, but we had a child free lunch out in a nice restaurant with nice food and the weather was nice.

Today I had a nice day.