Of Sea Monkeys and Mousetraps

I’ve been reading a lot of Bill Bryson books lately and find myself laughing out loud a lot. He has made a name as a travel writer but one in particular I would like to recommend is an autobiography called “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid”. There are plenty of recommendations for this book that tell you that you will laugh out loud, and I did. That surprised me because I haven’t done that before when reading a book. So if you haven’t picked up any of this blokes work and enjoy a laugh then I would urge you to grab a copy of this book as a starting point. And no, this is not a paid announcement.

There’s a part in the book where he talks about comic advertisements and how his brother tried for years to learn how to throw his voice as instructed by the booklet he’d ordered, without much success I must say, and it got me thinking about how we did get sucked into the glamour and excitement of some of the ads we used to see for products on TV when we were kids.

I particularly remember being really disappointed with my first pair of Bata Scouts shoes because unlike the TV ad, no one trailing me ever thought for a minute that they were actually tracking a tiger or a fox. And what was even worse was that the treads on the sole of the shoes had such a low profile that instead of having the sure footed leap of a wolf from boulder to boulder, it was more like skating on ice with socks on. The shoes also had a compass on the heel, or maybe inside it, which meant that if you actually got lost and had a need to consult it, because the sun wasn’t shining or you couldn’t find any moss on the trees, that you had to take your shoes off. And that got a bit annoying if you had to do it every 10 meters or so.

Another disappointment was the game Mouse Trap which looked so exciting in the TV ads. I had the game bought for me and no matter how carefully you lined up the pieces when you built it the boot would never kick the bucket, the ball bearing always fell off the stairway and the diver never landed in the barrel. I lost interest pretty quickly in that one when I found I had to keep using my fingers to operate the separate sections of the game. I mean what sort of mouse would just sit there and let a trap fall down on top of them anyway. It became one of those dust gatherers in the wardrobe along with the Chemistry set I wasn’t allowed to use after I found I could make rotten egg gas, and the microscope that didn’t focus properly.

I remember one Christmas I was given a GI Joe. This wasn’t a doll. You have to understand that, no self-respecting boy would be caught dead playing with a doll, although my sister did sometimes co-opt him into being a boyfriend for one of her Barbies much to my disgust. Again the TV ads showed the dozens of GI Joes crawling through the jungle, driving jeeps over sand dunes and battling the Krauts. I had great visions of large scale battles in the front yard of home, but I only ever had one figure so like a lot of other things he spent most of the time in a box under the bed. By the way I would never call a German a “Kraut” these days. I learnt not to mention the war from that episode of “Fawlty Towers.”

And as for sea monkeys….I was shattered when I learnt they were really brine shrimp. No smiling faces or clever underwater antics there and certainly not a pet that had arms and legs and prehensile tails like the ad said they had.

So what long lost buried memories from your childhoods have surfaced and reminded you about the truth in advertising?


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