Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Darts & Accessories

Giant malls and department stores are all well and good, but one of my favourite shops will always be Darts World on Caroline Street, Cardiff (also known as Darts & Accessories). Nothing too special about that, you might think. Except for the fact that some of the accessories are nothing whatsoever to do with the grand sport of arrow-flinging.

I was initially introduced to the shop by M. Until that momentous day in 1995, I had always just walked past the shop thinking that it was merely a newsagents that also happened to sell darts-related products. On that fateful day, we were about to cut through Caroline Street on our way to the bus station when M suddenly stopped and sheepishly announced, "I just need to get something."



I followed him into the shop and thought nothing of it. As he walked towards the back of the premises, I stopped to peruse the many types of darting goods that were on offer - inflatable ones, electronic ones, rubber ones. It truly was a remarkable selection. However, as I picked up a set of Red Dragon flights for closer inspection, I noticed that M had walked through a set of saloon doors at the rear of the shop.

Now call me naive, but even though there was a sign saying "Strictly Adults Only" above the doors, I followed him through. I wish that somehow I could have been prepared for what hit me. Instead, I was bombarded by a wave of XXX titles as well as many items which could be used by the reader whilst enjoying the publications. Basically, some of the most hardcore examples of pornography to be found outside of Amsterdam.

Pumps, inflatables, sharp objects - and not a dart or accessory in sight.

Yes, that day I truly became a man.

Perhaps the most surreal aspect of Darts World was the fact that even though the products were kept strictly behind closed doors, you still had to take them through to the main shop if you wanted to buy something. That’s how M found himself in a queue of six people, clutching his copies of Titty Extravaganza and Ball Busters while the people in front of him paid for their crisps, sweets and cigarettes. At the counter, they put his purchases in a brown paper bag - just like the old days.

It is my theory that not one dart or accessory has ever been sold in that shop. I have walked past many times over the years and not once have I ever seen anybody coming out carrying a dart board sized box or examining their latest set of flights.

Perhaps “darts and accessories” is some sort of secret code for hardcore porn that is only known by those truly in the know (a bit like the way Kenneth Williams would refer to "traditional matters" or "Q" in his diaries when discussing his sexuality, or the way that many hairdressers were called Bona Riah in the '60s in reference to polari).



I suppose that it’s really a stroke of genius on the part of the store owner. Caroline Street is famously one of Cardiff's most seedy side streets. It is home to at least two “private” shops and an entire row of take-aways that should only really be frequented when drunk.

However, M would never go into the real sex shops. This was mainly because one of them was situated on the main bus route into The Hayes area of Cardiff and he always feared that his mother would one day go past as he was about to go in. We once drove all the way to Newport just so he could go to their private shop, and even then it took all of the combined energy of me and L to push him through the door. He quite happily shopped at Darts World, though. I suppose I understand his logic. If somebody sees you going in, you're not necessarily on your way to buy porn. And if you're worried that they might be waiting outside for you, you could always buy a dart board and hide your purchases inside.

Ingenious.

Friday, August 04, 2006

One Word Or Two?

More than any other television programme, Give Us A Clue is the ultimate reminder of my early teens. I can't hear the theme tune (especially the "Michael Parkinson....Liza Goddard......and Lionel Blair!" bit) without it feeling like half past three on a Monday afternoon. I would get home from school, turn on the television and be greeted by the cheery faces of the above-mentioned celebrities.

So, what's it all about? Simple really. The producers took one of the most famous post-dinner party activities (charades) and turned it into a light-hearted panel game.

Yes, if you've ever wondered what Barbara Windsor did between the Carry On... films and Eastenders, she was usually treading the boards of the Give Us A Clue studio. Of course, it's easy to mock and say that the show was filled with has-beens, but the opening sequence would often inspire a generous helping of questions from the viewer at home - was that Kenneth Williams desperately trying to remember the charades signal for 'film'? (Yes), was that Wayne Sleep mincing? (Yes), what was Angela Rippon wearing? (Sorry, it went by too fast) and....surely not? Spike Milligan??? (YES!)



It was a show filled with theatrical types, introduced by a theme tune that managed to reduce Liza Goddard's full name to two syllables (something like "Liz Gdd"). But wait, it gets even better - where else could you see footballer Bruce Grobelaar in a pink top (pre-match fixing allegations) and Gordon Kaye from 'Allo 'Allo (post-tree falling on his car in the 1988 storms)?

The real reason that I loved this show is because I genuinely loved the atmosphere that it generated. It felt like all the contestants were friends. You got the impression that they were just taking a break from their respective West End performances and fancied a gentle game of charades. It almost felt intrusive, as if I had stumbled upon a celebrity dinner party going through the rituals before the sex games began.

And all this over a delicious plate of corned beef hash.

Needless to say, Give Us A Clue became my teenage game of choice at family parties. I insisted on being Lionel Blair, of course (being the campest child in my family's history, there were never any arguments) and would take great pleasure in flailing around the room whilst trying to mime Mrs 'Arris Goes To Paris or The Boys In Blue to my auntie. Of course, it would all end in tears when everybody else decided that they wanted to play Pictionary instead and I'd be left fuming at their disregard for cult films starring such luminaries as Angela Lansbury and Cannon & Ball.

Ironically, when Give Us A Clue was finally removed from ITV's schedule, it was replaced by Win, Lose Or Draw - Danny Baker's big screen adaptation of Pictionary. I can only imagine the volume of tears that Lionel Blair must have shed.

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