30 November 2009

The Harpoon

The Harpoon is a British radio comedy which was broadcast to listeners of Radio 4 between 1991 and 1994. It enjoyed three excellent four-episode series, and an extremely good Christmas special, as well as the odd live appearance on one or two BBC Radio variety performances. The Harpoon was written by the well-known Peter Baynham and slightly-less well-known Julian Dutton, who were joined by Susie Brann, Mary Elliott-Nelson, Bryony Pritchard and Alistair MacGowan to perform the series. It was produced by Sarah Smith.

Each episode of The Harpoon is about half an hour in length, allowing a couple of minutes for the link to the next programme. The programme's setting varies considerably as different episodes focus on periods from Victorian times to the 1950s, and the series is written in such a way as to 'pretend' to be a printed magazine, 'The Harpoon', described as 'a magazine for young and old'. There's a feeling of adventure about the magazine, with story serials and tales of derring-do interspersed with historical titbits and how-to guides. It has that Sherlock Holmes narrative style to it, mixed in with the pomposity of early British public information films. To stick with the magazine metaphor, each sketch is separated from the next by the sound of a page turning, and the only slightly brutal editor opens with his 'Looking Ahead' section, often whilst killing various creatures, and closes the magazine with the letters page. The whole thing is performed with the most atrocious accents: dreadfully exaggerated Cockney is used for 'common folk', while only the best received pronunciation is saved for the upper class editor and narrators.

Interestingly, The Harpoon was recently broadcast on BBC 7. A quick Google search for 'radioarchive the harpoon' will bring up both of the original series. Blessings be upon bittorrent...

29 November 2009


The macaw is the common name for a group of birds in the parrot family. They are brightly coloured, with long tail feathers and strong, curved beaks. The majority of these beautiful birds are found in the American Tropics, though most species are classed as endangered.
Deforestation, coupled with the relatively slow reproduction rate of the macaw, is the main cause of the problem. Macaws like to nest high up in dead trees, gnawing an appropriately-sized hole in which to lay the egg. As well as being high up, macaws are keen to retain a considerable distance between them and another nesting pair. Thus the increased removal of dead trees has caused increased competition between macaws. With many of the higher nesting sites gone, nesting pairs are forced to roost lower down, leaving their babies vulnerable to a range of predators. The loss of one baby macaw really does have a profound effect on the viability of the species. Seventeen living species remain; several West Indian varieties are now extinct, and the only species which enjoy a reasonably secure population are the Blue and GoldMacaw.
The Blue and Gold Macaw, along with the Red-Shouldered Macaw, are commonly seen in pet shops and zoos. The majority of these are legally exported from South America to other parts of the world, though there is also a number of illegal exports. Macaws are a colourful, exotic and endlessly intriguing pet, but they are large, loud and demanding. As a relatively intelligent animal, a macaw will need attention and toys to keep them busy. Their strong beaks are designed for chewing, and this activity is something a macaw will gleefully engage in, blissfully unconcerned about whether it's busy carving an antique chair or an old log. In short - if you want to keep a macaw, know what you're getting into.
The lifespan of a macaw is anything up to a hundred years, although about 50 to 65 years is more common. Bear in mind that macaws are monogamous and mate for life. A solitary macaw will bind primarily with their keeper, and are extremely demanding of attention. Not, in other words, the ideal pet unless you know exactly what you're doing and have read far, far more than this short introductory article.

28 November 2009


A candlebomb is a small bubble of glass, filled with water. Placing this in the flame of a candle will cause the water inside to heat, turning it to steam and causing the glass shell to burst. The question is... why? What possible use could such a device be?

Well, not unlike the indoor fireworks which were popular during the eighties, the after dinner amusement device of choice in the eighteenth century was the candlebomb, whereby any number of guests could be held in fascinated thrall by the evanescent bang of an exploding glass sphere.

It's hard to understand why it didn't catch on... naked flames, hot water and splinters of glass on the table are so much more sophisticated than wafer thin mints.

27 November 2009

Bodmin Moor

Bodmin Moor is an eighty square mile section of the United Kingdom, situated in Cornwall, which is the very toe of the pointy bit, right at the opposite end to Scotland.

Bodmin is notable for a number of reasons, some serious, some rather whimsical. It is granite moorland, and interesting rock structures litter the area. Some are natural - a number of famous tors are to be found here, and many of them are named according to their appearance. The 20 foot tall Cheesewring, for example, looks like an old device used to force out excess liquid during the cheesemaking process. Rough Tor, on the other hand, is much higher and allows for excellent views across the moor.

Brown Willy (please don't snigger) is the highest point of Bodmin Moor, and lucky visitors may even catch sight of a buzzard, or other birds of prey. Less common creatures include the legendary Beast Of Bodmin Moor, which may or may not exist, and is only one of a number of rumoured big cats lurking about the English countryside.

Human stone constructions include a large range of stone barrows and various stone circles, a remnant of the bronze age population. And if you find your way to the Jamaica Inn at Bolventor, just off the A30, you're not too far from Dozmary Pool. A heady and mysterious place, rumoured to contain Excalibur, and therefore the home of the lady of the lake. It's traditionally held to be bottomless, and to have tunnel connecting it to the sea. That said, it dried up in 1869, so that sorted that one out. They did find a number of exciting neolithic arrowheads in the dried pool bed, but no magical swords.

Bodmin, apparently, means the house of the monks, and until Henry VIII got a little vengeful, Bodmin itself was an ecclesiastical town. Saint Petroc, the original monastery founder, is rumoured to be buried in an ivory casket in the crypt of his namesake church. There are eleven wells in Bodmin, too, which are reputed to have healing powers.

Less ethereally, there's just some great landscapes to see. Moors are fascinating places; there are vast open plains, and strange, wrinkled high lands. Do yourself a favour and invest in a tourist guide of some kind before simply marching off into the wilds; there's nothing worse than being rescued by emergency workers after you don't return to the bed and breakfast, apart from possibly not being rescued at all. You may scoff, but as recently as January 19th 2008 a properly-dressed walking couple who knew exactly what they were doing were caught in fog and had to be rescued by a police dog-handler.

Bodmin Moor benefits from its own website here, which gives plenty of guidance on places to visit, things to do, food to enjoy and how not to get completely lost. There are pretty pictures, too.

26 November 2009

Chronologie - Jean Michel Jarre

Chronologie is a 1993 album by French synthesizer musician Jean Michel Jarre. Broadly speaking, the majority of Jarre's studio albums are based around some kind of theme after which the album is titled. Chronologie is no exception, taking time as its basis, which explains the dedication to Stephen Hawking's 'A Brief History Of Time'. In concert footage from the period, Jarre's trademark pyrotechnics and projections clearly show how the album's tracks progress through time, from the beginning of the universe through to the evolution of living beings. He even manages to get a splash of sex in there with Chronologie Part 6; it's not everyone who can get away with projecting naughty nuns and hundred-foot high sperm onto surrounding architecture, although Laurie Anderson did have a go with her sending messages to Japan speech. (Obscure reference No. 1)
Chronologie is classic Jarre in many ways. A long, slow-build up in the first part of the recording, leading to a short, snappy track where the second side of the cassette or LP would be - in this case it's Chronologie Part 4, which began life as a beepy little sound for Swatch's range of 'musi-call' watches. Later on, however, there are rap influences, thankfully rhythmic rather than vocal, and Chronologie 7 does use the old Jarre trick of replaying an earlier theme from the album at a slower speed.
But wait - what's that on track three? Remember, this is Jean Michel Jarre, rumoured to be the world's first synthesizer superstar (if you read the popular press and probably don't include Kraftwerk, Vangelis, Jan Hammer or indeed, anyone else who's ever picked up a keyboard), he who began a career with disturbingly analogue film scores, the odd bit of tape-spliced Erosmachine and dementedly musique-concrete La Cage. There are lovely warm synths on Oxygene, and then gentle swooshes of Equinoxe, bear in mind. So what's with the electric guitars?
Around this time, Jarre seemed to become friendly with Patrick Rondat, going as far as to produce an album for him, and taking him on tour to add a new and rather pretentious and twiddly twist to the old Jarre favourites. There's not a lot of guitar on the album, actually, and thankfully the alliance didn't last too long. I'm still convinced the live track 'Digisequencer' would be far better with more Digisequencer and less Rondat.
There are eight tracks on Chronologie, and they're numbered 1 to 8 in the traditional Jarre fashion. Chronologie 4 had moderate success as a single and spawned a whole host of remixes by people like Praga Khan, Black Girl Rock and Sunscreem. Chronologie 6 attracted the attention of Slam and Gat Decor, who somehow removed all traces of the original track and produced a set of rather generic dance remixes. I still like them, but not as much as the original.

25 November 2009


Badelynge (pronounced 'bad-ling') is a little-known and obsolete collective noun for a group of ducks. Notable for its inclusion in the Dictionary Of Obsolete And Provincial English, Thomas Wright's 1869 guide to English phrases that had fallen by the wayside, it is easy to see why the term 'a badelynge of ducks' is no longer in common use. Most of the words in Wright's tome have been out of use for at least a hundred years.

Alternate spellings include badelyng, omitting the final 'e', or even badling, which retains the same pronunciation but features an updated, more modern spelling.

Modern alternatives to badelynge include a paddling, raft, team, flock or gang of ducks. Other outdated and obsolete alternatives include a smeath, plump or the slightly suggestive (and thus fantastic) 'little knob of ducks'.

24 November 2009

X-ray Astronomy

Astronomy is, essentially, the study of electromagnetic radiation received from the sky. At its most basic, the use of a telescope allows an individual to view the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum - quite simply gazing at the stars. We've all done it - strictly speaking you don't even need a telescope, though it becomes more interesting with the ability to zoom in. X-ray astronomy, however, is a little more involved and focuses on a separate part of the electromagnetic spectrum, normally invisible to the human eye.
X-rays were first observed in 1895 by Wilhelm Röntgen, a German scientist who stumbled on them quite by accident whilst experimenting with vacuum tubes. A short time later he took an X-ray photograph of his wife's hand, which clearly showed the bones of the hand, along with her wedding ring. The X was initially chosen simply to indicate the unknown nature of the radiation, but became common despite Röntgen's objections.
X-rays simply offer a new way to view objects. Active galaxies, binary star systems, black holes, pulsars and neutron stars all provide far more interesting emissions of X-radiation than everyday visible light. So, in June of 1990, the United States launched a German-built satellite to record these X-rays received from the sky. Referred to as ROSAT, this joint venture was in fact called Röntgen Satellite, for obvious reasons.
Why the need for a dedicated satellite to observe X-rays from space? Simply because although more energetic X-rays can travel through air for a few metres, the earth's atmosphere is more than thick enough to absorb nearly all X-rays from space. So, to view these X-rays from space, the X-ray detectors must be flown above the earth's atmosphere, either by placing the detectors in the nose cone of a rocket (first achieved at the White Sands missile range with a V2 rocket), by elevating a detector with a balloon (a more recent attempt being the High Resolution Gamma-ray and Hard X-ray Spectrometer - HIREGS), or the aforementioned satellite.

23 November 2009

Blue Remembered Hills

"Into my heart, an air that kills from yon far country blows. What are those Blue Remembered Hills? What spires, what farms are those? That is the land of lost content. I see it shining plain. The happy highways where I went. And cannot come again." - extract from A. E. Housman's 'A Shropshire Lad'.
Blue Remembered Hills is a play by Dennis Potter, written for television as part of the BBC's 'Play For Today' series. It follows the success of his 1978 play 'Pennies From Heaven' and differs from it in a number of exciting ways, a significant change for Potter. The studio-based performances, recorded on video, of his previous work are replaced with film shot on location in Dorset. The result is a panoramic, sweeping feel to the film which alternates between moving shots that swoop past the characters and static, countryside-backed scenes. A memorable shot zooms down through the branches of a tree, hugging the trunk as the characters pass below. Excellent stuff.

But the main feature for which Blue Remembered Hills is notable is its depiction of children, seven of them, are all played by adults: Colin Welland (Willie), Michael Elphick (Peter), Robin Ellis (John), John Bird (Raymond), Helen Mirren (Angela), Janine Duvitski (Audrey), and Colin Jeavons(Donald). To begin with, there's something vaguely comical about Collin Welland's chunky frame, clad in grey flannel shorts and a knitted sweater, rolling about making spitfire noises, but after a while it all falls into place. The reminiscing begins: what it was like to be a child without adult supervision. The rosy glow of memory, and it's fun to watch. For a while.

Desperate for a bite of apple, Peter's character wrestles Willie to the ground, kneeling on his chest and spitting in his face. More friends join them, and a hapless squirrel is knocked from a tree with stones and then bludgeoned to death. All change, as a moment later they discuss holding a proper funeral for the poor creature. To say more would spoil the play, but suffice to say that children existing in a state of nature is all Potter needs to produce a gripping, horrifying, yet darkly humorous play, and one that's well worth tracking down on DVD.

22 November 2009

Brown Girl In The Ring - Boney M

So, Brown Girl in the Ring is a playground game, thought to have originated in the Caribbean. The players, both boys and girls, form a ring around one child. As the song is sung, the child in the middle of the ring skips around the inside until a specific point in the song: 'Show me your motion', at which point the centre child performs a favourite dance. Alternately, they may be asked 'Show me your partner', and a friend is picked to join them in the circle.
Which explains an awful lot. Arguably the most popular version of 'Brown Girl In The Ring' is by disco superstars Boney M, who released it as a B-side to their 1978 hit single Rivers Of Babylon. The A-side had torn up the UK charts, but as its success slowed and it made its way down to number 20, DJs began to flip the disc over, instantly mystifying an entire generation of ignorant Brits. Britain of 1978 wasn't the most socially aware culture, and traditional West Indian children's songs hadn't really registered. Indeed, a friend of mine recently confessed that they had but one black child at their school, and they would form a ring and sing this very song at her. That's not funny, by the way - it's sad.
Boney M aren't the only group to have released a version of Brown Girl In The Ring, of course, though it might be argued that their version is undeniably the best ever, depending on whether you're a die-hard Boney M fan or not. Regardless, see Waterloo And Robinson for a German version which uses the same arrangement as Boney M, or The Wiggles for an Australian feel. There's also a remixed '93 version from Boney M, if you're really, really interested.
Let's not forget Joe Simpson from Touching The Void: 'Bloody hell... I'm gonna die to Boney M!'

21 November 2009

Andy Bell

Andy Bell: Singer And Performer, born April 25th, 1964
Primarily known as the singing half of Erasure and separate to the Andy Bell from Ride, in any interview with Andy it quickly becomes clear that this man was destined (either that, or just very determined) to be in the public eye. Flamboyant and openly gay from the start of his career, Andy appeared in the midst of a flurry of 80s synth-pop duos, a clear contemporary of Marc Almond and Jimmy Somerville, and quietly helped Vince Clarke make his follow-up to Yazoo a household name. Twenty-years later Vince and Andy are still churning out tunes as Erasure, even if they may trouble the top slots in the charts slightly less now, and Andy's has made tentative moves towards a number of solo side-projects. Andy is HIV positive and lives with his partner, Paul.

Early Life And Education
Andy Bell was born on April the 25th, 1964 in Peterborough, England. Their small house, The Gables, was eventually to house four siblings - three more girls and a baby brother, and Andy enjoyed a pretty normal working-class childhood by all accounts. Dogsthorpe Infants was followed by Junior School, at which Andy joined the choir. Anecdotes about Andy's earlier leanings towards music are prominent in any interview, and quotes like "I did impersonations of Donny Osmond to keep my neighbours happy..." and "at that early age I thought that my voice was better than Aled Jones" abound. It quickly becomes obvious Andy's completely serious about this; he was one of those children who puts on variety shows for everyone, the sort of child who's dragged out at social gatherings to perform The Snowman.
Andy moved on to Grammar School, apparently because he "liked the uniform" and despite coming last in a regional choir competition with a 'slow version' of Little Donkey and some recollections of bullying, Andy attained 5 O-levels. Staying on to study for A-levels resulted in boredom for Andy, and he also recalls that he fell behind with his work. Inevitably, Andy left school, full of the usual dreams and aspirations and with a desperate desire to make his way to London.

London: Moving In and Coming Out
The impetus behind this desire to live in London is attributed to Andy's friend Jill, whom he describes as "a punk with a gay older brother". Andy, either oblivious at this stage to his sexuality or perhaps unwilling to follow that route, began to see a girl called Marion. Consequently, when Marion landed herself a social services position in Alperton, London, the four of them took the opportunity to make the move. Andy recalls living with a guy and a girl from Liverpool, and is particularly complimentary about their patience as they waited for the dole money to come through.
This was followed by a move to West Ealing, and it was at this point Andy felt he could no longer deny his homosexuality. Marion, if Andy's memories are accurate, was an incredible support to him, and apparently introduced him to The Embassy Club: Andy's first gay club. The candy store moment of realisation ("I couldn't believe the men were so good looking!") was accompanied by a heady mixture of punk, pop and New-Romanticism with a healthy splash of Donna Summer's I Feel Love for good measure.
Ealing Gay Group and Andy's first gay sexual encounter was quickly followed by Andy's first band, formed after Jill spotted an advertisement in a music shop window.

Getting Started: Dinger, Danny and Debenhams
The Void, as they were known, did no gigs and very quickly split. Bass player Pierre Cope and Andy were left, forming a short-lived duo known initially as Brume and then Dinger, the name being changed to take advantage of Mr Bell's surname. While Andy's later pairing with Vince Clarke may seem strange, this initial pairing was just as peculiar, if not more so. Pierre came from what Andy describes as "a rough sailor's home in Dover" and had some difficulty overcoming feelings of homophobia. Andy, meanwhile, moved into a bed-sit with his first proper boyfriend, a Greek chap called Danny. And while all this was going on Dinger made several demo tapes and eventually cut their first single, a minimalist synth-pop 7" called Air Of Mystery, coupled with Donna Summer-inspired b-side I Love To Love You. Despite pressing a thousand singles after Pierre met producer Pete Gage on a train and persuaded him to donate a little after-hours studio time, Dinger never managed a record deal.
Danny and Andy split up in due course, which was followed by a brief period of homelessness for Andy. After meeting Jonathan, to whom Andy attributes his true gay education, Andy took on bar work and a part-time job at Debenhams while Dinger continued to make music. It's during this period that Andy recalls following Vince's career. Avidly, he recalls, and usually follows this in interviews by mentioning the time he spotted Vince playing Space Invaders in a studio. Another favoured anecdote is the day his flat-mate Andy offered encouragement whilst they listened to Alison Moyet's first album, Alf: Next year, this is going to be you. "He was always a bit psychic," recalls Andy.

Erasure: A Compressed Chronology
By now, Andy was 21. Vince had already formed Depeche Mode with David Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher, and after the first album left the band in Gore's capable hands. Yazoo quickly followed, hastily renamed Yaz for the American market, after Vince advertised for a 'rootsy blues singer', a request designed to complement his entirely synthesized backing tracks. Alison Moyet turned up, and an amazingly successful collaboration followed. And, since it worked once, when Yazoo split Vince once again advertised for an appropriate singer.
Andy was the 41st candidate Vince had auditioned, and while there's clearly some sort of rosy tint at work here, both Andy and Vince recall that they clicked almost instantly. Creative juices flowed, and Erasure crackled out a sparky set of tracks on their first album, Wonderland. Success was slow to follow, but a tough regime of touring and promotion followed, and Erasure hit the big time with their track Sometimes, taken from their second album, The Circus.
Whatever you might think of Erasure's music, it was a dream career move for Andy, a collaboration that has so far produced more than twenty million sales, twenty-five singles in the Top 20 and five number one albums. Erasure's career is chock-full of glitter, scattered about with entirely gay abandon: Abba tributes, disco classics, unnecessary costume changes and sex with a capital X. Songbird was released in 2005, following an album of cover versions including Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill, and neither Andy nor Vince are short of ideas for the future. And with success, of course, comes financial security, leaving Andy settled down with a partner and, apparently, happy and content.

Solo Career
Vince, of course, has a long history of side-projects, and fans of Erasure know that Andy's made many a comment in interviews about a solo album. Details have always been vague: will it be an album of Country and Western tracks, or a set of Andy's favourite sixties tunes? Disco cover versions or original acoustic songs? To be honest, every time Andy mentioned it there was something different about it, until one reached the conclusion it was all pie in the sky.
And then, in 2005, Electric Blue appeared, with a suitably shiny Andy Bell on the cover and an accompanying single, Crazy. The album is the result of work with DJs from Manhattan Clique and features collaborations with Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters and Claudia Brücken from Propaganda and Act. Sound-wise, it's standard electronic pop, not too dissimilar to Erasure, but clearly lacking the Vince Clarke twiddly bits.

Of course, it would be foolish to confine Andy's achievements to his music career. Erasure right from their first album (featuring the song Pistol: "we've got boys down at the station") were out and out gay, despite the numerical evidence. Not convinced? Then try Hideaway from the second album: "One day the boy decided, to let them know the way he felt inside." - Andy Bell was out and proud, and the clearly straight Vince was just as proud to be a part of it, for which he deserves a sincere and heartfelt thanks. Erasure, as so many other bands did, made waves when it came to sexuality, and it was necessary and laudable. Margaret Thatcher's administration in the UK was, for whatever reason, an intensely homophobic time. The government were keen on their own version of 'family values', which didn't include having anything other than happy, heterosexual offspring with an intolerant pair of oppositely-gendered parents, and Section 28 produced hate campaigns and misinformation on an immense scale. AIDS was a source of much confusion and fear for the average person in the UK, and the tabloids and, indeed, many members of the general public took every opportunity to vilify and discredit homosexuals. (Even now, for example, the urban myth about semen and stomach pumps is attached to Andy's name, an honour he shares with Marc Almond.)

Andy Bell, as part of Erasure, was only one of a significant number of openly gay pop front-men at this time. Andy, Jimmy Somerville, Boy George and their like were revered and reviled at the same time, and it's more than one confused teenager who took comfort from seeing that the world didn't have to be that way. The impact of popular music on politics is small but significant, and well understood by politicians (take the Rock The Vote campaign, for example), so it's pleasing to see music provide a means for social change as well as listening pleasure.

"I can't take credit for all of that because it doesn't mean what it did anymore. It mattered to me then, and you think it's going to matter for life. But then things start happening, the age of consent comes down, gay people getting married, all that stuff that you fought for. In general, we're in a much better place."
Andy's contributions in this field continue, however. In December of 2004 Andy revealed himself to be HIV-positive. First diagnosed in 1988 following a bout of pneumonia, Andy is undergoing combination therapy and is keen for the world to know. It's an educational thing, he says, and his decision to be honest is one designed to promote honesty and increase awareness. The press release was close enough to the release of Nightbird for many to be cynical, and in interviews Andy isn't always as sincere or sensible as it may seem: "Who knows where we got it? The number of blow jobs I've given in club toilets!" Nevertheless, there has to be some benefit to being open and honest about it all.

"Being HIV-positive does not mean that you have AIDS. My life expectancy should be the same as anyone else's, so there is no need to panic. There is still so much hysteria and ignorance surrounding HIV and AIDS. Let's just get on with life."
A Brief Discography

1985 Air Of Mystery / I Love To Love You (7" Single)
1986 Wonderland
1987 The Circus
1987 The Two Ring Circus
1988 The Innocents
1989 Wild!
1991 Chorus
1992 Pop!
1994 I Say I Say I Say
1995 Erasure
1997 Cowboy
2000 Loveboat
2003 Other People's Songs
2003 Hits!
2005 Nightbird
2007 Light At The End Of The World
Andy Bell
2005 Electric Blue

20 November 2009


"When the Freescape idea was conceived several programmers approached turned down the opportunity to be involved, saying it couldn't be done."
(Ian Andrew, Incentive Software)

In the time before dedicated 3D graphics cards, true 3D games were a rarity. Many people will fondly remember Wolfenstein 3D, the first truly popular game which (like its contemporary, Ultima Underworld) featured a texture-mapped, three-dimensional environment. Prior to this, back in the days of the Spectrum, Commodore 64 and even the 16-bit machines, a more common approach was to fake 3D, either through isometric projection or careful layering of pre-drawn graphics. There were some genuine 3D games, of course: Elite, with its simplistic vector graphics, and The Sentinel, whose filled vector polygons were a step up on Elite. Even so, upon its inital outing as part of the game Driller, the Freescape system was rightly considered to be an astounding achievement.

This was late 1987. Incentive Software had spent some time developing a way of rendering a three-dimensional environment and allowing a player to move through and interact with it. It was slow - each screen took a second or so to draw - but you could understand why: these graphics were amazing! Accurately shaded polygons with
proper perspective, not just isometric approximations. Perfect! Well, as perfect as a Spectrum's graphics got - you wouldn't give it a second glance nowadays, but back then to see that kind of thing on your screen was a rare treat. True 3D graphics, which could be moved through and viewed from any angle, all rendered in this perfect perspective: it was stunning.

Due to the intense calculations and the consequent framerate of less than one per second, the Freescape engine was suited more to adventure games than shoot-em-ups, though this was perfectly familiar territory for a company who was responsible for the Graphic Adventure Creator. Driller, the first freescape game, its box proudly boasting 'Solid 3D!', was released for Speccy and PC, with a plot based around a mysterious moon. Chock-full of problems and puzzles, it became intensely popular, and led to a release of Dark Side on the same platforms.

By this time the commercial success of Freescape was becoming apparent and the system was ported to the Commodore 64, allowing Total Eclipse, replete with ancient Egyptian feel, to be released for three platforms in 1988. Although now aging somewhat, the Freescape engine produced a couple more games of a similar ilk: both Castle Master and Total Eclipse took the gameplay to a higher, more polished level and also saw a release for the Commodore Amiga. The final outing for Freescape, opened out to all and sundry as the 3D Construction Kit, allowed you to inflict your own levels upon unsuspecting friends and, ostensibly, produce another Freescape masterpiece in your own living room.

19 November 2009


The Hydra, from Greek mythology was, like the Nemean lion, one of the offspring of Echidna and Typhon. Possessing the body of a serpent and a multitude of heads, the Hydra lived in the swamps near to the ancient city of Lerna. As so often happens in myths, the actual details of the Hydra vary; in some accounts it is possessed of a hundred heads, being similar in this respect to its father. In other accounts, the Hydra possesses as few as five. There is, however, a general acceptance that the Hydra, before encountering Heracles, was equipped with nine heads. Advantageously, one of these heads was immortal, and the remaining eight would quickly regrow if severed. Indeed, some versions of the myth specify that the severed stump would regrow two extra heads.

As if this weren't enough, the Hydra's breath was deadly poison in itself, and could quickly do away with most attackers, not to mention its prey. The Hydra would emerge from the swamp and gorge itself on herds of cattle, along with any local townspeople who happened to be in the way.
It is no surprise, then, that more than a few people wanted the Hydra dead and gone. Enter Heracles, sometimes known as Hercules, particularly by Disney and the like. Appollodorus tells us that Heracles was instructed to slay the Lernaian Hydra as his second labour. Driven by Iolaos, his nephew, Heracles travelled to Lerna and sought out the hiding place of the Hydra. Drawing the monster out with flaming spears, Heracles quickly came up against the problem of the regenerating heads. Striking each head with his club produced only more heads, and the Hydra quickly wrapped her coils around Heracles' foot. Things weren't looking good for Heracles, particularly when (in a rather bizarre addition to the story) a giant crab turns up to assist the Hydra.

Crushing the crab, Heracles calls upon Iolaos to make torches and sear the Hydra's regenerating heads, thus keeping them from growing. This strategy worked well, it seems, for Heracles was eventually able to crush and remove the final immortal head, which he chose to bury beneath a large boulder. Never one to waste good venom, we are told that he dips his arrows into the poison for later use.

18 November 2009

Amuse Bouche

Amuse Bouche, on occasion known as amuse gueule, are delicious little delicacies served in many good quality restaurants to tantalise and whet our palates in anticipation of the meal to come. Indeed, the very phrase amuse bouche translates as mouth amusement, a little treat to excite the tastebuds; a taste experience crammed into just one mouthful. Once a relatively unknown feature of French culinary tradition, amuse bouche have now become increasingly common, the modern equivalent of the once-popular hors d'oeuvres.

Sometimes an espresso cup of soup, a single scoop of savoury sorbet, a mere spoonful of dressed salad (perhaps actually served on a spoon) or a single, bite-sized tart, the attraction of the amuse bouche has to be its sheer decadence. Rarely, at home, would one devote the time to produce food in such tiny servings, all for a half-minute of heaven before the main course. Eating out, however, and the situation sees a sharp change: if someone else is prepared to stand around and do it for you, and serve it cooked to perfection at just the right time, a bite of Blue Cheese Foam with Port Wine Reduction seems like just the thing to pass the time before the starters arrive.

However, one shouldn't give the impression that the amuse bouche has to be complicated. Rick Tramonto's book Amuse-Bouche: Little Bites That Delight Before The Meal Begins features page after page of these miniature treats, many of which incorporate no more than four or five ingredients. The simplicity of Creamy Corn Grits with Butternut Squash and Sweetcorn sits happily alongside Charred Lamb With Truffled Vinaigrette and Oven-dried Tomatoes, both just begging you to put in the time and effort.

For an even simpler start, straighten shrimp on bamboo skewers; two per person is adequate. Marinade in soy sauce and ginger for at least half an hour. Remove from the marinade, dip into sesame seeds and briefly grill just prior to serving. Provide a small bowl of chilli dipping sauce.
Your mouth, and any dinner guests, will thank you for it...

17 November 2009

Hip Roof

The hip roof is an extremely common type of roof which slopes down to meet the walls on all four sides of a building. Essentially, it's a roof with sloped, rather than vertical, ends. Clearly, for this to occur each pair of adjacent sides must meet. These intersections are known as hips, and are covered by special hip shingles.

The size of the flat roof is defined by the primary hip truss, which is set back from the walls by a specified distance, often a distance of seven feet. This primary hip truss forms an elongated letter A. From the upper corners of this primary truss to the edge of the roof a downward-sloping shape is formed from hip rafters. These unbroken members intersect the 90 degree corners of the building, forming two sections of 45 degrees.

Having defined the basic structure of a hip roof, we are now in a position to understand the function of the hip jack. At some point our roof must meet the edges of the building - the rafter plate. Simply put, any part of the roof frame which travels from the hip to the rafter plate is known as a hip jack. At the wall end these rafters are cut perpendicular to the wall, and meet with the hip itself with a 45 degree cut.

For comparison, the hip jack's counterpart, the valley jack, connects the roof ridge to the valley rafter in a similar fashion while the cripple jack, on the other hand, is placed between valley and hip - essential for joining up those awkward non-rectangular roofs.

16 November 2009

Moments In Love - The Art Of Noise

Moments In Love is the Art Of Noise's most famous track. It's a gentle, Fairlight-led trip through breathy flutes, gently chiming glockenspiel, bongos and judiciously placed orchestral hits, and it's famous.

It now appears on almost any chillout album you care to mention, to the extent of a BBC radio programme tracing the origins of the music now known as 'chillout' being titled 'Moments In Love - The History Of Chillout Music'. Please... don't be put off by this. Think of a genre following the song, rather than the songs you feel define that genre. After all, Madonna advanced down the aisle towards Sean Penn accompanied by its gentle, pulsing waves. A search in Amazon produces three pages of compilation albums which feature the track, as well as varied Art Of Noise releases; as with so many of Zang Tuum Tumb's artists, Paul Morley and Trevor Horn would remix and reuse to the point of Spitting Image parody.

The track first appeared on the mini-album Into Battle with the Art Of Noise in 1983, and the single Moments In Love was released shortly afterwards, then re-released in 1985 as part of a double A-side with Beat Box. The album Daft appeared in 1984 containing the track, and Who's Afraid Of The Art Of Noise also emerged in 1984, containing yet another version. A cassette entitled The Tortoise And The Hare alluded to Moments In Love's video, which featured a tortoise, representative of the music industry, and contained a fourteen minute version of the track. In short - Moments In Love exists in many, many different forms, and collecting them all is a challenge beyond mere mortals. But you have to try... right?

Watch out for the delightful orgasm formed from sampled Beverley Sisters ("Now!") and a harp glissando in the 10:19 version from Who's Afraid Of The Art Of Noise. You don't get that on the chillout albums...

(The following lists are pretty close to being, but unlikely to actually be, complete. Zang Tuum Tumb are terrible for producing remixed or edited versions of tracks with artistic names, and thus tracking down every version of Moments In Love is a task best left to Paul Morley. I don't suppose he'll be doing that any time soon, though...)

Moments In Love Versions And Remixes:
  • Moment In Love (1:28) is a very short, stripped down version which features on Into Battle.
  • Cassette Version (5:12) is basically an edit of the ten minute track and features on the cassette of Into Battle.
  • Beaten (7:05) features on the Moments In Love singles.
  • Moments In Love (10:19) is pretty much the full track, and features on Who's Afraid Of The Art Of Noise.
  • From Battle To Beaten (14:28) and Love Beat, also known as Three Fingers Of Love, (4:44) feature on The Tortoise And The Hare.
  • Rejected 7 Inch (3:45), Moments In Bed (6:12), Moments In Love (7:52) and 12" B-Side Idea (3:10) feature on And What Have You Done With My Body God?, a release of various demos and other bits and pieces from the vaults.
  • Anne To Tears Mix (3:53) and Monitor Mix (2:10) are available on Influence, the most recent compilation of previously unreleased and rare tracks.
In Order Of Length:

1:28 'Moment In Love' from Into Battle
2:10 'Monitor Mix' from Influence
2:54 'Remix'
3:10 '12" B-Side Idea' from And What Have You Done With My Body God?
3:45 'Rejected 7 Inch' from And What Have You Done With My Body God?
3:53 'Anne To Tears Mix' from Influence
4:19 'Live on Radio One, 1984'
4:33 'A Moment... Love Is Fighting With Death'
4:40 '7" Version'
4:44 'Love Beat / Three Fingers Of Love' from The Tortoise And The Hare
5:12 'Cassette Version' from Into Battle cassette
5:13 'Massey Mix 3'
5:15 'Love Beat' full version
6:12 'Moments In Bed' from And What Have You Done With My Body God?
6:18 'Extended Mix'
7:05 'Beaten' from Moments In Love single
7:52 'Moments In Love' from And What Have You Done With My Body God?
10:19 'Moments In Love' from Who's Afraid Of The Art Of Noise
14:28 'From Battle To Beaten' from The Tortoise And The Hare

Possibly Unofficial, Unfindable Or Otherwise Unusual Versions:

3:40 Serphonic Drum and Bass Remix
3:58 Cyberdyne Remix
4:05 Rob Searle's Anthem Mix Radio Edit
4:45 DJ Xavier Three Fingers Of Love Ambient Mix
4:50 Mr88k Remix
4:55 Caspa Remix
5:22 Ken Ford Mix
5:37 Strings and Piano Mix
6:34 Rob Searle Remix
7:19 Chillout Mash Up
7:53 Trafik Remix
8:04 Minky Mix


Ah, blisters... we've all had them, whether it was part-way through the school sponsored walk or because you were a bit clumsy that time you tried to take your apple crumble out of the oven. Maybe even when you had chicken pox as a child, or perhaps you over-indulged out on the ultraviolet rays at the beach. Blisters. Bloody things... sometimes literally.


Any one of those situations up there can cause a blister, and plenty of other situations beside. There's friction, where all you need for a blister to form is some sort of injury to the skin which creates a split between the upper layer of skin (the epidermis) and those beneath. Short periods of intense rubbing, or gentle rubbing over a longer period will do, and it's especially easy if the skin is moist and soft. It's easy to see why blisters are common on the hands and feet, and often occur when walking or running. And there you go: the damage is done, and blood serum seeps into the space between the two layers, pushing out the surface of the skin. Perhaps, if you've been particularly rough, a small blood vessel near the damaged layer will rupture, and instead of clear, transparent serum you'll get a small bubble of blood, often known as a blood blister.

Contact dermatitis is the blistering of skin from some form of irritant, perhaps detergent, solvent or some other corrosive chemical. The formation is the same - damaged skin leads to a swelling of serum. Similarly, the damage caused by a sudden application of heat may lead to a blister, or some form of disease - I mentioned chicken pox earlier, and you can add herpes, impetigo and a number of other skin disorders to that list. Of course, if you are blistering unexpectedly, what are you doing sitting round searching for 'blistered penis' in Google? I agree, the internet is a great source of information, but it's no substitute for medical help.


Many people dig out the needles as soon as a blister appears, occasionally passing it through a flame before using it to break open the beautifully sealed natural barrier of skin which is currently protecting the damaged layer beneath. Don't do it - an unbroken blister will heal perfectly on its own in the majority of cases, and will break open naturally once the skin beneath has healed, allowing the dead layer of epidermis to flake off. It's hardly glamorous, I realise, but at least you won't end up with an infected blister and a course of antibiotics.


Soft sweaty feet, rough socks and a pair of new shoes... ack - hang on, no! Scrub that clearly bad advice and instead get yourself a pair of well-fitting shoes, clean and dry socks, and perhaps some talcum powder to keep your feet dry and lubricated. When breaking in new shoes, don't be afraid to put a sticking plaster or some sort of spongy padding over areas that feel uncomfortable.

Wear gloves when gardening, and perhaps some more talcum powder. Shovel or pickaxe handles look beautifully smooth, but their constant rubbing is slowly working away to produce blisters on those soft, sensitive areas of your hands.

Going out on a hot summer's day? Don't forget that golden piece of advice... you're just as free to wear sunscreen as everyone else.

Oh, and oven gloves? They're what's for dinner...

15 November 2009

Jeans Instability

Jeans Instability, despite its name, has nothing to do with the inherent tendencies of denim-based clothing to split, rend or fail during mission critical applications. This is almost a shame, as the notion of unstable trousers is, to the majority of mankind, far more comprehensible than the following.
Waves and instabilities are often related, and it is in relation to acoustic waves that Jeans Instability arises. When an area of gas is compressed, the pressure increases. This compression is smoothed out by the gas, and in the process acoustic waves are produced - futher areas of compression. Any more compressed areas of gas, however, possess enhanced gravity and thus more gas is pulled into the compressed region.

Normally, this isn't a problem. The minute fluctuations in gravity produced by typical sound waves in the air is negligible, as are the effect. Really - it might as well not have happened for all the effect it has. But transfer this theory to astronomical-sized bodies of gas floating about in deep space, Under such situations the changes in gravity are no longer negligible. More material is pulled to the compressed regions of gas, triggering an instability, and since the nature of this instability was first demonstrated by Jeans in 1902, the instability takes his name.

What form does this instability take? Well, under certain conditions the fluctuations will simply die out; the cloud of gas will disperse and return to its original state. Under other conditions the fluctuations will overpower the pressure of the gas, the perturbation will grow and the gas will continue to contract. It is believed that the stars and galaxies we see around us are the end results of perturbations which initially began as Jeans instabilities.

It should be noted that the instability only occurs for wavelengths greater than a certain size, known as the Jeans length. This length is dependent on density. The Jeans length may, in this case, be directly responsible for the size and distribution of galaxies and other matter in space.

14 November 2009

Nanette Newman

Nanette Newman is an English actress and author. She was born on the 29th of May, 1934, which means that she's getting on a bit. She is remembered fondly for her appearances in the Fairy Liquid advertisements, and she has also produced a small amount of film and television work.

A small amount, yes: Nanette Newman isn't what you'd call prolific. Her first film appearance was in Personal Affairs in 1953, and was followed by twelve other films before the Stepford Wives movie in 1975. International Velvet followed three years later, after which there was a pause of seven years before Restless Natives and The Mystery Of Edwin Drood failed to make much of an impact on anyone. That last one was in 1993, following which Nanette seems to have taken time out from television or film. Her last television appearances were on a children's cookery programme called Fun Food Factory, and she also appeared as a panellist on the 70s game show 'What's My Line?'.

Nanette is also an author. Six cookery books and thirty children's books. One of them, The Summer Cookbook, netted her cookbook of the year award. In 1955 she married Bryan Forbes, and together they produced a couple of kids, now known, in adulthood, as Emma Forbes and Sarah Standing. Nanette appears in Burke's Peerage, and has her own page on the IMDb.

But let's think back to those Fairy Liquid adverts. Every now and then there's an advert, or in this case a series of adverts, that kind of grabs the public attention. We all have a soft spot for the PG Tips Chimps, the irritatingly lovely OXO Family and Maureen Lipman's Beattie (replete with quote 'You got an ology!' and so on. I say a 'soft spot' - in many cases we'd secretly love to kill them. Bob Hoskins' series of BT ads fall easily into this category. Anyway, Nanette had this wonderful habit of getting thirty thousandgirl guides or cub scouts into a marquee of some sort, all armed with greasy plates. They'd line up, and Nanette would add one small squeeze to a tiny tub of water. While espousing the grease-cutting nature of the magical liquid, these poor kids would wash their plates, one after the other. The whole point seemed to be that one tiny squeeze of Fairy could clean up after the whole of the United Kingdom's scouting fraternity. I always felt vaguely sorry for the last ten thousand little kids, dipping their plates into a slurry of left-over gravy and insipid slivers of onion. Classic stuff...

13 November 2009

Debbie Does Dallas

One of the five best selling porn films of all time, Debbie Does Dallas appeared in 1978, close enough to the release of The Exorcist, The Driller Killer and other such notorious seventies video nasties to provide blessed (if rather sticky) relief from a stream of blood and gore. Starring Bambi Woods, whose parents must surely have realised a name like that gave her little choice of career beyond pornography or wildlife films about deer, the film is, in truth, abysmal. Cheap, badly edited and portraying some of the worst acting in the history of bad acting, one can only assume the producers were fully aware most people would be focusing on the more 'artistic' content of the film - namely the endless parade of naked breasts and white, hairy arses.

The plot is simple. Debbie, cheerleader beyond compare, has been chosen to travel to Dallas and become a cowgirl. Alas, she is penniless and must raise the money herself. Her parents, quite wisely, refuse to support her. Despite having only two weeks, Debbie and her cheerleader chums decide to raise enough money to allow them all to travel down to Dallas and give Debs the support she deserves. (Understand that whilst this discussion takes place each girl removes her clothes and idly soaps herself in the shower, a scene that would later influence the infamous shower scene from Porky's. The display of mis-aligned tan lines is a highlight here - one girl has a white stripe that comes halfway up her buttocks at an angle of approximately thirty degrees off the horizontal.)

But where to find the money? The girls flock off to offer their services as bookshop assistants, sports equipment saleswomen and auditors of novelty candles at Mr Hardwick's candle store. The inclusion of a candle shop turns out to be a happy occurrence, of course, as later on in the film the young lady is possessed by an irresistible urge to penetrate herself with a sizeably-girthed wax item more commonly used to provide subtle or romantic illumination. Needless to say, she is discovered and diverse entertainments ensue: Mrs Hardwick somehow ends up with her fingers inside the young lady whilst her husband, never one to miss a bit of excitement in a candle shop, masturbates vigorously and rounds the whole thing off with a spot of inter-generational intercourse.

Of course, she's not the only one. Two other girls accept an offer of twenty-five dollars for a kiss. This, as you'd expect, leads to breast-licking, cunnilingus, fellatio, anal intercourse, ejaculation and a spot of ooh-look-I-can-rub-my-face-in-your-spunk. Other girls enjoy a bit of a spanking, various bouts of fondling and the usual stuff. All of it, remember, badly shot, badly edited and badly acted.

You'd think, with all this industrious copulation, there'd be enough cash to send an entire football team to Dallas, but no - in order to raise that final injection of cash Debbie is obliged to dress as a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader and indulge in various sexual shenanigans with an appropriately dressed Mr Greenfeld. In return, Mr Greenfeld will pay for the whole lot of girls to make their way down to Dallas. It's been hot, sweaty work, but it's clearly worth it... at the end of the film the word 'Next....' appears on the screen, concerning which we are left to draw our own conclusions.

There is no doubt that Debbie Does Dallas is famous for being famous, and that of those who speak of its nefarious charms few have actually seen it. Certainly the porn scenes on any copy commercially available in the UK are cut to ribbons and thus reduce the film to a rather tame, soft porn epic. The Debbie Does Dallas available today is not top-shelf, scorching-hot pornographic material. Add to this the fact that the quality, even on the later UK DVD releases, is extremely low. One of the early scenes has been clumsily edited and includes a painfully lengthy section filmed before action has been called - cue one second of teen cheerleader poised ready to 'act'.

Nevertheless, Debbie Does Dallas has entered modern culture as an epitome of adult entertainment, a paragon of pornography. Infamous but ultimately unsatisfying: an afternoon spent watching Debbie Does Dallas is not, it must be said, an afternoon well spent. Still, curiosity may get the better of you, or the urge to be one of those who can proudly say 'Yeah, I've seen Debbie Does Dallas'. If that's the case, Debbie was recently re-released in the UK on DVD in that censored, hacked-up form, or there's always those original seventies VHS and Betamax copies if you hunt round hard enough. Then, if even that doesn't quench your insatiable desire for tack, there's always the sequels... many, many sequels...

Debbie Does Dallas was directed by Jim Clark and released in 1978. It starred Bambi Woods as Debbie, and a host of other, now forgotten, actors and actresses who all did their clumsy, inept best with Maria Minestra's rather plain, straightforward script. There's surprisingly little information in The Internet Movie Database about Debbie Does Dallas, but a google search will provide those all important details, plus information on the Debbie Does Dallas play, which features no sex or nudity, functioning more as a tribute to one of the most famous pieces of pornography of all time.

12 November 2009

Uhuru Park

Uhuru (Freedom) Park is a green space in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, nestling in the Upper Hill neighbourhood and bordering the central business district. It is close to the Kenyatta National Hospital and parliament buildings. Much of Nairobi is green space, reflected in the popular name 'The Green City In The Sun', and Uhuru Park is merely one of many large, green areas, although it does feature a man-made lake. It is bordered by Ngong road, Haillesellasie Avenue, Uhuru Highway and Nyerere road.

The park is a well known as a centre for rallies, services and speeches, such as the 1996 burning of condoms to protest against their use by a group led by archbishop Maurice Michael Otunga, or the 2007 election-related riots which led to clashes between police and protestors just short of the park entrance. However, what makes Uhuru Park particularly famous is the struggle between Daniel arap Moi of the Kenya African National Union and Wangari Maathai. Moi wished to build the sixty-two storey KANU headquarters in the park; Maathai is held in high regard for her near single-handed efforts to save the park in 1989. She was successful, and in 2004 received the Nobel Peace Prize for this and other courageous efforts against the former oppressive Kenyan regime.

10 November 2009

Washtub Bass

Occasionally known as a gut bucket, the washtub bass produces low sounds from the vibration of a string. Usually one string, but occasionally as many as four, the vibrations of which are amplified using some sort of container. And yes, the use of a washtub is common - that's one of those shallow, galvanised steel washtubs, kind of like a low, flat bucket. It doesn't have to be a washtub, though - a similar sound can be produced by upturning a tea-chest, a trash can or even the top section of an old oil drum. In fact, washtub basses come in so many different varieties it's hard to keep track. Ranging from the extremely simple to the very complex, the quality of the bass and the skill required to play it seem to depend very much on the time and attention its owner has to lavish on it.
Let's start simple, though: The washtub, upturned and placed on the ground, has a long handle attached to it, towards the edge of the washtub bottom. The washtub rim often helps here, as the end of the tip can be rested against the inner surface of the rim. A pool cue is recommended, as it will have a ready-made grip area near the top, but a pine broom handle is a cheaper option. A string is led from the upper end of the handle to the centre of the washtub, perhaps with a pair of eye bolts.
And that's about it. Holding the handle, the string is now plucked to produce the note, the pitch of which can be varied by increasing the tension on the string (like twanging a rubber band). This can be achieved by tilting the handle back or forwards. Alternately, the handle could be fixed to the base of the washtub, and the string's vibrating length changed by holding further up and down the stick (as one might play a standard bass guitar). Interestingly, the design of the washtub bass leads to the strings pulling on the surface of the sound chamber, rather than pushing, making the washtub bass a relative the tin can telephone or, more prestigiously, the harp family.
No reference to washtub basses is complete without a nod to Fritz Richmond. A quick search on google will confirm his position as the world's foremost washtub bass virtuoso, appearing on a variety of recordings and as part of a variety of bands. Jim Kewskin's Jug Band, the inspiration for numerous other artists, featured Richmond on bass. Ry Cooder's album Into The Purple Valley, Tom Rush's Blues Songs And Ballads and John Sebastian's I Want My Roots all feature Mr Richmond. Highest praise of all comes from one website which declares Richmond to be master of the three washtub bass essentials: delivering the beat, playing in tune and supporting the style of the music.

08 November 2009

The Veldt - Ray Bradbury

The Veldt is a short horror story, part of the 1951 anthology The Illustrated Man, written by American author Ray Bradbury. It fits neatly amongst other Bradbury works which explore the peculiar relationships engendered by parenthood. Like The Small Assassin, in The Veldt two perfectly loving parents come under threat from their offspring and, forced ultimately by the blind trust of parental instinct, forfeit their lives: Bradbury's point being that although on the surface parents appear to control their children, without realising it parents are perhaps in reality controlled more by their children through instinct and, indeed, love. No-one would dare believe their children would kill them just to get their own way.
The veldt in question is a classic, dusty grassland of southern Africa, inhabited by the appropriate fauna and generated in its entirety by the Nursery, a computer-controlled playroom for the children. It's not actually real, and nor are the lions, though no-one seems to have told them that. It's not supposed to be generating a veldt, of course, so with the playroom going wrong like that, it's quite natural to venture in and investigate. Finding your partner's bloody bones on the floor ought to hint that something's not quite right, but... well, then it's too late; the kids had to do something to stop you turning the damn thing off.
It's a good story. Seek it out and read it... it will not be hard to find. Bradbury is an immensely popular writer, and for good reason.