I-Spy with my little eye... an old-fashioned recipe for fun
When is the last time you saw a gyrospinner? Come on, it's not a difficult question. You know, the round metal contraption that spins someone around until they're sick?
Thought not. Me neither. So how about your chances of seeing one from the motorway? Astronomical odds, right?
So why does the I-Spy On A Car Journey book set you such a task? You know the little blighters. Everyone used to have the booklets to keep the young'uns mildly occupied on long journeys before the advent of interesting things like Playstations. You get points for spotting things and everyone has a jolly time for six or seven minutes.
Last weekend, me and my grown-up sons took a trip. The younger had brought along an I-Spy book he'd found amid the silt of abandoned junk in his room. It was the one we had 20 years ago. So, in a whirl of nostalgia, we gave it a go.
Early on it was fine. We were off to a flyer. Five points for a sheep. Check. AA van 10 points. Yes. Heritage sign 10 points. This was easy. But after 30 minutes, the points weren't coming so readily.
Things started to look bad when, on page five, we saw this. Bungee jumping: 30 points. I don't know about you, but apart from funfairs and videos of friends' holidays in New Zealand, I don't run into random bungee jumping often. And our chances of ticking this off while hurtling down the A1 were not promising.
The aforementioned gryospinner was not even the hardest. Here's another one we marvelled at with our score stuck on 35 – the Sky Train, apparently a colourful locomotive on rails suspended in the air and worth just 10 points. The same score as an AA van. Did it even exist?
Or how about this? Fifty big ones for a toad migration warning sign. Why the 40 points difference? And shouldn't the fantastical combination of happenstances of you coming across a road where toads have been foolish enough to attempt a migration, but where caring humans have at least put up a sign to warn you of the fact, be worth a 10 times more than a sheep?
And finally, as the heady intoxication induced by the early rush of points gave way to sullen resentment at the unfairness of it all came the piece de resistance.
Check it out for yourself so you can see I have no need for exaggeration. Yes, feast on 50 points when you spot a gibbet 'where criminals used to be hanged'.
I put the last bit in quotations lest you fear I-Spy were being totally unfair and asking you to spot a gibbet where criminals are still being hanged.
We started to get hysterical. A gibbet? From a motorway? Did they used to hang people close to roads for easy access for those seeking their medieval entertainment?
We planned a fightback. Could we detour into a town where just such a gibbet might be housed in an under-visited museum of ye olde torture methods? Before such a move, we had to find out how many points we needed. At the back of the book was the answer.
Every time you get 1,000 (I don't often bold up type, but I think this is worth it) points you can send away for a badge, it told us. The badge, the size of a garden pea, takes 'no more than 28 days to arrive', said I-Spy, a pretty poor performance for a shadowy organisation that wants us to spot a Sky Train and an exodus of amphibians on a single car journey.
Later, after the book had been unceremoniously dumped on the back shelf and the iPods were out, I couldn't get I-Spy out of my head.
Didn't they used to have bungee jumping at Titanic Belfast? It would have meant turning the car around, but it was worth 30 points.
- Mike Gilson is Editor of the Belfast Telegraph