[Today’s guest post is by Lisa Carey. Lisa explains things for a living, mostly to humans. When not writing about stuff, she plays clarinet and keyboards with zombie noiseniks The Jimmy Cake and tweets nonsense at @msleedy].
Ah, to be in primary school in early 80’s Ireland, where some sort of pre-internet mind meld meant that every so often, suddenly everyone was “into” the latest vaguely pointless craze. Fancy paper. Tying patterned shoelaces round your head in the manner of a proto-Axl Rose. “Illuminous” socks. Deely boppers. “Doing Buck’s Fizz”. Watching That’s Life after you’d done your homework on Sunday in the hope that there’d be a talking dog and not just an exposé of Guar Gum. And, of course, Coca-Cola Spinners.
A Spinner was, basically, a yo-yo, blinged out with Fanta or Coca-Cola colours and logos. Like this:
Of course, I know now that they were called Spinners rather than yo-yos for legal reasons – yo-yo was a trademarked term here in 1981, so they were marketed as Russell Spinners instead. But at the time it made them seem like an exotic new toy, not a boring old yo-yo.
Not only did they have a shiny name and shiny covetable colours just like their namesake minerals, they also had a further secret weapon of coolness: the professional Spinner experts. One afternoon in school we were all marshalled outside the prefabs to watch a group of hyped-up cola representatives demonstrate Amazing Feats Of Spinning. Beverage-themed plastic yo-yos “walked the dog”, hovered in mid-air, defied gravity, formed cat’s cradle patterns, always whipping back into the operative’s hand with a satisfying “thunk”. There was talk of competitions, giveaways, special prize Spinners. The Spinner experts were on the Late Late. Suddenly being able to do yo-yo tricks had instant cachet.
Soon like every other child that summer, I got my Spinner, purchased in the local newsagents. I went for the red Professional one, not because I particularly cared about weight and handling (apparently the clear-edged Professionals were slightly heavier than the opaque-edged Supers) but because I liked the colour. I was that serious about my yo-yoing career.
I can still remember the plasticky smell of the thing, the glowing boiled-sweet beauty of the translucent red bits (bear with me, it was the 80s), and the brisk whizz as it whirled its way down the string. And, well, stayed there. But no matter! I was going to be like the Coca-Cola Spinners team. I would do tricks! I would amaze my friends!
One major problem with this plan was that I was possibly the least coordinated child in Ireland. I was the kid at tennis in school who wasn’t given a ball. No, I just had to stand beside the gym and practice “making shapes like a banana” with my tennis racquet. My haplessness in all feats of physical dexterity was such that I have no idea why I became convinced that I could become a yo-yo expert.
First, of course, I would work on “back up”. Whizz. Nothing. Roll it back up. Whizz. Nothing. Roll it back up. This went on for some time. I became convinced that there was something wrong with my Spinner and handed it to a more dextrous friend, who promptly whirled it into something resembling an Escher painting, still spinning, then snapped it back up into her hand. Back to the drawing board.
Of course, with persistence, even the most cack-handed child can figure out how to operate a yo-yo, and for some reason I persevered with the Spinner for longer than I had with, say, the tennis racquet. Finally I mastered the flick of the wrist needed to propel the thing down the string with such force that it shot back up again, and was able to move on to other vital life skills such as clicking my fingers (eventually mastered in a Gaeltacht céilí aged 14) and drinking. And I’m proud to say, it’s like riding a bike – to this day, I can make a yo-yo go back up the string. Still need to work on “walking the dog”….
(Before writing this I hadn’t realized there were multiple Coca-Cola Spinner campaigns – there was a second, much-documented campaign in 1989, when I was in college and only interested in Fanta if it had gin in it. As far as I can remember, “my” Spinner mania took place in 1981.)