Inishowen, c. 1980s.
Part of Donegal, part of the Republic, part of the domain of paying for an RTÉ TV licence if you owned a set.
Except we couldn’t get RTÉ. Two channels of swooshing snow that would bring on epilepsy in a breeze-block were all that resided behind the pushbuttons of channels 5 and 6. There was however the odd Saturday when if the wind was blowing a gentle north-west, you stood five inches from the TV set, and you’d had a certain amount of honey-coated cereal, that your sugar-rushing brain could convince itself that the gaudy stripes of a Bosco presenter’s pants were emerging from the dancing, screeching blizzard of the complete lack of a TV signal.
It didn’t matter. We could get BBC1, BBC2, ITV in its regional form of UTV, and eventually, SexyTitsAdultCensoredBannedWhatAreThosePeopleDoingToEachOther 4.
I mean, Channel 4.
So the mental firmament of ephemeral televisual culture I daydream into is not Forty Coats or Wanderly Wagon; it’s Stig of the Dump, Ulysses 31, Noel Edmonds in his Swop Shop, Sandy Toksvig making sandwiches in No. 73, Philip Schofield, and, and, and…
And that’s just it. For some reason the titles of some of the shows that inhabit my memory didn’t make the cut. Every so often I’m plagued by a Pepper’s ghost in my imagination, a scene so vivid I could reach out and touch it, but lacking the substance of identity. I don’t know why I get so fixated on them, but I spent some of my happiest days inside the television. If that’s damning of modern living, I don’t care. I hold some of these shows in the same regard as a salivating antiques dealer appreciates fingering something Louis XVI.
For years I was haunted by a blonde girl, who lived in the future with people who weren’t her family, and who had an alien pet with a massively fluffy body. As much as I wringed my mental sponge into a bucket I could not remember anything about it other than my weak-kneed fondness for the lead, it was possibly Australian, and that it was on Children’s ITV (an entire children’s channel, within a channel! Kidception! No, no, wait, that’s a really dodgy looking neologism). With the advent of sewshawl meeja I took the opportunity to ask around, even recreating the alien from the frayed filaments of memory and posting it on Twitter and Facebook (that’s it up there). Some suggestions came back, but they weren’t even of the right vintage, and no-one recognised what I thought was the indelible form of the pink alien. I began to worry I’d created a false memory (the curator of this here blog has a friend who invented a Leaving Cert Irish story that never existed).
I googled loose combinations of keywords. Eventually I discovered and went to the TV Cream Ask the Family forum. I posted the above pic, and as much detail as my synapses could muster, and waited. For weeks. With nothing.
And then a lone genius replied and let me sleep peacefully again: “It looks like Luna. It wasn’t Australian, though. It was British. And it starred Patsy Kensit.”
Amazing. I went to YouTube, and there it was in all its sci-tirical brilliance. It’s even darker and funnier than I remembered it, a kind of Gilliam-esque nightmare bureaucracy with a Douglas Adams sense of humour.
It tapped into one of the most potent tropes of children’s fiction: the absent/dead parent(s) (Chronicles of Narnia, Box of Delights, Under the Hawthorne Tree, His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events…). In Luna’s case we don’t know much of her origins, or if she even had parents (she was “batched” on the moon). Luna was our point of entry into this world, as she was as naive to it as we were. It ran for two series, with Kensit being replaced in the second series by Jo Wyatt, playing a different character who assumes the same name. A 9-year-old boy in Donegal had mixed feelings about that. Strange, new, mixed feelings. And the pink alien? Jazzmine, Luna’s alien pet; ‘a “little simple” (from the planet Sim)’. And it was orange, not pink.
Alas TV Cream has had to expunge itself of that beautiful forum as it was experiencing uncontrollable spamming so I can’t link to the thread. It also means next time I get that gnawing in my brain* of an absent TV title I’ve no recourse other than to bash myself over the head with an inflatable mallet like a wacky 80s kids’ presenter until I pass out, and that takes ages.
There’s one about Victorian-era children who lived in a big house with a magic garden where the statues came to life at night that I’m not even going to go into now. Gah! Solved, thanks to Simon in the comments below. It’s The Enchanted Castle by the prolific E. Nesbit. Edwardian, not Victorian!)