Crapshoot: Pepper's Adventures in Time, a very American edutainment


From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about bringing random obscure games back into the light. For some reason when it came the turn of children's adventure Pepper's Adventures in Time he transformed into the most English man alive.

Sometimes, it's fun to play the villain. We all know this. But there are limits. We live in a civilised civilisation, and as such, not everything can be permitted. There are scoundrels whose mere existence is an affront to the one true Queen, she who all right-thinking Ladies and Gentlemen call Majesty. There are sins that should never be played out, particularly not in an 'edutainment' game designed to inform and shape other fragile minds. Some things, some people, are just... beyond inappropriate.

This is the story of one such wretch, and her most deserved punishment.

These are the crimes of Pepper Pumpernickel, the girl who stole America.

From the moment she learned to stick her nose into matters that didn't concern her, Pepper was a small, annoying child, living as good a life as you could expect without being British and therefore better than everyone else. Ah, this sceptred isle. Our dark satanic mills. Just thinking of their beauty brings a tear to my eye and a cup of tea to my lips. God Save The Queen, I cry. Long may she reign o'er us, or even rain, should she come down with either dyslexia or incontinence while atop a high platform.

But I digress. Pepper saw herself as some kind of 'investigative reporter', though that was little more than a self-appointed license to get in the way of her Elders and Betters. Sitting firmly at the top of both lists was Uncle Fred, living proof that even a country that's never gotten closer to Proper British Culture than old episodes of Are You Being Served? can occasionally produce a true visionary. 

Uncle Fred may not have been British in flesh, but in spirit, he was every bit as cranky, pompous, mean-spirited and megalomaniacal as our finest Lords. Had it not been for the dark machinations of his evil niece, he would have gone down in history as the greatest hero in the history of all recorded existence worth reading. Instead, his twilight years were spent in a strait-jacket, sobbing quietly to sleep while his nurses sold his pills on the black market to pay for an HBO subscription. After his eventual demise, his family swore blind that they hadn't actually asked for his gravestone to read "Here Lies Fred - In Death, As Life, A Bit Of A Douchebag", but nor did they ever get around to ordering the replacement they spoke of.

Before the arrest sparked by his niece's disappearance, Fred was a struggling inventor, working out of his family's attic. He left behind many strange devices, which nobody dared to touch—not being sure which ones might be innovative new egg-whisks and which might blow up the entire continent—along with his greatest invention. The time machine. With this, he planned to readdress the greatest injustice of all time—the inadvertent lapse of standards that permitted America to sever its connection with its stiff-upper-lipped mother country, and grow into a moderately successful superpower by the standards of anyone that didn't literally own most of the world just a few short centuries ago. We're just saying, you understand.

Thanks for Woolworths though. Good Pick n' Mix. Sorry we broke it.

Fred's plan was as brilliant as it was inventive and as inventive as it was stupid. Using his time machine, he took the spirit of 1968, minus the protests and political elements, and pumped it straight into Ben Franklin and the rest of Philadelphia 1764, turning one of the most important Great Traitors Founding Fathers into a babbling peace-and-love obsessed hippie. True, he didn't do it so much out of a desire to restore Britain's rightful place in the world as wanting to become the supreme lord of the universe, but since when was ambition a bad thing? (Answer: 1642, when those smelly Parliamentarians forgot their place and started a Civil War against their rightful Monarch. Oh, how the shame still burns...)

Unfortunately, there was a dark shadow hanging over his genius that day. Pepper witnessed the rebirth of a great nation and she said NO. With her dog, Lockjaw, she tumbled into the room and challenged the Great One. With Lockjaw accidentally caught in the event horizon/big spinny thing, she dived in after him, landing in Colonial Philadelphia just in time to crack the Liberty Bell. Standards not entirely having slipped after Fred's meddling, she was quickly apprehended by the loyal city watchman and temporarily incarcerated indefinitely for her own good. So began the time-war of all time: Pepper in the past, trying to corrupt Ben Franklin back into being a political firebrand who would make a burgeoning nation turn away from the people who would have loved it, were love not a distinctly un-British emotion, and Uncle Fred in the present, trying to work out why a giant green tentacle keeps showing up and calling him Doctor.

Who won? Do you live in the MST, CST, PST or EST time-zones? Go buy a bar of chocolate. Eat a bit. Does it remind you of vomit's aftertaste? Then you live in the wrong timeline. Us proud Brits would never permit chocolate like that to become so wide-spread, except of course at Easter, when it's OK because it's traditional. What? No, it's OK. Finish it. You know no better.

Showing her disdain for order and decency, Pepper's second act after breaking a national heirloom—even if it was meant to be broken anyway—was to free a man from the village stocks, completely in defiance of due process. Luckily, this dissent
was soon quashed by the arrival of the King's Watchman, a brave and noble figure whose concern for the law stretched from this shameful mini-jailbreak to Pepper's ignorance of the local sumptuary laws—to whit, wearing trousers while unrepentantly in possession of girl parts. Temporarily incarcerated for Society's protection, this was Pepper's chance to redeem herself through inaction—to simply let events play out and embrace her role in the new Empire.

Instead, she broke out in five seconds flat. The seditious little scallywag.

Some stolen clothes permitting her to masquerade as a little boy, the temporal guerilla known as Pepper began her assault. Her sole redeeming feature in this was that it brought her up against the evil Pughs, Philadelphia's assigned Governor and his bratty little daughter Irma. Irma decided that Lockjaw was her new pet and took him home with her, while Pepper found herself embroiled in a conspiracy. Pugh was falsely telling the colonists that the Stamp Tax was in effect, shamefully gathering money that rightly belonged to the King. 

Normally, Ben Franklin would have been opposing this, but he was too busy sitting in his newly invented jacuzzi, watching the world go by. Instead, a vigilante by the name of Poor Richard was leading the fight, not cowed by being a fictional character - Franklin's pen-name, in fact. This would have been a big mystery, had it not been blatantly obvious to anyone with a brain that it was Mrs. Franklin in a hat. Standards being what they were though, nobody figured it out for whole chapters ages.

Throughout all this, our hero remained stalwart, unless you can't do that while being seriously pissed off, in which case he did that bit first. Fred's attempts to salvage the situation only served to help Pepper, throwing her around Franklin's timeline and giving her perspective. Before long, she had all the weapons she needed to manipulate him into doing her bidding and leading a rebellion against the evil Pugh family. It's hard to feel sorry for them, but you can't always pick your last line of defense against entropy, and they were all we had. 

After kicking them out and returning the King's Money to the people who were only going to spend it on cake or shoes or other pointless fripperies, Pepper's crime was complete. History was... back to normal. America's chance to return to the bosom was lost. Forever. Sorry, but you had your chance, and this was it. We're shunning you now. This is you being shunned. Do you feel it? Do you feel the burn? No. Because we're not doing anything to you. Except shunning you. Which is basically nothing, only with added emphasis. No, no sympathy! You brought this on yourselves.

But karma, like Her Majesty's cherished Corgi Holly, is a bitch—as Pepper would now discover. Right at the moment of victory, Uncle Fred's valiant attempt to save the day finally hit home, sucking Pepper into a temporal wormhole. Her destination: the Ice Age, where the lack of any sequel to this game historical records indicate the hateful wench remained trapped forever, with no-one to talk to but the 'popsicle' that was once her beloved pet, regretting the day she picked a fight with the Greatest of all Britains.

Bloody good job too. Valuable lesson for the kids.

And on that salutory note, our story is Concluded. All rise for the national anthem.

"God save our gracious Queen
God save our noble Queen
Unless she really is a reptilian overlord
In which case not."

Rule Britannia. Oh yes. Quite.