Pokemon was such a huge part of my childhood, as it is for many people in my generation. The first pokemon games came out when I was about 7, a bit too young to play them myself. My father would play Pokemon Red on my matching red Gameboy, while I sat with him and watched. He named the player character "Dad" and we chose Charmander (of course, we loved dragons!). Naturally this meant the beginning of the game was very difficult, and I remember we defeated Brock in a long and slow battle of repeatedly using 'scratch'. We brute-forced it by simply leveling up Charmander until it was strong enough to win. On a Sunday we would visit my great-grandmother, and after a big roast dinner the gaming would begin, as we snacked on cookies.
Eventually I began playing Pokemon Blue myself, from which point I almost never put it down. I brought it to school and played with other kids, and we shared tips such as the infamous MissingNo glitch (to this day I don't know how this knowledge spread to every school and every child with the game), and battled. Sadly, bringing my Gameboy to school did eventually lead to my Pokemon Red cartridge being stolen, along with that precious save file my father and I had played, and our Charizard. I cried a lot, and the thief was never caught (and I naively spent ages in the rain searching for it in case I'd somehow 'dropped' it in the playground, because when nobody owned up to having stolen it I didn't want to believe any of my peers had lied) - I still haven't forgiven them!
In the UK the Pokemon cartoon came to terrestrial via a Saturday morning TV show called SM:TV Live, hosted by Ant and Dec. I remember the fist episode airing with some fanfare - the presenters seemed to be aware that this was a big deal, so they spend a few minutes introducing it. Episode one was so unforgettable, no cartoon I'd ever seen before had the strong characters, drama, and ongoing storyline! I was immediately hooked!
The trading card game was also very special to me. I spotted the blue box in Woolworth's, and had to have it. We got home and pulled out all of the contents, and my father set to work reading the rules. I will never forget the smell of the freshly opened cards. They had illustrations of the pokemon, who before then I had only really seen in the game's pixel art, rendered in soft watercolours. The whole feel was very different from the game, the Pokemon felt sweeter and gentler despite it still being a fighting game. The artwork often featured Pokemon in their natural habitats. The original card game featured a match up of Charmander, Growlithe, and Ponyta, against Machop and Diglett. It also came with little blue and yellow glass beads which represented damage points. Truly there was no better way to get a child to practice arithmetic than with this game! I also take pride in being the first in my school to bring Pokemon cards to the playground. Before I knew it, possibly even within a week, everyone had a deck and we were all playing together. I don't think we played it properly, however - for example, I think resistances and weaknesses for forgotten entirely at my school! But of course, like any other school, it was eventually banned due to manipulative trading between older kids and the younger ones. Since a shiny Charizard, thought of as the "strongest card", only came as a random rare in booster packs, many kids instead tried to get others to part with theirs.
I started receiving one booster pack of cards per week from my father, which was tremendous fun. Apparently, this came as a replacement for trips to McDonalds as I had apparently complained that while I liked receiving toys I did not like the food. After a while, the second series of booster packs came out - the 'Jungle' set, which included new pokemon and new artwork, and the cards were identified with a small flower icon printed on each. This set came out at a time when I wasn't able to get one as soon as I'd wanted. I was on holiday with my mother to visit her family, and being obsessed with Pokemon as I was I longed for the new cards. Unlike my father, my mother disapproved of my obsession, going as far as to scold me for mentioning Pokemon at all, pleading with me to show interest in something else. Secretly, her grandmother bought me a pack of the new Jungle boosters after realising how important it was to me. I will never forget that first set of Jungle cards. I got a Jigglypuff, which had beautiful artwork of it sitting on a tree branch singing into the evening sky. I spent the entire rest of the holiday just admiring the artwork on that card.
My father enjoyed collecting Pokemon merchandise on my behalf, so soon enough I became surrounded with the toys. We had plushies, marbles, small plastic figures with a ball that allowed them to be slid across surfaces, even smaller plastic figures with gameboy-shaped toys that fired pokeballs on strings at them, posters, etc. Of course there was the Pokedex, a toy that completely blew my mind because it seemed like it was the real thing! We also collected some larger plastic toys which spoke. Bizarely, we ended up with a Japanese version of Squirtle, who would happily shout "Zenzenni!" much to our confusion. This is another occassion that I found myself exposed to the Japanese origins of the thing I was interested in, with no understanding of that at all.
I had two plushie Pikachu, one which spoke and wiggled its ears, the other did not. I spent a lot of time with the motionless one, until it got too dirty and was sent on trip to the washing machine. It came back with no whites in the eyes. This was presented to me very carefully, with my father explaining that Pikachu had 'had a bit of an accident' in the washing machine. I cried in terror the moment I saw it. It's amazing how much of a difference a couple of white circles make. My father lovingly painted the dots back onto the eyes. The speaking, wiggling toy was given to me later, and I fondly remember sitting next to it on the sofa while I played Spyro the Dragon.