Amsterdam, day 1

I’ve just came back from a few days away, and my first visit to Amsterdam. Technically it’s my second, but you can hardly call Schiphol airport a visit.

So, the journey started on Tuesday morning. There were a group of about 12 of us, who meet up on a Monday night in the Mill House.

We boarded the coach, and instead of being all in a group, it turned out we were scattered all over the coach. We’d block-booked, so you’d have thought we’d all be in the same area of the coach, but no. Not that it actually mattered, because the next pickup was in Hull. I was perfectly happy with my seat anyway. Right at the back, and with a window seat. Couldn’t have been better. It gave me chance to photograph the loveliness of Hartlepool town centre, and the journey to Hull, which is where we would embark our floating hotel.

There was a brief stop in Ferrybridge, long enough to partake in some chips from Burger King. I also invested in two bottles of water. At 2 500ml bottles for £2, it was almost double the price of petrol. Still, it was cheaper than the pop, and with arguably less sugar, this was to be my choice.

Of course, that is, until we arrived in Hull. We got chance to have a stop-off which meant only one thing… a pub. Apparently, the nearest Weatherspoon’s was about 10 minutes’ walk away, so we just picked a street and headed down it, hoping for the best. It wasn’t long until we’d found a little place, namely “The Masters Bar”. Therefore, at 2PM, the first pint of the trip was to be consumed.

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The place was small. Really small. The beer was cheap and the locals friendly. Really couldn’t go wrong. It was freezing when we got in there, but it started warming up, or maybe that was the beer kicking in.

We had to be back at the bus station for 3:40PM. The other pick-up had already embarked by the time we’d got there, so the bus was a little more full than it was originally. Well, that’s natural, but you know what I mean.

There was only about 20 minutes left of the bus trip, and we arrived in the Hull docks at just after 4. Of course, there was the obligatory sit-around for about an hour while the customs searched the bus and checked the passports. Everything was in order, and none of us got dragged off the bus in handcuffs. That would have been a blog entry on its own.

Eventually, we got on board. I was surprised at how big it was, even though it’s the maritime equivalent of a Cityhopper plane. There was also the trick of working out who I was sharing the cabin with. There’d be two of us to a cabin, and after the bus mix-up, I wasn’t with who I was expecting!

I don’t think anything quite prepared me for just how small the cabins were going to be. I gathered they’d had to be small, but just how small would be a surprise. Turns out I didn’t take a photo so I’d just have to try and describe it. For those who have never been on one of these budget cruises before, the room was about 6 feet wide, and that’s including the beds attached to the wall. If one of us wanted to get past the other, we’d either have to get on the bed or press right against the wall.

Amenities were scarce. There weren’t any, basically. You’d have thought that seeing as the ship sailed between Rotterdam and Hull constantly, that there’d be two types of plug sockets on-board. No. Apparently, these must have cost extra to fit, because there was only one European socket. Or maybe it was the “special” cabins that got these. Needless to say I didn’t pack my European adaptor. Three days for my devices to survive.

Thankfully, I’d invested in an emergency battery charger while I was in Asda a few weeks ago, so I knew I’d at least get an extra few hours out of my phone. The camera would just have to survive on whatever juice it had remaining.

Anyway, back to the cabin. The only other thing in there, except for two bunk beds, was the bathroom. This was amazingly small. Shower, sink and toilet. This was also my first encounter with one of those vacuum toilet things. I was a bit alarmed when I was stood there having a pee to see the water level rise. I thought the toilet was blocked. Then I realised, you had to close the lid, and flush. There was an almighty roar, everything had gone, and the water level had returned to normal. Phew.

So, the next job was to find the bar. After all, there wasn’t going to be much else to do on the journey. A green sign on the wall read “Irish Bar”. Yup. This’ll do. Turns out there was literally nothing Irish about it Admittedly, they *were* playing The Corrs, but it was just the same as the other bars (there were three overall). A pint of Becks as £3.70. It could have been worse. It’s not as if you could nip over the road and get one, was it? You could have, of course, bought duty free on the ferry, but you weren’t allowed to drink it on the ship. You’d have to buy it and then pick it up as you got off the ferry on the return journey.

A couple of pints were consumed, and then we headed into the restaurant. I pictured scenes of dodgy, cold food, served to you as a set meal, slopped onto a plate. I can happily report this was not the case. If you didn’t like what was on offer, then you didn’t like food. There was everything. Including curry, and it was all-you-can-eat. Well, I was in my element. Unlimited curry. Of course, we hadn’t left the port yet, so I wasn’t quite sure how great my sea legs would be, and if I’d be spewing up everywhere within the first few miles. And, of course, I wanted to leave room for the beer.

Dinner was completed successfully, and we ended up in the main bar. This would be the one where all of the “entertainment” was to be taking place. A large projector was showing what else you could do on board, such as the cinema, piano lounge, etc. The cinema would have cost money, so this was scratched immediately off the menu. There was also a casino. Was I feeling lucky? Good lord, no. I gave that a suitably wide berth, unlike the cabin I’d be sleeping in.

We all ended up downstairs in the main bar. Of course, the first showing was of the obligatory safety video. Don’t panic. This is where your life jackets are. Mackerel have the right of way, and so on. This was to be the best entertainment. They even showed it three times, in different languages.

Of course, if you weren’t in the bar at the time, you won’t have seen the video, so I have no idea what everyone else would have done… it soon became crystal clear why.

Because if you’ve been on this ship more than once, you’d know to avoid the on-board entertainment like the plague. Now, I’ve been taught that if you can’t say nice things about anybody, then don’t say anything at all.

Next morning we…. Hahah, I jest. Seriously, this was the worst sound system I have ever heard. Below is a picture of where we were sat, and the proximity to the stage.

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It was so quiet, you couldn’t actually understand what they were saying, and the choices of songs were absolutely atrocious. It was strange hearing the lady singing songs quite clearly meant for blokes to sing. Examples of this escape my mind. The backing tracks sounded like they’ve been put through one of those internet tools that you can use to strip vocals off and just leave the instrumentals behind. The results were astonishing.

There were three of them, the singer, a bassist and a guitarist. The bassist seemed utterly pointless, as the tracks already had a bassline. In fact for the last part of the show, he just gave up and sat in the audience. The singer was just about there, and the guitarist did perform pretty well. None of them were anything to write home about… oh wait, I just did.

It suddenly became apparent that while you were sat down, you didn’t realise that much you were on a ferry. The movement wasn’t too bad. It was only when you got up to go for a pee, you run into problems. I nipped to the bogs, and pointed Petite Percy at the porcelain, only to almost fall backwards. I thought the Becks was kicking in… nope, just the movement of the ship. Phew.

It must have been about 1 when I called it a night. The times were hazy. Literally. Was it GMT? Was it CET? All I knew is that there would be a tannoy announcement to wake us up. My cabin buddy had already retired to the cabin many hours before. Attempting to sleep would be an experience, but I’d became prepared. I’d preloaded the23rd anniversary of “Crap From The Past”, hosted by Ron Boogiemonster Gerber onto my MP3 player. This turned out to be a smart move. I never knew that “What’s Love Got To Do With It” was originally recorded by Bucks Fizz. No, really.

After that eye opener, my eyes closed, and the slow rhythmic vibration of the ship lulled me off to sleep…

Things that are still getting updated

Having a front page that pretty much kills the site off was a bad idea. I’m still updating parts of the site, even if the blogging’s taken an indefinite break. I’m not dead, and neither is the site…. There’s are the things wot are still getting updated.

The Gallery
The Music Collection

Please feel free to keep an eye on those as they’re updated regularly. I’m still on facebook, twitter, email (webmaster@mercuryvapour.co.uk – if I know you, I’ll reply with a decent email address, this one’s got spam filters up to the eyeballs)

Database error

A database connection could not be established. And by that, I actually mean I’m sick of looking at a blog that hasn’t been updated for nonths Months. There is no error, I’ve just deleted all of the posts. Back soon with something even more boring. Honest.

EDIT: Thanks ‘e’ for noticing the question. To answer why it’s in every category. It’s because I wanted a brief explanation on why the posts are no longer on there, and not leave dud links on the front page, but it’s all academic now anyway, so I’ve took them off.

People of ZX Spectrum land!

I’ve been going through some old tapes, and found the following (rather knackered) recording. I have no recollection which game it’s from, but if you do, I’d appreciate it if you let me know!

[UPDATE 10/2/2014]
Poot, 28 comments and 160+ downloads of the file and still no further forward! I’ll keep searching. Thanks all for the help so far though!

[UPDATE 19/11/2014]
Added this to the Spectrum 4 Ever Facebook group, on the off-chance someone knows what it is. To answer questions, yes, the tape is knackered. It would have been a recording taken directly from my Speccy+’s Ear socket, into a cheap “slimline” tape recorder. Probably running of batteries, I can’t remember.

My first few days with the QPAD MK-80

… and this, I promise, will be my last post on the matter. It’s been several days since I brought home my latest toy, the afore-mentioned mechanical keyboard, and I have to say I’m really liking it. It’s supposed to be a gaming keyboard, but that’s not really the reason I bought it. I just wanted something that actually felt decent when I typed.

Admittedly, this isn’t the first mechanical keyboard I’ve used or owned. Back in the late 90s, I was given an old PC that came with some bits and bobs, including possiblt the oldest keyboard known to man. I swear, I was expecting bits of typewriter to be stuck to it. It was so old, that the F keys were down the left hand side of the keyboard. It was so old that I can’t find a picture of it. Photography probably wasn’t invented back thenIt was also switch controlled, but unfortunately, some of the keys were knackered. It was OK to type on, but a few of the keys were unresponsive, and I eventually gave up on it. It kept me in supplies of small springs for ages. Years after, I was still standing on them with bare feet. Nasty.

Anyway, I digress, and I go back to my review. I’ve settled on typing with it really rather quickly. For those of you who couldn’t be bothered or have “forgotten” to watch the video, it’s got Cherry MX Blue switches. There are many different type of switches out there, but you’ll need to find these out for yourself. I doubt I’ll have the money to invest in other keyboards in the coming years, so unless some kind companies want to send me “samples” of their keyboards, then this’ll be the only review you’ll be getting!

So, functionality. Well, it’s not exactly feature rich as far as some gaming keyboards go. Pass-through connectors for 2xUSB, audio and microphone jack. The USB ports are handy, I can never have enough of those near the front of my PC, so two more is an added bonus. The pass-through connectors… meh, I can live without those for now. My PC case has mic / headphone jacks on the front, so I don’t really need those at the moment. I’ll probably end up getting a new computer in a couple of months, so maybe there’ll be a use for them then. Seeing as this is a gaming keyboard, however, there are absolutely no other gaming features. The blue LEDs, however, have four levels of brightness. When I first discovered the LEDs were blue, I was just that little tad disappointed. Some of you may remember that my streetlighting interest came about partly because I could see a blue halo around mercury streetlights. About 25 years later, I actually worked out that was because my eyes actually saw blue light as slightly out of focus. Thankfully, the light levels range from just comfortable, so it looks like the writing on the keycaps is blue, to an intense sheen of blueness, that wouldn’t be out of place on a hospital toilet ceiling to stop the smack rats going in and shooting up.

The blue LEDs are also included in the design of the status lights. Ironically, this is a gaming keyboard, and if you switch them all on, they look like the highest score I’ve made, in pretty much every game I own…

BLue LEDs on my keyboard
BLue LEDs on my keyboard

… and also the mount of actual readers who have managed to sift through this pile of absolute blithering crap. Ahem.

Actual feel of the keyboard is really nice. I’ve been asked if it’s improved my typing. Probably, but then I’ll get to the FAQs in a sec. The feel is that rubberised plastic, on the outer of the board, and on the wrist rest (which yes, I did manage to get fixed to the keyboard!) Best way to describe it is like those sightly up-market “Smooth grip” Bic biros. Although it doesn’t feel too bad, there’s a disadvantage, and that’s every bit of grease on your fingers shows up like some kind of shiny skidmark, and every bit of dead skin that you shed goes into the grooves, meaning that’s only been here for 3 days and it already looks rather unpleasant.

It's a mucky keyboard!
It’s a mucky keyboard!

Of course, shedding skin is a human way of life, and I’d much prefer it if I’d shed moob fat, but due to the matt black nature of the keyboard, and the fact it has a little groove running around the edge of it, I wouldn’t be too surprised if, in a couple of months time, that little groove will look like a re-enactment of the Battle of The Somme, but with extra blood, sweat, shit piss and Iron Brew… OK, I jest, but that brings me to another possible downside, there are no drain holes!. I’ve always got a glass of “water” next to me when I’m at my computer, and many times there’s been a bit of a close shave, or there’s been actual spillage. The last few cheap keyboard I’ve had, have had drain holes in the bottom, should the worst happen, but this doesn’t appear to have theme. Maybe it’s because of the hundred or so switches, LEDs and other tomfoolery crammed inside here, but I have a feeling it’ll be only one small mistake with a beverage and Pratfall Percy sat here, and it’ll all be over. Quite literally. Of course, now that I actually don’t drink as much, there’s much less chance of that happening.

Right, sod it, I’m nearly up to 1000 words. I’ve been asked two questions about the keyboard. It’s nearly 1 in the morning, and I’ve got to be up for work. So, I promise, I’ll break my promise and conclude tmorrow, or whenever I can be bothered. Bet you can’t bloody wait.