Extreme Robots!

Note: I originally wrote this post in April, didn’t publish it for a bit, and then we had all of that awful stuff in Manchester, so it just didn’t seem right publishing it at the time.Imagine you’re reading this in April.

I’ve been in Manchester so much recently that I’m expecting to get a bill for Council tax. Well, OK, it was only twice in two weeks, but you know what I mean.

Second time around, it was to see “Extreme Robots”. I’ve been a fan of Robot Wars since it kicked off on the telly about 20 years ago. I’ve always wondered what it was like to see it up close and personal. Despite the show being revived, I’m guessing that getting tickets for the actual recording of the program is a nigh-on impossible task, seeing as filming only takes place over 4 days.

When “The person who must not be named’ noticed that a similar “touring” version had started up, I grabbed the tickets as fast as humanly possible (or I might have waited until pay day, I can’t remember). The days ticked by, and before we knew it, 22nd April was on us, and it was time to head to Manchester.

The weather gods had smiled upon us, and the journey was uneventful. There was, of course, a stop for a Maccy D’s somewhere down the road, in the strangest looking service station I think I’ve been in. It looked more like an office block than an actual service station.

Food was consumed, and we headed off in the general direction of the Trafford Centre. We knew that the arena was going to be around there somewhere, so it made sense to actually just go there instead of venturing into the city centre, and its hilarious traffic system.

I’ve been to the Trafford Centre a good few times now, and rarely ever buy anything. I must have been there 5 times, and I’ve bought a Pendulum CD and a coat.

On an entirely different side note, I’m listening to music on my phone. I was halfway through typing “Pendulum” when my phone chose the song I actually bought the CD for… “9,000 Miles”, off the CD “In Silico”. There was a 1 in 12,463 chance of that happening. Weird. Er, anyway. The Trafford Centre. It rally is one of the more “picturesque” shopping centres I’ve been to, with foliage and fountains everywhere. Unfortunately, this is shown in the cost of everything in the shops, hence why I don’t buy much.

Time was approaching to go and find this arena where Extreme Robots was on. Turned out it was about a quarter of a mile away, but due to “The Other Person’s” inability to negotiate roundabouts, we ended up going on a two-mile loop of the place.

Eventually we got there. I think it was about 45 minutes before the show started, but already there were queues. I’d paid the extra and got the VIP tickets, which meant we got a shiny VIP pass, express entry, decent seating, and a tour of the pits at the end.

The first thing you’ll notice, is that, compared to the Robot Wars arena, this one is TINY. The guy who sat in front of us had actually been to see Robot Wars being filmed (lucky sod), and said the arena was about a third of the size.

Still, all of the Robot Wars hazards were there… the pit, the floor fipper and flames. Except the flipper and flames never actually worked, much to the audience’s amusement when the presenter guy tried to show them off.

Despite the size of the arena, there were still some of the old Robot Wars favourites turned up. TR3, and Eruption, who made it to the RW Grand Final this year amongst the famous names.

Of course, as this is a touring version that goes on for a number of shows, and possibly due to the size of the arena, there isn’t quite the amount of destruction allowed than in RW itself, still the axes seem real enough

In between the main bouts, there were contests for smaller robots too – about 10 of them in the arena at the same time – basically just a melee. Or however it’s spelt. I don’t think anyone could actually follow what was happening.

And so, the main bouts. Not going to say who won, just in case it’s the same for every show (which I doubt), but there was one “amusing” robot, named “Donald Thump”. Unfortunately, this robot, despite is hilarious name, didn’t actually work. Maybe that was the joke, but I think there were three bouts where it didn’t even begin to get going.

Of course, there was then the pit tour. And that was great. I was able to get up close and personal to some of the very robots I’d been watching on Robot Wars only a week or two earlier.

Included in the VIP ticket was a trip around the pits after the show finished, where you get to see the robots (and the operators) up close and personal.

Overall, a very enjoyable few hours. It’s left me wanting to see the real Robot Wars being recorded though. Now *that* would be epic.

I forgot to write about a Youtube video…

If you’re reading this on Facebook, you might as well stop. Scroll down. Look at that post below this one, which is bound to be some bell-end spouting political bullshit, or a photo of some ugly kid, because I actually posted this on Facey B a few weeks ago, and entirely neglected to post it on here for both of my readers who don’t have facebook. Yes, it’s the video of the Hull trip, or more correctly, the hundred or so discs that I bought for a tenner.

I explain it all in the video. Enjoy, if you’ve not already seen it.

A weekend in Manchester

Ahhh. Summer’s here at last. Well, no it’s not, because I saw a gritter on my way to work this morning, but the past weekend certainly felt like summer. A warm spell in an otherwise cold month.

But what was I doing in Manchester, I hear absolutely nobody ask? Well, I’m sure I’ve talked about the ol’ #speccy meetups in here before, where once a year, a few of us from the afore-mentioned IRC channel and the World Of Spectrum forums meet up, and have a few pints and a bit of a chinwag. Well, this time, it was going to be in Manchester.

I’d prepared for this *well* in advance, and by that, I mean I somehow managed to book a train and a hotel without getting the whole thing completely mixed up, and ending up booking a room in Manchester, New Hampshire, and the train heading off into the middle of the sea. Or something. Still, a little of me had a feeling this trip was going to be doomed to failure.

Marko, the main organiser, who has commented a few times on here (probably about the meets, I can’t remember), unfortunately pulled out and couldn’t go, so I was left in a bit of a situation. I didn’t have any contact details for anyone else going, other than Facebook. So, I pictured myself getting there, not actually knowing what anybody looks like, and spending the entire night on my own. Well, that is, if I was going to get there at all.

Wednesday came, I was in the snooker place, batting some balls about when I received a text…

“You aware of Northern rail strikes on Saturday? ”

As the white ball shot off the table, it became clear I wasn’t aware. This threw all sorts of spanners in the works. The Transpennine trains were running normally. Northern Rail trains weren’t.

Saturday was also Grand National day, and although getting to Thornaby for 08:32 wasn’t a problem (I bribed Daddykins into giving me a lift), there was no telling how packed the train was going to be. I was worrying the night before about finding my seat, and finding a random Boro chav sprawled out across it. that is, if I could even get on the train for the crowds.

I needn’t have worried. Maybe the news of the rail strike caused most people to stay in bed or make alternative arrangements. Maybe most people were just still hungover. Dunno. I just knew I had my seat, and the rest of the journey would be a breeze.

The guy say next to me got off at York, so I had a window seat for the rest of the journey, and the next two hours were spent watching England’s green and pleasant land roll past.

I arrive in Manchester, and there was two hours before I could check into the hotel. There was only one thing for it… LET’S GO BARGAIN HUNTING! RECORD SHOPPING!

As I mentioned before, I’ve been to Manchester a couple of times, and I know that Piccadilly is a good spot for vinyl. I knew of at least 3 shops…. the Vinyl Exchange, which is probably the biggest of the three. Piccadilly Records, which just sells new stuff, and it’s really up my alley, plus another one, which I can’t remember the name of.

Unfortunately, despite spending some time in all three, I came up empty. All seemed a bit expensive, and to be honest, considering how warm it was, I didn’t really want to carry many heavy records with me anyway. Plus, I had put some time away on the Sunday, to go back and have a better look.

I checked the time, and it was time to check into the hotel. On my way down, a board caught my eye, advertising the “Vinyl Resting Place”, in a rather “hipster” location known as Afflecks. It was on the top floor, and the more I went in to the place, the less I felt like I fitted in. It was one of those places you go to have a tattoo, buy black lipstick, or some type of… oh, I can’t describe it. I just know that in this maze of little shops was a place selling vinyl.

Eventually, I found it., and started rummaging through the boxes. There was some stuff, that on another day, I might have purchased, but even at 3 for £1, I almost didn’t get anything.

In the corner was a box of 12″ singles, and I managed to pick three out of there….

“Played A-Live” by Safri Duo, “Let there Be Light” – dance version by Mike Oldfield, and “Angel’s Symphony” by RAF. The latter of the three I used to have as a CD single, but it went for an absolute fortune on ebay. I’m not going to sell this one though as it’s a good little tune.

those, surprisingly were going to be my only 3 music purchases of the weekend. And, on that note, I checked into the hotel!

After a slight rest, and to allow my phone battery time to charge, I headed off to the meet. The stop for most of the night was “The Moon Under Water” on Deansgate, which from what I heard, claims to be the biggest pub in England. It used to be an old cinema, so yes, it was pretty big. I’m sure I’ve been in bigger though.

Of course, this was Grand National Saturday, and, as tradition would have it, I watched it in a pub, making this the 28th Grand national in a row that I’ve watched.

Beer flowed nicely, and after grub was consumed, we headed to another place. I couldn’t remember the name of the place, but my handy “google Timeline” thing tells me it was “the Ape and Apple”. I liked this place. Not crowded, and we could all talk. The night started winding down at about 11, as everyone was going home. I waddled back to the hotel, and that was me asleep until 9:30 the next morning.

Sunday was obviously the shortest day of the two, but I still found time to walk to the record shops for one last look… aaand, they were all closed. Bugger.

Since I was up this way, I thought I’d take in one last “tourist attraction”, and it’s where you’ve reading this from now.

Some photos from the Manchester Speccy meet

This is Turner St, Manchester. The home of 34SP, fine purveyors of website stuff, and my money flows down this road every month to keep mercuryvapour.co.uk afloat. Well, I actually doubt that the servers are hosted here, but it’s where the staff are.

Unfortunately, I’d entirely misjudged where it was, and it turns out it’s just to the right of this photo, out of shot. But look how close it is to that pub, though.

And, that was my lot. I’d studied the train timetable long and hard (oo-er), and thought I knew the train times. Well, this was incorrect. I’d reached the station and found that there was only a 20-minute wait until Thornaby.

“The person who cannot be named” had offered to pick me up from Thornaby station, which means I didn’t have to travel back to Hartlepool. Overall, a good weekend. And I’ll be back in Manchester in a weeks’ time.

Barnsley. Record buying, broken trees, and broken cars.

It appears that some people actually DO want to read about my purchasing of records. No, I can’t believe it either. Some of you may know that a week or two ago, I was lucky enough to visit the town of Barnsley. It all started because Daddykins wanted to buy some “radio equipment” and asked if I fancied a run down. Of course, the answer to this was yes, on one condition, I’d get to spend some time scurrying around the charity shops like a rat in a sewer, while he does what he needs to do, and then sits in the car, miserable as sin.

Seeing as Daddykins drives like Miss Daisy these days, the journey there hardly gets fast enough to get interesting. On the way down, he was talking to a DJ who used to work on TFM called Gary. Never found out his surname. That really was as exciting as the journey there got. I did enjoy it though, as it’s not very often I listen to Radio 2, but when I do, they usually have good music on. And by that, I mean old shite.

Naturally, before the jorney began, I’d hunted down some charity shops, so I’d have some knowledge of where I’m going. Google Maps did its job, and directed us to the shop he needed to go to, and also how I’d waste some of my time. Hurrah. It’s not often I get to visit a town on my own without someone else whinging over my shoulder at how bored they are, so I was going to make the most of it. I even considered turning my phone off, but Daddykins was going to ring me when he was done, and as I didn’t fancy a train home from a town I’m not familiar with, I kept it on.

I left Daddykins to do what he needed to do, and I added in the general direction of the shop I’d spied. It took me through a shopping centre, of whose name escapes me. Alambra? There’s possibly a H in there somewhere, but seeing as I have no regular readers in Barnsley (as far as I know), that will probably remain a mystery.

My internal Charity Shop GPS kicked in, and I was soon near the shop I’d spied from the road, but first a dive into a previously undiscovered “Age UK”. I’d picked up a few CD singles. The guy who served me almost creamed his pantaloons at the site of “You Do Something To Me” by Paul Weller. Admittedly, a nice find, but it was a bit scratched, and the case had seen better days. Same with the 1996 version of “big River” by Jimmy Nail. I’ve yet to play it, so I have no idea what the difference between this and the 1995 version are.

Onto Sense. This was the one I’d spied from the road, and, sadly, most of its CDs came from the awful feature that some charity shops have, of getting “replay” CDs. It’s usually exactly the same stock you see in Poundland, but for twice the price (£2 then – Ed.) Yes, precisely. If it comes pre-wrapped in cellophane, it doesn’t belong in a charity shop. There, rant over.

I did manage to score the theme to “The Wind In The Willows” on 7″, sung by Ralph McTell, for 75p. I have very hazy recollections of the show as a kid, so this was a nice find.

Those were the charity shops I’d known about, out of the way. the rest of the day would be a complete guess, except for a “Cash Generator” I’d spied on Google Maps, so I’d headed in the general direction of where I thought it was. Eventually, I’d found it. A complete waste of a walk. Quite a few DVDs, about 6 LPs and no CDs. Bugger again.

Slightly dejected, I headed back towards the shopping centre, as I’m sure Daddykins would be contacting me soon. I checked my phone. 3 texts saying he was ready. Whoops.

I rang him back, just as I’d hit a “rich vein” of charity shops, but there were about 5 in a row. The conversation went something like this…

“Yeah, I’m nearly done, I’ll just check this shop out, and oh, hello!”

I’d walked into “Cancer Research”, and my eyes darted over to shelves full of 7″ singles apparently in great condition, aaaaaand, at about £3 a pop, my heart sank. What didn’t make it any better was the fact they were CRAMMED into the shelves, making browsing pretty much impossible. Plus, there was some old guy who seemed to be persistent in holding the best position in front of these records. I abandoned them. I have many thoughts on charity shops that don’t know how to price records.

There were a couple of other shops I checked out. I could have picked up an original 1987 pressing of Kylie Minogue’s first album on CD, but I already have it, so decided to save the 33p. This was the last weekend before pay day, so I really was watching the pennies. Admittedly, it was another shop with a wacky pricing structure.

I phoned Daddykins, saying I was on the way back. He’d happened to be speaking to the guys in the shop where he was at, who said there was an antiques centre just over the road from where he was parked, and that it was a decent pace for records. I was intrigued, but knowing about these type of places, I had a feeling the records would have been overpriced, and pretty much scrap. the weather had dried up by this point, so I’d dropped the small collection of records I’d collected, and bribed a look around the afore-mentioned shop by presenting Daddykins with the last bite of a sausage roll and a bottle of coke. It did the trick, but I promised I’d be straight out if they weren’t up to my pricing grade or quality standard.

They were, and I admit I’d felt a little guilty as I had a proper rummage in the crates. First one out was the 12″ of “For America” by Red Box. A song I don’t expect anyone reading this to know, but yes, I like it.

then came the find of the day. For years, my friends know I collect crap music, and have suggested titles that I’ve somehow eventually tracked down. One had evaded me. A piece of plastic so deplorably cheap that they could only print the cover in black and white. A truly disgusting specimen that would probably survive a nuclear holocaust, along with Formica and cockroaches.

I’ve yet to play it. Instead, I’m saving it for a special edition of “I Bet You Don’t Like This”. I’m aware it’s on Youtube, but actually playing a physical copy of it is much worse.

So, we left Barnsley, in pretty much the same state we found it, minus several records and a piece of radio equipment. Daddykins decided to head towards Doncaster on the way out, as it’s apparently easier to get home, or something. It’s a change of scenery from the way down, so nothing wrong there.

Except for when we happened to pass under a tree, just as the branch became detached. THUD. I do try to keep my expletives under control around Daddykins, but even I couldn’t help but let out a “Fucking hell!” A split second earlier and it had went through the windscreen.

Although it doesn’t look like much, apparently, it’s not a cheap fix, as although the bumper popped right back in place, it’s also knocked the headlight out of place, broke the clips, and oh god, we should have just got the bloody thing delivered….

Sixteen days off and what do you get…?

Another year older, and no longer in debt.

Yes, for the first time ever, I booked myself two weeks’ holiday, and tonight is the last night so I thought it’d be fun to share with you what happened. Fun, being the loosest word I can use in this phrase.

Originally, I took the week off on the anniversary of my birth. Unfortunately, that day also co-incided with a trip to the eye infirmary, so this year, my birthday was literally a complete write-off.

And really, I can only think of one thing to type about, and that’s a rather interesting visit to Stockton. OK, not interesting for most people, but for me, it ended up getting lost in the suburbs of the afore-mentioned Teesside town, and thank god it wasn’t raining.

So, let me take you back a couple of weeks. I left work early November, with the thought of two weeks full of charity shop shoppin’ and more CDs than you can possibly imagine. I have two main places to visit when I go to Stockton. the High Street, and the Daisy Chain charity shop, located on the outskirts of town, within view of the A19.

The morning started great. I literally caught the bus to Hartlepool’s glorious town centre with seconds to spare. If my little legs hadn’t carried me any quicker, I’d have missed it. And that would have been shite.

Right, so, anyway. Long story short, Teesside bus ticket purchased, and I get to Stockton nice and early. There’s plenty of time for me to start raiding the charity shops, and I did indeed pick up a fair haul. “Tyne Bargains”, a 2nd hand shop on the High Street also saw a fair chunk of my money. £3 for pretty much my own body weight in CDs. A couple from other assorted charity shops, and a highly disappointing visit to the newly opened “That’s Entertainment” One thing that the festive season always brings, is a drought on the “49p” CDs. Those are the ones that don’t have cases, and are literally a pot-luck of stuff. Completely randon, and I’ve picked up some absolute classics, though I’m sure I’ve rambled on about those before.

Most of the charity shops were plundered, except one, which lies on the outskirts of the town. It’s more like a charity warehouse to be fair, and all of the CDs are 5 for £1.

Daisy Chain charity shop in Portrack Lane, Stockton.
Countless amounts of CDs. Of course, I’ve visited this shop on a number of occasions, and have plundered it for everything that it’s worth. But, you never know, if you somehow stumble accross this photo and/or shop, you might find something worthwhile.

If I remember, I’ll remove that caption. but look at them. Look at all of those CDs. I didn’t even look at the records.

I successfully plundered the shop, and decided to get the bus back to Middlesbrough. Again, perfect timing saw the No. 13 bus to Middlesbrough turn up. Perfect!

Well, I thought we were going to Middlesbrough. Nope. All of the times I’ve caught the bus back home from Middlesbrough, I’ve learned that the 13 stops in the bus staation, but not in the direction I was travelling. As the stops went by, it dawned on me we weren’t going to Middlesbrough, but deeper into native territory. I rang the bell, and got off, knowing I didn’t have a clue where I was. Google maps wasn’t much help. I waited at te bus stop across the road, and noticed there wasn’t any timetable or stop number on this bus stop. What if the 13 didn’t even stop here? Only one thing to do, and that was backtrack.

I walked down by what I hoped was the right road, to see an old lady stood at the bus stop.

“Are you looking for the 13, love?” she says to me…

“Er, I think so”. I then explain my predicament in many less words than what I’ve used here.

“Ohhh, it’s always bloody late. I’ve got to be at the doctors for half three, and….” I’d zoned out at this point. All I wanted was to head back to the bloody High Street, where I knew were I was.

“eeeh, well, I’m going to walk down and catch the 59… That’ll get me as far as St James’s…” I’d zoned out again. I offered to walk down with the old lady as she was currently my only link between getting home, or dying lonely in a strange town. I’m not sure if she warmed to the idea. After all, an out-of-towner walking with an old lady to the bus stop, what could possibly go wrong?

We’d walked about 100 yards down the road, she’d informed me to look out in case the 13 mysteriously turned up… and guess what, just at that point, it did. The next 20 seconds saw me comically running back up to the bus stop, frantically waving my hand for the driver to stop. I get on, it was only the same bloody bus driver who’d took me there in the first place. He must have thought I was a right bloody weirdo, with my bag full of CDs, running back up to the bus stop.

The bus reaches Stockton High Street, but I know this will take me to the bus station.. Everyone except me gets off. The driver asks me where I’m going. In a questionable tone, I say Middlesbrough Bus Station. He then takes the bus out of service, and takes me there directly, as if I had a 46-seat limousine to myself for the next 20 minutes. A quick walk around Middlesbrough later, in the search of an LED light bulb, and I headed home, into the sunset….

Of course, if this was the highlight of the two weeks, that’d have been pretty dismal, but this was the easiest to blog about. After all….