Hartlepool. It’s a town on the… grrooOOooww.

Ah, it’s not the first time I’ve ripped off a Simpsons quote for a blog title, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. I’m feeling a bit of a commoner today. I’ve been out and bought tickets to one of those footballing match things. You know, where grown men go around and kick a bag of air around for 90 minutes, whilst slack-jawed on-lookers shout things like “poppycock” at the referee, and question the poor man’s eyesight. Suddenly we’re all opticians, are we?

Of course, I jest, but it does seem a bit odd for me to actually plan in advance to go to a football match. It’s something that’s only happened three times before (we won 1-0 against Brentford in the 1991-92 season), lost against Oxford in… some other season, and lost 5-1 to Newcastle United in a friendly. So, I’ve got a 2-1 loss record on seeing Hartlepool play. It’s not looking good.

You see, the reason I bought the tickets, is that it’s a pivotal time for the club, and the town as a whole (not discounting the tickets were only a fiver). The match is Hartlepool V Doncaster, and it’s pivotal for both clubs, and the mathematics goes something like this…

If Hartlepool win, and Newport lose, Hartlepool stay in the league. If Doncaster win and Plymouth lose, they become League Two champions. In three days time, Hartlepool might be out of the English football league for the first time in their entire history. There’s been some squeaky bum moments in recent years, but I think this is the greatest yet.

Now, don’t quote me on this (bit hard, seeing as this is a blog), but I have a sneaking suspicion it could finish the once proud club off if the worst were to happen. Imagine if they go down to the conference, the club would be worth less, yet the area of land that the ground stands on is prime real estate, and with only a large car park behind it, a leisure centre well past its use-by date, and a great little pub, I can see the land being sold off to developers, and the whole area being yet another great big retail park. Which is something the town is crying out for, he says sarcastically.

So, Saturday evening could see a load of grown men cry. In fact I cried today, after they charged me £1.50 surcharge for using my credit card to buy the tickets. Robbing gits.

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.

Amiganuts! POWER!

Today, I saved the life of my Amiga 1200. And I’m slightly relieved.

I’ve typed on here several times about my love of the Amiga 1200, the computer I received on Xmas Day 1993. But what do I mean about saving its life? I removed the battery. Yep, that’s it. I took the battery out. “Hang on”, says both of the Amiga aficionados reading this, “The Amiga didn’t have a battery”. Well, mine did, because I bought a memory expansion which also shipped with a real-time clock, and obviously, a battery backup for it.

Back in 2007, I dragged my Amiga out for a quick play, to see if a problem with the video circuitry had fixed itself in the 10 years it had been in storage. Unsurprisingly, it hadn’t and my screen was still just a jumbled mess. OH WELL. Back in the cupboard it went.

Years went by, and that cupboard fell pretty much out of action. Certain room reorganisations, and knowing there wasn’t much stuff in that particular cupboard meant it wasn’t really accessible anymore. But my Amiga was safe in storage.

Fast forward to 2013. Dave Jones, aka EEVBlog, posted a video about an old Archimedes computer he’d been sent. The video was going great, until he’d opened it up and found that the RTC battery had leaked, completely eating away at most of the circuitry, including the ROM sockets and keyboard connections, turning the machine into a beautiful, yet pricey paperweight. My heart sank. I knew my Amiga had what looked like the same battery, and although that machine was older, it wasn’t MUCH older, and the clock battery in my Amiga hadn’t been changed since I installed the expansion board in 1995, pushing it up to 22 years. That thing must have been a goner.

I spoke to Daddykins about something random, and I mentioned about my Amiga and leaking batteries. I was surprised to find the cupboard now slightly more accessible. Enough to squeeze an arm in, and pull out an Amiga, anyway. Maybe he’d realised I was right, and the little Miggy was worth saving!

I precariously opened the underside door on the machine to see what grotty state the board was in…. Aaand.

Not a speck of corrosion. And yes, I’d taken the battery out before I’d taken this, but it was still in there, and came out perfectly shiny.

So, my Amiga might live to fight another day. If I can get that graphics issue fixed.

I have much more to say about this fantastic machine, so stay tuned for some more inane rambling shortly… Bet you can’t wait.

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….

Another adventure with “That’s Entertainment”. And crisps

Long suffering viewers will know I collect CDs, to the point of hoarding, so I’m always on the lookout for a bargain or seven.

I attended work (for only three times this week, thank you peepers), and a colleague, who is also into music informed me that the “That’s Entertainment” store at Dalton Park was closing down. This was good news to me. It meant that they’ll be having a “clearance event”, and getting shot of a load of old stock that they can’t be bothered to ship off to other stores, or back to the magical warehouse, full of whimsy and music.

Saturday came around all too quickly, and off I jolly well popped. Usual route to Peterlee, and then I’d get the 22 bus from there to Dalton Park. No dramas. Excfept I found that a rival company had started running a service that goes pretty much directly to Dalton Park, and it stops at the bottom of Mercuryvapour Towers’ leafy driveway, give or take a few hundred metres. So, I could have saved myself the hassle of waiting half an hour for a bus. Anyway, I rattle on enough about buses on Facebook, I’m sure you don’t care on this.

Aaaaanyway. Two bus journeys, and I find myself outside of Dalton Park. It’s a weird shaped shopping complex, rather like half a horseshoe, with strange plastic sheeting covering the aisles. You know, the stuff that’s permanent, but goes mouldy really quickly, so looks rotten after a couple of years. I didn’t come here for any other shop other than “That’s Entertainment”, and I skipped on merrily by, as I ignored the rest of the shops..

In the window, there was a sign that said “75% off all replay stock”. Those are the second hand CDs which I was looking for! This could be interesting. A quick glance around the shop showed that most of the things worth anything (for me, CDs) had already disappeared – either been sold, or sent back to the warehouse. Not sure, but my heart sank a little when I noticed *the* little blue table. This was where the 49p CDs were housed. It was completely empty. Not a disc in sight. Couldn’t help but think my journey was completely wasted. That was, until I took 5 steps forwards, and noticed an almost entire wall, crammed full of 49p CDs.

And, not only were there thousands of them, but it turns out they were actually giving them away at 12p each, and multi-disc sets actually counted as one disc. Sometimes, they’re a bit picky about that, but the deal of the collection was 5 Simon + Garfunkel CDs and a DVD for that very price. 2p a disc. Thank you to the totally random guy who tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I’d be interested in it. Yes, sir. Yes, I would.

At some point, I’d ventured the shop looking for a shopping basket, as the pile of loose discs I’d picked out was looking pretty precarious. This also meant selecting discs was a lot easier. they’d just get thrown in, and I could sort them out later.

After about 2 hours, I gave in. I was in pain from repetitiveness, standing with my head slumped, looking down as my halds flipped quickly through the CDs was starting to give me neck ache. I don’t think I touched half of the stock. Nothing more that could have been done. I did end up with a couple of duffers, namely 2 pirated Now 74 discs, and a Now 31 disk, professionally pirated. Both of which I had anyway, but if I had checked the discs before I took them to the counter, they’d be in a skip right now.

The day wasn’t over. [Person who doesn’t like to be named in public] picked me up, and we went through to Newcastle. A walk-around the usual shops, including a check in PC World to see if the hard drive prices had gotten any lower (they hadn’t), and a quick perv in All Saints because some of the ladies in there have really nice bottoms. (Careful, Jamie, some of the girls might be offended by that – Ed). Oh, OK, They ALL have lovely bottoms.

The day was nearing an end, and I had one last stop to make. A chain store named “Bargain Buys” sell these really nice crisps.

Daddykins also likes these particular crisps, and a multipack of 6 different types are £1, so I thought I’d stock up, and get 4 packs. I get to the till, and the guy offers me a 50-pack box of Golden Wonder “snacks” (Cheesy balls, Onion Rings, and Salt ‘n’ Vinegar Sticks) for £1 because the expiry date was the day after. Personally, I think they had a little competition between the staff members, as when I agreed to purchase, he seemed overly enthusiastic. Still, crisps don’t go poisonous overnight, and almost a week later, they’re still perfectly edible.

This was where I originally was going to conclude the blog, as the bargain hunting was over for the day. I never fully finished writing it, as I got sidetracked by Pinball, or something. 2 sleeps later, Monday arrived. It was an uneventful day at work at Employment Palace. I finished, headed for the bus, and missed it by about a minute. Oh well. Thankfully, this job, unkile my last one, means that if I miss a bus, I can just cut through the shopping centre, and get all number of buses (Three, actually) close to Mercuryvapour Towers.

So, I begin to cut through the shopping centre. One of my new haunts is a shop called “ReNew”, which is a bit like “That’s Entertainment”, albeit with less organisation. CDs are placed on the shelf by letter, but it’s a gamble whether the letter is the artist, or the album title. The are also large wooden bins where CDs are just thrown in without order. Everything is £2 per disc, or 3 for £5.

Anyhooooo, this particular Monday, I walked past, and there were balloons outside, and staff holding charity donation buckets. Normally, I’d go in the opposite direction at the site of such a contraption, but I was curious. It turns out they were laving a literal stock clearance, and giving everybody who went in there 10 CDs / DVDs (in total), as long as you put a donation in the bucket.

I donated every penny I had on me at the time, and I hope my 65p helps!