Now the Longscar Centre’s burned down….

For those of you familiar with the lovely seaside resort of Seaton Carew, you’ll notice that one of its major “eyesores” went up in flames yesterday. And for those of you unfamiliar with it, it was a major eyesore that had blighted the main part of Seaton Carew since its closure in 2009.

You could almost hear the cheering from Clavering.

Unfortunately, I was unable to get to Seaton to take my own photos, but thankfully, Chris sent me these…

I won’t speculate on what happened, why it happened, or any monetary exchange that may occur because of it – that’s for someone else to decide (and, of course, social media), so instead I’d like to go through some of the memories I have of the place.

The news said it closed for good in 2009. That’s probably right, as Coasters, the pub, remained open, but long before then were the arcades. I’d spend many a saved-up 2p and 10p in this place, and if pocket money could afford it, even an odd pound coin.

This place was one of the largest arcades in Seaton.

As you went through the door, past the rickety old racing machines (where the horses would judder along badly maintained rails, and you’d bet on which one made it to the end first – if you got it right, it would spit coins at you),

On the left, there was the “Prize Bingo”. This was great for the mams and aunties. I don’t think I ever went with my mam, but certainly went with my aunty when I was about 13, this would have been the first time I went there, it can’t have been log after it opened.

On the right were the arcades, on the far, right were the miniature bowling alleys. More on them in a bit

So, as I mentioned, the first time I went there was with my aunty. Now, she used to read the blog, finding out what I get up to, but apparently they stopped reading many years ago because I swore too much. I think that was a polite way of saying I’m a disappointing nephew. Ahem, Anyway, I knew that we went there, because I can still remember seeing the mechanical 7-segment display on the wall, showing the jackpot. No LEDs for us, not in those days!

I remember one of the very first times I was let out on my own, to an event. I must have been about 14 or 15,, and a slightly younger lad called Ste was with me. PJ and Duncan (as they were known back then), were headlining a local radio roadshow.. Of course, I cared little for their music, and while hordes of screaming girls belted their lungs out at the sight of the wee Geordie Grinners, myself and Ste got up to other activities, such as playing Ridge Racer in there.

When the whole Ridge Racer craze died a few years later, games started evolving, and Ridge Racer disappeared. They invested in new, large generic arcade cabinets, what you could sit down on, the controls would be separated from the game by about 4 feet, but the monitor would be comfortably large enough to see. One all-time favourite on here was, of course, Track and Field, the 1983 Konami classic. The original game used buttons, these cabinets used joysticks and buttons, making the whole running bit a whole lot easier. Unfortunately, due to the physical nature of the game, the joystick would always be broken, and the buttons unresponsive. Of course, you can’t find that out until you’ve deposited your 10p.

Other machines had more obvious faults. A “Punchout” had one of its monitors just showing a bright line (The flyback transformer was loose. Ironically, sometimes giving the machine a good thwack would bring it back to life.)

The years went on, and as I got older, I frequented it a lot more, usually with Chris. I went there on the day that I got my GCSE results. You know, to take the incredible feeling of disappointment away.

By this time, It was obvious to see that the arcade part of this place was beginning to go down the tubes. The mini-bowling had stopped working, part of the arcade got replaced with a tiny indoor go-karting track, and the few arcade machines that were there, fell more and more into disrepair. On my last ever visit, I noticed that even my beloved “Track + Field” had a board fault, as the colours were all wrong – the track showing as white background with black lines.

Shortly after, the arcade was gone. Rumour has it that the games were sold off really cheaply.

The only place that remained open was the pub “Coaster’s”. I don’t recall ever going in it, but I do have memories of a manager (who shall remain nameless) at an old place I worked at, offering to buy us curry every Friday night. Naturally, it was free food, so we all agreed. He’d disappear for about two hours, get absolutely legless in Coaster’s, drive back (hence the anonymity), and serve us all up with lukewarm curry! While I absolutely do not condone drink driving, it’s safe today what these Friday nights were the catalyst for my love of the spicy stuff – from takeaways anyway.

The manager retired, and Coasters closed. I don’t think there was any coincidence in this., but you never know.

And so, that concludes my brief history of The Longscar centre. Rather like The Wesley, I have a feeling it’s going to be even more of an eyesore than what it was beforehand…

The Speccy turns 30!

Happy birthday to what must be Sir Clives’ greatest invention, the ZX Spectrum. Originally rubber-keyed and with 16K of memory (I’ve written longer blog posts!), the Speccy went on to be one of the largest selling computers during the 1980s, and to a lesser extent, the 1990s.

But, you already knew that, and as Glen suggested on Farcebook, I should write a bog about it. I’ll base it around my own memory, and quite an extensive one at that.

I remember Daddykins coming in from work with a huge box under his arm. It was meant to be for my upcoming 5th birthday, but seeing as I’d already seen it, I was given it early. Imagine my excitement. I was fascinated by Ceefax (RIP) at such an early age, and to be able to have my very own computer at that age was a dream come true. It was probably this, that made my parents get me the computer. I’d received it with a load of “educational” games such as ‘Learn to Read III’, “Alphabet Games”, “Magnets”, “Make a Chip” and a number of other games. I could probably name them all, but I’d be here all day, and I’m going to the pub in a few hours, that’s not going to happen.

The first game that was bought for it, came on the same night we’d received it. It was a simple, turn based strategy game called “Viking Raiders“. Daddykins had picked it up from the local newsagents. Imagine that, buying a game the same time you buy a paper…

I’m amazed at such an early age, how much I taught myself about programming, entirely subconsciously. There’d be many times I’d press the Break key and alter games to make them easier. One of these was the afore-mentioned “Alphabet Games”. If you altered one of the lines which contained the graphics of the mouse character and placed it with a load of nonsensical gibberish, you could score a whole load of points more than what you were supposed to. This game also became the first time I had ever experienced tape-tangle. Cassette tapes were never the sturdiest of media, and obviously I know that now, but the noises it made when it went funny, and the sight of loose tape everywhere scarred me for a good few months. I remember having to get Daddykins to load my tapes because I was scared I’d break it again. I’m happy to report that the game still worked, and I’d like to know if it still works, except I have no idea where my tapes are.

Next up on the “games bought” list was a compilation… “They Sold a Million“, with Sabre Wulf, Beach HEad, Daley Thompson’s Decathlon and Jet Set Willy. Each of them classic games in their own right. Only two of the games worked properly. Beach Head suffered from bad mastering which meant the Speccy rarely picked up the signal on the tape, and Sabre Wulf suffered some tape damage, though this was several years into owning it. One of my last Speccy memories involve actually fixing the tape and getting it to play only once.

Of course, it wasn’t long after owning the machine that Daddykins started getting interested in it too. He would often spend a night or so using it to type in program listings from magazines. He also knew friends with Spectrums, and lots of games, therefore our collection of C15s was started.

The permanent home was in the kitchen. It started off on a little white B+W TV, (you know the type if you were a child of the 80s), eventually, the TV was upgraded to a portable colour Saisho variant. This was where I spent many happy days during my childhood…

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Of course, my time with the spectrum was not all fun and games. At some point, during 1987 / 1988, I’d discovered the brilliant colour effects you could get if you pulled the joystick port out of the back while the system was on. I wanted to show this to one of my friends at the time, William. He came over, and I said “Watch this!”.. On went the system, out went the joystick port, flash went the funky colours. He seemed stunningly unimpressed, yet I enjoyed the light show. I’d do what I did many times, and unplug the Speccy to reset it. I did this, and…. garbage. Instead of getting the familiar RAM test (black bars, red lines), all I got was yellow garbage on the screen… another power cycle, another set of garbage. I could have cried. In fact I probably did. I was good at crying back then, as Chad often points out on here.

What was I going to do without my beloved computer? Thankfully, Chad’s parents step in and offer my parents their old Commodore 16 while my Speccy was away for repair. Around the same time, Chad also received a Spectrum 128K. It was the superior version of the 48K I had, but with an extra toast rack on the side. I’ve always wanted to own one of those particular machines, but as they were as rare as rocking horse shite (his was the only one I ever saw “in the flesh” for want of a better phrase) I suppose I never will. This meant that the rest of my childhood were spent playing Soccer Boss with his brother, Scott, and receiving dodgy C90s filled with the latest games which I’d never be able to afford, and being mocked by Chad because the cassette tapes I used stunk of cheese. No, they really did.

So, it’s 2012, 30 years ago today, people would have been queuing up to get their hands on Mr. Sinclair’s rubbery offerings. 30 years on, I’m proud to still be a Speccy owner, and although I don’t use my Spectrum anymore, I still have it, and will never part with it. Unfortunately, too many Spectrums will have met the same fate as this one…

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Here’s to you, Clive Sinclair, and of course Daddykins, who also shares his birthday with the machine. Happy birthday Dad!