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 Manchetser, 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 while 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 fittedf 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.

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!