Ghosts of Christmas Presents – 1993

There’s not a lot I can say about this that I haven’t already said. This was the year my life changed for the better. I got my Amiga 1200! I think I’ve rambled on about this now so much that all I can do is repeat myself, but… I think it’s worth going through again in case I missed something out. Plus, I’m sure my old readers have got bored of these and buggered off by now. This will be the last one, so months of silence will once again prevail, I’m sure.

So, 1993 was the year I’d made friends with a lad called Ste. He had an Amiga 600. At this point, I was either still beavering my way through the stack of C64 disks I had, or fumbling by way through my ageing ZX Spectrum tape collection. I was still stuck in the 8-bit era.

Ste had introduced me to the Amiga, and the greatness that lay within. There was, of course… ahem… “Dulux Paint 2” and its picture of Tutankhamun. It was more the games I was interested in, however. I was blown away with ‘Indianapolis 500’, and the fact the cars actually smashed when you hit them. Little polygon bits would fly about the screen. Also, the floppy disk load times were immeasureably quicker than the Commodore 64 that had a well-documented bug that slowed the loading times from disk.

Ste had the A600. Imagine my surprise and delight when Iripped open the wrapping paper on December 25th 1993 and found the model up, the A1200 staring back at me! This was everything I’d dreamed of, and more. More colours, mome memory. More keyboard! It looked, and felt like a proper computer.

The included games were…. naff. Two of them, namely ‘Oscar‘, and ‘Dennis‘. Those links open longplays of both games if you’re *really* bored.

If you can’t be arsed clicking, Oscar was a character with a weird shaped head, where you had to go around collecting film cannisters in a platformy universe. It was okay, I suppose. My favourite of the two. Dennis, however, was just a waste of two disks. It was based on the American version of “Dennis the Menace”. Some blond haired kid always getting up to mischief, trampling his neighbours flowers and inane stuff like that. It was not entertaining, and I’m pretty sure I formatted the disks shortly after, and used them for something else.

For me though, it wasn’t about the games, it was more about the utilities. The machine game with Dulux Paint 3 (yes, I know it’s Deluxe Paint, but that misnomer still makes me laugh to this day) which was a a step up from the previous version. My ‘expanded’ Amiga meant I had 256 colours to choose from. In fact, I’m pretty sure this was the first thing I loaded up on the machine. There was also Wordworth. A word procrssor. Not exactly exciting back in the day, but coupled with a printer I got much later, this became an essential application.

At the first opportunity, Daddykins and I went and got the ‘essentials’. My Christmas money went on 40 blanks disks from Argos, a copy of Amiga Format, issue 55, an Amiga guidebook, and a copy of “Now That’s What I Call Music! 1986” on cassette. I’d hazard a guess that this particular issue of Amiga Format was their biggest ever seller. For those of you who follow the blog on a regular basis, I buy batches of disks off ebay occasionally, and there’s always a copy of that coverdisk amongst them, namely Diskmaster II. A pretty basic file manager, used for copying files and stuff like that. Not the most exciting piece of software. The guidebook was also pretty useless. I don’t think it told me anything that I didn’t already know within 15 minutes of operating the machine on my own.

Another friend, also called Ste Ilet’s call him Ste 2), introduced me to the world of games a few days later. I remember being around his house when he slipped in some disks named “Cannon Fodder”. The disk drive clicked enthusiastically. He turned the speakers up… “WAR! Never been so much fun!”. If my mind was blown away by Flimbo’s Quest a couple of years prior, I think I’d just gone even more bong-eyed than I already was. Essentially, a full song played digitally from a floppy disk.

Ste 2 has, of course, moved on, but he lived on the main road through Hartlepool at the time. I still pass his old house on a daily basis, and think of that very moment.

Personally, I’d go so far as to say this was the best Xmas gift I ever received. It was unexpected, it got years worth of use. It certainly guided to where I am with computers today. As the years went on, I got a hard drive for it, and as you know, I’ve created an image of that hard drive which still exists to this day.

Sadly, the Amiga itself is not a well puppy.It’s got some type of graphics fault. I took these photos back in 2007, the last time I switched it on.

This is supposed to be the boot-intro to Spindizzy Worlds. My Amiga, during storage, has developed a fault in the video side of things, so all you see is this mix of colours, with an unstable screen
Everything else works, as the sound continues to play.
I’m yet to find out whether it’s a terminal fault which can’t be replaced. I hope not

And that’s that. If you’re reading this on the day it was published, many thanks for taking the time away from your family to sift through my inane ramblings. I wish you and yours all the best for the rest of the festive season, and of course, 2024, where I’m sure I’ll bore you senseless with more inane crap!

Ghosts of Christmas Presents – 1992

Hopefully, all of you reading this will understand why this was a difficult Christmas. It should come as no surprise that there’s absolutely no photographic record of this years’ festivities. Thankfully, my dad and nanna did their best to bring the festive season into Mercuryvapour Towers. The main present this year was one that I’ve always cherished, and still own to this day. It was my first ever CD player. It was the matching model to my Alba hi-fi which I got the year previously. It was what those phono jacks existed for. It unlocked a whole new world of music to me, where I’d previously been living off scratched records, and worn out tapes, I was finally entering the digital era.

Now, at the time of typing, I don’t have the exact model of CD player to hand, but a quick Google search would lead me to believe this is the CD1010. I can’t confirm that, as ut’s currently 03:45 in the morning and I don’t want to wake the whole house up just to confirm this, but it really was barebones. There was no time display. The only indication was the amount of tracks on a disc. You couldn’t fast forward or rewind in a track, you could only skiop the entire thing. It apparently had some type of memory control, so you could program tracks, but that was about the limit of its capabilities. It played CDs great, however. Even the barebones systems were ruggedly built back then. Of course, I received some CDs to go with it. Mainly singles And, of of course, I can tell you what they were…

“The Boney M Megamix”. For some reason, Boney M had became relevant again. Not sure why, but they released a medley of somgs, starting off with “Rivers of Babylon” and ending with “Rasputin” I believe. I don’t think it grazed the top 10.

Second was “Drift Away” by… Michael Bolton. Yep, his reworking of the Dobie Gray classic. I actually quite liked it at the time. Also featured a terrible rendition of ‘White Chirtmas’, and two tracks from his earlier albums which I quite liked.

Third and most definitely least, was ‘Supersonic‘ by ‘Hedgehogs with Attitude’, stylised as H.W.A. Back in 1992, there was a number of records released based on computer games or computer game charaters. There was Tetris, SuperMarioLand, and this sparkling turd.

I’ve literally just discovered there was a follow-up to “SuperMarioLand” called “Go Mario Go”, and it’s on Discogs for over £100. I shall have to keep my beady eye out for that one. There was also a Lemmings one. I’ve heard it. It’s not superb.

Anyhoooo, back to the CD player. I still have it, and it still works, at the time of last power-on. It served me well. Both the hi-fi and the CD player were in onstant use until 1996, then I got another hi-fi with a CD player built in. there shall be no blog about this, however.

Oh yes, I also received a goal net this year. I made very good use of this, as it fitted at the top of the garden just nicely. That is, until I put a football through the kitchen window. I think I took it down after that and never used it again. Rusted remains of the frame can still be found on the flat-roofed washhouse.

Ghosts of Christmas Presents -1991

This was a special year for me. I was the lucky recipient of not one, but two major presents this year. It’s also bittersweet, as we didn’t know it at the time, but it was also the last Christmas where we would all be a family. Anyway, the two big prezzies this year were my first proper hi-fi, and a Commodore 64.

1991 was the year that I first started collecting music properly. My dad used to install and fix TVs for a well-known rental company. Every so often, he would get some old electronics that a previous owner was going to get rid of. In the summer of 1991, he brought home an old cast-ff music centre from the 70s. I had clearly shown my interest in music at the time, so this was given to me, and it stayed in my room. Just like the tape player a couple of years before, I got some old hand-me-down records from my dad, and I’d play them all the time.

In August 1991, I bought my first ever record to play on it, ‘Secret Garden’ by T’Pau.

It was clear though that this needed an upgrade. It sounded horrible, and it probably took a small power station to run it. So, with the music bug now firmly implanted in my brain, and a small stack of records to call my own, I asked Santa for a new Hi-fi.

Thankfully, he provided, once again somehow managing to squeeze this massive box down our then newly-built chimney. And here’s me, Xmas day 1991 with the hi-fi in the big box behind me.

And here it is, in all its glory.

I’ve talked about the hi-fi on here before, so I won’t go too in-depth. It had the ‘Alba’ badge on it, and anyone who recognises this name will know that it was built on a budget, shall we say. Still ,it worked, and I absolutely loved it. My first big hifi, and one with a record player that didn’t sound like someone eating a bag of crisps through a mattress. It consisted of a record player, digital radio (which wasn’t exactly digital – you still changed frequency by an analogue wheel, but the output appeared on a red 7-segment display), a graphic equaliser (fancy!) and two tape decks (count ’em”) No CD player, but there was space for one, with phono inputs on the back.

As I said, I didn’t really have a big record collection at the time. My pocket money never really stretched far enough for albums, so they were mainly just singles. As was tradition at the time, we went over to see my late aunty Linda, who kindly offered to loan me some of her old singles. It was the first time I’d heard of some of these songs, namely “Moonlight Shadow” by Mike Oldfield, “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” by Bonnie Tyler, and who could forget “Shaddap You Face” by Joe Dolce. All new songs to me on that very day! This started my rrecod collecting off en earnest. I’m pretty sure I got some records off a relative at a later date, the majority of those I still have.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention. I gone one tape with the hi-fi. I believe this was from my cousin Julie. A copy of “Now That’s What I Call Music! 20”. I loved this album, and it still remails my gavourite Now album. To be honest, I think everyone’s first Niw album is their favourite, but this one has such an ecletic mix of songs, it’s hard to put it into words. I still have the tapes, and in fact, I managed to pick it up on CD earlier this year.

And onto the Commodore 64. It was a machine that had been out for 9 years this point. Every few years, they’d ‘revamp’ it, and try to make it relevant again. O believe this one was one of the last versions released before it was discontinued.

It came with 4 games on one ROM cartridge. Flimbo’s Quest, Klax, Fiendish Freddy’s Big Top O’Fun and… International Soccer, I believe.

I instantly took a shine to Klax. A puzzler, a bit like Tetris, where blocks come at you from a conveyor belt. You have to drop them into a hopper below, then rearrange them to make matches of 3, 4 or 5, causing them to disappear. You can only hold 5 on your paddle at one time, so it’s a clever balancing act of getting blocks you want to make a line, holding on for ones until later, and making sure no blocks fall over the edge. Drop three over the edge, and the game’s over. This was colourful, and fun to play. I still fire the arcade version up in MAME every so often.

Flimbo’s Quest was a revelation to me. It was the first time I’d heard the SID chip in action. After growing up with a ZX Spectrum with nothing more than a tinny beeper, it was a world apart. The title screen music still remains one of my favourite bits of computer music to this day.

Fiendish Freddy’s big top o’ Fun wasn’t exactly fun. It was more of an act of frustration than an actual game. Compete in events such as diving into a pool of water, but the pool gets smaller each time. You have to guide the diver left and right and fire just as you’re getting close to the water. That was just one of about 6 or 7 events. Think ‘Daley Thompson’s Decathlon’ but set in a circus. It wasn’t great.

The least memorable was “International Soccer”. A very basic football game, with chunky graphics and barely any gameplay to think or. It certainy didn’t push the machine to its limits, however small they may have been. It was as if there was only a small abount of ROM left, so they just threw in any old crap from the archives. 2 great games, one mediocre, and one space-filler. Apparently, it also came with “Tau Ceti” on tape for some reason, a game that I never quite got my head around.

Despite the limitations of the C64 at this time, I did enjoy it. I ended up getting quite a few games, mainly off covertapes and budget releases.

At some point, either later that year, or early the next, we got another C64, mainly because it had the 1541 disk drive advertised with it, and an absolute shed-ton of floppy disks. I don’t think I got to the end of exploring the disks when that C64 died. It would just show an unsynched black screen. Apparently this was a common failure in the old C64s and usually just needed an IC replacing, but still, I had the new one. The old one did eventually get repaired again, but it wasn’t lokg before it blew another IC, and this time it was curtains. The local computer shop had stopped repairing them, and the internet didn’t exist back then (not to me, anyway), so getting it fixed was also impossible.

The newer C64 soldiered on for a while longer before it developed a keyboard fault, with two columns of keys not working. I did open it up and try and fix it, just in case it was the ribbon cable or something, but alas not. I have no idea what happened to that C64. I don’t think I kept it. I wish I had though, it’d probably be fun to get the old hardware out and give it a blast again.

Ghosts of Christmas Presents -1988

Gosh darn it, I’ve done these out of order. If music be the food of love, then tape it off the radio. Or something.

1988 would see my first foray into owning equipment that I could listen to music with properly. I had a basic tape recorder that went with my ZX Spectrum, however the available tapes were very limited. My dad had some old Pickwick compilations from the 70s, and there was maybe a Neil Sedaka one buried in there somewhere. I think I had two tapes of my own. A very badly copied version of “Bridge of Spies” by T’Pau, and one side of Hits 4, both “donated” to me by my long suffering troll friend, Chad. I would listen to them through the same tinny cassette player that I played my ZX Spectrum games through.

Xmas 1988 rolled around. I wasn’t actually sure what I wanted this year. I think I decided on a ghetto blaster type thing because I saw them on telly, and I was just starting to get into music, I was starting to notice songs on the radio more. Once again, Santa came down our chimney, emptied his sack, and still never managed to break the gas fire. He’s an amazing bloke. anyway, here’s what he left me. Again, not my one, as I can’t find a photo of it (though I’m sure they exist) I had to ‘borrow’ this one from a well known auction site.

I absolutely loved it. It opened a whole new world for me. I did get some tapes with it. namely Kylie’s first album, and a Status Quo compilation released by Castle Communications, sadly none of the big hits from the 80s were on this.

Something that was also new to me… the availability of blank tapes. I received a pack of 4 c-90 tapes, and these were soon full of music from the radio. Now, I don’t condone piracy and the people who actually profit from it, but having the ability to record stuff off the radio for the first time opened up a new world for me. The songs I’d heard on the radio, I was able to capture, and play back whenever I wanted, and it certainly lead me into the interest in music I have today. I’ve always disagreed with the old “home taping is killing music” slogan. Over the years, I’ve picked up essentially everything I taped off the radio on CD, LP or some other legitimate format.

I still have a lot of the tapes I recorded as a kid, and they’re somewhat dear to me in a weird way. Of course, I have to cut out the bits where I’m singing, or shouting 9-year old gibberish into the microphone, but I could probably tell you what was on a particular tape just by its look and, more worryingly, its smell.

Yes, smell.

As I mentioned, it wasn’t long before the blank tapes I’d received were full, and I needed to find some more to go with them. Now the local newspaper shop sold blank tapes, and I’d often save up a couple of weeks worth of pocket money and get one. They were manufactured by a company called “Yashima”, and were chrome tapes. Normally quite expensive.

I’m sure I’ve talked about these before, as I remember trying to find a photo of one, but being unsuccessful. This is the closest approximation I can find. I mentioned smell, because for some reason, these particular cassettes stunk of cheese. Now, I’m not quite sure exactly what caused it. Maybe it was the magnetic media, maybe it was the binding glue, maybe it was the labels, but these tapes absolutely stunk.

I would often take this stereo over to Chad’s, and we’d spend hours playing music on this, and playing Soccer Boss. Chad would occasionally allow me to copy some of his music using this, as long as I didn’t use those ‘cheesy tapes’.

Sadly, these Yashima tapes were extremely fragile. It was the only brand of tape I’ve ever had that had physically snapped just through the action of rewinding / fast forwarding. I think I have one example left, and that includes some very special recordings, including the very first time I managed to get “The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby on tape… all 8 seconds of it.

I loved this thing. It always went with me whenever we went on holiday to Sandy Bay. I’m sure it’ll be in the background of some of the photos that were taken, but unfortunatelt I can’t find any at the time this was written.

I used this for many years. I think it just stopped working one day, which was a shame. I got another cheaper one in the mid 90’s, but that one fell to bits pretty quickly, but its legacy lives on, through the many hours of music I played (and recorded) through it.

Ghosts of Christmas Presents – 1987

When I think about all of thr Christmases that have come and gone, I think this was the present that my parents regretted buying the most. It’s the Tomy “Atomic Arcade” pinball machine. Imagine owning a pinball machine of your veryown, complete with the noise.

Now, unfortunately, I don’t actually have any of my own photos of this in action, but I’m sure you can find someone playing in it just by typing “Tomy Pinball” into Youtube. Instead, you’ll have to do with this image I’ve pilfered off a website somewhere.

If music was my number one passion, pinball must rank in the top ten. Of course, owning a proper pinall machine is an ungodly expense, so owning one of these was the second best thing. Not for my poor, exasperated parents however. It was extremely loud, and as far as I can recall, there were no volume controls. I distinctly remember my mother saying that she didn’t think it would be as loud as that. Most of the noise actually came from the mechanics. If my memory serves me correctly, there was always something moving / rotating inside it that controlled the bumpers, and I think the game ‘audio’ consisted of some type of constant siren. It was ptobably designed in such a way to disguise this mechanical noise. Both of these combined, however, meant that it ate through rather large batteries at an alarming rate.

There was no particularly constant scoring system. You hit an orange thing thing, the score’s digit would rotate. I imagine the innards of this to be extremely simplistic, but when you’re about 7 or 8, that’s not what matters. You’d still go for that high score, even though it was extremely easy to cheat. You didn’t even have to reset your score after you’ve finished. this was all manually controlled. You pressed that big orange button on the top, and you controlled the ball in play by rorating the small wheel at the bottom. You could also simply just pick it up and manoeuvre the ball manually.

Sadly, mine is ‘long gone’ now, which is a shame. Kept in good condition, these appear to be quite the collectible item. The last time I saw it was in the garden shed, presumably put in there out of my way, so I couldn’t drown out the house with its constant whirring, clacking and sirens blaring. I think I stuck a set of batteries up its grundle, and it didn’t work. For all I know, it might still be in there, but as that’s now a complete maze of brambles and broken fence, I’ll probably never see it again.

My love of pinball continues to this day, albeit virtually. Steam has a few pinball simulators with table designs and ROM sets taken from actual arcade machines…

Sadly, as far as I’m aware, nobody has got round to emulating this very basic machine, yet one that provided me with hours of fun, and probably cost my parents even more in batteries.

Ghosts of Christmas Presents – 1985

2023 has been a year, hasn’t it? I’m going to be posting some of these reminiscing blog things up until Christmas, maybe after, depending on how good/bad my memory is.

Christmas meant a lot to me back then. A lot more than it does now. Maybe for the social element where I met parts of my family I would never normally see. Maybe because I got stuff? Maybe because I finally managed to meet the actual genuine Santa Claus himself…

People often wonder why my eyes are so bad. It’s probably because I grew up having to look at that wallpaper.

Let’s go back to 1985, and one of the first Christmases I have memory of. I was, and still am, a big fan of snooker. I watch it whenever it’s on the box, and even back then, I remembered some of the names, and I must have been capitaved by that year’s World Championship where Dennis Taylor narrowly beat Steve Davis on the black ball. Possibly

It would come as no surprise that I’d eventually want a snooker table of my own. Imagine my delight when Santa somehow managed to squeeze an entire table down the chimney without managing to disturb the gas fire. He even took the time to spot the balls and rack the reds up! Christmases were so magical back then.

I was good at snooker as a kid. With eyes like that, I could line up a shot on the yellow and the green at the same time.

This was the first major present I remember. There was the Fisher Price record player the year before, but getting a blog out of that would have been a struggle, seeing as I was 5.

There are many photos of me playing on this snooker table. I loved it. There’s even more than one embarrassing photo where I’m actually wearing a waistcoat thing, just like a snooker player. I don’t think this has even been scanned in, thankfully. Now, for those of you paying attention to the above photo, the cushions were simple strips of black foam.

One day, I broke it. I wanted it to be like the snooker tables on the telly. In my infinite wisdom, I peeled the cushions off off, to reveal the lovely green, fully solid, plastic cushions. Instead of the ball bouncing cleanly, it just made a “thunk” sound and stopped there. A makeshift solution was found by Daddykins – he rushed out and bought some foam draught excluder from the nearby hardware shop. Sadly, the adhesive would weaken over time, cause it to droop, or come off entirely.

Due to its size, I was only allowed it in the centre of the front room during “snooker season”, whatever that was, meaning it lived behind the sofa, making it impossible to play.

Over the years, the cloth had started to degrade, the plasic balls went missing or got chipped, and although I do remember it getting set up in the kitchen for a short amount of time. as I remember programming a pretty crude scoring system for it on my ZX Spectrum. Ahhh, happy days!