Late Spring snow and early Fall sleet

Well, wasn’t this morning fun? As you’re no doubt aware by the title (which I’m sure I can improve on, but probably won’t), today saw the first heavy snow shower in April for as long as I can remember. Now, snow in this month isn’t that uncommon, but usually it’s just a very brief blast that might last a few minutes, and melt shortly after. Apparently, it was cold elough for it to not even snow, but lay too.

Let’s turn the clock back a few hours. It was 5AM. I’d just finished my weekend late stint at the computer, and was getting prepared for bed. I’d gone for a pee, and noticed the sky was a very weird colour. Sort-of a light grey colour. Although the nights are indeed getting shorter, it was just too early for the sun to be rising. I did a double take, and noticed that the roofs were covered in snow… Yep, it had been snowing, and there was plenty of it too. The cars and the road were covered. Lovely!

Now I’d intended to go to sleep at that point, but I decided not to. I really wanted to see more of this, and get some photos at least. It’s the first time we’d had proper snow for quite a white. We’d had snow earlier on in the year, but…. it wasn’t quite right. It was more hail than snow, and wasn’t that photogenic, if you know what I mean. This was proper snow, the fluffy type, the stuff that piles up on the top of things, sticks to tree branches, and gives everything that wintry, frosty look.

It was definitely the first time I’d seen it since I got the “new” phone with the decent camera, so I decided to break my duck, and actually head out of the gravel driveway for only the second time this year, and the first time for purely a leisure walk. The only other time was Wednesday, as I met up with “somebody”, as he’d ordered some beers and got them delivered to Mercuryvapour Towers.

I’m lucky enough to have a small park area not too far from where I reside, so this was the perfect opportunity to blast out of the camera, At just before 8AM, I donned my coat, and headed off for the first proper “leisure walk” of 2021. I was well aware that the paths were going to be extremely slippery. It appears that the temperatures had dropped again since the snow had fallen, as there was a slight crust of ice forming over the snow. I took no chances, and walked in the middle of the road. The small amount of vehicles that had went through the commoners’ suburban streets had thankfully melted a walkable path. It wasn’t just me who had this idea, as there was another set of footprints oddly going through the middle of the tracks and not actually on them. Surely you might as well have just walked on the path? Oh well. Makes it look like Fred Flintstone’s headed out to get the paper…

It was early, there weren’t going to be many cars about, and if there was, I’d hear them a mile off, crunching through the ice. I was also painfully aware that I hadn’t put my phone on charge for any period of time, therefore it was cooking at about 15%. Considering it was about to take the amout of pictures that it did. For the record, it conked out literally as I got to the front door.

I had a very brief walk through the afore-mentioned park area. As I was taking photos, I had a brief chat to a lady who I hadn’t seen for a good long while – I’m sure I’ve mentioned her in my (unpublished) ramblings, but she’s from the Birmingham area, and used to always get the bus at the same stop as me. The last time she’d seen snow like this, was just after her son was born, and it was just outside Coventry.

There wasn’t that much more to photograph to be fair. The sun was starting to break through the clouds at this point, making way for a typically sunny, if a little chilly, spring day, and just a few hours later, any trace of the snow ever existing was to be confined to memories, and of course, these photos.

On a side note, whenever it snows, I always pile up a little bit to see how long it lasts. I’m not talented or patient enough to make a snowman, but somehow, I managed to accidentally sculpt a silverback gorilla facing away from the camera…

Let’s hope it starts warming up soon, eh?

EDIT: As I’m sure some of you will be wondering (lol, righto), and my usage of the word “fall”, the title of the post comes from the Don Henley song “A Month Of Sundays”. It was the B side to his big hit “The Boys Of Summer”, and also featured on the CD pressing of the album “A Month Of Sundays”, but not the LP pressing. Whenever there’s snow in April, or November, the whole section of that song plays through my head… “Late pring snow and early fall sleet, I held the leather reins in my hand, felt the soft ground under my feet”. It was on the fery first CD album I ever bought and was going to be part of my “10 albums in 10 days” blog, but I never finished it.

Hartlepool Record fair – just a few days to go!

What’s black, 12 inches long, and guaranteed to bring a smile to my face? Yes, that’s right. A record.

And on the end of that terrible, and actually non-factual joke (I collect singles mainly), I’m happy to announce that for the first time this millennium, the lovely little fishing village of Hartlepool is getting its own record fair! (Would help if I mentioned the date. It’s this Sunday, March 31st. Oops)

It only seems a mere 20 years ago, since I was rummaging through boxes, buying “Morning Train (9 to 5)” by Sheena Easton, because I thought it was the *other* “9 to 5″, you know, the one by Dolly Parton. Little did I know that those particular memories would be the last ones I’d make for 20ish years, and I’d have to satisfy my record hoarding hunger through other methods, and other towns with their own record fairs.

Let’s get the formalities over with, If you’ve found this through Google, or something similar because I mentioned the record fair in Hartlepool (sutble), and you want to know how to get there, then it can’t be easier. If you’re coming by train, head out and look for the big church. Walk towards the church, and look for a zebra crossing on your left. That’s Tower Street. Walk about 100 yards along that road, and there’s be a building on your right that looks like a smaller church. That’s it. That’s the Studio, and that’s where the record fair is. It’s really easy to get to.

I’m also not affiliated whatsoever with the record fair runner, I’m just over the moon to have one in my home town again, and if the fair is well attended, there’ll be more, and I’ll be a very happy bunny.

We now return you to your usual programming, of me rambling about crap that happened recently, and yes, mainly record fairs.

So, erm… yeah. How to sum up 20 years aof record fairs. For me, they go way back. Pretty much my entire adult life. The late 90s were a strange time for music. Vinyl record sales were dramatically on the decline, CDs were still the in-thing. Music downloads were something done illegally, and streaming was something you did in a dark alley on the way home after 15 pints in the pub.

The art of the record fair was also in decline. It never truly died off, but it’s safe to say it went into hibernation. Fast forward many years. I’d lost my hair, my beer gut took pride of place around my midriff, and all of a sudden, vinyl was back in vogue again, and so, the humble art of the record fair returned.

I think the first one I went to (in the recent batch) was back in 2013, then the owner of Betterdaze (a record store in Northallerton), arranged one. It must have had a good attendance, as more were arranged, along with others in Northallerton. Looking back through the collection, I’ve came back with some cracking stuff from all of them. I mean, who could turn down a 12” pressing of “Seven Tears by The Goombay Dance Band, on clear yellow vinyl? Not me! I picked it up from Middlesbrough on 12th September 2015.

Recently, I’ve travelled as far as Leeds, just to get toa record fair. They was an ordeal. Absolutely worth it for the German pressing of “Downtown” and “Another Man“by One 2 Many. In fact, you can view all of the records I bought that particular day.

So, in conclusion, yes, if you attend this record fair, there is a very high possibility I will be in attendance. Say hello. Actually, no, don’t. I don’t mix well with strangers, and I’m out the night before, so there’s a strong chance I’ll be hanging out my hoop, and not willing to talk to anyone.

If you do go, I hope you find some bargains!

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…

That WAS Emtertainment part 4… no, really, it IS the end this time.

It is, with a heavy heart, that this time really was the last time I’d ever step foot in a That’s Entertainment. I know, I sort-of jumped to conclusions a few weeks ago when I wrote that initial post after I knew they were closing, and unfortunately, I sort-of pre-empted everything I wanted to write here.

Anyway, a week ago, after visiting the store on Bank Holiday Monday, I reported that I finally knew the closing day, and that would be this coming Sunday. Luckily, this also coincided with a week off work. No, nothing to do with my feet this time, no, just an actual week off. Legally booked and everything.

This would give me the opportunity to visit the store twice more. Saturday was one of the days.

As mentioned previously, the prices went down to 50% off earlier in the week. This would be an occasion for me to fill my boots with yet more cheap sleeveless CDs.

But first, the bus ride. One of those odd moments where I actually LIKED talking to a complete strange. It was weird. As before, I took the 36 bus, as it drops me off in Stockton town centre, pretty much outside the afore-mentioned shop. A guy got on at Billingham, and sat next to me. Nothing unusual about that. I’m on a bus. It happens. Normally, my earphones clearly wedged in my ears is enough to deter most people from talking to me. Or rather, they’re wedged so far in there that I can’t hear anything they say. This time, however, they either weren’t in right, or it was at a quiet part of the song, when I heard him speak..

“Going shopping then?”, he asked, in a jolly, Saturday morning manner.

“Sort of, I’m off to get some CDs.”. I explained that TE was closing, and he seemed genuinely surprised. Not in that “I don’t know what you’re talking about” way either. He seemed genuine. We got talking, and he explained he collected too, and used to come down to Hartlepool, to the Other Record Shop, but hadn’t been for years. I broke the sad news that the owner had died, and that it was pretty much a ticket store anyway. He asked if I go to many gigs. I replied in the negative, but the last one that I saw was Chris Rea.

“Oh yes, didn’t he do Stainsby Girls?” I could have hugged him at that point. It wasn’t one of his bigger hits, but it’s by far my favourite song of his. Certainly not the first song you’d expect to come up in a random bus journey conversation.

Before I knew it, my new friend got off the bus, and I felt slightly empty, knowing that there really was someone out there with similar interests to me, and that our paths will never, ever cross again. It was the first time, and probably the last in my entire life where my record collecting was genuinely interesting to someone, and not “The bald bloke with the glasses is talking at me, I must look at the wall”. Sigh.

Anyhoooo, back to record collecting, and before I knew it, I was alighting the 36, and making my way to the shops. Of course, my first stop was the “sleeveless” table.

This time, they had split the boxes. You could still buy some full boxes for £5, but they were also doing bags of them, rather like what they did at Hull that time, for £1.50. I picked three bags up, along with many other bits and pieces.

The reason why I picked the bags up, is that I decided that these would be more fun to “unbag” in a live Facebook video, and it would go on for less time than doing an entire box. After all, I could surely come back down on Monday and pick up a box or two, especially, as I was off this week.

Well. Monday didn’t happen, and neither did Tuesday. Memory escapes me why, but I’m going to hazard a guess at the weather. Out of all of the weeks I could have picked off, I picked the one with Arctic temperatures, more fog than a vaping convention, and an overall assumption that Winter would never end. Just like the weather, my heart was grey at the possibility of never stepping foot in another one of those stores again.

Judging by the elimination of the previous two days, I hope you’ve all reached the conclusion that something happened on Wednesday. I had to get up early, as Wednesday was the day of my weekly foot scraping (yes, that’s still going on), which had concluded by about 9:30. I returned home, and caught some of the athletics. After all, it’s the Commonwealth games.

After 9 minutes of heady excitement, watching Jamaica win their first medal in the women’s steeplechase, I decided that athletics was too exciting for a Wednesday morning, and I needed something to lower my adrenaline levels, and what could be better than a mind-numbing ride to Stockton, on the 36. And, mind numbing it was, as my headphones kept playing up.

I arrived in Stockton to find a depressing sight. All of the sleeveless CDs were gone. Not a single one in the shop. A third of the shop was now empty, with the exception of children, running around in the vast open space, as if they’d never seen an empty shop before. Ugh. It was horrible.

I scoured the shelves, prowling, like the last weak buzzard, pecking at the final bits of decaying flesh left on the carcass of a once mighty buffalo. The last remnant of something tasteful through the shelf upon shelf chick flicks and Owen Wilson DVDs….

Did I do badly?

Assuming the time on the receipt was correct, I exited the store at 2PM. There was still time to get one of the many buses to Middlesbrough, and hope for miracles that they found an entire sack of sleeveless discs underneath the floorboards….

No. My word. I thought there were slim pickings at the Stockton one. Middlesbrough was even worse. The music had almost entirely dried up. There were multiples of almost every DVD. Blu-rays were pretty much sold out, and naturally, sleeveless stock was gone entirely here too. There were three things I purchased…

SENNA – Already have it on DVD, two-disc edition, but I really like it. Worth upgrading to blu-ray.

ALAN PARTRIDGE – ALPHA PAPA – I’ve already seen it. Wasn’t amazing, possibly worth a second watch though.

ROCK OF AGES – Never seen it. Might be something I’d like. Plus, the DVD case is all purple and glitttery. Ahem.

So, there we have it. At 14:52, on 11th April 2018, a chapter of my life really did end. As I said, in my earlier posts, I sort-of jumped the gun when I said there would be no more (I didn’t know when they were closing when I wrote that), but this time I mean it. It closes for good in less than two days.

I don’t know what I’m going to do for music now. HMV are soulless, as John mentioned in the comments. Charity shops don’t have the same appeal they once did. I’m genuinely sick of looking through 250 granny CDs to find one CD I’d consider, only to find I already have it in triplicate.

So, as a homage to That’s Entertainment, here is a spreadsheet including all of the CDs I’ve bought from both of the stores since they announced their closure. There’s no way to tell which ones I’ve bought outright, and which ones came as part of the sleeveless stock bundles. This chapter of my life will close with nobody, except me, knowing if I actually wanted those S Club 7 CDs…

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1AFtpPiafbPpOM7btZmlKAT9vcxmJ4kxCAAgR85O8kRM

Please note, that whilst wholesome, the above spreadsheet does not live up to my usual level of care and attention, with many missing years and catalogue numbers, and possibly incorrect titles too. I won’t be updating the above spreadsheet any further, but my catalogur will eventually get the complete information entered into it.

The end. That’s Entertainment… August 2011 – April 2018.

That Was Entertainment pt.2… And “Now 4”

Ok, so maybe that last update wasn’t the last time Id visit a “That’s Entertainment” store. If you’ve not been following the blog, you won’t have known that this chain of cheap-arse record stores is “contemplating its future” on the high street. Well, that’s how their blurb stuck ot the front of the counter puts it anyway. The stores have already stopped selling “tech” products, such as mobile phones, tablets, etc. and are no longer accepting new stock.

Anyway, enough about the inevitable. A few weeks ago, I thought I’d take one last tour of the Stockton store. This was one of the better ones in the area for cheap CDs. They always had a large selection of the 49p CDs that I would crave.

After all of my years searching through these boxes, I found plenty, but nothingm I would consider “gold standard”. A diamond in the rough, as it were. Something told me, days before, that I must go to this store. I’m not really a believer in fate, or anything like that, but something bugged me for the entire week, telling me to go, even to the point where I would lie awake, waiting for Saturay to tick by.

Anyway, Friday night came, and I did a few “humorous” live broadcasts on Facebook. It was more of a test for something I have planned. I basically drank beer and played shit songs for about an hour. After the videos completed, I purposely stayed sober. I only had a couple of cans, and that was during the live things I did. Something was tugging at my mind that I just had to go to this store.

I awoke early on Saturday. Thinkfully, despite there being an accumulation of snow on the paths, the roads were clear, meaning that the buses were running from Hartlepool to Stockton. This is a two-leg journey, and the firt leg saw me get off at the town centre. A person, who seemed to have a habit of spitting, told me all about the wellies he qwas wearing, as they stop him from slipping over. It was a riveting conversation, and the 36 bus couldn’t come soon enough.

A normally dull bus ride was brightened by the sight of the local areas covered in snow. It was a surprisingly pretty sight, considering how desparate Teesside looks on your average day. Huge snow drifts stood at the side of the Greatham road – the likes of which we’ve never seen since Boxing Day 1995, and certainly not at the start of March, when the daffodils are meant to be poking though.

I arrive in Stockton, and I get off the bus. There was only one shop I was interested in. Normally, I’d head off to the charity shops, but my radar was firmly fixed on That’s Entertainment. My first glance was at the 30+ boxes of “sleeveless” CDs placed in the centre of the shop. My eyes lit up. It was like Christmas. My heart sank, however, when I realised they were still 49p each. Bugger.

I wouldn’t lie if I said I was a tad disappointed. The Middlesbrough store was going through the exact same turmoil, and they’d reduced their sleeveless stock to 10p.

I started going through them. Some average ones, some unknown ones that could be classics. Mostly filler and classical CDs that I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. I was on to about the 3rd of 4th box, when I pulled out a CD. My heart stopped.

This wasn’t just any CD. This was one of the rarest CDs going. Namely “Now That’s What I call Music! 4”

For the uninitiated (I got the right word this time), “Now, That’s What I Call Music” is a thrice-yearly collection of chart hits and occasionally, exclusive remixes, that continue to be released to this day. At the time of typing, we’re up to “Now 99”. If you want a time capsule of 80s / 90s / 00s / 10s music, you can’t go wrong than picking up a few of these.

Way back in 1984, Now 4 came out on what was, at the time, the obscure CD format. Tapes and vinyl were, of course, the go-to choice, and CDs were some type of weird luxury that only rich people can afford. This pretty much lasted until the 90s, so a CD, back in 1984 was a clear rarity.

The “Now 4” CD does appear on ebay, but you’re looking at hundreds of pounds. Even Discogs, which is usually a little more sensible with the price, had the latest one selling for around £250, and here I was, holding it for 49p. Cor!

Of course, every story has a downside, and this one is that it’s “sleeveless” – there’s no case for it, so I have the bare CD in a plastic wallet. That probably knocks something like 90% off the value, but it proves it’s out there, and for those lucky bastards that do have a boxed copy, that’s one more out of the equation – yours probably just got that little more valuable! Saying that, for a CD to survive that long, especially without its case, is nothing short of miraculous.

Fast forward to the present day (You’ll probably be reading this on Good Friday), and I think that’s me done with “That’s Entertainment” for ever. Maybe I’ll have a trip down there tomorrow, depending on what services the buses are running, but seeing as I’ve bought approximately 250, that might take some time…

Goodbye Maplin (Teesside Park)… I hardly knew ye.

One of my favourite haunts for “tech stuff” is closing its doors very soon. In fact, assuming I finish and publish this post on 21st May, it’ll be “today”.

I’m not sure where to start with this post I’m sorry to see it go. I’ve bought so much stuff here over the years. My desk drawer is full of those little screwdrivers they sell at the counter, because they’re so cheap, and I’m always losing the little bits out of them, and whenever any work needs doing on my PC, I’m searching all over for *that* Philips bit that’ll undo that weird screw holding something in place.

My condolences go out to the staff, and the poor bugger who had to put this up in the window, sealing his fate. Rather like what happened to me back in 2012 when I (and my colleagues at the time) saw other people doing our work.

On a side note, there are absolutely no bargains to be had. There a re a couple of “50% Off” bins near the counter, containing weird shaped fluorescent tubes and ink cartridges, but nothing of any relevance.

I did intend to type a whole long rambling post about what I’ve bought in there over the years, but, quite frankly, I can’t be bothered. Any chain of stores that thinks it’s reasonable to charge £25 for a CD wallet doesn’t deserve my custom. There, I said it.

EDIT: As promised, and seeing as I’m at Teesside Park right now, snaffling free Wi-Fi, here it is. All closed down

EDIT: MARCH 2018 – It’s sad news that the entire chain are closing all of their stores, and will disappear off “the high street” altogether. As a commentor mentioned below, the nail was in the coffin when it turned into a glorified toy store.