Is there anything better than a surprise record fair?

Saturdays. It’s hard to say that you can genuinely enjoy just a seventh of your life, but yes, seeing as Saturdays only come round once a month, it’s hard to put it any other way. Fridays still involve work, and Sundays are spent dreading work, so yeah. One day of enjoyment a week.

This particularly depressive attitude means that I have to make the most of my Saturdays. I went to bed particularly early the night before, as “Totally 70s” was off-ait this week. It’s an online radio station that… Yep, you guessed it, plays 70s music, and has live videos, usually with a video stream. Unfortunately, the Friday night DJ couldn’tt make it, due to real-life commitments, so it was left to their automated system to dish out the tunes. And without the interactive element, it’s just not the same, so I went to bed.

It did mean, however, that I could wake up early enough to actually do something with my one enjoyable day, so thought I’d jump on the bus and go to Stockton and then Middlesbrough. It’s a good while since I’d done a full day of “charity Shop shit”.

I disembarked at Stockton, and quite literally the greatest sight that could ever be projected into my shiny little eyeballs, the sight of a marquee, and those magical words…

It was like some type of beautiful waking dream. It was free too, which was just the icing on the cake.

One complaint I’ve had about recent record fairs is that there’s been very few boxes to rummage through, namely random boxes of singles. This time, I was not disappointed. In fact the very first box I went through, I pulled out this….

It’s a song I don’t expect anyone reading this to know (much like the entirety of my collection), but I first heard it probably back in 2014, from this particular episode of Ron Gerber’s “Crap From The Past”. It was also used in the film “Playing For Keeps”, which I’m sure you’ll be unsurprised to learn I haven’t seen.

I picked up a few other bits from this particular stall, and ended up paying £8 overall. I think this marks a significant moment, as I’m sure it was the first time I’d paid for anything at a record fair using my card.

I went through a couple of other stalls and picked up a few bits and bobs, (including Now 1 on CD, the 2018 re-release though), and came out highly satisfied with my haul, considering I didn’t even know it was going to be there.

Of course, this record fair ate into the time that would have otherwise been allocated to the charity shops. This wasn’t much of an issue, as these days, the quality of the musical merchandise you can pick up from Stockton’s shops has gone slowly downhill recently, so I didn’t come out with that much.

Despite the fact that time was getting on, there was still enough time to grab the bus to Middlesbrough (there’d have been even more time if I hadn’t have forgotten which pocket I’d put my bus ticket in, meaning I had to wait for the next one).

I think Middlesbrough has to be my favourite place for charity shops. They’re plentiful, and a couple of them had even came back from the dead. The “Age UK” had reopened (despite it having a big “To Let” sign on the door, and also the “Cats’ Protection” which had closed at some point before the lockdown, I believe. I didn’t buy anything from either, but good to see they’ve been resurrected, at least for now.

There’s also a new “Amazing Grace” shop, in the place of Scope/Sense (Can’t remember which) in the shopping centre. Again, nothing of any interest.

YMCA always have some goodies on offer, and today was no exception, along with Farplace. They had some “100 Hits” boxsets, at a quid each, snapped up three of those. I probably already have, like 95% of the songs, but I’ve always found a couple of obscure gems on the other ones that I’ve not seen anywhere else.

That concluded my journey pretty much. The last stop was HMV. I considered getting a James Blunt “Greatest Hits” CD for his song “Bartender”, which I like, but don’t own, but it was too close to payday to consider paying £5.99 for such an item. Good lord, inagine going overdrawn because of James Blunt? It stayed on the shelf.

Last stop was the bakery near the bus station, where I picked up some lovely sausage rolls.

The bus ride was particularly uneventful, until the bus got to Asda, when a load of kids got on, who decided they want to make a nuisance of themselves, with water pistols and the like.

A teeny, tiny bit of water hit my hand, like maybe three drops.

“If you even think of aiming that at me again, I’ll jump over there and shove that down your throat”. Of course, I said that about 30 seconds before I got off, otherwise I’d have no doubt got completely soaked off them.

Just as I was getting off, the driver came out of his cab and bellowed at them to behave, or they were getting kicked off. I do wither what happened after that!

I then stocked up at lidl, and returned home, just in time to see the build-up of some insignificant football match, which The Liverpools lost, I believe.

It was an early night for me, as there was something exciting happening that following morning… A radio rally!

Super Plorrds. It’s super.

Ahhh yes, the Greaseweazle is the gift that keeps on giving, and I’m happy to report that I’m not the only one enjoying its greasy goodness.

You may remember, waaay back in the early days of the blog (in a post that’s probably hidden now) , that I talked about an Amiga game I used to play, called Plorrds. It came free on an Amiga Power coverdisk, and I loved it. Played it for hours. I even partially put it down to my crap GCSE results, as I spent so many hours staying up and playing it. Of course, the real reason might have been that I’m just a bit thick, therefore I like to blame the former.

Back in 2001, I started a job at a (now long defunct) company. The first person to introduce me to the company, was a bloke called Glen. At some point over the next few years, myself and Glen got talking about the Amiga.

At some point, the words “Plorrds” got dropped into the conversation. “Oh Yeah, I remember that!” I said, excitedly. Glen responded with “Well, I programmed it”. If there was a sound of a jaw hitting a desk, it would be a sort of “fop” sound. I couldn’t help but feel like I was in the midst of a celebrity.

Fast-forward a couple of months or so. The date is November 5th, 2001. I had just invested in a shiny new Amiga 600 (shiny and new aren’t exactly words I’d use for it, but at least it worked), and was rooting through some of my old disks. Out popped Plorrds. “Huzzah!” I thought, as I plonked the disk in the drive, and waited patiently for the menu to come up…. aaaand “Disk read error”. Oh. It turned out the disk was completely ruined. 

At some point during the intervening 21 years, Glen mentioned there was a “Super Plorrds”, but it had never got released. After my (many) posts about the Greaseweazle, Glen contacted me and asked if they were worth getting, as he had a large amount of disks from back in the day that he wanted rescuing.

I advised that it was exactly what he was looking for, so he rushed out and bought one… Or rather, sent away for one.

A week or so later, he sent me a message confirming it was all working. Of course, my next question was if Plorrds still existed.

“Even better than that”, he replied. “The unreleased Super Plorrds still exists”, and I could have the exclusive first look!

As promised, an email plopped into my mailbox a short time later, with a disk image attached.

I fired it up, and I was transferred back to 1995, albeit with more music, different colour scheme, and even different gameplay.

The premise is extremely simple. You start with a grid of numbers, half with plus figures up to 10, half with minus figures up to 10. The trick is, one player can only move horizontally, and the second player can only move vertically. The winner is the player with the highest score. Obviously. The game ends when all of the squares are gone, or a player can no longer move.

The trick is to plan ahead. You COULD go for just the highest value square, but before you know it, player two could lure you into a row of negative points. The real trick is to plan ahead, even sacrifice a few points, if it means your opponent can do nothing than lose more points than you. It gets trickier when you start running out of possible moves, and your massive lead could be wiped out within a matter of moves.

If you play the CPU, there are a number of difficulty levels. I’ve been playing the game for almost 30 years and I’ll be lucky if I can get past level 4 or 5. I don’t think I’ve ever played another human at it. It’d be great if that was a thing, as after almost 25 years, I still royally suck at it…

QUICK UPDATE: If you’re wanting to try this out in WinUAE and don’t have an official Amiga ROM, it appears to work just fine with the AROS ROM that ships with WinUAE. I’m not sure if Glen’s actually put a link to the game up yet, but I’ll update this if/when he does.

More Amiga disks on the way!

You may have noticed I’ve not used my Greaseweazle for a couple of weeks. The supply of decent disks has dried up. There’s still quite a few old games to go through from that mouldy box, but I don’t fancy killing the drive if I’m honest.

Up steps ebay again. You may remember my Arcade Pool success, where i ended up getting an image of my favourite game working? Well, I took the plunge. There was a “Buy It Now” listing, with 100 Amiga disks in there.. Well, I just had to, didnn’t I? Yoink.

It’s currently on the way, and due to be here some time today. I had to quickly rewrite this, as i didn’t expect it to be turning up on Good Friday, but it seems like it is. 10 points to the delivery company, then

It could be a complete disaster These are “untested” – a word that should really strike fear into the hearts of any ebay buyer. For all I know, they could have been picked up out of a swamp… although I doubt Newton Aycliffe is known for its marshy ground. They could all be incomplete copies, or all have read errors. For all I know, they could have been already checked, found to be duff, then bundled into a box, ready for some sap to pick them up off ebay.

They might have already been wiped by a previous owner, meaning I’ve bought 100 blank disks.

There’s a large chance that I’ll do a blog, or a video. Allegedly, they’re arriving in one box, split ino 10 smaller boxes of disks, so I’m genuinely intrigued to ee what /i get. It’ll make it easier to do a series about them. Maybe 10 or 20 at a time.

Oh. I’ve just read the email. It’s getting delivered by Hermes.

Fudge.

Arcade Pool… it WORKS!!

I’m a happy little camper right now.

You can’t have failed to mention that in my last post, I drooled a bit about getting “Arcade Pool” for the Amiga through the post. It’s a game I’ve had pretty much since its day of release, but my disk really will have seen better days. I know for definite it has no metal cover, and although the last time I fired any of my amigas up in anger back in 2006, it worked correctly, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I just ordered an original loose disk off ebay.

I checked today at the base of the Mercuryvapour Towers portcullis, there was a box staring up at me. Strangely familiar, yet also alien to me. For you see, a box for “Make-A-Chip” on the ZX Spectrum stared back at me…

It soon dawned on me that this must have been the “Arcade Pool” disk in some very innovative, and perfectly suitable packaging. Eventually, after a night at the pub, I sliced through the parcel tape, and yes! there it was!

Now, I originally planned to do a video on this, it was filmed, but it’s awful, so instead of fresh photos, you’re just getting screenshots instead.

So, the image above is, of course, the disk, fresh from its cardboard catacomb.

In it goes, and I fire up the disk image program. My heart sinks just that little bit… Click-click-click-click… This usually means the disk is warped / damaged… usually if a speck of dust has been pressed against the disk surface, causing a lump or a mark.

The clicking fades shortly after. I’m left with the faint rumble of the disk spinning, and the soft, rhythmic clunk of the head moving across the disk. Eventually, all 82 tracks are imaged. I go to make sense of the disk image…. aaaaaaand…

Those red sectors stared up at me like blood in a stool. It’s not always as bad as you think, but you’re programmed to think the worst. Those blue “unrecognised” sectors didn’t have me holding out much hope either. Had it worked? Was I about to relive my childhood? I fired up WinUAE. My voice in the video didn’t hold out much hope. I even said so in the video. I loaded the disk image, and watched in surprise, joy, and just a hint of speculation, when the company logos came up, followed by the screen I expected to see…

Mere seconds later, I had the title screen, as the sounds of Scott Joplin’s “Fig Leaf Rag” rang through my speakers…

It worked! The blue sectors are a by-product of the custom disc format it had used back in the day. Annoyingly, because of this, I was never able to make a backup copy of the disk, which is how/why my original disk survived, albeit in an unknown state

It soon became apparent that everything in this Amiga journey had came full circle. My rekindled love affair with the Amiga started on a Sunday afternoon in February last year when I came downstairs and Daddykins was watching a steam train video that happened to be playing the “Fig Leaf Rag” as its background music. It suddenly occurred to me just how much I missed Arcade Pool, and just the Amiga in general. I rushed upstairs, installed WinUAE, downloaded a disk image of the afore-mentioned pool game, and had a right old time but where was the fun in that? This wasn’t the original disk.

The fun has been in the whole journey I’ve taken in the last year. Managing to convert my original Amiga drive, finding out some of the stuff on it, reliving some of the many memories I have stored on it.

There has, of course, been downsides… Discovering the box of Amiga stuff I bought a few years ago was completely rotten. Constantly corrupting my hard drive image and having to start from scratch with it… my fault for not regularly backing it up I suppose.

Oh, just one quick thing on the Arcade Pool image. While checking the disk image, I noticed some text in the first sector of the disk…

Version 1.01 - May 1994 - pippistrello pippistrello, perchè hai fatto la pipi dentro all'ombrello?

Now, my Italian isn’t the best, so I had to rely on Google Translate for this one, but it comes back as roughly “Bat, do you think it is nice to pee in an umbrella”? It made me smile somewhat. the fact that I’ve owned an original disk of this software for 28 years, and have only just discovered this, amuses me greatly.

My first day with the Greaseweazle

No, I haven’t gone and got myself a new girlfriend.

Instead, I’ve invested in a little PCB known as the Greaseweazle. And I’m sure I’m spelling that incorrectly, as I think I’ve spelled it about 4 different ways in the last hour alone. Basically, it allows you to create images from floppy discs, most notably, Amiga disks As you can imagine, this is somethingthat’s of interest to me, as I’ve been an Amiga fan for…. ooh, almost 30 years.

As I ‘m sure you’ll be aware, I’ve spent the last year reliving some of my amiga memories, especially afterresurrecting my old machine’s hard drive, and wallowing in the nostalgia of the old photos and music that was on there. there was one area that was, sadly, locked away. I had no way of converting my existing floppy disks to a readable format. There had been rumours that an Arduino based all-in-one USB device was coming onto the market, but the manufacturer is having difficulty with getting the parts, so I don’t think that’ll be available any time soon. While randomly browsing the net on Friday, I saw this thing called the Greaseweazle, and it was only £20. Yoink. I wasn’t even drunk.

I paid a little more to have the cables included. I’m sure I have loads of old floppy cables, but no idea where. Oh, and I also got a floppy drive cheap enough off Fleabay. again, there’s probably half a dozen kicking around this roomy mansion, but knowing I wouldn’t find one when I actually wanted one, I just plumped for buying one.

Days passed by, and they both landed through the Mercuryvapour Towers portcullis with a thud.

It seemed extremely easy. Connect the three wires, download the software, run it, aaaand…

Z:\greaseweazle-tools-v0.38>z:gw info
Host Tools: v0.38
Device:
Not found

Turns out all I had to do was switch it over to a different USB port, and I was good to go. I think that USB port was dodgy anyway. Within seconds, I was imaging my first disk!

This was purposely a brand new blank disk, as I knew at least it’d work. It did, I think, as I shortly had a 70Mb(!) floppy image. At this point, I’m still not 100% sure why the size is so large, some 60 times bigger than a regular floppy disk. All I can garner from the manual is stuff about flux, and magnets, and it’s all going over my head.

Anyway, the initial test passed. I decided to try with an Amiga disk… Now, I didn’t have many of my own to try, so I dug into a box of random disks I bought from a radio rally several years ago. This one in particular intrigued me…

No, they’re not pics of ham, but HAM was an image format on the Amiga that used special trickery to get more colours on the screen than the chipset could natively handle.

They’re mediocre by today’s standards, and the pixel-perfect screengrab probably doesn’t do it justice, I’m sure it’d have looked infinitely better when smoothed out via an RF signal on a CRT telly…

And that’s really where the fun ended. I tried other disks, and instantly found a problem. As I said, these disks never belonged to me originally, so I have no idea how they were stored, but they made some EEEVIL noises….

Initially I thought it might have just been the drive slipping. The drive was off ebay, as I mentioned earlier, so this was another unknown factor. The date code on the drive itself was 2006, so it might not have been used for 16 years. I left it to do its thing. It might work, it might not.

I fired up the image, and of course, it didn’t. Dammit. I was about to give it another go, but I thought I’d check the surface of the disk…. Oh.

Yeeeah. Those patches shouldn’t be there. That’s where the magnetic layer is missing from the disk, rendering it completely and utterly useless. Well, shite. This was disk 1 in a 3 disk software package, so they’re all pretty much useless. I checked some of the other disks, and I can see what looks like mould on some of them, so I’m guessing they weren’t stored in the best of locations. A friend, Rob, has pointed me in the direction of a floppy disk cleaner, which I’ll probably end up getting, along with a bottle of Isopropyl alcohol

Damn it. All this time and effort, and all I have to show for it, is a ladies’ bottom. I’ve had worse days.

Another year, another charity shop run…

Happy new year! Yeah, there hasn’t been a post so far this year, and in fact, I think the last one was November? anyway. I went charity shopping again the other day. I thought I’d do a video of what I got, instead of just typing about it… So here it is!

Oh, look. It’s a link!

Oh look, more records!

As promised, I thought I’d do another update on my charity shop purchases and days out. This week, there weren’t really that many. I didn’t do much on the Saturday. in fact the only place I went, was to Tesco to pick up a ready-cooked chicken, Therefore the rest of the day was spent with my face covered in the product of the rotisserie oven. Not much happening there.

Sunday was different, however.  There was a record fair in Durham… I’d remembered about it only a couple of days before, and Chris offered to give me a lift there. Woo, and indeed hoo.

The Durham record fair is never a big affair. I think I’ve mentioned about it before, there’s just a small section of a sports hall that’s netted off, while the rest of the place still is still used for badminton…

There was one stall that had quite a few boxes singles on it, at £1 each. It’s more than I normally like to pay for a single, but well, I thought I’m only here once, and there were some classics in there, such as Trevor and Simon (yes, THAT Trevor and Simon) covering a Donovan song (can’t remember which one off the top of my head) “Sky High” by Jigsaw… “I was made for Dancing” by Leif Garrett, and a couple of others that don’t spring to mind. I might edit this into a list later on… If there’s no list, then I couldn’t  be bothered. (EDIT: I couldn’t be bothered)

The Jigsaw and Leif Garrett songs are ones I’ve only just became familiar with in the last 6 months, thanks to an online “radio station” that I listen to quite regularly. Surprised I didn’t know them, as they were relatively big hits, reaching no. 4 and no. 9 respectively.

Also picked up another copy of the “Auf Weidersehen Pet” series 1 soundtrack. This wasn’t the one I had on tape as a kid, but instead contains the incidental music from the program. Been after a cleaner copy of “The Fire” from the final episode where the “hut borns doon”

So, onto Durham itself. This was a warm, if overcast Autumn day. There were only two charity shops open, so I think we only spent about half an hour there. I didn’t end up getting anything from there, except for a nice photo or two.

It was still incredibly early at that point, so on the way back, we made a detour to Peterlee. Despite being only a small town, it has its fair share of charity shops. There’s a huge Sue Ryder shop there. It’s pretty expensive too, so once again, I came out empty handed. There’s a large “Home Bargains” store next door, and I managed to pick up 5 of these for a quid.

You might notice there’s slightly more than 5 there. Turns out they’re absolutely brilliant for cleaning the muck, mould, shite and usually, for some unknown reason, dried blood, off the CDs that come from the charity shops. In fact, they’re so good, I went to the Hartlepool shop and picked up another 10 cans, and I might pick up more tomorrow. For that price, you literally can’t go wrong, and I’ll always need CD cleaning products.

Onto the main shopping precinct in Peterlee. It’s a depressing sight. This shop (which, until a couple of months ago used to be a British Heart Foundation) pretty much says it all.

I did notice that there’s a “Farplace” charity shop opened there too, which is great – they’re rapidly becoming my favourite chain of shops. It was closed, however, so I might have to make a detour there at some point.

The YMCA was open here, and I picked out a few singles from this batch. They were very well thumbed, and the covers were all an absolute state, but the vinyl itself didn’t look too bad.

Last stop in Peterlee was the “other” British Heart Foundation… Now, Peterlee is the same as most towns… Or at least it was. Two BHF stores. One that sells your standard charity shop clothes and bric-a-brac, and another, often much larger one that sells furniture only. Now, probably because the smaller shop had closed down, this larger shop had a very small selection of CDs. They had £1 stickers on, but the bloke out the back said he’d do three for a quid. Obviously, the person behind the till didn’t get the memo, as he tried to charge me £3…nah mate, I advised him to have a word with the guy out the back, and indeed, he then only charged me £1. Now I await the barrage of 0 comments calling me a greedy fecker.

Last stop of the day was another YMCA… The one in Hartlepool. I’ve had good results from this shop in the past… The items don’t get sorted as much as some other shops, so you can end up with some quality finds….

Something that I’ve been collecting for a little side project, are “knock-off” CDs. Take the songs from a famous artist, get someone else to record them in the style of the original singer, and sell them for much cheaper. These have been around since recorded music became a thing

A prolific manufacturer of these is/was Prism Leisure. I have no idea if they’re still in business, but, like this one, they released CDs along the lines of “Hits of {artist} as performed by Studio 99”

I have a couple of these now. Corrs, Britney Spears, Celine Dion, to name but a few, and they’re all absolute garbage! I have others too, the collection is coming along quite nicely.

And finally, I bought this.

I don’t think this needs explanation!