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.