Sunday, 30 September 2007

It's Been That Sort of Day...

And this is before I opened it...

I started the day full of good intentions to strip the remaining wood board panelling from the entrance hall, the stairs and the landing.

Once I gathered all the tools, I realised that the battens that the panelling is fastened to go all the way up to the ceiling, which is a bloody long way up above the bottom of the stairs. My stepladders don't do stairs...

I could tear and twist at the bottom I thought, but then the battens are only 1/2 inch square and would probably break off leaving a bit at the top. In any case there would be huge holes ripped out of the plaster where the rawl plugs are fixed...

So I abandoned the idea and resigned myself to a day of fun...

"You can plaster the holes you left in the hallway then," Fran said logically. I hate logic. I hate D-I-Y too but I did have some plaster in the outhouse.

So I spent a couple of hours filling up holes, smoothing out cracks and knocking out a load of loose plaster in the ceiling corner near the door. I actually managed to replaster that too. I was quite impressed with myself...

Not quite sure how I'll deal with all the lumps and bumps yet but plenty of time for that next week or the week after.

So thought I'd open a bottle of wine to celebrate my success and felt drunk before any of it passed my lips...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Lois Maxwell - the Miss Moneypenny. R.I.P.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

A Wizard Encounter

There's a story behind this one.

This is my daughter, Gill, with actor Chris Rankin who plays Percy Weasley in the Harry Potter films. We were at a Memorabilia show at the NEC and it was 24 July 2003.

Too shy to ask him for an autograph she got me to do it. However Chris's manager phoned her up and said she had to come herself and they were holding her dad hostage until she came!

She turned up with a very red face and then, when he realised it wasn't a child they were teasing, Chris too went very red!

However the photograph made up for Gill's embarrassment!

Bayko Building Toy

Out of all the toys I remember from being a child, this has to be one of the favourites.

Before the Danes took off their horned helmets and stopped pillaging long enough to think up Lego (and Danepak bacon), this was the building toy.

You had a green base plate with holes in it and you stuck thin metal rods (oh my word, how dangerous!) into the holes and then slid the plastic bricks down between the rods.

I must have spent hours and hours playing with my Bayko set.


Apart from bricks there were the usual array of other building bits - doors, windows etc. It has to be said that the buildings you could make with Bayko tended not to be the terraced houses most of us lived in at the time but still...

In fact it was only the bigger sets that you could build more than one design of house if I remember rightly. I think I had three different types of roof - one house-sized roof, one L-shaped roof for bungalows - well I can't remember seeing an L-shaped two storey house anywhere round us so always built bungalows L-shaped.

Then there were two flat pieces that you could build shed roofs with.


I gather the sets are much in demand now and I do remember reading about some enthusiast who was trying to make a model of Buckingham Palace with Bayko pieces!

Hope he doesn't poke his eye out...

Coin Slot Mini-Golf

The other day I mentioned a 1959 tenpin bowling game housed in a pinball cabinet.

Today it's the turn of golf to come under the playfield glass. Again, this is a game made by Williams, one of the big three pinball manufacturers. It was released in 1964. The player turned the mini golfer towards the intended hole by twisting a golf ball shaped knob on top of the cabinet. The 9 holes had to be shot in order and the game ended when all 9 had been sunk, or the player had used up the 27 balls allowed. Two buttons allowed the player to decide to play a hard or an easy putt. It was a two-player game. We take them for granted now. With electronics it's easy to remember all the current scores and settings for two or more players but on these electro-mechanical games the electricity merely moved reels or shot solenoids and the ability to play against someone else during the same game was novel at the time and required real ingenuity on the part of Williams' designers and engineers.

Coin Slot Machines Index

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Blackpool's New Prom Last Time

No I don't mean I'm not going to talk about it again. I mean it's not the first time Blackpool has had a new promenade. Also not the first time that having decided to build a new promenade that they took the opportunity to build out to sea, reclaiming land back from the beach.

It's just over a hundred years since the last time the Promenade was widened. Most of it was opened in 1906. The final part around the Metropole to Cocker Street was completed 1910-1911. The postcard shown above has the middle circle segment labelled "New Promenade". The five photographs used for the postcard have been hand-coloured.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Ring Pull Technology

I really can't remember why I took this particular photo - it must have been on some extremely boring afternoon in or around 1980.

The cans of drink have a new-fangled thing (probably not all that new by then actually) called ring-pulls. As can be seen clearly, they pulled totally clear of the can. To avoid dropping litter, the usual method of disposal was to drop the detached ring-pull into the can and then drink from it. Two minutes later your friends could practice the kiss of life (or CPR as the Ladies Over The Water might have it) as you stopped breathing due to "drinking" the ring-pull. Many an amateur tonsillectomy was performed accidentally during the act of removing one of these from the back of someone's throat...

Earlier drinks cans had no ring-pull or self-contained opening mechanism at all and required one of these fearsome weapons which hooked over the rim of the can so the pointy end could be levered down to puncture the tin. This, for any fizzy can of drink, caused a huge geyser of sticky sugary drink to fall all over the person standing opposite who up until that point had been enjoying the sight of you wrestling with it. The other, blunter, end is for taking the crimped caps off bottles of coke and other similar bottles. Sterilised milk used to come with such caps in pint glass bottles. I remember it tasted horrible and I could never understand as a kid why anyone's Mum would torture them so...

Return to Technology Index Page

Pinball At Home

I became interested in pinball during the sixties. I grew up with games like Gigi, Ice Parade, and Cross Town. After a lifetime's devotion in the arcades I decided in 1990 that I wanted to own a machine of my own. Living in Blackpool, I started looking in the obvious places - the arcades. I quickly found that not many arcades are manned by the owners these days and that, even if you find an owner, the likelihood that he has been waiting for you to go in to make him an offer is pretty slim.

I did find several people who said things like; "Old pinballs? Oh we smash them up!" I even found one who agreed to look out some old non-players for me only to have him ring the following day to say that his partner had been wielding the sledge hammer even as we had been speaking. The reason for all this violence towards pinballs? They are "always going wrong," or "nobody wants to play the old machines and they're not worth anything." It's the old story: "You're the hundredth person I've told... there's no demand!" Finally I found a firm who rented amusement machines to the licensing trade.

They had a stack of five pinballs in their warehouse, dismantled and left in an untidy heap in the midst of video innards and cabinets. They had been in the same place and position for at least five years. At long-distance glance (because you couldn't get near them for the videos) I could see two Flash machines and the backflash of a Gulfstream. There was no chance of any of the games being in a working condition the firm told me. "You might get one Flash working out of the two..." I made an offer for the five machines as a job lot.

The offer was accepted and we returned later with a Transit van. We left with six machines not five - I think the owner felt sorry for us. "They're nothing but trouble, you know..." I did not even know which machines I had until we got home and unloaded. Of the two Flash, one had been re-wired by a maniac, probably with vertically-standing smoking hair, and the other had been er… on fire... It had even been attacked by the Fire Brigade. It turned out that someone in a pub had pushed a cigarette end through a hole in the back of the backflash. When the smoke appeared the Fire Brigade were called and the fastest way into a smoking pinball machine is to use a hatchet, right?

Besides the two Flash pins, I also had a Tri-Zone, a Time Warp (with banana-shaped flippers), and two electro-mechanicals. One was a Lucky Ace, the single-player version of the better-known Dealer's Choice and the other, with the Gulfstream backglass turned out in reality to be a Spanish Eyes. "Ah yes," the firm responded, "I seem to remember someone breaking a glass and that one was a spare!" So, sadly, no pub had a Gulfstream with a Spanish Eyes glass!

The mechanics from the firm (once they could stop laughing) advised us to try to mend the electro-mechs first. So Spanish Eyes was placed on legs, the pins on the connecting plugs given a loving rub down with a bit of wet & dry paper and with a fire extinguisher handy we switched on. Nothing! Switch off and re-clean all contacts which had spent five years apart from their sockets. Re-check for the tenth time the fuses and for loose or dangling wires under the playfield. Switch on again. Nothing! Ok, so it's time for a brew and to wonder what we were going to do with six coffins, six display cabinets and 24 rusty metal legs. I mean, apart from anything else, they stank! Mildew was growing inside them from five years of damp and the musty smell was making Fran think twice about having one in the living room.

Now I work with computers. So the last thing you ever do is read an instruction book! But with a brew in one hand and an offspring asking when she can have a go on the other, the idea of hiding behind a manual seemed a good idea. Spanish Eyes, it transpired, does not automatically light up when plugged in and switched on. It remains dead until the left flipper button is depressed, upon which the attract mode (lights only) is activated. Having finished the coffee I pressed the button. Lights! I tried the replay button. Action! The game reset, and the ball was ejected into the plunger lane. The flippers worked. The plunger was weak but the spirit was willing. The ball entered the playfield via one of the five roll-overs. We had lights and action, but no music. The chime bar was not working. The game targets and bumpers worked but there was something wrong with both ball counter and the small reel which counted off the replays given.

Both these turned out to be purely mechanical problems. Parts that the beers had obviously reached had been where they should have left well enough alone! The game was a first-night success. It needed a good cleaning and lots of new bulbs and the odd bit of soldering to get it to work properly. The chime solenoid was replaced by one from the burnt-out Flash and we had music!

Cleaning was a delicate operation. Get a backglass damp for any length of time and the paint starts to flake. Spanish Eyes was made in 1972. If it had been laid up since 1985 then it could have been out on site for 13 years. From the amount of nicotine on the back surface of the backglass it looked as though it had spent all 13 years in the smokiest tap room imaginable. For overseas readers, a tap room is where men in flat-caps drink beer and show each other their ferrets and play dominoes etc. Sometimes they shove them down their trousers. The ferrets I mean - to shove dominoes down your trousers would be silly wouldn't it?

The playfield was in a similar condition to the backglass and the paint had worn down with years of neglect and rusty balls running over it. In places the bare wood showed through. We had been warned against soap, and abrasives were out of the question. The remaining paint would have just come off.

Water alone, in the form of a damp cloth, made little difference and almost in desperation I tried a drop of saliva on a cloth. (This was the most genteel way I could think of to say that!) It worked a treat, the nicotine disappeared layer by layer and muddy colours became brighter. One or two extra tiny spots of bare wood appeared. Some sacrifices have to be made... The game now plays very well and just needs a new plunger spring and nylon sleeve to bring the playing up to top notch.

The playfield still needs some work, though, and is waiting for me to pluck up enough courage to start colour matching. I have sought advice on which types of paint and the best methods to employ. The answer to all requests has been the same - "It's impossible, you can't do it!" I'm afraid I take the view that if it was not possible then Williams couldn't have done it in the first place. (We were later to find out that a screen printing process was involved which was a bit beyond us.) I would think twice about tackling a complicated design or a playfield where colours faded into one another but, surely, in these days of airbrushes, masking tape and a blob of Dulux on a two inch brush it must be worth having a go! If I get brave enough I'll tell you how I get on. (Several years later we were to achieve some success with those small Humbrol tins of paint that you use to mess up your Airfix kits!)

Oh yes - and as you can see - the cat was very appreciative of a silver ball to chase around after!

This blog entry started life as an article in the Pinball Owners' Association newsletter, 1990.

Coin Slot Machines Index

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Beeping Reversals!

Conversation between the women in the library at work this morning. One had been off for the day and her husband was expecting a delivery of gravel or something. They hear a loud beeping outside.

"Grab the dogs and shut them up, " cries the husband, "my gravel must be here!" Frenetic activity for a couple of minutes then hubby comes back into dishevelled and exhausted wife.

"No... it's Lily next door, reversing her disabled person's scooter..."

Leo's Lovelies

Whilst I'm in a postcard mood...

This is No.139 of a series of postcards, photographed in France sometime around the 1920s. Now Leo did have an eye for a pretty girl, unlike our previous postcard photographer! He was also not averse to the girls removing some clothing, it has to be said... This must be one of those series with which the French were supposed to sidle up to you in the street and say "Would you like to buy some postcards, M'sieur?".

"Get away, filthy postcard seller!" you would cry. But then when the wife wasn't looking, "Mais oui! Combien?"

Monday, 24 September 2007

Blackpool Postcard

One of several old postcards of Blackpool from my collection. I can't claim to be a serious postcard collector, although I have several hundreds of them in albums and scanned onto the computer. At one point I used to make a point of buying postcards everywhere we went and I've bought several vintage ones at collectors' fairs and car boots. This one shows some saucy minxes lifting their skirts up to paddle at Blackpool in the early 1900s. Probably very racy at the time...! Has to be seen to be believed particularly for the sheer ugliness of the women chosen to pose... Ye gods, that photographer needed glasses...

Golden Wedding Gig

Creeping Bentgrass were out at Garstang Golf Club last night, playing for a Golden Wedding party.

It all went down very well, though I had a couple of small mishaps - the keyboard refused to work at one point and it was one of those songs where I play a guitar intro first so we had to play the entire song without any help from the keyboard so no drums or backing fill, but no worries!

Thankfully the keyboard worked after pretending it was a Spectrum ZX and switching it off and on again! Then the guitar went silent until I fiddled with the cable at the guitar end. That cable has now been ditched!

And after all that I started to play the intro for I Will Love You on the keyboard and totally forgot the tune. The old befuddled mind went blank and I busked a fairly nondescript but compatable intro, trying to ignore David killing himself next to me whispering between the laughter "You've forgotten the tune haven't you?" I remembered it once he started singing the first verse...!

If we didn't make mistakes, how would you know it was live? Ha ha! Anyway I don't think anyone else noticed apart from us.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Young Pops!

Hey, groovy, Man!

I love playing vinyl and have a saddening and somewhat scary ability to splash out on old decrepit record players so when I came across this old album cover on Flickr I sort of empathised with it straight away.

Although this couple do seem to have several day's worth of records stacked around them totally devoid of covers and protective sleeves... Probably not the best way to keep them in pristine condition!

Come to think of it if any girlfriend of mine had grasped a handful of records and ground them together I'd have done my nut... And what is she wearing for Pete's Sake - is that a travelling rug she's wrapped round her to cover her knees?

My Dansettes are currently up in the attic, as we had a bit of a space crisis at the Burke household. Not a space crisis as in Buck Rogers racing around the living room firing ray gun blasts but more of an ultimatum from Fran that she needed to see a minimum square footage of carpet in the spare room.

Question: how can it be spare if it's full to the brim???

I must get them down and have a play sometime soon...

My Cortina RIP

Still sorting through several thousand old photographic negatives and came across this one.

This was my 1972 MkIII Ford Cortina, bought second-hand in 1985 for a mere £250 when I was working at my first college, the Nautical College in Fleetwood.

The photograph was taken shortly after I bought the car, which had been resprayed in these colours which were then current Ford colours. The colour scheme made the car unique and everyone who knew me would pip their horn and wave as we passed them.

We'd park it somewhere and come back to find notes under the windscreen saying "Hello John, missed you but found the car!"

It was one of the best cars I've ever had. Even MOT mechanics would drool over it whilst tapping the sills energetically to see if they caved in.

It was a trifle under-powered though as it was the 1300cc basic model and sadly this contributed to it being written off in a collision some three years later.

WFV 970K RIP

Williams' Ten Strike

Carrying on the series of entries on coin slot machines from Blackpool and other seaside town amusement arcades of the 1950s-60s.

This is a 1959 Ten Strike, made by Williams who were one of the big three pinball manufacturers (the others being Bally and Gottlieb). Based on a pinball style cabinet this game featured a small mannikin figure which could be swivelled to aim his bowling ball. A push on a lever caused his arm to bowl the large steel ball (coincidentally the same size as a pinball!) towards the miniature pins at the far end of the playfield. These were attached by strings to the mechanism above allowing them to be hoisted up and dropped back down ready for the next frame.

Ten Pin bowling was never quite as big in the UK as it had been in America although for a while it featured on TV every week during the main Saturday afternoon sports programmes. At a time when the only available channels were BBC and ITV (no numbers necessary as they only had one channel each) this made it quite a popular sport!

Coin Slot Machines Index

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Cruise Photos at Flickr

I know, how sad it this?

We've come to the end of the tales about the cruise and the wonderful Cissie and Ada and all the places we visited...

Never mind! I'm sure I'll find something to blabber on about over the next few weeks!

If you are really missing the sights of the Mediterranean, then have a look at my special collection of photos of the cruise (more than appeared on this blog) all available at 1024x768 pixel resolution.

Have fun!

Friday, 21 September 2007

Final Night Onboard

It was our last night on the Island Star.

As we left Valencia to head back to Majorca, we booked a table in the Steak Restaurant and enjoyed a sumptious silver service meal.

The excellent starter was followed by a salad course and then the main meat course. The knives they brought could have done serious damage - I think they get them from the same source as the lumberjacks...

Fran had slivers of lamb, I went for the filet mignon and we had a superb meal, helped along by an easy going conversation with our waiters and a bottle of wine, drunk from some generously-sized glasses!

Fran let me have the lion's share, luckily the lion didn't mind and soon I was beyond caring that we had to go home on the following day!

It had been a superb holiday; relaxing, some new sights to see and new places to visit, some new friends made, excellent food and entertainment onboard a cruise liner is pretty good! There was a full theatre show every night, whether it was the ship's company or a cabaret night. There was a pub with gentle cabaret. There was the Bounty Club bar with SP3, bingo and game shows, there was a cocktail bar with a pianist...

We had also spent a bit of time losing money in the casino, although it was more a case of Fran playing the machines whilst I settled for just watching the roulette table. It's more fun watching others lose money than it is losing yourself...

We had enjoyed it so much that Fran decided in a moment of madness we should book another for next year and -eek- we're going to take my mother along! So tune in this time next year as we take our very own equivalent of Cissie and Ada along! She'd get along very well with those wine glasses though...

We booked with a nice young lady who spent the rest of the week saying "Hello" to me every time we passed and therefore getting me in a great deal of trouble... Although not as potentially disastrous as the day a young lady had walked past our table in a very (and I mean very small bikini).

I pulled my best leering face once she had safely passed only for Cissie to boom out at the top of her voice;
"Oh! Liked her did you?!?" I didn't look round to see if she'd heard...

And so Saturday 1st September dawned and we found ourselves back in Palma, Majorca where we had set off on our cruise one week before. We breakfasted with the two ladies we had had so much fun with.

"Tell him what you did last night!" urged Ada.
"I went to the loo and forgot to pull my nightie up," Cissie confided. "I only noticed when I stood up..."

Our flight was called. We said goodbye to the ladies, who had another week left on the ship, and they waved us off from the Pool Deck as we collected our luggage and got on the coach to the airport.

In the event, we could have stayed onboard another 5 hours...

Motorway Idiots

I spent yesterday evening driving back from Glasgow in a tropical rainstorm.

It never ceases to amaze me how suicidal some drivers are. I must drive 35,000-40,000 miles a year and doing that sort of mileage you see your fair share of smashes, upside-down cars and even cars/lorries on fire.

Unfortunately they are not always the ones who deserve it.

I'm not a slow driver but if you are driving fast then you have to look a long way ahead and react to what is happening. At one point 60-65 was as fast as it was safe to go in the weather conditions. The road was absolutely covered in water and anyone on worn tyres is straight away at more risk of aquaplaning.

Yet people were zooming past me, doing the odd thing like heading off to overtake a lorry who was in the centre lane then slamming on brakes when they suddenly couldn't see anything because of the spray from its wheels. Or driving up at 80-90 behind someone doing 60-70 overtaking in the fast lane and leaving it until the last minute to brake instead of slowing down gradually. Or forcing a driver in the central lane to suddenly brake down 20mph because they were unwilling to slow down 5mph themselves.

As far as I'm concerned if you're are doing more than 70, you should be watching for people needing to pull out into your lane and it should be you that slows down if necessary.

Consideration - that's what it's all about.

Still, all in all it was a quiet night. 193 miles and I only saw two accidents... There again, from those 4 cars that probably left at least 8-16 disgruntled or frightened or hurt people, counting occupants and immediate family at home wondering where someone was.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Glasgow City

As the new academic year starts, I'm back travelling the roads and rail networks of Britain again.

Tonight I'm in Glasgow, overlooking Glasgow Central Station - not an imposing view as these things go, but the double glazing is doing a good job of keeping the noise out!

Tomorrow Clive and I are delivering one of JISC infoNet's Project Management workshops to an audience of librarians. It's a while since we saw each other actually and at the moment he's still negotiating the M8 so who knows where he might end up.

My satellite navigation system needs a serious talking to, as it has a totally different idea than do Glasgow's city planners as to where the one-way streets are or which way you drive down them. It would have had me down three bus-and-taxi-only streets had I stuck to it rigidly...

Crackers At Sea

Back to Friday 31 August again.

We emerged from the caves at San Jose and into the sunshine and heat of Spain. The coach took us back to the Island Star where we got a bite to eat and then went to join Cissie and Ada as usual on the Pool Deck.

We made a note of their address, but can I find it? (Stupid question!) So, ladies, if you do read this please email and let me know the address again for S so I can send you a Grumbleweeds - er... sorry - Creeping Bentgrass CD!

They had a final gem to tell us. First of all let me explain something about the ship's toilet system... Ships have a different flushing system that works on a vacuum rather than just a simple flush of water. Connecting toilets to an outlet to the open sea can have disastrous siphoning effects where the toilets can turn instead into fountains of spectacular proportions. The vacuum makes a wierd and quite noisy PHHHHT-POOOOOSH! sound.

Having a vacuum system means it's safer to get off the toilet before flushing of course as otherwise you can find yourself slightly shorter... Hence the old joke about the lady who gets stuck and her husband has to call for help.
"But they'll see me with my pants down!" cries the lady.

Her husband chivalrously places his cap over his wife's lap and the ship's engineer comes to deliver his verdict.
"Well, we can get your wife up without any problem, but that chap's a goner..."

Got the idea? So, the vacuum system is prone to blockages because the pipes are smaller than usual and during the week both we and the ladies had experienced a couple of problems when the system became blocked somewhere along our corridor and the ship had cleared it without problem once it was reported.

Cissie and Ada though seemed to have a wierd problem with the flush operating after some delay once the knob was pushed.

And so to today's tale of woe and hilarity...

"Eeh, I just fancied some crackers!" said Cissie. "It was about half past one and I'd just been to the loo but it wouldn't flush. Anyway, I didn't want to get crumbs in my bed so I took my crackers and went and sat on the loo to eat them."

Yes I know... it's not what you were expecting is it...?

"Well I was sitting there in my nightie on the loo, enjoying my crackers when all of a sudden: PHHHHT-POOOOOSH! I jumped out of my skin and got crumbs all over me!"

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

San Jose Caves

Friday 31 August.

We left Sagunto and travelled along some fairly rough and ready roads to visit the San Jose caves. These were formed by an underground river and the visit was by way of a boat ride, punted by a boatman.

We had a short wait before going into the caves and used it to get a drink and sit for a while.

Our time came and we made our way into the caves, getting into boats shaped so that the front and back were exactly the same. The boatman nudged them up to the landing stage and simply swapped ends.

There were 14 of us in the boat and it was a strangely silent first few minutes. Presumably the Spanish boatman didn't speak English, and it meant that the least little noise came loud and clear.

"What was that?" a young girl gasped as a distant echoing booming was heard.
"That'll be the underground river monster," I said kindly...

The boat ride took quite a while and then we all got off and trooped down a fairly well lit but narrow pathway on our own. There weren't any side turnings or alternative routes to ponder over and when we came to the other end the boat was waiting for us to embark again.

Photography wasn't allowed, but then I suppose most people would have used flash and then ruined their dark vision and be bumping into other people or failing to see the bits where the ceiling came down low over the boat, requiring passengers to duck or...
"Ouch!" came a cry...

"Where are the bats, Dad?" asked an eager boy several times.
"Never mind the bats, lad...it's the orcs you have to worry about..."

I drew the sketch from a postcard once I was back on the Island Star.

Monday, 17 September 2007

The Blackpool Belle

Ah, the Blackpool Belle! An illuminated tram, one of several built in the first half of the 1960s, this was a paddle steamer with the lights in the paddle wheels simulating movement.

For some reason it was sold off to America in the later 1970s, leaving Blackpool with a rocket, a ship, the hovertram and the wild west train as its illuminated fleet. Prior to these there had been a couple of standard trams, trimmed up with sets of external lights. One of these could be found at the transport museum at Carlton Colville near Lowestoft in Norfolk, where I last saw and rode on it in 1995.

Trip to Sagunto

It was Friday 31 August, the last day of August and the last full day of our cruise.

The ship pulled into Valencia, and we piled off onto a coach which was taking us for a morning's excursion to roman and medieval Sagunto and the San Jose caves.
"I hope he knows the way..." I said brightly, the only one daring enough (or stupid enough) to actually say it out loud.

We hadn't noticed, but the excursion had been clearly labelled as a grade 3 excursion, meaning steep hills and more walking than other tours. Great stuff! Let's fly at it!

However perhaps the tour guide wasn't as enthusiastic, because he stopped every five paces to tell us something that we could have figured out for ourselves...
"These trees," he said solemnly, as we came to a small square with trees planted in large pots, "have to have water brought to them."

A little put out perhaps at the lack of oohs and ahhs, he moved off for another five paces...

Waiting for us at the top of what was quite a steep climb, was a roman amphitheatre. With an easy grace he led us up a flight of stairs to a locked gate.
"Well they told me to come up here..." he grumbled as we puffed and panted all the way down, round the back of the building and up the other side.

Council workmen were hosing down the rubbish bins outside, the hosepipe coming from the ladies' toilets. One of the workmen went in to undo it from the tap and take it out. There were a few grumbles from the ladies. Fran, who was in the queue, said "It's ok, he just wants to take his water pipe out!" Screams...

Astoundingly the amphitheatre had been rebuilt.
"Ah, well, it is illegal of course," our guide told us. "The architects have been told to dismantle all the restoration work next January..."

In a way it's a shame, but I couldn't agree with the way most of the roman remains had been covered up. Sometimes I feel that a bit of restoration wouldn't go amiss to give the vistor an idea of what it may have been like in its heyday.

The accoustics were superb. I climbed up the stepped seating and could still make out conversations people were having below. I'll get even with them later...

Why Pinball is Pinball

Every now and then someone will read my pinball articles and email to ask "why are they called pinballs then?". I hope the photographs will help make the answer clear!

The pinball shown is a German Rodello that I saw for sale at a 1998 event. Pinball started out as an extension to the small bagatelle games where the balls where propelled up the side ramp with a short cue, like a miniature snooker cue. For the coin slot version this cue became a spring-loaded plunger that you had to draw back against the spring and release. This same mechanism in use in the 1920s and 1930s is still the same mechanism used on today's pinball machines.

The early machines did not use electricity and were generally smaller than the games we know today. They used ball bearings the size of small marbles. In some cases they did use marbles! Scoring was done by the ball falling into holding places made from hoops or baskets of small nails - the pins of the pinball.

Early electric machines had coils of wire large enough to leave a space in the middle of the coil so it avoided touching a central nail attached to a circuit. When the ball hit the coil the coil touched the nail and completed the circuit to advance the score. There wasn't much the player could do to keep a ball in play. There were no flippers until 1947 when Gottlieb employee Harry Mabs invented them for a game called Humpty Dumpty. There had been mechanical bats on baseball games before but these were the first electro-mechanical flippers.

They weren't the most powerful of flippers. Humpty Dumpty had three sets of flippers and you had to relay the ball from the bottom set up to the middle and then up to the top - a feat calling for not a little skill and practice! It was the start of things to come!

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Sunday, 16 September 2007

Drama at The Quayside

Both Fran and I as well as Cissie and Ada were invited to a special Captain's Reception for returning cruisers that night.

We went down early to get ready so that we could watch the ship leave the port and then not be rushing to get ready. The ship pulled away from the quayside and then...
"We're going back!" said Fran.

The ship did indeed head back to its mooring, after having swung both ends clear. We waited a moment and an ambuance could be seen heading along the port road. This was the second such night - in Marseilles a crew member had to be put ashore into an ambulance. Tonight it was a woman who was stretchered off and into the waiting ambulance. She had a drip feeding into her arm.

We both thought the same.
"She's had too much sun!" Fran said it first. It had been an extremely hot day and it would have been all too easy to have gotten too much sun up on the Pool Deck. I can't recommend it simply as a way of getting value from your holiday insurance...

The ship had another go at leaving Barcelona and as we got to the harbour wall we had to chuckle at this graffitied farewell!

The Captain's Party was being held in the Bounty Club on Deck 7. We hadn't been in there too much but the entertainment in there was a mix of nightly bingo, dancing to SP3, the resident band, and recreated game shows such as Mr & Mrs, Deal or No Deal and The Generation Game.

We were met by the Captain and ship's officers and shown to a table with a choice of bucks fizz or champagne. SP3 were playing - I tried really hard but still couldn't hear the guitarist... Waiters were bringing trays of nibbles; canapes mostly. The ladies weren't for trying them.
"He'll have some!" Cissie told each and every waiter or waitress, waving at me as though I were some ravenous canape fetishist.

Barcelona Round-Up

Meanwhile, back on the cruise...

It's still Thursday 29 August and we are walking through Barcelona city centre, overdosing on architecture and street furniture such as this wonderful street lantern.

We were hoping to find Gaudi's wonderful cathedral de la Sagrada Familia. However we had no street map and unfortunately in a city full of tall buildings you cannot see very far at all.

We followed signs for "Cathedral" and found ourselves at a totally different building. We had walked quite a long way, the temp was 35 degress centigrade and we were thinking fondly of the pool deck on the Island Star!

Our mistake had been in walking back along Las Ramblas after finding the Gaudi House. We should have immediately headed east and then would have found the cathedral. Next visit then!

We were that desperate for a drink, I even forfeited my usual strongly felt detestation of MacDonalds and got a Coke from there. If that needs explaining, you can visit all sorts of wonderful places in the world and then suddenly come across the garish, plastic and totally out-of-place MacDonalds signs. They think the entire world should be coloured and textured as though you were on a high street in New York or Disneyland. I think their food is awful too, but then American culture is penetrating England to an enormous - and I use the word deliberately - amount. Who needs a pint of coffee for Pete's Sake? Whatever happened to cup-sized cups? We'll be drinking from buckets soon.

So we arrived back at the Island Star and headed for the Beachcomber Restaurant in search of some lunch. Lunches for me during the week were mainly salad with a bit of cheese and some fruit. I actually lost 4 pound in weight whilst we were on holiday! (Pauses to cheer!)

Cissie and Ada were sitting at a table. Ada started chatting away but Cissie was strangely quiet.
"Are you alright?" I asked brightly. A grin came over her face but her mouth was still tightly clamped.
"I can't chew my meat!" she eventually confessed. I can't remember whether it was beef or lamb but anyway it had gotten the better of her.

We ended on our usual table on the Pool Deck and were talking about past holidays. The ladies had apparently been cruising on the Carousel around the Canaries as had we.

"We met up with this couple," said Cissie, "he had no voicebox, he could only make noises."
"Did he not have an electronic voice thing?" I asked, remembering a wonderfully lively 86-year-old on a weekend trip to Paris.
"No, he could only make little squeaking noises but you could normally tell what he was saying," Cissie continued. "Anyway we had all got sloshed one night and we went down to our cabins and his wife walked past their cabin and he got all excited and started making these noises really loud and it was just like squeaks. It was so funny I couldn't help myself and I laughed that much I dribbled all the way to our cabin!"

She broke off looking at me in a hypnotising manner, worried in case I hadn't got her meaning.
"You know? I was weeing!"
"Yes, Cissie, I've got the idea!"
"Well, he or his wife must have had the same problem because the next morning he knocked on our cabin door and gave me a huge pile of incontinence pads!!!"

A Winter's Tale

Yes I know it's only September!

That's the title of the second Christmas song we are doing for the Billy Fury web site this December.

A Winter's Tale was a hit for David Essex in the days when he had hair on his shoulders. Well... so did I! None on my head, but there was some on my shoulders...

I've used the Korg keyboard on this one and it will be our first track using the Korg rather than the Yamaha. Very orchestral and quite different to our normal stuff. Moya! Have you got your Billy alerts tuned in? It will be BILLYant!!!

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Blackpool's Illuminated Tram

This is Blackpool's illuminated tram. Well, I suppose I should say it is Blackpool's only illuminated tram still in service. If you visit the Rigby Road tram sheds and peer in (they won't let you in these days in case you fall and sue them - have I mentioned I hate the Compensation Industry?) then you can make out the rest of the illuminated fleet mostly if not totally from the 1960s, each of which looked superb.

The current one looks like what it actually seems to be - a normal tram with the top cut off in a fancy shape and a bit more fancy stuck on top. Sigh… There was talk a few months ago in the paper of the Wild West Train tram being restored and brought back into service. I hope so, but my favourite was the 1950s style rocketship! I wait in hope.

My Jukebox

I'm feeling mellow this morning... I'm sitting here at the computer with my jukebox playing 1960s sounds (Good Vibrations at the moment).

It's a Rowe Ami RI-2 and dates from 1979, although I usually have it loaded with 1960s records. Currently (I've just noted with a twinge of guilt) half of it seems to be loaded with Christmas songs... It does take a while to reload it to be honest. Well it does if, like me, you keep your records in specific boxes so they can be easily found again. Changing the 60 records that the Rowe Ami holds means getting out all the boxes, and then finding the sleeve, removing the title strip from the jukebox display and filing the record away in the correct place in the correct box.

Then you find another 60 and start to fill it again. If I had any sense I'd put all the records from a single box (they only hold 50 but let's not quibble) as this would make it much easier. I could then swap one box for another. At one time I used to swap them every fortnight. Now... well it was obviously Christmas the last time... I'm trying to remember which one...

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