photo diary by Shiuming Lai
My phone rang. "I'm signing up for
probation," said Tyrant, just 10 minutes
before I was due to meet him at Ealing Broadway,
Not really understanding what he meant, I acknowledged
this strange statement but it wouldn't leave
my head. As my bus made
its way, I realized he meant, "I'm standing
outside the station" - losing my hearing
in my old age, methinks!
Indeed, on this
cold and wet morning, standing at the entrance
to Ealing Broadway Station was a grizzly Tyrant
carrying a sleeping bag, a sports bag full
of Jaguar rotary controllers and a mysterious
black case clenched with white knuckles, it
later transpired to contain his precious Jaguar Alpine board.
We hopped on
a bus to Peter West's house, where he was backing
up his Falcon's hard disk to DDS-2 tape before
carting his system up to Birmingham with us
in his estate car.
Our destination was the Micro Mart computer
fair, yes, one of those places that is like
a huge Sunday market, not a glamorous exhibition
with major manufacturers having a presence.
Specifically, we were to be manning the Atari
section of the retro computing feature area.
Strictly speaking it wasn't a JagFest like the
one earlier this year in Rochester, but more
of a historical attraction among the modern
PC-oriented event. However, many
familiar faces from the first UK JagFest would be there, not to mention
some of the MyAtari team.
The journey north
started with very heavy rain along the A40.
Peter was driving and I sat in front, which
was a bit silly considering my incredibly poor
navigation skills. Tyrant was going to spend
the Saturday night at Stone's new pad in Malvern
(famed for its mineral water), and had brought
a microscopic-detailed set of directions printed
off a web site.
I dug out my
borrowed notebook PC to show Tyrant the last-minute
slideshow presentation I received from Lars
of Starcat Developments, showing his latest
Jaguar game, Eerievale. A preview of the game
and its soundtrack were demonstrated just a
week earlier at the Euro JagFest in Germany,
it would be great to show everyone over here
the exclusive screens and game information.
Unfortunately we weren't able to obtain permission
to have the soundtrack in its current state,
so we had to make do with Michael Jackson's
All the driving
and talking made us crave some lunch.
Our first stop, at a service station situated
next to a BMW showroom, provided the opportunity
to get a snack, stretch our legs and take a
look at the controversial new 5 Series. I have
to say, it looks better in the flesh.
any proper food at the service station so we
continued our journey, eyes peeled for a pub.
We missed loads because of Peter's fast driving
and partly due to talking too much to pay attention.
Finally we shouted, "Pub!" soon enough
for Peter to stop safely. It was the Duke of Marlborough
Country Inn on the A44. What a cosy and pleasant
pub this was. Following much deliberation over
the menu, we all settled for the same thing:
duck salad sandwich. Being where we were, and
from the time it took to be served, it wouldn't
have surprised me if the landlord had to pick up his
shotgun and don his wellies to go out and catch
the duck first. The sandwiches got thumbs-up from
all three of us, even if there wasn't a lot
of duck for the money.
By the time we
finished lunch it was already getting close
to mid-afternoon, though we didn't want to arrive
in Birmingham too early (and neither did most
of the PC exhibitors, as we later found) because
nobody else would be there, perhaps not even
to let us in. The way to Malvern was a rather
uneventful affair through the beautiful Cotswolds,
save for a very near head-on and high-speed
collision, averted only by Peter's Formula 1
railway station was no problem. When Stone turned
up, Peter and I left Tyrant to catch a train
with Stone. Darkness was rapidly looming so
we wasted no time getting to Birmingham. I took three
of Tyrant's rotary controllers for the Tempest
2000 competition, because we didn't know what
time he'd get to Birmingham by train on a Sunday.
at the Birmingham NEC at 17:00, we had a tough
time trying to locate Hall 17 and ended up driving
back out of the gargantuan complex and in again.
Once inside, the first thing we saw was a van
of a company providing the arcade cabinets for
the retro section. A word of warning: the lighting
in that place was horrible! Consequently, the
white balance of the photos here is all over
the place - this is partly intentional to show
it as it was and partly because some things
looked plain ugly in that light. Put another
way: please excuse my lousy photography!
the long partition in the loading area was the
exhibition area. Shaun Bebbington of Micro Mart
magazine was already there, setting up the Commodore
section with Allan Bairstow of Commodore Scene
magazine, together with a small group of helpers.
The Sinclair/SAM corner was also taking shape.
Overall it was easy to spot the retro area as
it was marked out by a large overhead banner
suspended from the roof, and a nice orange felt
covering on the floor, something shared by the
other main feature area, the Micro Mart magazine
myself reasonably aware of alternative retro
can honestly say I had no idea the SAM Coupé
ever made it to market.
set up his Falcon in almost no time at all and
the Atari section was looking quite bare, especially
compared to the incredible amount of machines,
tools and other bits the Commodore section had.
I wondered how they'd manage to cram it all
into the available space (later it was shown
that they couldn't!). I didn't really have anything
with me to show, just my six-switch 2600 which
still needed its cartridge slot re-aligned.
This turned out to be far easier than I thought,
so I was left twiddling my thumbs wondering
what to do next, as the rest of the hall was
empty, and Nick Harlow of 16/32 Systems hadn't
there was a chap loitering around the Atari
section with a number of interesting items,
such as a "Darth Vader" 2600 with
home-brew composite video output, and a "pirate"
version of the VCS that had many games built-in.
It looked almost identical to Atari's classic
2600 except for the omission of Atari logos,
and the name of the system was slightly changed.
I found out the chap in question was Ian
Gledhill, co-editor of Retro Review, an A5 printed
magazine covering all retro platforms (and henceforth
pestered him about the much delayed issue 5). From
reading it, I always thought Ian was mainly
an Amiga man, but he had loads of Atari stuff,
including some of the new generation home-brew
games released in collaboration with AtariAge.
The quality of these games and their presentation
is very professional indeed. Marble Craze was
one that I always wanted to play, but we were
having technical problems. My 2600 only had
RF output, and nobody (yet) had a television
set, we had to use Ian's modified 2600 with
his Philips RGB monitor, but it wasn't playing
members of the MyAtari team would be coming
the next day. Matthew Preston was still at home
and getting ready, transferring nearly all of
his Atari XL/XE software onto an old laptop.
It was pretty funny, he had a fear of not managing
to finish this task because he kept getting
side-tracked by playing all those great old
Atari games! By this time Peter was going through various
software he could demonstrate on his Falcon,
mainly some CD-ROMs of old and well-known demos,
but nothing that really stretched the power
of the machine. I hadn't given much thought
to it, not having brought anything significant
to show myself, but then I had an idea and asked
Matthew to download New Beat's ACE Tracker and
bring it with him on Sunday. Cool idea, because
he was also bringing a secret weapon to make
sure the Atari section would be heard as well
as seen: his guitar practice amplifier! Oh yes...
Scene had this cool kiosk style
stand complete with Commodore
From left to right: Shaun Bebbington
(Micro Mart), Ian Gledhill (Retro
Review) and Allan Bairstow (Commodore
Scene). Come on, lads, you've
got an exhibition to prepare
and you're standing around playing
finally arrived at 20:30, with Richard Stevens
who'd brought his Milan 060 for demonstrating
the elusive Papyrus X, itself only having arrived
in the last 24 hours. Although Nick didn't have
the cool Jaguar kiosk from the previous JagFest
to match the Commodore guys, he did have four
large Sony Profeel CRT video monitors for the
Jaguar competitions - we quickly stacked them
up into an impressive looking video wall, which
later had to be cut down to two screens due
to insufficient power outlets! Finally the Atari
section was looking healthier. We all lent a
hand to unload the last bits from Nick's van
as it was getting late and we were all rather
hungry. Even at this late time, there were no
more than five other exhibitors present and
setting up! Either we were there on the wrong
day, or those other guys were cutting it very
I had hoped to
find a nice curry house but none of us really
knew the area (local lad Gary Taylor was not
to arrive until Sunday). Peter led the convoy
of starving retro computing people to our hotel,
from where we'd decide what to do next. We'd
all been booked at a Premier Lodge hotel many,
many miles from the Birmingham NEC. I noticed
there were Premier Lodge hotels on the NEC site
itself, but our one was a much nicer country
pub affair, rather than the concrete monoliths
back at the NEC. In the end we stayed for
dinner at the hotel, because it had a very warm
and busy atmosphere. Everyone with a room booked
got a complimentary shot of whiskey and by the
end of the evening we were all well and truly
fed. Those crispy mushroom thingies were simply
else went to bed, the night had just begun for
me. Months earlier, I took delivery of Matthew
Preston's Jaguar to do a paint job on it. Unfortunately
I got bogged down with other things and
only had the idea to show it at JagFest Micro
within a couple of weeks of the event. It would
have gone exactly to plan but a last-minute
glitch required me to re-work the final coat.
This meant I was up into the small hours
in my hotel room with a 1,600 W paint stripper,
desperately trying to heat up (without getting
too close otherwise it would start melting)
and accelerate the hardening
of the last coat of paint! If only I had a way
to suspend the Jaguar above the heater in the
room, because that was quite intense, then I
could have enjoyed a good night's sleep.
Nick and Richard
left for the NEC very early, as Nick was understandably
paranoid about leaving all his stock unattended
while the other exhibitors and unknown people
started to populate the hall. Peter and I arrived
shortly before opening time, skipping breakfast
at the hotel.
arrived early, he'd even got his dad to come
along, and friend Malcolm, who worked at Texas
Instruments back in the '70s, in the pioneering
days of home computing. He brought a 1200XL
and mint condtion 800XL, all in their packaging,
and his XE Game System with modified Nintendo
lightgun. During the course of the day, Matthew
re-arranged his stuff so many times I gave up
trying to get a definitive photograph of it!
I managed to
get Matthew's Jaguar into a reasonable state
for display, together with MyAtari's silver
Jaguar. The idea was to make Matthew's one the
inverse, so it would have a blue body, white
LED (a very bright one, it turned out)
and the Jaguar logo painted in silver. Unfortunately
all attempts to paint silver onto the much darker
blue were not successful as the blue showed
through, so I left it off for the "stealth"
look. Yes, everybody, this is a special developers'
de-bugging Jaguar! What you can't see in the
photo below (and that horrible, horrible NEC
lighting) is that the pearlescent blue paint
shows funky hints of purple when viewed from
into the pace of things, I fired up my PC notebook
and started showing Starcat's Eerievale presentation.
Some visitors were surprised that development
is still going on for the Jaguar, can you imagine
what they'd make of the games still coming out
for the 2600?!
Branson of Cheshunt Computer Club also arrived
early, with his CT60 super-Falcon tower. The
Atari section was already full to bursting and
he had to take residence on the next table,
in the Texas Instruments corner, which had space
explained some of the problems he'd had with
the temperature monitoring software reporting strange values,
but was very pleased now with the speed at which
he can view MyAtari pages in CAB. There was
a large diameter exhaust fan in the rear of
the case but Mark didn't have an adapter to
connect it to any of the power supply standard
drive power plugs. The exhibition hall electricians
had left off-cuts of bare copper wire all over
the floor and that gave me an idea. I trimmed
a couple of short lengths to insert between
the fan's plug and a floppy drive power plug.
It didn't work because I had thoughtlessly connected
the red wire on the fan (+ve) to the same colour
on the floppy drive plug, where red is only
5 V not the 12 V the fan requires (that'll be
the yellow wire!). Well at least now we know!
day long, people were asking Mark about his
CT60 Falcon, mainly for all the wrong reasons!
In particular, one gentleman was highly impressed
by the case and wanted one to build a PC server,
all talk of a 68060 powered Atari inside went
into one ear and came out of the other. Eventually
tired of this, Mark slapped a notice on the
side of the tower so people would be left in
no doubt as to what was inside! It reminded
me of a conversation I had with Thomas
Göttsch of Milan Computer years ago, about the
then-radical appearance of the Milan II case.
"If you make it look like a PC, people
think it's a PC", logically enough. Right
from the beginning, I've been on Mark's case
(no pun intended) to remember to pay attention
to the external appearance. At the moment, the
priority is, quite rightly, to get the
internals all working like clockwork.