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JagFest UK

A photo diary by Shiuming Lai

 

I had it easy at Retrovision III, just going as a visitor. JagFest UK would be altogether more ambitious, as I'd be there with members of the MyAtari editorial team, forming one of the main features at the event. The prospect was simultaneously exciting and daunting, to be able to meet our audience, and also have to co-ordinate our team. As a result, normal work on the magazine slowed down, and inevitably I got involved in the overall administration of the event with Nick Harlow of 16/32 Systems (mainly consisting of sending him endless e-mails at anti-social hours, keeping him from sleeping, asking questions and chasing little things).

In spite of our best efforts, by the Friday preceding the weekend, when some people were already on their way to the Medway Manor Hotel in Rochester, Matthew and I were scrambling at the last minute to get everything together. He had been taken away by his job so much that this was really the first chance we had in a long time to collaborate on anything relating to MyAtari. I left work dead on-time, expecting Matthew to be over at my house by 19:00 with his notebook PC, ready for software and data installation, and of course, packing all the items we'd be taking. Logistic problems included the fact that we'd be taking his car, which is parked in the street at night (What do you mean, that's not what you declared on your insurance policy?!), so we couldn't leave anything visible or of value in it. Not far behind on the list of worries was my totally empty wallet.

At home, waiting for Matthew, I started creating some display material for our stand, and realized the black cartridge in my printer was spent. I usually buy consumables in pairs, but last time I could only get one of the black due to a stock shortage! Within minutes of arriving, Matthew was out again, driving me to a cash machine, then onwards to our local 24-hour Tesco to pick up a black cartridge, and some snacks. In the fashion typical of when you need something most desperately, the store was out of stock of the black cartridge for my particular printer only, the alternative being a third-party compatible unit. Due to the urgent need, I broke my vow never to buy non-genuine cartridges following a bad previous experience. The substantial saving over an original Epson cartridge went towards Matthew's impressive stock of chocolate chip cookies, and my bottle of dark rum.

Back at my house, I briefed Matthew on what I had prepared, and what I still had left to do. We loaded up his notebook with the latest issue of MyAtari and our entire MyAtari data library, so we could work on the magazine while at the event, Winamp with the SAP plug-in for Atari XL/XE background music, and various device drivers to fully enable our digital imaging facility.

Time passed - when we completed all tasks that required both of us working together, Matthew went home and we continued our own individual tasks. E-mails flew back and forth as I fought with one problem after another, then Matthew dropped a bombshell. There was no more room in his car for a television set! My original plan was to have two consoles on the MyAtari stand, first of all our silver Jaguar (everyone would expect that, right?), and for fun, as nobody else mentioned bringing one on the MSN or AtariAge forum, my wood-effect, six-switch 2600. We were already taking my Philips CM8833-II RGB monitor, for its composite input (to preview photos from my camera), and also for its RGB input, on the assumption that we'd find a Jaguar-to-RGB cable at JagFest for the rest of the time when it would be playing games. Why RGB? Only because I had a friend connect his Jaguar to my very same monitor this way about ten years ago, that's all. Failing that, it could just function as a full-time camera monitor, and the Jaguar could fall back on good old RF, sharing a television set with the 2600, which could only use RF. What I didn't count on, with a well-padded 15" TFT display in there as well, was lack of space in the car.

Preparing for these events always meets with a huge list of things to do, that seems to get bigger as the deadline nears. I was awake well past 02:00, and eventually something had to give. My 2600, for which I'd even got a brand new, Atari original power supply just for JagFest, needed to be taken apart and re-assembled, because the last time I opened it, for some restoration work, I failed to assemble it properly and the cartridge slot was out of alignment. That, and the lack of a suitable screen decided against it, even though I had asked TXG from the Netherlands to bring a few 2600 games and it was too late to change that - he was already at the venue by this time! Finally, I could go to sleep, head buzzing.

04:38, I was awake, once again without any help from an alarm. I have been known to achieve this to an accuracy of five minutes - all I have to do is make a mental note of the time before I go to sleep, what time I need to be awake, and the rest just happens.

Matthew arrived at 05:45, in time to load up my gear and commence our journey by 06:00 as planned. JagFest wouldn't open until 10:00 but we were already "late" in that some people had arrived the night before, and we needed to secure our table space and positioning. Having the extra time would also give us a chance to get out of trouble if we lost our way.

Throughout most of the journey I kept looking at my watch and was surprised (even slightly concerned) by Matthew's leisurely pace of driving, something I'm not used to in his car. I needn't have worried. Despite missing a junction on the motorway, we still arrived in Rochester well within the hour, it was almost an anti-climax. We soon faced the issue of where exactly the hotel was located, as we had neglected to bring a local map of any description, simply due to other tasks taking priority, and making an assumption that it couldn't be that difficult to find a local establishment once in the town. The further we went into the town the more we thought perhaps it would have been a good idea to have a map, and we were on the verge of stopping and asking for directions.

A sign pointing to historical Rochester was the last thing we saw before heading into what was almost certainly not the right place. Matthew pulled up just past a roundabout after getting a safe distance from another car that seemed intent on racing us, and suggested turning back. In the following moments he spotted another sign right in front of us: Medway Manor Hotel! It was only 06:52.

[Photo: Medway Manor Hotel front view]

The hotel building looked a far cry from the grim picture painted by the grainy newspaper or magazine scan on its web site, and my pre-conceptions of its interior based on this were soon dismissed, too.

Matthew checked if reception was open. There was a JagFest flyer on the entrance door but no sign of life just yet. Obviously tired from my insistence that we travel so early, he took a nap in the car while I walked around for some fresh morning air. We were the only car parked at the front, so I was curious to find out where the guys who arrived earlier had parked. A little detective work led me to the rear of the hotel where, sure enough, I found Matthew Preston's car, and also TXG's. "The Dutch have arrived!"

The next step was to work out how to get a car into the rear car park, because the route I took to find it was for pedestrians only, down a side alley. I had spotted a landmark at the back, an optical instruments factory, that was enough to lead us the right way.

More Matthew sleeping ensued. My brain was on full alert, I couldn't sleep if I tried, so instead I decided to check the whereabouts of Ben Hills, our distant Unix boffin, who happens to own one of those spiffy Hades machines with a 68060 processor. The wretched mobile phone my work requires me to carry 24x7 has its uses after all.

[Photo: Ben Hills' message]

When I could take no more sitting in the car doing nothing, I wandered out again to check the hotel reception. Still eerily unattended and would be so for some time yet according to the sign. Taking note of the CCTV surveillance warning, I proceeded carefully to explore the hotel. Before long I found the Rose Restaurant, where our man from Milton Keynes, Matthew Preston, was enjoying English breakfast with Steve Moss (designer of the PC joystick adapter for the Jaguar), and the Demming brothers from the Netherlands. I don't know who was the more surpised, Matthew or I, as we'd never met for real before. Anyway, I took his advice to press the bell at reception to awaken the little old lady... She came out from hiding and I explained that I was here for JagFest, pointing to the various flyers posted around the reception area. Without so much as a request for identification she led me to the bar in the basement, where the event was to be held, and unlocked for me to get in. I suppose coming from London I'm not used to the different, more relaxed culture out of town.

The hotel was on the side of a hill, with the rear at the lower side, so one side of the basement actually had windows and doors. The bar was divided into two main sections, both of which already seemed packed out with equipment from the guys who'd arrived on Friday! How could this be? A sense of disappointment came over me, but the lady assured me we could sort something out once Nick Harlow and the hotel manager turned up later. I asked her to open one of the doors so we could start bringing our equipment inside. Through to the other room we went, where it was plain to see the Dutch had taken over, with TXG's impressive Atari and Jaguar banners adorning three of the walls that didn't have a large doorway in them.

I woke Matthew up, got him to back his car up to the door and explained the space predicament as we shifted our boxes. We'd have to occupy the main bar room, where there was already a large central table, while the drinking alcove was totally taken up by 16/32 Systems' vast array of goodies. Matthew efficiently piled all of our stuff onto the wooden bench by the window, while I paced around the central table sizing it up and having a nose at the equipment already set up there. I recognized Matthew Preston's PC from all the gadgets connected to it, though to the fore of my mind was whether we could fit the rest of MyAtari on the remaining space at the end.

What happened next was a blur (and I hadn't even opened my rum yet), as people started appearing. Nick Harlow came and sorted us with some tables, so the two Matthews decided between them to move Matthew Preston away from the central table, so MyAtari would be in its corner, freeing up valuable space for CiH (Chris Holland) and Felice (Richard Spowart) of Maggie when they turned up later to unload what seemed like a warehouse of Philips RGB monitors from Felice's car.

[Photo: Matthew Preston removing the last of his things from the central table]

Matthew Preston in the foreground moving table. CiH is already rocking the house with YM tunes, while James Haslam sets up the Cheshunt Computer Club area next to the bar. Through the door on the right is the "Dutch room", or gaming den.
 

[Photo: 16/32 Systems]

Christmas must be early... 16/32 Systems' stand, with Japanese-spec Jaguar retail pack taking pride of place. Probably the bold "Made in USA" label didn't do it many favours in the world's most advanced and fiercely patriotic gaming nation, even if Atari is a Japanese word.
 

[Photo: The central table in the bar room]

View from the alcove: Nick Harlow on the extreme left, and Felice in shorts, pondering the mysteries of Windows XP on his machine set up for playing DVDs all day long.
 

[Photo: Sacha Hofer having morning tea]

Sacha Hofer waking up with a good old English cuppa.
 

[Photo: Steve Moss in the gaming room]

Steve Moss in the Dutch room, fine-tuning his PC joystick adapter for the day ahead.
 

[Photo: Tyrant and Gaztee having a natter]

Tyrant with his nice home-brew Jaguar advert T-shirt, having a chat with Gaztee. Do we need more evidence that the Dutch have arrived?!
 

[Photo: Jaguar banner]

Those screens will soon be blasting out pixels like no tomorrow...


By 09:15, the place was well in motion. Other people appearing now were TXG and Fox-1 of MNX, Sacha Hofer from Switzerland, some of the guys stationed in the next room, Gaztee (Gary Taylor, event organizer), Steve Moss, Tyrant (Nick Turner)... One nice thing I noticed was the use of two large mirrors on the lengthways absolute opposite walls (discounting the partition between rooms), giving an impression of extra space and light inside. We needed that as much as possible, once the Dutch started on their beer and ciggies!

MyAtari's corner was still heavily under construction at this point, although we'd set up our nice neon-lit Atari sign (sourced from the Atari UK office!). I don't know where Matthew was digging out this stuff but he even found a free-standing wooden board, ideal for showing off the Jaguar posters we were selling!

Sensory overload was already setting in as I walked around capturing the unfolding events. LinkoVitch (Graeme Hinchliffe), on the side of the central table nearest to us, had managed to get his BJL development PC working in an orientation other than lying on its side with its guts hanging out, while showing a simple Jaguar demo coded at the last minute before the convention (sounds a familiar story!), WarBalls, and selling Starcat Developments' Jaguar development kit CDs.

[Photo: Felice]

The great mind that is Felice of Maggie.
 

[Photo: CiH]

CiH showing STE and Falcon demos. Matthew Preston is in the background fiddling with cables under the table!
 

[Photo: Close-up of ST demo]

Old skool, yeah!
 

[Photo: Books and Atari scene music CDs]

ST technical books and Atari scene music CDs for sale on Felice's table.
 

[Photo: Jaguar posters]

Jaguar posters galore. That Iron Soldier one is awesome.


For some reason there was a crate each of Castlemaine XXXX Australian lager and Coca-Cola up for grabs in the corner by the door leading upstairs. Needless to say these didn't last long, as thirsty gamers played hard in the heat of the fantastic sunny weather. We had to prop open the fire exit between the MyAtari stand and the bar, for some much needed ventilation.

First technical problem
Once our Jaguar system was all in place, we just needed to connect it to my RGB monitor. Matthew Preston had a Jaguar-to-SCART cable, with a SCART-to-composite adapter on the end. RGB was preferable but I wasn't about to complain, as we'd brought the Jaguar very much to play, it would be a shame to sit there purely as an exhibition piece. No matter how much we fiddled, the cable and adapter set-up wouldn't work. Matthew was confused, as he'd only recently bought the adapter and used it with his own Jaguar. My monitor was definitely working, confirmed by plugging my camera into the composite input. I borrowed another SCART cable from Fox-1 which gave the same result, pointing squarely at the SCART-to-composite adapter. Nick at 16/32 kindly lent us a pukka Atari composite and stereo A/V cable which worked flawlessly. I wished we had room in the car for a powerful sound system though - the little speakers in my RGB monitor strained to be heard.

The Dutch room continued...
Forgive the incoherent jumping around, that simply shows how difficult it was to know where to start! Back in the Dutch room... Right between the exit and Nuon DVD player in the corner stood a beautiful (if a little dusty) Jaguar retail demonstration kiosk, on loan from Telegames. Too bad this was never set up with a Jaguar inside to play but we could still admire. Fox-1 did some intense Tempest 2000 training for much of the morning, while on the right side of the two pool tables that were put together with some wooden boards on top, TXG battled it out on Raiden, one of my favourite Jaguar games.

Opposite the Raiden Jaguar were the Nuon, and Robert Demming showing some very interesting home-brewed CD loader software for the Jaguar. Those large screens were really marvellous for the gaming.

[Photo: XE computer and 1050 disk drives]

[Photo: Fox-1 playing Tempest 2000]

[Photo: TXG playing Raiden]

[Photo: Raiden]

[Photo: Robert Demming's CD loader]

[Photo: Jaguar kiosk]

[Photo: Nick Harlow stacking up software for sale]

[Photo: Nick Harlow talking to Mark Branson of CCC]

You know what? It's still not 10:00 yet, JagFest UK hasn't officially opened, as can be seen here, with Nick Harlow filling shelves (or cardboard boxes acting as shelves), and any space with a horizontal plane, with endless boxes of software. Peter West and Mark Branson (seen talking to Nick Harlow above, with one hand inside a bag of something tasty looking!) were on the scene, and fellow CCC stalwart Derryck Croker was due any minute. The floodgates were in danger of collapse at this rate.

 

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MyAtari magazine - Feature #2, July 2003

 
Copyright 2003 MyAtari magazine