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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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,
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!"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
must be early... 16/32 Systems'
stand, with Japanese-spec Jaguar
retail pack taking pride of
place. Probably the bold
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.
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
Hofer waking up with a good
old English cuppa.
Moss in the Dutch room, fine-tuning
his PC joystick adapter for
the day ahead.
with his nice home-brew Jaguar
advert T-shirt, having a chat
with Gaztee. Do we need more
evidence that the Dutch have
screens will soon be blasting
out pixels like no tomorrow...
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!
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!
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.
The great mind that is Felice of Maggie.
showing STE and Falcon demos.
Matthew Preston is in the background
fiddling with cables under the
technical books and Atari scene
music CDs for sale on Felice's
posters galore. That Iron Soldier
one is awesome.
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.
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
The Dutch room
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
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.
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.
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