On the Road – the Commodore Scene meeting 2008 and a visit to AmigaKit
by Robert Bernardo, Fresno Commodore User Group, http://videocam.net.au/fcug
Another long-distance trip through England in June – this time from Haywards Heath in southern England to Birmingham in the middle England and from there to Preston in northern England in order to attend the Commodore Scene meeting. Fortunately, there was a direct train from Haywards Heath to Birmingham, and so, I did not have to go through London, thus saving me time and trouble. It was on a high-speed, modern train with electrical ports at every pair of seats and food service in the center car. The 3+ hour trip was not so bad, since it brought me past countryside I had not seen since 1995. There was the green, rolling countryside of Oxfordshire zooming past the windows, the canal boats plying their way in the canals, the quaint farmhouses and villages laying in the distance, the sky glowing blue and intermittedly cloudy.
I arrived into Birmingham at about 1 p.m., too early for MicroMart newspaper writer Shaun Bebbington to come and pick me up; he was still at work in the town of Crewe. When I got to the well-policed train station, I made my way up and out into the shopping center, the Pavillon. I picked up a sandwich from the Marks & Spencer Simply Food store and walked around the quite enormous mall. Going outside, I found myself on New Street, a pedestrian street which ran through the city centre directly to the photogenic Victoria Square and its regal buildings and imposing statues. Photos of the square, stamps from the nearby post office, 35mm film from the Tesco store, and I still had many hours to kill before Shaun would see me at 7 p.m.. Hey, how about a movie? Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull in the Odeon Theatre. I telephoned Shaun and told him my plans. Hauling my luggage up and down the steps of the theatre, I planted myself in a great position to see the movie. After my enduring half an hour of commercials and previews, the movie started. Movie review – 3 out of 4 stars!
Because of the half hour of commercials and previews, the movie ended later than what I expected, and Shaun was already waiting outside the theatre for me. We took the bus and then walked the rest of the way to his girlfriend's house, the place where I would spend the night. Lisa, who was ill with stomach problems, did not at first meet me when we arrived. Shaun and I went to the nearby convenience market to buy medicine for Lisa and frozen pizzas for all of us. Later that night, Lisa joined us in conversation about travel which invariably wandered off and on to Commodore computer talk.
The next day Shaun and I took an early morning train out of Birmingham and toward Preston. The one-hour ride brought us to the larger-than-expected Preston train station and to Commodore Free editor Nigel Parker who was waiting for us. After a few minutes, Commodore Scene's Allan Bairstow drove up in his Chrysler minivan, and all of us piled in for the drive to Nigel's house, which was quite some ways from town.
At Nigel's house, we met his wife, Suzanne, and his young son. After a quick tour of the modern premises (what a kitchen! Hey, an exercise room!), we men then trundled up the steep stairs to the loft “office”. It barely fit all four of us sitting down, so crowded was it with hardware and software plus goods for eBay sales.
I passed out Ghiradelli chocolates from San Francisco. The meeting ran for many hours, four to five hours as I recall. Though Allan had to leave after the first hour, we merrily carried on. The talk was wide and varied. We covered such things as Allan redoing his garage and thus his C= goods, the Maurice Randall situation, my video of California Commodore and Amiga clubs, my video of 1541 Ultimate creator Gideon Zweijtzer, the Behr-Bonz VIC-20 Multicart (a PAL one which I gifted to Shaun), various solid state card solutions such as the MMC2IEC, MMC64, and MMC Replay; clones of the FD-2000 and SuperCPU, the U.K's Dave Elliott and his former C= hardware, Commodore Gaming and Commodore Int'l., the U.K. scene including a new U.K. C= club, and C64 noters such as Noterwriter (because Nigel wanted to run a presentation at work and did not want to use Powerpoint for the PC).
To keep up our energy, Suzanne was kind enough to bring us sandwiches and tea.
The last hour or so was spent in the back garden, out of the hot and stuffy loft. We watched as Nigel's young son played, and talk continued over such subjects as the C64 DTV and Jeri Ellsworth. Early evening and it was time for the drive back to the train station.
Another night at Lisa's house. She had made a fine salmon dinner, and afterwards, I talked to her curious teenage son, Kristien, about life in California. Hans Dussel of the HCC Commodore in the Netherlands had given me many DVDs filled with .pdf's of European Commodore magazines; I spent much of that night trying to make copies of those for Shaun.
In the morning, Shaun gave me a carrier bag in which to carry my goods, including an early PAL VIC-20 which he had gotten out of storage. Then he brought me back to the ever-busy Birmingham train station. Travel hint – we discovered that it was cheaper to buy multi-legged tickets (from town to town to town) from Birmingham to Cardiff instead of one single ticket. It was a long but scenic ride to Cardiff for what was to be a brief 4-5 hour meeting with Matthew Leaman of Amigakit.com
I had never visited Cardiff, my last time in Wales being in 1995. As the train traveled nearer to that destination city, we passengers gazed out over the wide Severn estuary that led there. The weather was cloudy with areas of drizzle. I counted the cities in great anticipation of my arrival in Cardiff. Finally, the train pulled into Cardiff Central, a small station in comparison to that of Birmingham. The signs greeted me in English and in Welsh. I pulled out my travel mobile phone and called Matthew. He would be over right away and told me to meet him at a parking lot to the side of the station. When I got out, I was thrown for a loop. Which side parking lot? There were several. I waited in one for about 25 minutes. No Matthew. I called again. He repeated that it was a side parking lot. I went to another side parking lot. After waiting some more, I called him again and described the nearby landmarks to him. He didn't recognize those landmarks. I went back to the original side lot and waited. Another call and more description of the landmarks. Finally, to my relief he appeared and mentioned that this was not the side lot that he was thinking of.
Nevertheless, it was good to see him, our last meeting being at the AmiWest Show 2007. He drove to Cardiff Bay area. He was going to treat me to lunch, and we walked through a shopping mall in search of a good restaurant. Finding nothing there, we walked out onto the plaza itself. The weather had cleared up a bit, and the sun was shining through broken clouds, a wind blowing from the Irish Sea.
As we walked, he proudly pointed to several signs which had familiar-looking television actors and remarked, “Cardiff, the home of Doctor Who”. He pointed out the Cardiff opera house, used as background for a Doctor Who episode of a few years ago. Surprised, I told him I remembered that episode and the surrounding plaza that was used in the episode. After looking at a few restaurants that faced the sea, we decided on an upscale pizza restaurant. Waiters in uniform welcomed us into the bright, cheery, modern restaurant – a sign that this place was going to charge the big bucks (or should I say the big pounds).
Matthew and I talked of many things – the Commodore and Amiga clubs in the U.S., my travels around Europe, his AmigaKit business, future Amiga products. The pizza came – a large combination for me (or at least the closest the restaurant could come to a combination and it still wasn't gigantic American-style). Between bites of pizza and downing drinks, we happily conversed.
We could have stayed longer, but time was running out; I had to make my late afternoon train. It was off to AmigaKit, and I discovered it was in an industrial park. Matthew led me through the hallowed doors of his establishment and into the main reception area of the office. There I found his jolly assistant, Dave Markey, who I had previously met at AmiWest. He was very glad to see me, and it was good seeing my instant friend. The reception area was bare, save for a desk for Matthew to do his accounting and several Amigas that had been sent in for repair or upgrade. The more interesting area was the back room; here Dave had a couple of workbenches on which the computers would be repaired/upgraded. He was working on an A4000 desktop with PPC board, its innards flowing out. Spare parts used in repairs were stacked on the floor to the side of the workbenches.
However, those two rooms were not all. In the grand tour of the offices, Matthew led me to the “warehouse”, a giant room across the hall. Behind its dark-colored door was treasure! Amiga hardware and software... more and more... some piled in neat stacks, others on shelves. Boxes of unopened, new AmigaTech A1200s stacked to the ceiling. Boxed games. All kinds of adapters and cables. Used hardware and software. CDTV controllers (over 3,000!). Even Commodore 64 software that Matthew obtained from the defunct High Street Micro in Crewe. Matthew offered it all, and it was so tempting. I had to steel myself. My mission was to get a new, formatted hard drive for one of my A1200s, a package of AmigaOS 2.1, and for friends, one or two NTSC CD-32s. No, not the solid state hard drive. No, not a new tower to replace a ramshackle A1200 tower I had. I had to consider that the things I bought must fit in my suitcases for the airline journey home.
O.K., an 80-gig two-and-half inch IDE hard drive for the A1200 first. Matthew got cracking to it. He was going to format and install OS 3.9 on it. Meanwhile, I wandered around, looking at the hardware on the workbenches, talking to Dave , and taking photos and video of the areas I was permitted to record.
Prepping the 80-gig drive took some time, and my train deadline was coming up. I asked Matthew about the NTSC CD-32. He showed me a big box with unwrapped CD-32s jumbled inside haphazardly. There were 4 big boxes with a total of over 300 CD-32s. They had come from the CBM warehouse in the Philippines.
“Oh, so this is where those last CD-32s ended up,” I said.
Matthew cautioned me, “Only one out of thirty is NTSC.”
Uh-oh. With so little time left, Matthew couldn't test a whole slew of CD-32s. I reached into the box and drew out what I hoped would be the lucky NTSC one. He took it over to a workbench and hooked it up. After a few minutes, he gave me the bad news; it was PAL.
I asked him about AmigaOS 2.1; he didn't have it readily available. No time to look for it. I grabbed the drive, an empty box for the AmigaOne board I obtained a few days earlier, and an unusual, new-in-box Sega SG Fighter joystick – unusual in that it seemed very similar to a flight joystick. I paid for the goodies with the good, old Visa credit card. Then Matthew and I rushed out of his establishment in our dash for the train station.
Traffic seemed slower on the way back. I had missed the train which would take me through Reading and to my destination of Haywards Heath. I had to take the next train which took the longer route through London. I would have to change trains, and then I would catch a southbound one to Haywards Heath.
There was a traffic jam at the train station. Finally, Matthew edged his car in, he helped me unload my cases and bought goodies, and we shook hands.
“I'll see you at AmiWest, Matthew,” I said. He promised to bring the AmigaOS 2.1 with him. Then waving good-bye, I walked into the station to await my train.