Monday, 15 November 2010

A Trip Down Memory Lane

I was reminded of the original arcade game Pong as I wrote a recent blog post. I do believe that there is still a place for such a stripped back version of video gaming but it is amazing how little resemblance it bears to, for example, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood (the game that my daughter Liberty is currently drooling over and putting on her Christmas List).

I suppose I am of an age now where I have lived long enough to have witnessed many changes and developments both significant and trivial, and with maturity am becoming more reflective. I am starting to remind myself of the "when I were a lad..." generation.

Earlier this month, I made the one hour trip from my home to the shopping Metropolis that is The Bullring, Birmingham. The purpose of the trip was not actually to shop but to meet up with an old friend in a way that has become something of an annual tradition. However, with Christmas rapidly approaching, taking advantage of the consumer paradise was an inevitability.

It was in HMV that I had a "when I were a lad...." moment. I was looking for a few items on my mental shopping list - a CD of tango music, the Dexter boxset and the Taylor Swift single (which I wasn't even sure had been released yet). It was a fairly large store - lots of square footage all on one floor. As I looked around trying to plan my purchase attack, I was struck by how everything all looked the same. Albums. singles, video on DVD and Bluray, PS3 games, Wii games, XBox 360....... there were just a few T Shirts, calendars, posters and gaming accessories to break up the sea of silver discs in similarly shaped and sized plastic boxes. Within the individual categories, once I had established which was which, the range of titles available was equally bewildering.

As a teenager, the record shop in the shopping centre was a cool place to be seen in and the hot boy from school worked a Saturday job. I used to actually feel a bit intimidated going in there, preferring to browse the vinyl in Woolworths on the High Street. The best thing about Woolies was the bargain bin where singles that had fallen out of the charts would be sold off for 10p. I bought a lot of dodgy singles for 10p which I still own and still have their original Woolies 10p price sticker.

I love how easy CDs are to use and store but I do miss vinyl. Putting a record on your record deck was such an elaborate ritual. The record would be removed from its outer sleeve which would often be a beautiful work of art, then very carefully taken out of the fragile paper inner sleeve. The twelve inch LPs were tricky to handle and place on your turntable without covering with fingerprints. Trying to locate the stylus in the exact position was a well practised skill, especially if you wanted to select a specific track. One false move and you could easily end up with a scratch that would trap your favourite song in an endlessly repeating loop of audio nonsense. It took me a long time to realise that when I accused my kids of sounding like a broken record during particularly annoying pleading sessions, they had no idea to what it referred. The tiniest bit of muck in one of the grooves would cause your record to jump and God forbid that you should try to move anywhere within the vicinity of your equipment - if you were even slightly heavy footed, the stylus could end up bouncing right across your prized sound recording like skimming a flat pebble on a lake.

Anyway, my point, from which I am digressing, is that albums were 12" Long Playing vinyl recordings and singles which were much more popular purchases then than now, were 7" discs, often supplied in a paper sleeve bearing only the record company logo. Films were in video cassette format and gaming had yet to explode onto the market place. It was infinitely more straight forward!

Would I swap the HMV of the Bullring for this more simplistic model? Categorically NO. Much as I like to reminisce (and sometimes moan!), I find this technological age into which we have been plunged, incredibly exciting. It may take me a little longer to do my Christmas shopping but I think I can factor that into my time plan. And if I feel the need to indulge my nostalgic side, I can always dust off the record collection and enjoy that almost forgotten ritual ...

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