Thursday, 2 July 2009

The Lure

After owning pinball tables since I was seventeen or eighteen, and the two I have now for over twenty years, I'm finally going to sell one of them... it was going to be both, but the promise of a new place with adequate space, has made me decide to let my Fathom go now, and hang onto the Eight Ball Deluxe a while, then see what pans out - hopefully I'll get back into playing again, and if not - well, they do look pretty cool, right?.

I never gave pinballs more than a glance until 1981, when being able to drive meant seeing more of some friends from the school I'd attended before being booted out for really quite triflingly bad behaviour, or attitude, more likely. I found that they had a regular Saturday night routine - off into Portsmouth to smoke & play the tables at Clarence Pier (a modest amusement park/funfair, part of which sat on piles in the sea, although 'pier' was stretching things a bit). Then fish & chips in Albert Road, followed by a drink or two before heading home. The fascination completely eluded me at first - I'd hang around, a bit bored, wondering why they laid money into the things; occasionally having a crack myself, but being mostly unimpressed, and yeah, rather unskilled.

Pinball Wizard - The Loose Acoustic Trio

There was no Damascene conversion to the lure of the silver ball, I just found myself, along with said friends, visiting pubs because they had a good, nicely maintained pinball table, trying out all those in an arcade - and in time - getting better at playing them. I know what sealed the deal though: I switched jobs within the same company, and found myself mostly mindlessly punching invoice numbers into a computer located in an office not far from the seafront at Bognor Regis... lunchtimes very soon became an hour of playing, mainly at a pokey arcade where either through lack of punters - or in fairness, a maintenance man who actually gave a fig - the machines were usually working well. Soon hooked I was, and chatting with the guys there led inevitably to the purchase of an up & together machine, just a few years old, put out to pasture by the newer, computerised, talking models... no more buzzers & bells, these young upstarts had snazzy electronic sound effects & samples, and spoke to you; impressive in 1981, still engaging after all these years.

I ended up the proud owner of a Bally 'Bow & Arrow' - an American Indian themed game, one of the last electro-mechanical games, and neatly crammed with motors, switches, relays & wires - a fully working mechanical computer, if you will, since oddly, the pinball industry appeared to have been blissfully ignorant of electronics, valves & transistors & integrated circuits, until the late 1970's; perhaps there was no advantage they could see?, no extra profit, but to a tech-minded young man, this was a weirdly anachronistic modern marvel - easily could have have been built in the thirties, not forty years & a few wars later.

Pinball Number Count - The Postmarks

Some years later, a brash Bally 'Eight Ball Deluxe' joined the clanking, whirring, ring a ding ding bow n Arrow - then later, an alluring and atmospheric 'Fathom' , all mermaids, trapped divers & seaweed, and multiball, three at once - woo hoo!.
It may sound daft, but I felt sorta guilty allowing the two flashy pretenders alongside my beloved & well-worn original, which even at under ten years old, felt aged & rooted in the past; guilty too at it not being played much any more, and despite, or even because of that, it was regretfully sold to make space.... a giant Rosebud, more fondly noticed in its absence.

Xanadu - Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich

And now, the Fathom has to go - not as hard as it could be, since I've played them very little, if at all, these last five years, but a wrench still, and a pleasant reminder too, of hours whiled away - immersed, captured; by sound, light, and imagination... Marvellous.

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