Rewind and try again

12:46 am : Thursday, 11 October 2018  |  , ,

The assembly of our audio system continues, though only because I was able to perform a successful repair.

A month ago I purchased a Sony TC-KE300 cassette deck, and was delighted when it turned up the very next day. The seller was certainly keen to do well, and he succeeded. Happiness soon turned to profound dismay when I realised the deck was in fact faulty. Yes it was 20 years old and originally installed in a pub or club environment, but remained in a very good condition. Trouble was - pressing play, forward or rewind would result in the forward spool winding backwards and emitting a mechanical rasp.

If there is one thing that goes wrong in an audio product, it is belts. Through the years, rubber belts can stretch, harden, lose their shape, or even melt into a very unpleasant goo. Both belts in this deck were intact and appeared in good state, and it was sadly a mechanical, cog-based issue. A cog that exists deep within the tape transport. Sensing defeat, I contacted the seller who arranged a prompt refund without any argument. A great shame, as I merely desired a working deck.

Weeks passed, and because of illness keeping me in, the cassette deck remained on its side in the spare room. I consulted many online forums and watched many videos that I hoped would be able to shed some light on this specific issue. Last night I landed on a Polish language site dedicated to cassette decks, which contained a page dedicated to this very deck. The problem is apparently very common on many Sony decks. In this case, a cog situated on the spool motor spindle would ride itself up that very spindle, thus preventing the tape transport from performing its play and wind manoeuvres. All I had to do was open the frighteningly intricate sandwich that is the entire tape transport, glue that cog back in place, pin the two belts in place and then pray that they both successfully drop into place once I close that sandwich!

My delight when the deck started to operate as intended was immense! I walked into the bedroom where Hannah was in bed, going: "Wa-heee! I repaired that deck!" I am only disappointed that I did not spot the errant cog when I first had it all open four weeks ago. But in all fairness, I had yet to happen upon the following sound advice:

Deck spotkała typowa przypadłość nękająca ten typ mechanizmu Sony. Pękł trybik w zespole odpowiedzialnym za zwijanie i przewijanie taśmy. Jest on chyba na ciepło osadzany na oś silnika i po latach pewnie na skutek zmęczenia materiału pęka i albo zsuwa się z ośki albo zaczyna się na niej obracać. Skutkuje to awarią przewijania i zwijania taśmy oraz hałasem generowanym przez mechanizm. Naprawa polega na wklejeniu trybiku w odpowiednim miejscu na osi silnika przewijania. Dostęp do mechanizmu łatwy, likwidacja usterki jest szybka.

I mean, how can you possibly fail with advice like that? Just beautiful! I owe that guy a Tyskie.

And as for tape cassettes themselves, here in the UK we can still buy a 5-pack of Maxell UR tapes for £4 in Wilko. Yes they are just plain old bog-standard ferrics, but using cassettes was always about wallowing in tape hiss, so we just have to smoke it and shut it. Type IV metal cassettes that used to sell for £4-8 each are now being sold on the net for £85 each, but hey, it's your money!

Spin doctor

8:06 pm : Monday, 17 September 2018  |  , , , ,

My birthday fell on the 10th of this month, and for it, my partner allowed me to spend £100 on a second-hand turntable. While that same £100 would have bought me a brand new Audio Technica AT-LP60 - a rather respectable unit too - I instead chose to go back 30 years, to a German-made classic that I owned in my teenage years. Enter the Dual CS505-2.

For £100 it is in a rather terrific condition, with an unscratched dust cover, although it does have issues that need to be ironed out. When it arrived I discovered the tonearm was loose on its vertical bearing. Taking that bit apart, I discovered that a "caged ball bearing" part was missing. We shall assume the previous owner took it apart and lost this vital ingredient, and did not have the stomach to be upfront about this when selling it. While I was able to temporarily fashion a makeshift plastic bearing from a TePe interdental brush (!) and render it operable, I will need to lay my hands on some 1mm ball bearings, some grease and a 3mm washer. The alternative would be £20 for a new tonearm and bearing assembly.

The motor and pitch control assembly also requires attention. The motor spindle itself is divided into six sprung "fingers" - a bit like an umbrella with its six sides, and these "fingers" are pushed open or sprung closed in order to regulate the effective diameter of the motor spindle, and thus the resultant RPM of the platter. One of those fingers is bent outwards, thereby affecting speed stability, and would possibly break if I tried too hard to push it back into place. Someone suggested a hack involving cotton thread, so I will try that. Otherwise it is £25 for a new motor.

Is it really worth the effort and money to bring an old turntable back into use as opposed to buying a new one? Yes, it is. New turntables that are properly made are quite pricey, and their affordable counterparts always seem to have little imperfections, like a platter that bobs up and down while turning. Choosing your own cartridge and stylus combination can also be limited with newer turntables. If you favour real quality, then you do have to look back to the golden age of turntables, when they were made with proper attention to true performance. And that is something that will NEVER come from a Crosley or a Jensen.

Music time now, and we are going back to 2007 for this song from one-man act Soapbox Story. I never realised it at the time, but the singer Will Hunt is actually the son of former ELO member Bill Hunt. All this time and I never suspected it! I also wrote a blog post about him back in 2006.

Soapbox Story - Lost And Found

Sound decision

9:46 pm : Thursday, 6 September 2018  |  , , , , ,

I have started to assemble an audio system once again. I have always taken my listening seriously, yet for the last near 20 years have done most of my listening on a PC or an MP3 player. Now is the time to get back to how I used to listen to my music - on proper audio separates.

In the mid 90's I went through a spell of homelessness. Actual rough sleeping, along with living in temporary accommodation. If the whole experience taught me anything, it taught me gratitude for every little shred or speck that I am given in life. Nothing in life is guaranteed, and you can lose the lot in a stroke.

Once back on my feet again and in suitable surroundings, I cobbled together a collection of second-hand audio equipment that was purchased from that buy/sell/exchange company that used to have numerous shops in London's Notting Hill. Cheap vinyl and cheap CD's were also plentiful. As a listener I was catered for in terms of hand-me-down goods. As my financial situation improved, I upgraded my audio equipment piece by piece, and assembled a thoroughly decent listening system - not to mention a comprehensive music collection.

Then in 2000, something happened. A certain guilt fell upon me. I looked at my audio system and 300+ CD's and thought to myself: "This is obscene. I came from the street with next to nothing, and some of the people I knew back then are still there, eking out a survival. I have amassed this lot at great expense, while there are f*ckers out there who cannot afford to eat or clothe themselves. This is not right. I can survive perfectly well with just my clock radio." Then began the process of selling what I had and imposing upon myself this voluntary poverty - rather like a Hare Krishna devotee taking their Vow of Poverty. I could not allow myself to have luxuries while others were suffering.

Since Hannah and I have been living together (for six years now), she has expressed desire for an audio system with a record deck included. I have never been against the idea, yet I have actively prevented her from going down the Crosley Cruiser route! While those cruddy suitcase turntables may not actively ruin your records - despite what some may tell you - they do however ruin your listening enjoyment. In a shop she spotted what looked like a Crosley on stilts and said: "That looks nice!" I replied: "As long as you don't play anything on it!"

For our system, I am seeking out the very components I was using up until 2000. I chose them with care and attention at the time, and know what to trust! We have the Denon PMA250SE amplifier and a Technics SL-PG580A CD player thus far, and other parts will be added in time. As the CD player itself is 20 years old it needs a new laser pickup, and I have ordered one at a cost of £11. The player itself is utterly trustworthy and sounds delicious, and thankfully almost every CD player released in the last 20 or so years uses the same standard-issue Philips laser transport. I will resurrect it, don't you worry!

Audio time now. Here is a mashup put together by myself. The backing track is from the genuine Massive Attack instrumental, which has been extended in places, and the vocal track of Robin S is out there to find on Youtube. Raise the key of the vocal by a semitone, get its tempo in sync with the music, balance the vocal with EQ, compression and careful use of reverb, and the result is actually worth listening to. I still find it hard to believe I actually put this together myself!

Massive Attack vs Robin S - Show Me Sympathy

Sheeple carrier

7:06 pm : Saturday, 4 August 2018  |  ,

Early in 2017 I attempted to follow the herd and become an iPhone user. This I did by purchasing a thoroughly prehistoric 3GS model for all of £22. After years of being an Android devotee I dipped my toe in the water, and found myself just not getting on with it. What did not help was being stuck on an old version of iOS which severely limited the choice of available apps for me.

On Wednesday my partner, who I care for, sent me a link to a site that offered discounts for carers or people who care for someone. I passed the grilling and was admitted to the site. One such offer that was thrown up at me was for the iPhone SE - the smallest of the current bunch but still being sold brand new. The offer was for a free handset, unlimited calls and texts, and 4GB of monthly data for £22 per month. Naturally I bit the worm!

The next day being Thursday, there is a knock at the door, and I am an iPhone user once again. While I may not have been impressed the first time around, a later and faster model with an up-to-date version if iOS is hard to beat. I am a sheep once again. Yes it is a shame to have to retire that Galaxy SIII Mini, but it really did start to hang at the most inopportune moments.

What amazes me about the iPhone is how it comes so immaculately packed in that box. Obviously for the money these things are worth you would expect some degree of opulence thrown in. And yes, I am fully aware that it was likely hand-assembled in China by poor sods who were deprived of sleep and paid a miserable pittance. But then, how can we determine which companies do or don't employ said practices? Do Samsung and Huawei also see their products assembled in similarly unethical circumstances? Sure you can boycott these Goliaths of the tech world, but who do you then turn to when you need a mobile phone? I would suggest that all of these companies are complicit in said tactics, so there's no escaping that - whoever makes your phone.

Another product that comes heavily discounted on that site is Cath Kidston, who just so happen to be adored by my partner! An over-the-shoulder satchel in your finest dotty material for only £30? Of course I don't mind!

Treading on eggshells

9:24 pm : Wednesday, 11 July 2018  |  ,

Very recently I somehow succeeded in getting myself banned from Twitter. While the microblogging site has been under pressure to clamp down on questionable content - and I am very much in favour of them doing so - they do appear to have gone a bit far in their policing of "threatening" content.

While grazing on my Twitter feed, I happened upon a tweet by the satirical news site the Daily Squib:

Notice their use of the hashtag #KillAllMen - a hashtag that has been around since time immemorial, and is clearly designed to rattle those who somehow deserve a good rattling. I responded with the following tweet:

It's Valerie Solanas all over again! #ScumManifesto #KillAllMen

For anyone out there who does not already know: Valerie Solanas was a radical feminist and author who, aside from shooting Andy Warhol, also wrote a publication entitled the SCUM Manifesto - with SCUM being an acronym for "Society for Cutting Up Men". Put simply, she envisioned a world where men would somehow cease to exist. Her views clearly, and views that some people may even sympathise with.

My reply merely referenced this publication, along with the highly-popular #KillAllMen hashtag. I am a man, remember. I may play the flute and also shun beer and football, but I remain a man. I have proof of this, but I am not about to start posting a pic of it. In fact, such pics usually prompt the use of the #KillAllMen hashtag.

Despite these facts, Twitter saw fit to suspend my account for allegedly violating rules on "hateful conduct", and despite my subsequent appeal are choosing not to restore it. A clear case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Rules and regulations going a little too far in their drive to make Twitter a safe place. It clearly makes you not want to say anything or use any hashtag whatsoever, for fear of offending somebody!

A nose that runs faster than Usain Bolt

10:43 pm : Wednesday, 20 June 2018  |  , ,

Yesterday Hannah and I went to visit her grandad in Letchworth. He is 90 years old and is doing very well for his age. The day went well until my hayfever decided to go extreme. While driving through town I was forever rubbing my left eye and getting no relief. Normally I keep a supply of Piriton to hand as it is the only advertised remedy that does anything for me. The one-a-day tablets like Piriteze and Clarityn are totally useless, so dropping up to six Piriton a day is necessary for me to function. Devoid of any Piriton, I was in trouble.

We parked in a car park, and while Hannah and grandad went to the cafe to order drinks, I dashed off - with hand on eye - in search of a chemist. I needed eyedrops urgently! And to make damn sure this heavy bout was dealt with, I also purchased some Phenergan. Sometimes prescribed as a sleeping tablet, it is my only choice of relief for when my hayfever get truly out of hand. Purchase made, I found them outside the cafe, popped in the eyedrops and swallowed one of the blue tablets.

As mentioned already, Phenergan doubles up as a sleeping tablet, and so the packet advises me that it "may cause drowsiness". What it should say is: "don't make any f*cking plans". I then spent the rest of the visit trying so hard to stay awake. Once home in the evening I was straight to bed. I was up the following morning to greet the engineer who had turned up to inspect our faulty shower, and once he had gone, I was back to sleep again! This stuff is not to be fooled with! When I worked at Sainsbury's, I did a stint on the pharmacy counter, and was shown where the Phenergan was kept, and given a list of customers who were forbidden from purchasing it. That is how bad things can get for some people. I have no desire to be knocked out - only to be able to see properly. Plus Hannah does not appreciate when I sneeze, as it sounds like I am shouting the word "TOSSER!"

Speak as I find

1:04 am : Tuesday, 15 May 2018  |  , , ,

On Sunday we visited a couple who lived on the premises of the prestigious Oundle School. This was to collect the aforementioned Ikea Hemnes day bed for the outstanding price of £100. Taking it apart was relatively easy - taking about half an hour - to then cramming it all in the back of a Berlingo. The ride home would then involve me sat with my head bowed neath the longer parts of the bed!

Getting it all together in a freshly-painted spare room took a while, but the result is most satisfactory. Three colossal drawers underneath to hide all manner of crud, and therefore keep this room in order, and a good firm foam mattress to support this pile of Ug. Dress it all up with a mountain of cushions, and it's girly enough for Hannah. So job done.

Yesterday (Monday) we visited the recycling centre in Corby to dispose of the old single bed and a couple of knackered mattresses. Whenever we have visited there, I always caught sight of an area where anything still usable could be left. This time I chose to investigate that area, and my eyes opened wide and my mouth started to salivate. A pair of Mission M73 floorstanding speakers in jolly good condition. Then a man appeared and let me know that nothing was to be taken. Everything left there - including those speakers - was to go to auction. I was aghast. Someone decided to offload some £400 high-end speakers, and they immediately become Council property. I am guessing that whatever they sell for will go straight into the Council's coffers. It is painful to think about. I was very upset, and will probably remain so for a considerable amount of time!

Bedding down

10:01 pm : Thursday, 10 May 2018  |  , , ,

When we moved to our current home, we realised there would be a fair amount of downsizing required. Those two huge Italian sofas had to go as they were beyond practical there, let alone here with a narrower hallway. Hannah's beloved table and chairs had to find a new home. My large office desk was just too large for this room, so a smaller example is in use now.

One thing Hannah tried to do in our last home was inject a little femininity into my office/spare room. Never mind it was my retreat from a home of shabby chic. Can a bloke not have his blokey pit? Well, it would seem she is getting her way here! This Sunday another piece of bargain furniture enters our home - a thoroughly luxurious Ikea Hemnes day bed. Normally priced at £239 without mattress or £409 with, this is costing us £100. Hard to let this one get away.

Before it arrives I had best take the opportunity to do some painting in this room. I was never quite taken by this apple-white shade in here, so I will be turning it brilliant white, with the window wall painted duck egg. I have already succeeded in properly putting up four floating shelves in here. These require ten screws each, which is not too easy when you have rock-solid walls. Nothing shall beat this Ug! I will succeed in making this office/spare room look sizeable, while giving Hannah the femininity she so vehemently desires.

On the subject of painting - why do we still have to put up with oil-based paints? I would have thought that in this day and age it would be possible to come up with a more environmentally-friendly alternative. I have been applying anti-mould paint in the kitchen (and will also have to shlop some on in parts of this room), and the smell just causes aggro for all of us. I get a headache while using it, Hannah feels sick even when the kitchen door is firmly shut, and the cats would rather not come indoors because of this petroleum honk that has commandeered the property! And a small tin of the stuff costs £20. Robbery encapsulated.

Sitting on a fortune

11:58 pm : Monday, 30 April 2018  |  , ,

We moved home back in January, and prior to that move we had to make a painful decision. Of our two sofas, we would only be taking the two-seater one with us. The three-seater sofa would have to be sacrificed. And by sacrificed, I mean cut up with a jigsaw and disposed of at the dump, with a generous sprinkling of sawdust. Both of these sofas were oversized Italian ones, with the larger one originally requiring four men to get indoors, along with the removal of our front door. They were true big b@st*rds. Even getting the smaller one into our new home was a three-man struggle.

Recently we decided that this lonely two-seater was not enough, even for the two of us. The hunt was now on for a chair or something. And this is where those trusty Facebook buy-and-sell pages come into their own. Essentially this involves wading through a selection of thoroughly knackered-looking offerings, and ones that simply would not be able to get through our doors or hallway. And brown sofas.

A post appears - with someone offering three two-seater sofas for £20 each, but these are a fair distance away, and would cost dear to transport. Another post avails itself - this time offering two two-seaters for £150. While much nearer, it causes me to worry about the money! Then, as if sent from up above, a post appears from someone six miles away, offering two two-seaters for free. "WHOA! SNAP IT UP QUICK! BE THE FIRST TO RESPOND!" This morning we succeeded in cramming two two-seater sofas into our home. Both of them in fantastic condition - possibly even unused. Looking thoroughly fresh in their cream/white loose covers, and managing to brighten up the living room.

I then let curiosity get the better of me, and went on the net to look them up, and see just how much they are really worth. The Tetrad "Havana Petit" sofa: £1,350. Two sofas worth a total of £2,700 - and they were given to us for free! All we paid for was the van to move them. The previous owners clearly have money to play with, and were prepared to let go of two near-pristine luxury sofas for nowt. That is generosity beyond all measure. And for us? Well talk about luck! How often are we in the right place at the right time? Not often, that is for damn sure.

Of course, getting two sofas indoors was not my only task. I then had to get to work on that filthy old sofa by way of a jigsaw and a Stanley knife, because it was the only sensible way to get that Italian beast through a standard width door!

To earn a crust

12:56 am : Thursday, 22 February 2018  |  ,

We have been in our new home for almost four weeks now, and things are falling into place in their own time. The office/spare bedroom is smaller than at the other place, with my desk slightly overhanging the bed, but it's still progress. The fibre broadband is running at 34 megs which is very pleasing - up from the 28 megs we achieved last week, so that has settled. We did get 38 megs at the last address, but it would be petty to whine about that!

Getting a smart meter to cooperate is another matter entirely. Our electric meter is located in an outside cupboard that appears to offer the insulation properties of a wartime bunker, thus ensuring that no smart meter will be able to communicate with the outside world. Those anti-smart meter sods would love this place! So it is back to the dumb variety for the time being.

There is also another thing to contend with, and one which sadly provides Hannah with sleepless nights. Squirrels in the loft. Last week we observed scratching noises coming from the disused chimney stack. A couple of night later, and there is scratching and scurrying above the bedrooms. I may be fortunate enough to have the mindset of: "They cannot get us", and manage to sleep unhindered, but that is sadly not the case for Hannah. So a call to the council's pest control department has been neccessary. Rats? They do bring to my mind a certain lyric by The Prodigy. You know the one - it goes: "I got the poison, I got the remedy!" But fwuffy wittle squirrels? Don't hurt them!

For this video, allow me to welcome you to the wonderful world of breadfacing. Unfamiliar? Then get acquainted if you will. This sordid practice is summed up in the very name - ie. pushing your face into bread-based product. And why not? Normally the domain of beautiful young women, this video seeks to demonstrate the male equivalent, by utilising crusts. A cheeky little Carole Bayer-Sager tune assists things somewhat.

Bread Face Man - Crust edition