Reflections on people I never met

It’s not often I’m moved to mention folk who’ve journeyed on, who I didn’t ever meet or know at all. However, this week I’ve noticed two who’ve touched me in different ways, and I’d just like to mention their names – as much for myself as for any other reason. In writing about them I’m re-examining parts of my own past.

The first one is Richard Carpenter, who was the screen-writer behind a couple of British television programmes of my youth; programmes that probably had a hand in shaping me. He died earlier this week, on 26th February.

Catweazle was a children’s series about an eleventh century wizard who found himself transported to the then present day of the late 1960’s. The idea of technology as magic has always attracted me, in part based on Arthur C Clarke’s quote that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, and I suspect Catweazle, played by Geoffrey Bayldon, helped instil my love of gadgets, coupled with a belief in magic; although I try very hard not to spell (a-ha) it with a ‘k’ or dress overly in crushed velvet. Certainly, his call of “Nothing works! Nothing works!” lives on in my day to day life as a telecom engineer!

Later, Richard Carpenter wrote Robin of Sherwood, which beautifully re-told the old Robin Hood mythos. The adaptation of Herne the Hunter from the pagan forest god Cernunnos as protector of the Hooded Man was utterly transfixing, and never left me. As my feet took me into the Druid trail the image of the antlered god stalking quietly through the misty woodland (some of which was recognisable as being near my home in the west of England!) became the image I saw through lowered eyelids in meditation on hilltop and in the trees.

Thanks for both of those key ingredients that you dropped into my cauldron, Richard. Journey well.

Slipping into an entirely different realm of bishness, Steve Kordek recently died having made a high score of 100. If you believe the legends, he was the designer of the first pinball machine to have twin flippers, and therefore was the cause of so much distraction in my youth and even now. Back in the eighties, when I was supposed to be at lectures, or in the library preparing essays or researching for my electronics course or preparing for my next exam… you’d find me in the student union bar shoving ten pence pieces (larger then than now and worth far more) into the pinball machines. As comparison, the then new and now defunct but still memorable beer, Smiles’ Best Bitter, was 25p per pint. I spent more on pinball than beer, although I got more free plays than beer.

The table of choice was the Bally Fireball, which if you can find one is still a wonderful machine. One of the first multiball machines and with the sound turned waaaay up it was an immersive experience that could go on for an hour on a good day, or about two minutes if the Smiles had got there first… Later on, I worked for a company that rented out and maintained pinball machines (as well as fruit machines, snooker and pool tables), and I found out a bit about what was under the play-field. Basically it was wire and magic. See how this blog is all tied together?

Nowadays pinball is all a bit digital. The wires, solenoids and polished surfaces meant that steel-ball pinball was too expensive to operate where the public had no aversion to vandalism and ill-held pint glasses. The invention of decent video games too meant that idle time entertainment could be available with less need for site based technical skill. I still play pinball, but mostly now it’s on the tablet. I have two sets of tables, from two excellent companies: Gameprom (who mainly work with Apple OIS but port some stuff to Android) and Zen Pinball who have a growing number of themed tables.

But it all started with the flippers… so thanks and fine journey to Steve Kordek.

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