I have never been such a happy geek as I was at Cambridge Block Party 2017.
For once, I was actually in on the obscure jokes and nerdy jargon. For once, people were actually interested in hearing me babble on about teletext art.
For an esoteric microniche, teletext is surprisingly tolerated, maybe even mildly popular. Among those that admit they’re older than 30, the mere mention of the word elicits happy memories of beating Bamber ‘Boozy’ Boozler at his general knowledge pop quiz of a drizzly teatime.
At least, this particular event proved unexpectedly popular. To speak with everyone who attended on the Saturday truly was a task of bamboozling proportions, especially with so many shiny exhibits and amusing activities to occupy your time.
Likewise, I am fairly sure someone’s entire afternoon was lost to the (world record?) teletext video wall of 25 televisions. If you weren’t entranced by the hypnotic artwork, you were certainly captivated by the occasional carefully placed reception glitch.
Those mesmerised by that hypnotic Strike It Lucky-esque telly wall might have subconsciously wandered into the classroom, where recovery expert Jason Robertson was on hand to explain the magic behind extracting teletext pages from VHS and Betamax tapes. Fancy that, an illusionist gracious enough to explain his trick!
But believe it or not, they were (albeit amazing) side attractions to the main event – two full days of teletext editing games and workshops.
Saturday was a day for exchanging ideas, and certainly not an excuse to invade the local pub… although that did admittedly happen after the museum closed at 5PM. And I do admit my voice was completely lost somewhere between the Geldart pub’s (free) jukebox and bad Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions competition somewhere around midnight.
However, artists more enterprising than I spent Day 1 creating attractive 8-colour pixel portraits, landscapes and whacking great robotic creatures burning down cities, Godzilla-style.
In the medium’s first ever head-to-head teletext battle, artists-in-residence Raquel Meyers and Steve Horsley challenged each other to see who could design the best artwork… of a swan and pineapple. Probably best not to ask about that, but be your own judge:
As for me? Well, I won’t point you in the direction of my half-finished, poorly digitised renditions of a My Little Pony or 3D Monster Maze Hacker the Dog. Again, it’s probably best not to ask, cockers.
I did ‘help out’ at the pixel art Hama bead table, and indeed I ‘played about’ with David Walford’s new enhanced video to teletext Raspberry Pi program. Which reminds me, I must remember to install teletext CCTV cameras in my back yard – those hooligans simply won’t stay away from my bins.
I also acquired one of Carlos ‘Teletextr’ Attrill’s electric red teletext Stormtrooper t-shirts. I shall most likely become a walking advertisement for this shirt at future Block Parties in Cambridge, Wigan and Berlin.
But a personal highlight of Day 1 was the official unveiling of BitShifters’ teletext demo, which converted the ubiquitous music video for Touhou’s ‘Bad Apple’ to incredibly satisfying separated cyan graphics. The Block Party quite literally came to an amazed standstill as the lights dimmed and jaws wired to chests.
…And then some joker spoiled the whole thing by waddling in with three greasy pizzas. I probably don’t need to tell you that joker is writing this very article.
The pizza was delectable, but nowhere near as delicious as the demo. I wouldn’t want to eat this overclocked Acorn, though:
The second day was much less frenetic, though competition was just as fierce. The Thirty Minute Challenge tasked participants with creating a single teletext page based on a theme selected by Jeremy from the Centre For Computing History. And when he chose ‘Bicycle Race’, I immediately knew Bedford’s own teletext genius Mr Stevey ‘Horse Burger’ Horsley would recreate the cover of a certain Queen album. You can probably guess who won that challenge!
But particular credit must go to those guys participating with the Acorn teletext editors, whose entries weren’t as popular but definitely as accomplished. As a sometime teletext designer, I can reveal that programming graphics on an 80s system is an unheralded skill. Incidentally, I want one of those computers for my kitchen.
This highly amusing game produced the weekend’s most humorous images, including a green dinosaur with pink moustache, an identity parade of red skeleton creatures and a pleasingly Digitiser-esque portrait of ‘Worner the Turm’ playing tricks on some pirates. Which wasn’t necessarily a good thing, as it only made us pine for a Digi comeback in true teletext form.
As 4PM arrived, the teletext classroom was quickly packed away in time for a photocall in front of the infamous video wall. A surprise figure in the picture was chiptune extraordinaire Ceephax, who just so happened to be passing by the Centre for Computing History that afternoon. What luck, eh?
It was time to clear off, but not before I had beaten Horsenburger at his ‘most hated video game’ Street Fighter II. Can’t say I blame him - when some wannabe teletext fartist defeats you over and over with cheesy schoolboy Hundred Hand Slaps, you can’t be anything but exasperated. Mwahahahah!
Roll on ‘Blocktober’…
Raquel Meyers for designing the limited edition Block Party zine
Alistair Cree for creating the live teletext editing system
Ceephax for the surprise appearance
Julian Brown for the non-exploding Beeb
Jason Robertson for the recovery demos
Simon Rawles for the cough mixture
Keiran Connell for converting my video to teletext format
Steve ‘The Horse’ Horsley for lifting a telly with one arm
Carl Attrill for his Teletextr Podcast tour of the old computer systems
Mort Smith for the teletext headline party trick
Polyducks for becoming the latest teletext artist to hit the scene
David Walford for the teletext avatar machine
BitShifters for the painstaking demo conversion
Peter Kwan for the VBIT Pi teletext system
Jason, Nathan, Jeremy and everyone at the Centre for Computing History
The Geldart pub for putting up with our beer mat flipping nonsense
Everyone that attended Block Party ‘17 for making it a memorable eventThe Teletext Facebook GroupSome other people I inevitably forgot
Mr Biffo himself for publishing this article
…And you for reading!
Photos and art from Cambridge Block Party 17.
Tickets are just a tenner in advance and all proceeds go to a good cause.
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