Forgive me for this indulgence. No transport stuff in this post – try this link if that’s what you’re looking for.
I started writing this post in 2020 after my sons moved out, adding to it every few months. The space in the house after they left plus lockdowns plus online ordering resulted in some perhaps foolish purchases.
My kids had Lego too, though not as much as me at that age.
I’ve dipped back in. Just sitting on the carpet, building and following the instructions is very relaxing. It started with the Yellow Submarine, then a Technic hovercraft, and then the big London double-decker bus (on-topic for me). More recently I was given the Stranger Things set.
I got rid of my old record player in the 1990s, and gave all my records to my stepfather, after getting a CD player.
But vinyl has made a comeback. For comparison, JB Hifi lists almost 11,226 CDs in its catalogue, against around 6,980 different records, and in Australia, records now outsell CDs (in dollar terms) thanks in part to the CDs giving way to streaming – and thanks to records costing more than CDs.
One of my sons bought a turntable in 2019. After they moved out, I pondered buying one of my own. Then for my fiftieth birthday my friend David bought me a copy of the fifty-year-old album “McCartney“. On vinyl. This gave me the excuse to buy a turntable.
You can spend vast amounts of money on turntables and related hi-fi products. Spending thousands is easy. I got away with hundreds – I found a Pro-ject turntable with good reviews that was on sale and ordered it. By chance my stepfather still had some of my old records, and gave them back to me, along with some others for my new collection!
Apart from the turntable, there is a myriad of accessories and upgrades you can buy. The felt mat on the record sits on can be upgraded to cork or leather to reduce dust. The platter itself can be upgraded from MDF to acrylic to improve the sound. They sell a spirit level to check your turntable is on a completely horizontal surface. (A conventional spirit level from Bunnings was cheaper, and I won’t feel a plonker using it for DIY.) And of course they sell a bunch of different record and stylus cleaning products.
Vinyl is like the music equivalent to slow food – it’s slow recorded music. Everything takes time. When you first set up the turntable you have to balance the counterweight and make sure the (quite delicate) anti-skating weight is in place.
When you actually want to play something, you need to first take the record out of its cover, put it on the record player, then ensure the stylus and the record are clean. I’ve also got a weight stabiliser aka a record puck to place over the spindle.
The turntable I got is completely manual – you have to position the needle to start playing it (though a switch helps you drop the needle onto the record, and remove it again when the record has finished). Even the drive belt is manually switched between speeds. Literally – you move it and hook it to the right part of the pulley wheel.
The result of all this is that you’re not just putting on random music tracks – having taken the time to put on an album, you’re going to listen properly and savour it. At least in theory.
It’s the opposite of shouting continually at a smart speaker to switch between tracks or streaming radio stations, or even buying individual tracks on iTunes or ZDigital.
And you can far better appreciate the physical, large format artwork and liner notes.
How do the records sound? Really good in many cases. That new McCartney disc, and the old copy of Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water from my stepfather both sound brilliant (despite the latter having scratches), though one John Lennon record that came my way (which was not mine originally) is warped beyond belief, and sounds terrible.
I’ll be honest and not try to claim that my amateur, non-audiophile ears can really determine the difference between digital and analogue – especially as the analogue record player is plugged into a digital Sonos speaker.
To their credit, some records come with a voucher to download MP3s as well. Best of both worlds.
Not old, but feeling it as I get older: I bought an elliptical cross trainer to try and improve my fitness and cut my weight. I had a shortcut to find a good model: I bought the same one my sister and her husband have.
It’s lower impact than running, which I’ve tried in the past, but which gave me knee pain. I’m trying to hop on the trainer most days, and have been watching various streaming TV shows on the iPad as I watch.
So far my weight seems to be dropping a bit, which is good.
Perhaps one of my sillier lockdown purchases last year: a robot vacuum cleaner.
I know people who have had them for years, and swear by them. The general consensus seemed to be that it is never going to completely solve your dust problem, but it should cut down on the amount of vacuuming you have to do.
And somehow I have been busier in the last 2 years than perhaps ever before, so it seemed like it could help with the housework.
So when I saw a Roomba 670 on sale I thought I’d try it.
You can set it up with an Android or iOS app, though unless you want to control it remotely you don’t really seem to need it. It’s just a matter of finding a place for its docking station to go, waiting for it to charge, then sending it on its journey around the house.
A few months on, what’s the verdict?
One of the side-effects of having a Roomba is you need to tidy up before running it. You can’t have small stuff loose on the floor. It’s likely to be gobbled up. It’s not a bad thing for me to be forced to tidy regularly.
This Roomba model is not very smart. It’s like one of those very young puppies that is mobile but unaware of their surroundings. It wanders around constantly bumping into things.
It gets stuck under chairs regularly, and more than once has wedged itself under a shelf. Other times it simply runs out of battery and stops, rather than making its way back to base as it’s meant to.
It can do the floorboards, but it usually can’t climb onto the rug in the livingroom, and occasionally claims it’s a cliff.
You can see it’s designed to circulate in a particular way, but there must be a level of randomness built in, as it never seems to go around the house the same way twice, and it doesn’t look very methodical.
Oddly, even if you press the button telling it to go back to the docking station, it’ll take its time doing it, sometimes taking a long circuitous route even when it’s close to the dock. And sometimes it runs out of battery power before making it home.
If you move it to just in front of the dock and then tell it to go there, it’ll play a triumphant sound when it arrives – as if it was some brilliant win for the machines over the humans.
I assume the more expensive models have more smarts in them, but based on what I see of this, I’m not sure the robots will be taking over any time soon.
Those issues aside, the places it does get to, it does a reasonable job of vacuuming up the dust. So while I don’t think it is the greatest thing I’ve ever bought, I also don’t consider it a waste of money.
I’m surprised this didn’t happen earlier: an early 2022 purchase was possibly the most foolish yet: hair clippers.
I spotted them on sale and impulse-purchased, then pretty much immediately wondered if it was a poor decision. By the time they arrived I thought I should try them. It turned out to be easy enough to get something approximating a cheap barber shop haircut, though care is needed (especially at the back) otherwise it can look a bit messy.
It’s not a genuine vintage oldie, but a replica, which hopefully will be less in need of maintenance or repairs in the future. Unlike some replicas which look nothing like what was around back in the day, this is reasonably faithful.
This particular model has been around for about 6-7 years, and I found it on sale, so it wasn’t too ludicrously expensive. It’s got most of the (vertically-oriented) games that I used to play.
I needed my son’s hatchback to get it home. The bloke selling them said he spent 20 years in IT, then chucked it all in and now restores pinball machines for a living. Good on him.
The odd thing is that each old game bring back memories of where I used to play it. Galaga – a cafe in St Kilda. Gyruss – the Fun Factory. Donkey Kong Jr – a milkbar in Elwood. Qix – a pool hall in Glen Huntly. Space Invaders, Donkey Kong – Luna Park. (In fact I’ve realised that Luna Park had the slightly different Crazy Kong.)
One of my great feats as a 13 year old was getting all the way through Scramble on the machine at the Elwood 7-11. Can I do it again?
I’m currently hooked on Donkey Kong Jr, and I’ve recently got back to Mario’s Hideout for the first time in 35+ years. Record score so far: 70,500 points, and hey, an old strategy guide is online! The King Of Kong I ain’t, but it’s good fun.
What have you bought since the pandemic that was perhaps not the wisest purchase?