Home Games Words Events Other

Block Party 2020


You make plans, then life has other plans. Having reached a comfortable pause in my preparations for two live gatherings - this one, and Chunky Fringe - I was enjoying a lovely holiday when it turned out that, for once, the news was worth listening to.

Though this hastily-arranged alternative was no substitute for real life, both the regulars and new arrivals seemed to have fun, and the only possible risk of infection came from historical phone chat services. Here's my belated retrospective to wrap things up, and perhaps persuade a few more people to join us next time - whenever that may be.

Warm up - 22nd April (video).

With the teletext art contest already set for online submissions, art became the main visual accompaniment to our chats in the Teletext Discord Server. For newcomers, teletext has been used since the 1970s to broadcast and display text and simple graphics, something like ASCII, but distinctive for the 3x2 pixel mosaics which can replace standard characters.

Spot the Monty Python influence.

Dan Farrimond occasionally organises the UK teletext scene, and started the art with his head-to-head drawing competition. He lost on speed, but we all won with his opponent's rendition of an excellent vintage computer and some half-nude guy.

This stream concluded with the first of several collaborative teletext drawings, enabled by television's famous Peter Kwan. His software, Muttlee, allows everyone to work on the same page, anonymously. The recordings were later edited for decency, and to remove all references to certain companies, one of which has real lawyers.

The morning session - 25th April (video).

We were a little more sensible during the main event, which was packed with information. The pace was necessarily slower than in person, but Dan used his podcasting experience to keep the conversation moving between points of interest, some of them unexpected.

Another key contributor, popping out from behind-the-scenes with timely comments, was Alistair Cree. His online teletext service, Chunkytext, makes it simple for anyone to submit their art for public viewing, and he fixes things which inevitably break during live sessions.

This was the news.

Jason Robertson couldn't join us then to talk about the launch of his Teletext Archive, but the business of recovering teletext from home video tapes was represented by Tom41, one of many contributors who do the tedious, technical, and creative work involved.

The tedious part of recovering teletext is playing a pile of tapes through a capture card, in real time. The technical part is installing the free software, which exploits the fact that most pages were re-broadcast every few seconds - that's why they didn't “load” immediately.

Teletext pages are tiny, but the intermediate steps in the conversion process produce far more raw signal data. Tom had hoped to hand some over on a hard drive, but along with the tape collection point, that would have to wait for the physical gathering.

Until then, discussion turned to historical events still awaiting recovery from teletext, the original home of rolling news, impervious to the associated traffic spikes that broke other services.

Actual page from Digitiser.

The creative part in teletext recovery is that home video tapes were never designed to store digital data, so only the best recordings contain no errors. The recovery software does the statistical work, comparing multiple broadcasts of each character to determine the most likely result, but it needs people to spot mistakes in meaning. Those mistakes range from the trivial, such as “3cattered showers” on the weather page, to deciphering Digitiser, which intentionally mangled popular figures through both words and pixels.

Teletext was invented in the UK, then spread to Europe, where some services remain active. Raquel Meyers, who also sculpts from the hard edges of PETSCII (another ASCII derivative) is one of our regulars from the international scene. She was unable to join us for an interview this year, being trapped with a poor internet connection, but was making the best of her artistic residency-turned-confinement.

Though my original plan was to cover more forms of low-resolution art, in practice, the Chunkytext service and the convenience of online editing tools meant that all submissions were pure teletext. That said, Blippypixel certainly stood out for combining text characters with pixel mosaics to form impressionistic vistas, so we may well dig into ANSI and other low-bandwidth forms at the next event.

Dissecting a rabbit.

There are no hard rules for making teletext pictures, but most artists use thick black outlines, when not working in monochrome. These outlines often contain colour change control code characters, which appear as empty blocks on a television, and the default colour for an empty block - the background colour - is black.

There are two ways to change the current colour without adding a black space. You can either change the background colour, which itself requires two control codes, or enable “hold mosaics”, so that all subsequent control code characters on the same line are rendered as copies of the last pixel pattern. Both options were demonstrated by Dan on Nikki's “cute fluffy bunny wunny”, which was clearly plotting our demise.

Even some of the most experienced teletext artists, such as Steve Horsley, who used to work for Teletext Limited, still prefer the simpler methods. His job was to illustrate adverts, and time was money, but the chunky black outlines remained when it became his hobby. Commercial work involved endless variations on palm trees, because holidays were big business, but at least the pace minimised fussy style guides and artistic interference.

Steve steered the discussion towards his teletext influences, such as the 4-T comic strips, and the different design sensibilities of Ceefax and Oracle. When possible, Steve would escape the advertising department to instead help digitise children's drawings. This was done by hand, because the automatic tools caused more problems than they solved.

It turned out that Peter had used the same picture digitising system at ITN. He agreed that it was rubbish, at least until he rewrote the software. I was especially interested to discover that this system was also used by British Telecom, to create graphics for their computer games division, but Peter was busy washing up before I thought to ask more. Still, that's a fine example of how much remains to be uncovered at future events.

A mild taste of sauce.

Our host Dan was tracking viewer comments, one of which invited him to look at some teletext art. Which it was, in a sense, though quite how callers would verify that the respondents were indeed wearing nylon remains unclear. Dan took this opportunity to share his own lo-fi lady discoveries, rather too early in the day for me, but at least those who hadn't got dressed yet were already pixelated.

Tom chipped in that his own teletext chat line collection was, like the original piece, also from Germany. However, it had been recovered from video tapes containing Pokemon broadcasts. I am aware of no technical measures that prevented curious children from catching what they shouldn't, so consider this an example of cultural differences.

Lewd thrills were followed by sober copyright discussions, which concluded that, although the respective broadcasters of teletext services remained the legal owners of their work, most neither cared or remembered once it was no longer commercially valuable. This was confirmed by Mr Biffo, the main man behind Digitiser, who recently claimed the trademark for himself with absolutely no opposition from the powers that were.

Turner doesn't get sick either.

Mr Biffo could be very naughty when working for Teletext, but was on best behaviour for his interview. He revealed that the cliffhanger in his final “Turner the Worm” comic strip was merely the result of a sub-editor needlessly cutting short a repeat, then turned to his work on the mildly controversial “After Hours” section, including failed hopes of bringing popular overgrown children's comic Viz to Teletext.

The conversation turned to sculpting with pixels, to short word counts which focused his writing, and to minor influences such as the minimalist cityscapes of 3D Seiddab Attack. He explained that, though any progression in graphic design was held back by specialising in what was already an outdated medium, the limitations which forced brevity and clarity of expression were good training for his subsequent career in writing for children's television.

Mr Biffo apologised for perpetuating a lengthy discussion about “My Parents are Aliens”, not realising quite how often we took off on even less relevant tangents. We also learned that he was unlikely to revive Turner as an animated series, even if Terry Wogan was still alive to narrate, and that Turner famously being sick was officially not canon.

He sees his current hobby as a break from the day-job discipline, a way to explore what he likes, rather than be led by an audience. The result is a messy explosion of ideas, except the debris occasionally falls into line, a bit like how his show for a teletext-ish crowd at the Cambridge Computer Museum became the spark for Mr Biffo's Found Footage.

It was now time for lunch. I expected Carl Attrill, Dan's podcasting partner, to co-host the afternoon session. Like I said, life had other plans.

The afternoon session - 25th April (part 1) (part 2).

If Block Party was meant to encourage amateurs, then my part was certainly encouraging for would-be hosts. With Dan absent, and Carl muted by technical issues, I demonstrated that anyone could mumble into a flaky microphone for three hours and get away with it. The only requirement was to shut up when others had something more interesting to say, which fortunately for our viewers, was most of the time.

A wild ZXGuesser appears.

After the inevitable technical wobbles, Alistair began reviewing the growing section of viewer pages from Chunkytext. Morse and Lewis were our cue to discuss the television that accompanied teletext, with Spectrum27 providing an American perspective. I had absolutely nothing to say about Quantum Leap, quietly mistaking the cigar for an allusion to less comfortable television memories, but the tiny teletext crowd would much rather share their knowledge than beat the uneducated.

Briefly switching topics, we agreed that the Sinclair C5 was an eccentric deathtrap, then Peter gave us the scoop on Angela Rippon from his five minutes of fame. It was all rather cosy, aside from the flavouring of contingency plans for 1980s nuclear annihilation.

Steve draws from memory.

Steve then fixed his attention on one of my own pictures. Which was a fair effort, in my humblish opinion, but I was still lucky that it inspired his own live demonstration. You can read about my work, if you like, but suffice to say, I was flattered, and only slightly jealous.

Steve can draw, fast, in any medium, from teletext to drinks cans. He does this while holding in-depth conversations about, for example, his favourite cult horror movies. It may be an indictment of society that he can no longer earn a living from such art, but perhaps teletext will return once all the modern communication masts have been burnt down.

Fashionable arson aside, Steve explained that he normally fills whole character cells first, refines the details next, and only adds colour control codes towards the end. Alistair noted that this last step often squashes away much of the detail, and Steve agreed that this was always a problem, though one that could be overcome by working in monochrome.

I spoke up in defence of magenta, an inevitable technical consequence of one-bit colour channels. I also side-tracked the horror conversation to public information films, which somehow came round to Mr Biffo writing for the brief “Crossroads” revival. It was a soap set in a motel, most notable for its affordable production values, and altogether less interesting than reminiscing about our involvement on Found Footage. Good times.

It was suggested that teletext art had reached a critical mass, where people sharing their work was encouraging exponentially more people to try making their own. Either that, or everyone was suddenly stuck at home with more spare time. This led to the business of teletext, the reliance on holiday advertising that was shaken in September 2001, and the current threat to what remains of their holidays brand.

We briefly returned to the wider world of television: the shows that we were not allowed to watch, the importance of remembering the parts that have aged poorly, and the subversion that flew under parental radars. This was my excuse to mention Mel Croucher, who I should really pester to attend the next Digitiser gathering while he's still alive.

Le Bergerac nouveau est arrivé.

Technical issues persisted, though Carl did finally make himself audible shortly before he had to leave anyway. In place of our scheduled programming, we continued with pages from Chunkytext, including Flash and Reveal effects that don't translate to static images. The competition rules were tweaked on the fly, things got a bit political with Count Binface and Lord Buckethead, and the absence of A to F on television remote controls was all that prevented the hexadecimal-savvy from cheating at Bamboozle.

If that all sounds rather confusing, then at least you didn't need a degree in cult British television to follow the belated CHIP-FORK interview. It helps, but his work filters those memories through dry humour, latching on to the surreal and ethereal moments to build, for example, a Bergerac reboot that defies precise categorisation.

Simon, for that is his real name, finds it relatively easy to express himself in teletext and similar forms, because there's not much detail to get bogged down in. His style is quite different from Digitiser, but he still remembers when the humour was forced out, leaving only brief flashes of Mr Biffo's way with words. I suggested that this mismanagement was merely the continuation of Teletext Limited forcing out his co-conspirator, Tim Moore.

We did agree that having creative partners to bounce ideas off is beneficial, as recently demonstrated by the double-act of Mr Biffo and Paul Gannon. The latter was an excuse to talk about the type of ghost stories which interest Simon, the clash of the supernatural and the mundane, the possibility of Mr Biffo's Stone Tarp, and the best episodes from The Real Ghostbusters - another eventual victim of neutering by clueless, nervous management.

Plain Jane no more.

Having run out of viewer pages to discuss, Alistair volunteered to perform his party piece, a demonstration of Level 2.5 teletext. Beeblepete joined in to explain how this allowed the use of a still-limited-but-customised colour palette in his own drawing. Interesting, but such technological enhancements arrived only arrived shortly before graphical internet browsers offered an even bigger leap in fidelity, so they were mostly confined to internal test pages.

Dan returned during our first collaborative drawing of the day, which was a loose collection of doodles. Mr Biffo came back to add his own contributions, as we remembered the days of keyboard overlays and text adventures that responded to naughty words.

Having entirely missed Steve's live drawing, Dan summarised the result as an emo Sonic The Hedgehog character. Aren't they all, these days? The mute Master System reworking of the original remains my favourite Sonic game, but he must be doing something right to remain as synonymous with cartoon video game mascots as Bamboozle is with teletext.

Carl thought it was something to do with Star Fox, another series which lost something with full voice acting, but his attempted “Mode 7” joke was thwarted by the Super FX chip actually doing most of the work. You see, the venerable BBC Micro could display teletext in screen mode 7, predating its fancy scaling and rotation namesake. It's a bit like The Real Ghostbusters and Filmation's Ghostbusters, except that one of them wasn't rubbish.

Person unknown mars orchard opening.

At some point in the leisurely progression of the second collaborative drawing, Dan brought out his guitar, thereby accidentally unleashing a wave of pent-up ukuleles. This was my excuse to play assorted sound effects from Streets of Rage 2, which were powerful enough to finally persuade Nikki to join the voice chat.

As Nikki later noted, it all went a bit John Shuttleworth. It was probably my fault for adding the Casiotone rhythm section, but it was worth it for Dan's freestyling. We were having too much fun to stop as scheduled, so we kept going with a third doodle, but I was pleased to hand over co-hosting duties to Beeblepete. His time in America led to the discovery of our Canadian correspondent, Sam, who was taking occasional breaks from all the lockdown screen-time by hand crafting his own board game design.

Sam once had an embarrassing encounter with a member of Radiohead. Not Thom Yorke, but close enough to turn the discussion back to Digitiser, where Mr Biffo is our big name. Relatively speaking, and with Dan nudging him back to the craft, it's more of a symbiotic relationship. Still, if he wants some roadies for the Digitiser and Teletext tour, we're up for lugging weird props and old televisions to Cambridge, Torquay, Wigan, and beyond.

The evening session - 22nd April (video).

We began with mandatory technical issues, my microphone cutting out mid-sentence somehow being more annoying than my uninterrupted voice. Peter's stream was being crossed by another conference call within the same household. Before he disconnected, we were treated to the wonderful moment where, with perfect timing and clarity, one competing correspondent captured the alternative medicine zeitgeist with “...shove a UV lamp up your...”.

Society declines but pine sales remain healthy.

Almost as topical was the first collaborative drawing, inspired by the earlier Streets of Rage 2 digression. It came together well, with at most four people contributing, and all of us working towards one purpose with our own roles clearly defined. Max and Skate were absent, possibly in self-isolation, but protagonists who regain health from bin cuisine probably have tougher immune systems than average.

There was less conversation, with our focus on drawing, but still time for architectural musings and another George Formby moment. Once done, there were more viewer submissions since the afternoon session to review. Alistair noted that there had been far more contributions than during the run-up to last year's Chunky Fringe, perhaps because that was our first attempt to hitch a ride on a big Digitiser-centric event.

Chunky Fringe turned out fine, thanks to the considerable assistance of Chris Bell, who began archiving Digitiser on paper back in the dial-up days. It was fun, but frantic, hence the idea of running two events this year. They would complement each other, I think, though the next Digitiser gathering is now sensibly postponed to next summer.

All the colours.

Once we ran out of pages to view and things to plug, Dan deployed his previously-unseen presentation of his favourite teletext recoveries. Steve was back in the voice chat, so could identify the pages that he had drawn, some willingly and others under duress. There were in-jokes a-plenty and mild milking for comedy value, but also sensible discussions such as the difficulty of drawing in perspective at low resolutions. This certainly felt like the most structured, focused session of the day, so Dan's preparation paid off.

Fault Disney.

Though it was clear that alleged professional have the power to make graphic designers weep, children were the true masters of horror. Sure, the most disturbing residents of the uncanny valley are those trying to look sweet and innocent, but some works were wrong on a conceptual level. If you want to shock and provoke, while avoiding censorship, then we suggest signing your work first name only, age 10.

The movie that wasn't.

Dan forget to fake his age, so his work was once banned from German teletext for violent content. It's understandable that the subtleties of the camp horror movie context were lost in translation, and ironic that the revised version would now be banned for excessive sugar content. We'll take this as another angle on cultural differences.

Live chat, dead eyes.

Dan can also be deliberately irresponsible, though in fairness, he was more curious about the live chat call terminating in Guyana than the alleged girls and guys. Fortunately, this number was not part of his inclusive call package, though we remain interested to hear from anyone who would like to share their experience of such employment. I guess it was degrading, like most call centres, with the small comfort that telling awkward customers to go pleasure themselves was part of the job description.

Dan's presentation concluded with the perfectly 90s “Teentext”, the lazy re-use of vintage jokes, and Mr T, who frequently dispensed his unlicensed worthy advice on Digitiser. Winding down, we wrapped up with one final check for new pages, a plea for more art contest entries, then decided that there was time for just one more collaborative drawing.

Delightful spread.

We may never know who drew the initial lewd solicitation, and who drew the parallel toast, but we are thankful that these disparate elements united in undoubtedly the second-best collaborative drawing of the event. There were some rude diversions, rude enough to share without context if teletext-based outrage was profitable, but the beauty of these collaborative drawings is that anyone can change what they don't like, anonymously.

Though proud of the final result, which is almost sublimely ridiculous, I remain troubled that, although the excessive wardrobe malfunctions were rightly corrected, no nips at all comes at the expense of form. We will probably arrange a special slot next year, so that such important matters can be explored with adequate forewarning. Reveals cost 39p off-peak, 45p at all other times. Calls terminate in shame.

With that, there were a few closing statements, and hopes that we may return to Wigan, the home of Block Party 2018, then it was goodnight from us. We would resume the following Saturday to review the art competition entries, and, we hoped, encourage enough votes to make it worthwhile.

Art contest voting launch - 2nd May (video).

After some hot toast and smooth music, the stream proper began with an explanation of the competition rules. For what they were worth, which was about as much as the prizes.

As many entrants had submitted several drawings, we soon tweaked the rules to allow voting for whole bodies of work, rather than individual pieces. The privacy-concious poll could also be subverted to vote for several entries, which seemed like a fair boost for the novices who unexpectedly found themselves in the busiest category. Responsible abuse of the system was positively encouraged, especially at the expense of the organisers.

Novice entries, part 1 of 3.

We proceed to review all the entries in the “Novices” category, beginning with the prolific Fidyan Genial. His work focuses on Indonesian pop culture, and teletext appears to have become entangled in that particular international pile-up, emo rock videos included. We approved, even if we didn't understand the finer points, and probably never will.

My preparation was paying off, for now. The good microphone was behaving, so I could keep Dan company with my flapping mouth, and my list of Chunkytext contributors gave him a starting point for discussing each page. I had also exported the pages as static images, with the minor loss of flash and reveal effects, so that he could rapidly flick between them. These were helpful except, by failing to realise that Level 1 teletext doesn't support black as a foreground colour, I accidentally obliterated Tonco. Sorry, Marco.

With the votes already coming in, and hope that more would follow once the Digitiser crowd arrived, Szeliga joined us to provide some background to his own novice entries. Having previously drawn in pencil, he found it difficult to add details at this low resolution, though easier in monochrome areas, which reminded him of ZX Spectrum game graphics. Alistair neatly summarised the teletext drawing process as an exercise in compromise.

Enhanox's convincingly fictional personal digital assistant became the starting point for reminiscing about the real devices. The consensus was that most were a waste of money, even before phones made them entirely redundant, with an honourable exception for the simplicity and physical keyboard of the early Psion series. Minor musings on how much text content would preclude a page from being art were concluded by letting the voters decide for themselves. On that mildly pretentious note, I suggested subsequently referring to all the thick outlines and flat colours as “negative space”, for bonus artistic credibility.

Novice entries, part 2 of 3.

The next contest will feature an additional category for pixel art novices, because many pixel art veterans readily transferred their skills to teletext. It may even take the form of a showcase, because the true novice entries were more equally worthy of discussion than the results suggest.

A more immediate problem was that, as I later discovered, the reassuring power light on my microphone amplifier remained lit long after the batteries were unfit to amplify. This decline was characterised by my mouth moving closer to the mic, as Dan raised the levels at his end, until we both ran out of room. I went offline to raid the draw of bits, and returned with some cheap plastic of unknown provenance. It worked fine, to my annoyance.

Before my previous fade to oblivion, there was time to appreciate Peter's late submission, inspired by the ukulele invasion, and Vesmé joined the text chat to enlighten those too old to have watched VR Troopers. We could still dig the Max Headroom styling, even though my detailed knowledge of Haim Saban and Shuki Levy's output also ends in the late 1980s. You say cheap imported cartoons, I say world cinema.

Novice entries, part 3 of 3.

I did, however, miss the deliciously deadly cocktail advertisement, so halted proceedings to endorse a classic bottle design. Others had already noted the effective use of blast-through alphanumerics, which allows a limited range of characters to be used while in graphics modes. Don't drink bleach, kids.

The wordiest entry, a nonsense poem, prompted further highbrow discussions that turned equally nonsensical. Peter claimed artistic credit for use of his page header. Alistair raised the claim stakes with his Chunkytext metadata. I closed the bidding with exporting all the images that we were viewing, conveniently resized and stripped of metadata. There could be a further joke about unscrupulous content providers, but I have enough legal troubles.

More seriously, drawing other people's characters was considered acceptable, subject to appropriate acknowledgements, because the limitations of teletext often justified them as transformative works. We also spotted a minor fashion for enhanced shading and textures through separated mosaics, which are basically pre-gapped pixel groups. Or, as Peter topically suggested, “socially-distanced graphics”.

Veteran entries.

Moving on to the “Veterans” category, we could be rude about each other's work but soon realised we were terrible at banter. I received disproportionate attention for the novelty of extensive hold graphics, changing colours without thick black outlines but at the expense of my sanity. Alistair isolated the two most-compromised pixels with ease, and the next level of madness would be disguising such technical overspills as artistic decisions.

Alistair could not, however, spot any discontinuity between Mr Biffo's new Turner the Worm cartoon and his last, despite the seventeen-year gap. Alistair reserved the right to be cross if Mr Biffo won, because technically, Mr Biffo should have been in the novices category. Quibbles aside, Alistair explained that, in his own teletext art, he favours drawing vehicles because they don't have fiddly fingers or faces. This rules out Thomas & Friends. Please do not draw Thomas & Friends with fingers.

Red Button entries.

Dan needed a toilet break, but there was still the “Red Button” category. There were only three entries, including his own Devo stylings, so he didn't have to hold on much longer. Fidyan submitted two original characters, while Andy Jenkinson excelled in implying form and depth. Alistair perceptively critiqued Dan's hair shading, as part of a wider digression on the difficulties of low resolution dithering, while for reasons best known to myself I was off to Button Moon, via David Lynch.

We had another periodic review of the vote counts, which mostly reflected the final results, and then it was time to recap all the other viewer pages from Chunkytext. There were now 149 submissions, so we had to be fast, whizzing through issues of low-resolution genitals, the short shelf-life of topical jokes, and my trick for smoothing chunky curves.

Any excuse to talk about the ZX Spectrum.

This didn't stop me derailing the conversation at the slightest hint of ZX Spectrum games. However, I was not the first to mention the sparse monochrome shading of Tau Ceti, and the still-incomplete disassembly of X-COM's uncle, Chaos, was news to me. I didn't even draw an erratic excavator, clearly an original creation due to some different pixels.

We eventually covered old ground, having reviewed many pages the previous weekend, though Szeliga added some insight into recovering teletext from Poland. Then, with one final check on the voting, and an apology for the length of our stream, it was goodnight from us.

Indonesia narrowly avoids “Take a Break”.

Reassuringly, it is not just the technically-minded who accumulate under-used hardware. For reasons you don't need to care about, I was in a Hospital shop the following day, fully authorised to display pages from Chunkytext on a mothballed advertising screen, to the complete indifference of passing healthcare professionals.

I do mean complete indifference. The display only ran for three hours, it was the quietest day of the week, and I had cautiously removed the crustiest collaboration. Yet, even while customers stood around waiting for freshly-made food, including actual hot buttered toast, absolutely nobody questioned what this was all about, or even gave the slightest hint that something was out of the ordinary. Perhaps teletext remains firmly embedded in the public consciousness, bypassing the brain on a subliminal level, or everyone was on their phone.

In fairness, I have developed my own coping mechanism for the busy magazines rack on the left, mentally reducing the contents to: real-life stories, celebrities, and other. Two shelves up from the comics, boys can aspire to be sex pots, love rats, or sex offenders, while girls can be famous with failed fortunes, failed relationships, and failed surgery. International artists reporting on the teletext scene can rest assured that I am equally baffled by parts of my own culture.

Art contest results - 9th May (video).

Dan arranged this, hoping to bring more teletext to the wider audience of his podcast host, Retrounlim. I had improved my audio setup by a process of elimination, and the prospect of more than twenty viewers encouraged me to be generally more prepared than usual.

There were nearer ten viewers, us included. This was fortunate, considering how much the opening was beset by new twists on old technical problems. Dan carefully removed these from the archived version, and added a convenient index of proceedings, so I'll let him off for the needlessly baity thumbnail.

Needless caption.

We began with a swift, at least by our standards, review of all the entries so far. I filled some time with my hand-crafted bar charts, dropping offline to update them at irregular intervals while Carl kept the conversation rolling. He was pleased that Mr Biffo remained part of the teletext scene, but also appreciated how he kept following his interests in new directions, rather than relying on past glories alone.

After the briefest of highlights from Chunkytext, the mood and schedule were right for another collaborative drawing. One viewer, who was new to teletext, recalled seeing similar character-based artwork on bulletin board services in America. We agreed that there was considerable overlap, with the important difference that, until quite recently, home users had few methods of creating teletext pages and no means to share them.

Magenta represent.

Our drawing was interrupted by an update on the poll positions, which revealed that little had changed. However, one extra vote in the red button category was enough to put Dan in the lead. Was this connected to one of his offline periods? There's a question mark, so it's not libel.

When we returned to the collaborative drawing, Alistair had kindly provided a swingometer for the full election night feel. The swingometer was accurate, as was his car registration plate, though Dan has now ensured that nobody else can snoop on its MOT history.

The winners!

With the polls closed, the novices remained stratified into three divisions, but pleasingly, every entrant received at least one vote. Peter included, who was strictly a veteran, though in it for “nul points” glory. At the top, Blippypixel's Monolith won by only two votes.

The veteran results were closer still, with Alistair's MF35 tractor the winner, and deservedly so. This also saved me the embarrassment of tying for first place, but my real prize was a perfect opening to make the “ex-tractor fan” joke, which had been naggingly half-formed in my mind for most of the evening.

Controversially, Dan nearly won by that late vote in the red button category. However, having carefully checked the rules that we were making up, Fidyan was clearly the true winner, with Button Chan and Yerro-kun. It was now time to award the fictional prizes, though we were all winners, in the sense that we also got nothing tangible for our efforts.

After one last look at the collaborative drawing, it was time to say our thanks, and express our hopes that we would meet again in real-life, which is like the internet with less latency. We plugged a few competing streams then said goodbye, though private discussions regarding venerable motors and computer games continued for an hour.

The future.

Though we did receive some feedback during the event, we would very much like to receive more from those late to the party. You see, we can easily get lost in entertaining ourselves, so the views from outside are essential to keep us on our toes for new arrivals.

We did have a good time, though, as you might tell by the length of this retrospective, so have decided that one event each year is not enough. I was able to put the original room booking on hold, so we may yet be meeting in Cheltenham this year. Digitiser Live has been rescheduled to next summer, and Chunky Fringe will certainly tag along then.

I feel that Cheltenham would be the right place for a more technical, more intimate event, where everyone is welcome and we're fine if only the regulars arrive. Chunky Fringe feels right for the noisier, more popular side of teletext memories, but the exact details of both events don't matter as long as everyone has fun, and leaves a little better informed.

Tentatively, we may be gathering for real in October this year, with the fallback plan being to move what can be moved online. However, I'll wait at least until the end of July to see what other plans life has.

Email: comments at arbitraryfiles.com

Uploaded 01-07-2020