Sunday, July 26, 2015

‘Hey mate, you like pinball machines don’t you?’

I received a call from a client out of the blue one morning. His brother-in-law owned a lock-up that was full of junk that he had accumulated over several decades of scavenging auctions, garage sales and company liquidations. He sounded like the star of an episode of Storage Wars or American Pickers yet to be made. 

One day he had, as alcoholics call it, ‘a moment of clarity’. He decided that he really didn't need to provide a home for all of this stuff and a priceless Stradivarius or mint copy of Action Comics #1 was extremely unlikely to be amongst it. It was time to clear out, declutter and move on.

At some point, he had bought a job-lot of furniture and accessories from a closed down pub. Part of this acquisition was a couple of old pinball machines. 

I’ve been playing the silver ball for over twenty years since spending far too much of my student money on Addams Family, Terminator 2 and Star Wars machines in Shipley’s Amusements in Stafford whilst at University back in 1994. Even to this day, I always peer into arcades, bars, diners, takeaways and lobbies of cinemas and bowling alleys on my travels looking for strobing lights. They can creep up in the strangest of places – at one point my local IKEA had two in its cafe.  

For a glorious moment in time visiting the voluminous semi-disposable Swedish furniture warehouse
became a lot more tolerable. Sadly, they are now gone.  

The large shed was pretty much like a shabby remake of the last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Boxes piled from floor to ceiling, a cluster of moth-eaten furniture in various states of repair, a couple of unloved old cars under tarpaulins and… was that a sign from the entrance to a McDonalds?

In the corner, under swathes of curtains and fusty books there were two shapes that were unmistakably pinball machines – the red cross on the map. Oh, and here’s a helpful hint. If you are planning to document an event in the future, make sure your phone has some power in it and will let you use the camera. I’m an idiot, you’ll have to use your imagination I’m afraid. I’m so sorry.

Old amusement machines from bars don't tend to be in pristine condition. They will have suffered a torrent of abuse. They will have been punched and kicked, vandalised, had drinks spilt on them and will probably not have been maintained properly or worse, had bodged fixes done to them to keep them running in some form and keep earning money. Plus these machines had spend the last eight or so years laying dormant in a dank, dirty shed. They are built to be tough, made to survive in hostile environments, designed to carry on working whilst being owned by savages. However, they aren't completely indestructible. I wasn't building up my hopes.

With some minor excavation, the first one was revealed to be Baywatch. Yes you read that right, there exists in our universe a machine made about the flimsy-plotted Playboy Playmate populated TV show ( In the nineties, pinball manufacturers often tried to predict which licence would be the 'next big thing' and made a table based on that property. As the gestation design and build period of a machine runs to many months, by the time they find out if the gamble had been successful or not, it was too late either way. Sometimes the decision paid off like with Indiana Jones and Star Trek: The Next Generation, other times it went wrong. There is, after all, a Johnny Mnemonic machine, which whilst being a good game to play, I imagine even Keanu himself has forgotten about the film. Another reason for Baywatch's presence could be that in Germany pinball was, and still is, extremely popular and well, the acclaim that David Hasselhoff had there is infamous.

The machine was made by SEGA in 1995 and with Pamela Anderson large on the back box art, swimsuit-clad ladies on the sides and with custom speech by The Hoff himself on the soundtrack, it has become a bit of an ironic cult classic. 

However, SEGA games are not particularly held in high regard by serious pinball snobs. They are flashy, loud, gimmicky and as shallow as a puddle, but I have a soft spot for them. They are great games for a few plays, but there’s a good chance the novelty would wear off very quickly. Spare parts for them can also be quite hard to find and expensive to buy. 

This one had seen much better days. It was dead as a doornail on flicking the power switch, the play field was worn down to the wood in a couple of places, a lot of the metal playfield parts were rusty and on the cabinet side art, a drunken Banksy wannabe had carved, inevitably, a drawing of a cock and balls. It was more work than I wanted to do as my first project. Let’s see what this other one is…

A swish of an avocado green curtain covering the back box revealed a giant golden eagle sitting on top and a familiar chin and scowl on the side art. It was a Judge Dredd, now we are getting somewhere!

The Judge's backbox in all of its glory after a bloody good clean. How on earth the flimsy plastic eagle has survived is a miracle.

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