Next I went to Derby for the MMOC AGM and met a few people in real life who I'd previously only known as names on the club message board. It's always funny how little people tend to look like the picture you generate in your mind from the way they write. The meeting itself was slightly disappointing - it felt to me rather like it was a show put on by the committee (who make all the real decisions at the committee meetings) for the benefit of the small percentage of the membership who actually turned up. There was some argument about provision of a concessionary rate for those on disability benefits. It seemed to me like the committee had already decided they didn't want to implement this and were using some frankly rather feeble excuses not to do so (policing eligibility and "data protection laws" - but they already use self-policing for the age concession and somehow manage to protect members' contact details). Also disappointing was how few members drove their Minors to the meeting - there were about eight of them in the car park between at least a hundred members.
On down to the Youth Hostel at Stratford upon Avon. This is a little different to any of the other YHs I've stayed in, in that it has a cafeteria and breakfast is included in the nightly rate. It still has a self-catering kitchen but it's very small and poorly laid out (eg. the sinks are in a different room to the stoves). Good points are that it has plenty of parking space, a decent-sized lounge (though I didn't spot a TV), and reception is open till quite late. Worst point was the bunk beds. As another guy trying to sleep in my dorm put it this morning: "loudest beds EVAR!" They must have been assembled wrongly or something, because it only took a slight shifting of your weight for them to make deafening cracking and creaking noises that woke everybody up. As a result I didn't get much sleep and spent most of the night in a variety of uncomfortable positions, putting off rolling over as long as possible because I knew that when I did it would reawaken anyone who had just managed to drop off.
On Saturday night I walked the three miles or so to the Courtyard Theatre to see the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Henry V. I enjoyed it, in fact it was probably the highlight of my weekend. This was the first time I'd seen this particular play and I found some of the speeches difficult to follow (no York Notes here), but I believe I got the gist of what was going on. I'm guessing some of it (eg. Falstaff's eulogy) may well have made more sense if I'd already seen the earlier plays in the series. The theatre itself is an unusual construction - lots of rusty bare steel, seating around three sides of the stage, and an odd tower thing with double doors at the head of the stage instead of curtains. I was up in the gallery on one side, and it gave a pretty decent vantage point - better I suspect than the more expensive seats on the ground floor. Once again I found myself seated by chance next to a beautiful young lady who I was too embarrassed to talk to - I had nearly worked up the courage to try introducing myself during the interval when the play restarted. The performance took good advantage of the space, and featured various interesting and imaginative effects involving actors being winched down from the ceiling and bursting out of the floor in clouds of smoke. The story had a surprising amount of humour considering the subject matter. My favourite scene was the one where King Henry tries to profess his love for the French Princess Catherine and is hindered by the language barrier. I walked back to the YH again afterwards, winding up with some blisters on the sole of my left foot for my trouble (mainly due to a combination of knackered shoes and thin socks).
The plan for Sunday morning was to go to a vintage slot machine fair/auction in Coventry, take a look at the machines, and maybe buy some bits and pieces. Actually finding the place was easier said than done. Coventry is bigger than I realised and the directions given weren't terribly helpful. I must have gone twice around the ring road before I found the right exit. I arrived well before the start of the auction so I had a good look at all the lots. Many of the machines had keys in them so you could take a look at the mechanism inside. At one point I was studying the inside of a slot machine that somebody had left the door open on, when a member of staff from the venue rushed up saying, "Move out of the way, this one's not for sale." It seems that it was a fixture of the social club the auction was being held in! Nearly all the lots in the auction were complete working machines, and the prices they were going for were much higher than I would be willing to pay for one. I nearly bid on one machine that for some reason didn't attract much interest (it was an "electromech" - ie. controlled by relays and solenoids and things rather than the desirable mechanical "allwin" machines). I wasn't sure which machine it was, and due to a miscommunication the auctioneer had already banged the gavel and sold it for a very low price before the demonstrator had located the machine and shown it to the bidders! After about three hours they'd only got through half the lots and I was practically dozing off with boredom, so I gave up hoping for a bargain and left. On the upside, at least I didn't spend a fortune on something I would rarely use, and I've got a few ideas that will be useful in my retro-futuristic Tetris arcade game project.
After the slot machine auction I headed up to Wolverhampton where I had arranged to buy a heater for Fenchurch from a guy on the MMOC forum. He had a lot of other spares too, and I also picked up a pair of half-shafts (the ones I have are fine but they do break occasionally and if that happens I don't want to be off the road for a few days while I wait for a replacement).