Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The changing face of Maplin Electronics

Ever since the early 70's I have had a passing interest in electronics. Usually this has been associated with another hobby such as railway modelling, automotive or audio. It was at that time that I could not wait for the next copy of Practical Wireless to hit the shelves of the local newsagent. Buying components involved popping in to the electronics shop at the end of the road - yes they did exist in those days. The man behind the counter spent his days repairing all sorts of electrical goods such as televisions and portable record players - Remember the Dansette

Alternatively a trip to Mitcham was required to visit the trade counter at Home Radio. The counter was above the shops and a narrow staircase delivered the visitor to a counter where a brown-coated gentleman complete with notepad and freshly licked pencil would appear. It was a bit intimidating as their core business was feeling the pinch and the hobby was in steep decline. By the 1980's most of the "radio shops" were disappearing - Home Radio dissipated shortly after my visits of the 1970s. It was a good idea to have a list of your own as the usual greeting was "Yes mate?" meaning "OK, what do you want? my tea is getting cold and I suppose you want a lot of little bits and pieces" Unbeknown to me at the time, I suspect the guy in the brown coat was counting the days.

The Home Radio catalogue was a thin looking thing, even though it contained over 200 pages, with lots of lists and images, mainly of dated looking (even then) Bakelite products. The Maplin catalogue was a whole different matter. They had the mail-order game sussed. Every order came with a handful of vouchers (redeemable against the next order) that looked like they were typed onto Gestetner sheets, printed and torn up with the aid of a rule in their then mail order HQ in deepest Essex . The thick catalogue was fully illustrated - albeit in glorious monochrome - and it was full of diagrams, projects and thousands of components aimed squarely at the emerging hobbyist mail-order market of the day. They certainly got me hooked I would get home to find the little red card on the mat from the postman informing me that my order was ready for collection from our local sorting office. If I was home early enough I would shoot off and collect my goodies before my Mum had a chance to ask me what I wanted for tea. Even today I am not averse to ordering from them or even visiting one of their many retail outlets. However today it is a very different world to those days of nearly forty years ago. On-line shopping has taken over when it comes to the run-of-the-mill stock and I will only use Maplin for stuff I can't get elsewhere or just good old fashioned convenience. Their range of stock has broadened to encompass all manner of electronic items including such things as toothbrushes! This is to the detriment of their stock of components - I may not like it but I do understand it.

If you need quantities of components (I wanted about half a dozen, 1Amp, automatic circuit breakers) it is back to mail order as the shops will only carry one or two in stock. They will order them for you but in today's world that is far too much bother. An order of £35 and over is delivered free of charge and it will usually arrive the next day if you order early enough. A flick through the catalogue revealed a few items that would be useful and their diverse range of items, I was bemoaning a few sentences ago, now has an advantage. I made my order up to £35.04 and pressed the 'BUY' key. a few clicks of the PayPal checkout and the deed was done, painlessly with very little effort. I hardly felt a thing as I was parted with my money - maybe that is the point...

Tool holder from scrap 

Amongst my order was a 12-piece, stainless steel, wax carver set that will be useful for plastic and plaster scribing as well as general detailing. These tools are supplied in a clear plastic clam-pack and I suppose I could have stored them in that. However, I prefer to have these sorts of tools to hand and without the hassle of fighting with the plastic packing. I managed to find a stout cardboard tube, from which I cut a short length and stuck it into a blind hole bored into a square of 12mm thick MDF with a 35mm diameter Forstner bit.  The upper arris of the MDF was chamfered at 45ยบ to finish it off neatly. I will probably apply a piece of non-slip mat to the bottom to make it more stable on the varnished bench top.


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