Tried to connect another PSU? Have you looked inside if no connector is lose?
Do you have old board, or old PSU? Try to use them to verify if problem is motherboard or PSU. It seem your PSU for some reason doesn't want to switch itself up. I suspect you don't hear a weak buzzing noise from PSU after you tried to power up the computer.
No storms when you were away?
If I do need to go up a level is it worth going for a PCI express type board and one of them new fangled cheapo Athlon 64 type processors so I can at least upgrade a bit when good parts become cheap or should I go for bargainous end-of-line old-fashioned stuff and worry about upgrading when the time comes?
That's the question. I choose the cheap way and choose reliable components, at least attempted to.
Other alternative is Nemiah, wait half year - 3/2 years, then convert Nemiah into nice computer for viewing video and other stuff, and update with powerful computer (and create a small home network).
If you have DDR memory on your board you aren't in as bad situation you could have MB/CPU pretty cheap.