I can’t remember exactly how old I was. Probably 12 or 13. Mum had dragged me round to her friend’s house. I hated going to her friend’s house. For one thing, it was the most interminably boring thing in the world sitting there whilst they drank tea and talked about what were, to me, the most mundane subjects in the universe. Not only that, but I wasn’t keen on her friend either. She was nice to us when mum was around, but unpleasant when we were alone. So, as you can imagine, it brought out the worst in me.
On this particular visit though, I learned that they had just bought a computer. I was intrigued. I’d never seen one. I’d heard about them on John Craven’s Newsround – sure, but never had I seen one in the silicone. I asked if I could have a go, and I was left to it in front of a pristine Sinclair ZX Spectrum. It was plugged into an old portable TV and there was a tape machine to one side. I took the only tape they had, “Horizons”, read the insert and followed the instructions. I was completely enthralled. I went through every program on both sides of the tape and played with that machine for hours. For once, it was Mum who wanted to go home and it was me that wanted to stay.
I didn’t think too much more about it and before I knew it, Christmas had arrived. Bleary eyed, myself and my brother headed downstairs at some ungodly early hour to open all our presents. I remember dad had taken up position with a camera to capture our expressions as we came through the front room door. We groaned as he captured us in our unkempt, half awake state and descended upon our presents. I was initially disappointed – was my pile smaller than usual this year? The first present I opened turned out to be a tape machine, which I thought was a great present and I spent a few moments thinking about what I could do with it before moving on the next present.
It wasn’t long before I could make out the box inside the wrapping paper and my heart sang! It was a Sinclair ZX Spectrum – fantastic. I couldn’t wait to get it open, plug it into the TV and explore the possibilities. Again, I spent hours in front of that machine, being physically pulled away for Christmas Dinner.
After the Christmas break, back at school, the playground talk was all around what we had been given for Christmas. Amazingly, my small circle of friends had all been given Spectrums! We were told off more than once on that first day for talking incessantly about computers.
I remember a BBC TV program called “Me and My Micro” where they explored the possibilities of these new microcomputers that were spreading like wildfire. I remember watching the presenters program the computers, showing you the BASIC language and what you could do with it. I decided that I wanted to learn how to do that and fished out the orange book that came with my Spectrum and read it cover to cover whilst trying things out on the machine.
A little later that year, mum was pregnant with my sister. I know they talk about women “blooming” during pregnancy, but that’s not exactly how I would describe mum’s experience. I used to arrive home from school, walk in the door and ask dad how mum was. Invariably, he would say “the same as yesterday”. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, I would lock myself away in my room programming my ZX Spectrum. I don’t think the time was wasted – I wrote a number of games, at least one of which was published.
So – it’s no surprise that I ended up in a career in software development. I guess I should have seen it coming.
- Childhood Tuesday: ZX Spectrum (geekergosum.com)
- The Raspberry Pi Promises to Be the Ultimate Retro Gaming System as This ZX Spectrum Emulator Port Shows (gizmodo.co.uk)
Thanks Martin, that brings my own memory, although in my case it was Atari 800XE. It was impossible to buy a tape machine for it in my town (late 80s in Poland) for a week or two, so I and my best mates from school were typing into the amazing computer BASIC and hexadecimal encodings of programs from magazines, mostly games working in text mode and learning at the same time. Then the tape player/recorder and Montezuma and River Raid, oh dear… cheers!
Thanks for the comment. The Atari 800 was a fine machine and unlike it’s sibling, the Atari 400, it held a respectable position in the imaginary league table that we kept in our heads whilst playing in the playground!
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