way of an Introduction
This is a trip a little bit further back than
some of the Rodents have yet gone.
I'm not talking about arcade games here - although
the lure of Boot Hill at Filey Amusements did have a certain pull
for me when I was all of what, 11 years old. Ah. Filey Amusements.
I must revisit that hallowed place - but another time.
No, it's computers I want to talk about. But
before I get started, I would like to fully invoke Rule 1. I can't
remember dates etc for shit. My brain just isn't wired up that
way. I can remember the incidents and the feelings, but putting
them into some sort of time frame - sorry, ain't gonna happen.
And anyway - we're talking pre-history here. I've read the stories
about Amigas, and Atari STs. I've remembered fondly the C64, Spectrum
and Dragon days. I've revisited my brief flirting with the old
pal that was my Atari 800. But this story predates those. If this
article were a TV documentery, it'd have Simon Schama wandering
round pontificating about the importance of these times as a foundation
of what was to come.
So, cut to the small 'computer room' at Queen
Elizabeth's Grammar School, Gainsborough. In reality a converted
cloakroom. You could fit about 3 or 4 people in there alongside
the venerable Commodore PET 3032. Ahh, the old PET. My first contact
with a computer. A real computing machine. I mean look at it.
Straight out of some dodgy 80s Sci-Fi programme. I even remember
that it sounded right - with just the right sort of >clack<
as you hit the keys.
I honestly cannot remember what made me visit this room for the
first time. I knew about computers - I was into electronic games,
but I can't remember the point where I heard about the PET and
thought "I'll have some of that".
As I remember, there were only a few of us who
were really interested. Me, Ian, Aussie, Andy and a couple of
older students. Eventually, we used to try to get on the beast
at every available opportunity. Breaktimes, lunch - I can still
recall being thrown out by the caretaker as he was going round
the school locking up, with him shaking his head, telling us that
even all the teachers had gone. We'd obviously been overlooked...
We all threw ourselves into the fledgling scene
as it was then. Buying 'Teach yourself Basic' books, and while
other kids were scribbling the names of girls and/or bands in
the back of their exercise books, ours were filled with lines
of basic code. And Girls. And Bands. But the code was there in
amongst it all. We started to buy computing magazines, and started
to soak in all the jargon and learn to love the tech, eagerly
soaking up information on what made these things tick (bleep?),
and reading about the exciting things to come. through these magazines,
we also learned of the computers that we could have at home. Remember,
this was BC - Before Clive. Ferreted away in the small ads that
were placed at the side of the type-in program listings were adverts
for the UK-101, Nascom, Acorn Atom - all these were aimed at the
home or hobbyist user. Much more affordable than the Apple computers
that were in the big ads. The only drawback was you had to build
them yourself. But more on this later...
And games on the PET? Well, we had the heady
choice of Nibbles and Hunt the Wumpus. That was it. Nibbles involved
bombing little chompy dudes that flew from left to right and ate
away parts of a dam that would burst should enough get through.
and I know I don't have to explain Wumpus to you lot, right? It
wasn't much, but it was enough.
Initially the PET had a cassete drive. After
a while, the school got the cash together to buy a mighty double
disk drive - a beast that was almost as big as the PET itself!
So as we set about adding ,8 to all our little programs, the stack
of disks in the room grew slowly.
I don't know where it came from to be honest.
Suddenly it just seemed to be there. Maybe one of the other guys
can rememeber, but I'd like to think that the small gods of gaming
apported it into the room to seal the devotion of some fledgling
The disk label just had S.I. written on it. Of course we had to
pop it in and check it out - it could have been another programmaing
effort by one of the older kids, and we liked nothing better than
pouring scorn on their wonky code.
The disk was slid in. The wonderfully solid door/lock mechanism
that those old PET drives had was engaged, and the disk was queried.
Hmmm. A program. Wonder what it does... [a brief pause while the
program is loaded & run]
At first look it seemed to be nothing interesting. A bit of a
schematic for hooking up a speaker to one of the PETs ports. But
Oh. My. God.
After hitting a key, the screen cleared to show
a Space Invaders layout. And what's more it looked just like a
[chunky] version of the original.
After a few minutes of scrabbling for the keys
to play, that was that. Coding was put to one side, gaming was
in. As long as the teachers didn't catch you playing of course.
Anyway, time passed.
Clive put aside his digital watches and calcualtors,
and gave the nation their first affordable taste of digital narcotics
through the snowy whiteness of the ZX80. Once he had his first
few thousand computing junkies hooked, he upped th ante with the
ZX81. We were intigued. Plans were laid about saving money together,
and jointly buying one that we would share. This never really
And anyway, it didn't seem right to me. It wasn't a real computer
like the PET. I had my eye on something a little meatier. And
I thought with Christmas approaching, and the possibility of rolling
a Christmas and Birthday present into one, that I could just about
convince my parents to get me a computer I'd been coveting from
those small adverts in the magazines.
I wanted an Acorn Atom.
[To be continued...]
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