From ZX81 up. Remember the times.

The year was 1981 and I was 11 (Yes, I’m THAT old!). Actually I was a few months less than 12, as it was that XMAS. I opened my present, from my parents. It was a Sinclair ZX81! WOW! I was 11 years old and I now had a ‘Computer’.

As a kid, you play on consoles, whether they’re your own, or a friends and I had a fair number over the years (We’ll go into those on a separate blog). However, now I had a real computer, with a whole 1K to play with!! But wait! There was a smaller present, hiding behind it’s bigger friend. A 16k RAM Pack!!! My life was complete, or was it? A second-hand tape recorder completed the set and I was the happiest kid on the planet.

Once setup and connected I loaded up chess and played the bejesus out of it! Okay, it was the only game I had to start with, but think of it now, an intelligent chess game in 1K!! Is that even possible now? Anyway…That wasn’t the only game I had, oh no! I had a manual and a programming language, so I set off typing in programs. The typing was so fast on the lovely touch ‘sensitive’ keyboard and I could get up to 2-3 words per minute, so it didn’t take long before I had a basic Space Invaders game, copied from a magazine. It didn’t take long, just the 4 weeks, but I’d written my first program.

After that, I started learning basic and writing my own simple programs and saving them to tape, which was a dangerous procedure, to say the least, especially with the RAM pack. One wobble and your program was gone. That happened a few times, so I saved my pocket money and bought a wobble stopper. What a fantastic piece of engineering that was. A bent bit of metal, shaped to fit the ZX81 and the RAM pack, complete with a white plastic screw, to hold the RAM pack in…Genius!

By the time I’d had the machine a year, I’d also attached a rubberized keyboard, having felt a little jealous of my friends buying the ZX Spectrum. About 6 months later I sold it to one of my teachers, for about 50 quid. At school, I was starting Computer Studies and there were BBC Micro Model Bs in the classroom. My parents couldn’t afford to buy me one, but I got the next best thing, the Acorn Electron. It used the same basic as the BBC Micro and that meant I could do additional programming at work and bring it in, transferring it to the school machines.

In addition to being able to right BBC Basic programs at home, the machine had a ‘Real’ keyboard, which I’d only ever experienced on a friends Commodore 64. So I set off, writing projects for school, games for home and writing data out into Sequential text files. Remember those?

That machine got me through my exams, in more ways than one. First I could work on my exam project for my O’Level, which was a Library program, in addition to one of my friend’s Airport booking system project (Naughty!! He passed, with the same grade as me…Bastard!), but I could also play ‘Yie Ar Kung-Fu’ on it, while listening to Simple Minds and revising. Great memories and every time I here the album ‘Once Upon a Time’, I have flashbacks of the game. Of all of the other games, that were must-haves, ‘Elite’ was simply the best. That game kept me going for months and it’ll be something I will go back to at some point.

Over the following years, I ended up finally buying a ZX Spectrum, but it was the 128k version, with a better keyboard. I mainly bought it for the huge range of games, which it had, in comparison to most of the other home computers ont he market. I upgraded from that to a +2, which was essentially the same machine, but with an attached tape drive.

The tape drive was a godsend – No need for an external tape recorder and less danger of it screwing up games etc. Programming on a Spectrum wasn’t really my thing, though. I missed the programming aspect a bit, so eventually bailed on the Spectrums and went for an Amstrad CPC 6128. This was another 128k machine, but had an on-board disk drive. YES! Disk Drive!

It also had the advantage of using BBC basic, so I was of an running again, writing programs, but this time reading and writing to and from sequential text files, which were held on disk!! How cool was that? Of course the other major advantage, was that it had a monitor with it, so there was no need for a portable TV. I loved that machine as well, as it had better colour graphics than the spectrum, which always suffered from colour and sprite overlap.

Good times and fond memories. The only real regret I have, is not having them all anymore. That will change, however, as I’m determined to collect them all again, via eBay and I may even treat myself to a BBC Micro Model B.

Much as things change and technology progresses (Now a proud Mac owner), my fondest memories, are for those home computers that I’ve owned throughout the years.

Also, being 2011, this month (March), sees the 30th anniversary of the ZX81 and then next year, the ZX Spectrum. Rumour has it, that there’ll be a re-release of the original Spectrum. Will I buy one? Probably 🙂

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About Eamon Wyse - Award Winning Screenwriter/Producer and Production Director @writefilmdesign

Award Winning Screenwriter/Producer and Production Director @writefilmdesign

One response to “From ZX81 up. Remember the times.”

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