First Computer

The other night I threw a strop when my internet connection fizzed out for a few minutes, and I was forced to use my iPhone’s 3G connection to look something up online. It struck me just how far we’ve come since the early days of the internet, when you were amazed even that a page took minutes to load. I smiled, because I then remembered my first computer.

That was a ZX Spectrum +2. It was an amazing piece of kit at the time, even though it could take up to half an hour for a program to load up. For anyone wondering how bad it was when you wanted to play a game, this is what you had to cope with – I recommend turning your volume up for the full goodness.


Think of that when you turn on your Xbox 360. I still can’t believe you had to insert a cassette and press play for this to happen. Games were so shite, that there was a small side-industry of books and articles on how to program your own computer games in BASIC. I’ve moved on a lot – I now use a MacBook Pro, let other people make the magic, and things happen a lot quicker and crash a lot less.

At the weekend I was speaking to Dan Abnett, super-talented writer of SF and comics, who mentioned a typewriter that syncs with an iPad and runs entirely on win. Dan explained that using a typewriter is actually better for a writer, because you don’t get RSI – the keys have resistance, unlike on a computer keyboard – which means for health reasons, all writers should have this set-up.

Who else was a kid of the 80s and grew up with crap like the Spectrum?

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

26 replies on “First Computer”

ZX-80, ZX-81, and Commodore 64.

Our first portable was a Sanyo. Like its fellows from IBM or Compaq stock, it looked like a big suitcase with a tiny monitor and a keyboard. With the weight it had, key resistance was the least of your problems…

My first was a Commodore VIC-20, must have took months out of my life waiting for games to load and I bought one of those books you mentioned, spent hours typing in those characters to no avail. 20 goto 10 was good though.

My very very first computer was a P2000 (I was six) and the games were stored on these teensy-weensy casettes (like the ones you used to have in answering machines). A little later I had a Commodore 64. I loved that thing! I also had this how to program in BASIC for kids, that was so much fun 😀 I guess it’s no wonder I turned out a little geeky lol

Ah, my Apple IIe with *amber* screen – it brings a coppery tear to my eye.

I still have it! Bwahahahahahahahahaha! It sits in my basement back in the US next to my dot matrix printer and copies of Zork, Dig Dug, and Ultima III.

Good times.


Daniel – I’m being sarcastic about Microsoft being shite.

Anna – I remember the C64! My friends used to have one. Wasn’t that the rival with the BBC computer?

John – I just googled that. It looks an impressively blocky bit of kit! Regarding the programming – I bet parents were amazed by such things that their kids were doing, and which they possibly never understood, since they had no comparison.

Mieneke – you had one of those books, too? They were ace! There seemed to be loads around – as if computing was seen as a great thing for young people to get into. Computers are very much seen as a teen/adult area these days.

Eric – I’m jealous! Retro Apple products are still worth a fair bit.

Amiga 500! Workbench OS, as I recall.

Damn, but I loved me some Datastorm. First video game I ever played, and my Dad wouldn’t let me play anything else till I beat it. Months it took me, level by painful level. Kinda set the tone for my attitude to all the video games I played since… I’m a right glutton for punishment, even today.

I used to temember sitting perfectly still for 20 minutes in case a vibration would cause the game to crash while loading (which it usually would have)and hoping the room wasn’t too hot/cold.
I used to love Daley Thompson’s decathlon even though the useless spectrum keyboard had rubber keys that would like to stick down causing embarassing sprint cramp.
Jet set willy was awesome too.

Mark – Very true about having nothing to compare it to back then, it was all new and…blocky. Alas their child prodigy went on to enjoy many games and never did become Bill Gates…The End

Now don’t knock the Spectrum ZX when up until then all you’d had was that Binatone game. That shows my age somewhat…
I was hooked on the Spectrum. We had a whole collection of tape cassettes. Froggie was cool, as was Paperboy but my absolute favourite was some Aztec Maze game (whose name I can’t remember). No pictures just a white screen with text. And typing in instructions. Turn left, go straight, open door. At which stage the screen would respond with – ‘you’ve been eaten by an Orc’. Compare that to the visceral blood spattering you get in something like Resident Evil…ah – happy days when it was left to the imagination rather than pictured in spectacular 3D action sequences.

Niall – Amiga 500 – that was a fancy bit of kit! And such discipline.

Neil – I was the same! It became like some occult ritual not to disturb it while it was loading up.

Hello Julie! I loved Paperboy. That was pretty advanced for the Spectrum wasn’t it? You’re right about using your imagination for those kind of things.

I think my favourite game on the Spectrum were Dynamite Dan, which retailed for a mighty £6.95!

My brother had a Commodore Vic-20. I was so jealous. It had a sweet 8 or 9 inch monitor with a green gel over the screen. We took turns typing in the code for a Vanguard-type game. We probably spent twice as much time proofing the code as we did typing it in. But we got it to work. I think finding out that we finally had it right was more exciting than the game.

Needless to say it did not have the sweet color graphics like Helter Skelter.

Mark – It was one of the few such books translated into Dutch at that time. I remember having it when I was eight or nine, so it must have been about 1988. Back then computering was the future, so I think my dad was hoping to get me into an IT-career lol

I had a BBC Micro, second hand from my dad’s school! I also upgraded (!) to a Sinclair Spectrum 48k when I was about 8…

There was a ZX-81 in a display case at Stafford university last year – all the students thought it was hilarious and retro. Kids today, grumble grumble.

While my friends all owned ZX81s, Spectrums and VIC-20s (and in one case a classic table-top Space Invaders machine), I had to be different and went for a Sega SC-3000H. Not that you’d have heard of it – it enjoyed somewhat of a cult following back in the NZ of my childhood, but it seemed to never have reached UK shores.

Can’t understand why it never made the big-time. It had built-in speech synthesis, for crying out loud.

Hal, dude – the ZX81 had cool retro value even when the +2 was out!

Laure – ah, the BBC Micro. We had those at school. Were they endorsed by the educational system or something? I remember many a fond hour playing Chuckie Egg on that.

John – you’re right, I had to google that. A rarity indeed. Built-in speech? That should totally have caught on.

We didn’t have a Speccy – although several cousins and friends did, and my uncle even used to be a Spectrum game programmer at one point – but we did have a BBC Micro. Real, clacky keys, not rubber ones, although the selection of games certainly wasn’t as good.

“Games were so shite” – come on now Mark, it’s all relative! One day kids will laugh at Fallout 3 and say “What, you have to control it with your HANDS?” Favourite Speccy game is probably a hacking ‘simulator’ called Supercom btw, great stuff.

Mark – don’t know about the BBC computer, to me the C64 was my first and only game computer. The upgrade from cassette to big floppies to load your game was a giant step for mankind. I loved how you could make those floppies double-sided by punching a hole in the side.

Actually I miss my C64 so much that I have an emulator installed this modern day PC. The hard part is hunting down the games I remember because all we ever had were German hacks, which means badly translated titles half of the time.

Started on the BBC Micro (32K of memory!). Playing ELITE for the first time in 1984 (the game came complete with a Robert Holdstock novella) was an awesome moment for me, even if it took me years to learn how to dock with the space station properly.

I then had a Commodore Amiga 500, which just had non-stop awesome games (Syndicate, Cannon Fodder, Flashback, Dune II etc). Finally moved up to the PC in 1998.

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