On the back of a previous blog post where I posted my answer to a question on Reddit about the first video game I ever played [LINK], I thought that I would share a similar question asked over on /r/RetroBattleStations (a sub-Reddit dedicated to older computer rigs): “Whats your earliest childhood memory with a computer?” by user Fknlush.
What’s that cherished memory of you and your precious or long lost tech? Did you watch your parents operate it? Did you use it yourself to play games? What made it special?
tl;dr I thought I broken the computer that my parents bought, after an hour. But I didn’t. Later, I taught myself BASIC.
When I was, about, 6 years old my parents bought a second hand Amstrad CPC 464 for my brother (who would have been 4 at the time) and me. I remember that it came in a few plastic bags and had tonnes of cassette tapes with it.
I remember being told to take a seat on the chair that was bought specifically for it (after it was set up on a desk). We switched it on, and were instantly given the BASIC prompt. After a few minutes of looking around for an instruction manual, I decided to drop a tape into the drive.
In the case was a small sliver of paper that said
Crtl + Alt + Enter to run tape
I pressed those keys in unison.
Press “Play” on tape drive, then enter “Run” to continue
When it hit the play button, the tape drive motors didn’t start up and nothing seemed to happen. I typed “Run” and hit the enter key.
Suddenly, the motor started and the tape began reading. After a few seconds the screen went blank and the tape’s speaker started kicking out a hell of a racket.
Beep beeeeep screeeech silence beep booop beeep screeetch
It was very similar to the following video:
It carried on for a few minutes. After a few seconds, the screen started to fill, line by line, from the top with an image (I think it was a plant in a pot, but I can’t be sure). Once the image was finished, there was a (poorly) digitised chord played from the speaker.
I leaned over and pressed the enter key and the screen went blank. I thought I’d broken it, and turned to my parents with a sorry look on my face.
My Mum was pointing at the monitor. I spun round again to see “Animal, Vegetable or Mineral” printed across the top of screen. The rest of the screen was taken up with the rules of the game. I had to choose an animal, vegetable or mineral, and the computer would guess what it was, based on my answers for yes or no style questions.
My brother prompted me with “Crunchy cucumber”, which is what he has always called celery. We decided to go with my brother’s choice, and started the game.
Is it an animal, vegetable or mineral?
Vegetable – I needed help with typing it, and we worked together to find the keys.
Is it green?
Is it round?
Is it long?
Is it celery?
The machine had guessed the vegetable we’d chosen in 4 questions. “How did the computer get so clever? It was just a bunch of stuff in a bag earlier?” was what I asked my parents.
My brother shouted that he wanted to try, so I got off the chair and sat him on it.
About half an hour later, we’d all had several tries and fooling the computer and none of us had been able to. Looking back, I think my parents had been in cahoots about not choosing something that it wouldn’t have an answer to.
It’s got a thingy!
My brother yelled, when he found the joystick when going through the bags and bags of stuff that came with the computer.
After a while, my parents left us to “play” with the computer. My brother asked if we could plug the “thingy” in and try it. I started looking for a place to plug it in, but couldn’t find it. I lifted the keyboard up and rotated it to try and find somewhere to plug it in. “Found it,” I said as my brother gave me the adapter end of the cable.
I set the keyboard back down, but the screen had gone blank. Panic! I’ve broken it! Tears welling in my eyes, I started to push random keys, hoping that something would make it work. I turned to my brother, who said that he was worried that plugging the “thingy” in had broken it, because it wasn’t ready. He began crying, my Mum ran into the room worried about my brother.
I’m sorry, Mum. I think we broke it.
She came over and gave us both a hug and when we’d both calmed down, we told he what had happened.
Let me take a look.
Mum tilted the keyboard and noticed that the power chord had come loose slightly. She turned to look at us both, we were craning to see what she had done and I had tears in my eyes.
Hmm… I’m not sure. I might have to get your father.
She called for our Dad. When he got there, Mum beckoned him over and whispered with him while pointing at the keyboard. “I’m in so much trouble,” I said to my brother. “I’ll tell them that I did it. Don’t you worry.”
I’m sorry Dad. I broke it. he had nothing to do with it.
“Hmm…” My Dad said as he turned back to the machine. “I think you might have to give your mother and me a minute to figure this out. Go wash your face. Then take your brother into the kitchen and get him a drink.”
As soon as my brother finished his drink, he was fine; chripy even. I was dreading what was going to happen.
I heard a shout. I was being summoned. I walked my brother back into the room with the computer.
Your mother and I had a long talk, it took a while, but we fixed it.
“How!?” An air of relief coming over me.
Not too long after that, I was bought a book on the BASIC programming language, and would spend my allotted time (my brother and I had to share it, naturally) working through exercises in that book at the computer.
I hope that you all enjoyed reading this, I had fun writing it.