Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 52

Tuesday 21st February 1984

Woke up at 8.45 and got up at 9.45. At 10.00 Doug rang to see if I could come down, and I could so I grabbed some paint and brushes and met Doug half way to his house. When we got there we made the control box for K9, and put it on. Then K9 was finished and only needed painting.

At 11.45 Mam came for me and I went home and had dinner. After dinner I got changed and at 1.10 Ozzie came for me and we went to his house. First we played Jetpac on the Spectrum, then we had a go on the sharp computer while the Spectrum Cricket game loaded. When we had finished we played Spectrum cricket and Ozzie won.

At 4.00 I came home and went to Doug’s but there was nobody in so I came back and had tea. 5.5 Watched Grange Hill, then at 6.40 I watched Tucker’s luck. After that I played on the videopac and at 9.00 I watched Alas Smith and Jones. 9.45 Went to bed.

HISTORIC DAY!!!

The first time I ever played on a ZX Spectrum. Oh yes, the beginning of a headlong, passionate, life-changing five-year love affair began on this otherwise unremarkable chilly day in February.

Ozzie was, of course, Ian Oswald, my curly-haired Fighting Fantasy collaborator, and this was the first time I’d ever been invited to his fabulous rambling home in the nearby village of Maltby. Ozzie was smart and funny and a good mate, and – amazingly – he had TWO COMPUTERS in his house… partly the result, I think, of his Dad being a maths lecturer at the nearby Teesside Polytechnic. Or, as it became a few short years later, the somewhat grander-sounding  ‘University of Teesside’.

Pfffft.

In 1984, dual computer ownership made the Oswalds a futuristic rocket family on a par with The Jetsons. In fact here are the whole clan travelling to the nearby Yorkshire Dragoon for their weekly Sunday dinner…

I’m almost (but only almost) proud of the fact that I can remember exactly which model of Sharp computer the Oswald family owned. It was a Sharp MZ80K, and it looked like this…

sharpmz80k

Look at the built-in tape recorder! THIS IS THE FUTURE!!!

As far as we were concerned, this was a rather grown-up, serious computer intended for household accounts and co-ordinating mutually assured nuclear missile strikes (a popular family pastime in Maltby). However, it did have a nifty, in-built version of ‘Hangman’ which would do to pass the time while the ZX Spectrum took fifteen minutes to load ‘Jetpac’, crashing twice along the way with the dreaded ‘R: Tape Loading Error’.

Jetpac was a legendary game though, and well worth the wait. It was produced by the godlike geniuses of the mysterious Ultimate Play The Game software house, virtually anonymous coders based in the mysterious (and surely fictional) hide-out of Ashby De La Zouch. And it was one of a string of hits that made them The Beatles of the North Leicestershire software world…


I can’t remember with 100% accuracy, but after a spell of gruelling, intensive research (thanks, Google) I think that the ‘Cricket’ game that we played was actually a typey-in game published in the Sinclair Programs magazine sometime in 1983.

sinclairprograms2

So yes… for the benefit of our younger readers, these weren’t games bought ready-made on tape or disc or even (gasp) CD-R, but games whose code was published over several pages of an inky high street magazine. We pale-skinned young boys would then devote days of our lives to typing them in manually on the Spectrum’s rubber keyboard, usually getting through at least fifteen R: Tape Loading Errors, and anything up to six cartons of cold milk shoved up against overheating 16K rampacks.

And this is the result… yep, this IS Sinclair Programs’ version of ‘Cricket’…

spectrumcricket1

If any of you have kids who constantly complain that their X-Box 360 or PS3 or Nintendo Wii games are ‘crap’, then I suggest you show them this. I think the fourth stickman on the left is Graham Dilley.

Good to see our model K9 moving on apace as well. We’d completed the ‘control box’ (ie the little oblong of switches and buttons on top of his body), although you’ll notice that despite braving my Dad’s ever-growing dead spider collection to ‘grab some paint and brushes’, we didn’t do any actual painting. Consider that a tantalising teaser for tomorrow’s diary entry…

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with my friend MJ Hibbett’s glorious paen to the ZX Spectrum. Firstly because it contains references to both Jetpac and R:Tape Loading Errors, but also because he speaks the truth…

‘The games you get today, well they might be very flash
But they’ll never beat the thrill of getting through Jetpac’

He’s right of course… games back then were built to last, and the X-Box 360, PS3 and Nintendo Wii are all crap. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

If anyone’s interested, MJ and I are playing a live gig together next Tuesday (24th) at the Lamb pub at 94 Lamb’s Conduit Street, London. It’s my first-ever London gig and it’d be lovely to see any of you there! Just getting my excuses in early in case next Wednesday’s diary entry is late.

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10 Comments»

  illegibleme wrote @

Crikey, that Jetpac soundtrack nearly blew my eardrums! After about a minute I could feel my ears going funny and had to turn the volume down.

My first console was an Atari 2600

Which, by the time I got one, had already been superseded by two models of Nintendo. I used to get games from South Shields Open Market as real shops didn’t sell them!

  bobfischer wrote @

Sorry about that… I’m sure the real Jetpac game, when you played it on the Spectrum, sounded far easier on the ear than that.

The Atari 2600 is a design classic. The first time I ever saw one was round at Paul Frank’s farm in (I think) the Summer of 1982. We played Space Invaders while eating crumpets. Or were they pikelets?

  Fiona Tims wrote @

You got me thinking about the Games Console that my older brother had for a while and I just did some research and it was the Intellevision and we used to play Burgertime, Night Stalker and Lock and Chase. He sold it to my best friends sister which is a shame because we hoarde everything and would still have it.

You can play some of these games online and I’m getting re-acquainted with Burgertime 🙂

  bobfischer wrote @

I’ve never heard of the Intellevision or Burgertime, so this is all an education for me!

Have you seen this?

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Wow I just found a game we used to play on the INtellivision and I have thought about it over the years and never researched it. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons-this is all very exciting finding pictures of these games and consoles 🙂

  bobfischer wrote @

It’s terrifying, isn’t it? I went into a mate’s house the other week – someone I’d never considered to be especially geeky – and he had a pristine BBC Micro and ZX Spectrum both set up in his front room. It was a beautiful, beautiful sight.

  miaowlicious wrote @

Haha that’s brilliant. I hadn’t seen that ad. I’m gonna be scouring ebay before long for these, I just know it!!

  bobfischer wrote @

It’s a slippery slope! I’m still being forcibly restrained from bringing my Videopac G7000 down from the loft…

  Splinter073 wrote @

I still have 2 ZX Spectrums, but neither work! 😦 One of these days I’m going to see if I can create a hybrid out of them (one is a ‘rubber keyed” one and the other is a 48k+)

Don’t know if you knew this by the way, but Ultimate – Play the Game are now called RARE, makers of Banjo Kazooie and loads of other classics (including GoldenEye on the N64).

  bobfischer wrote @

DON’T HYBRIDISE THE SPECTRUMS!!!! Before you know it you’ll have a deadly, giant Super Spectrum on your hands, crashing through the streets and molesting innocent passers-by with its rubber keys and R: Tape Loading Errors…

Great news about Ultimate! I didn’t know that at all. Good to hear they’re still on the go.


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