Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 322

Saturday 17th November 1984

I got up at 8.00, and we got the 8.20 bus to Middlesbrough. I got the ‘Ghostbusters’ book, and after that I got ‘Jet Set Willy’. When I came home I had dinner, then I read Ghostbusters.

After that I went upstairs and sorted out all my tapes, and I came down at 5.00 and had tea. At 5.20 I watched Tripods, then Doug came and we watched Late Late Breakfast Show.

Then we watched Cannon and Ball, and at 8.00 we watched Hi-de-Hi. Then we drew pictures of each other, and at 11.00 we watched Pushing up daisys. We went to bed at 11.30.

Time for a shopping spree! With £16 of my birthday money stuffed precariously into the back pocket of my jeans. I left the remaining 67p in the Maxwell House coffee jar for a rainy day (although, let’s be honest, we’re talking Teesside in November here… we weren’t exactly rubbing in Factor 45 and sipping strawberry daiquiris in the doorway of Uptons)

And so onto the 294 bus with my Mum to hit the bright (well, orange) lights of Middlesbrough. We all knew about Ghostbusters, of course, even though the film itself hadn’t been released in the UK… but we’d heard Ray Parker Jnr’s theme song, watched the video and read about the buzz in America, where the film had been a sensational summertime smash (Does the obligatory 1980s six-month wait between US and UK cinema releases still happen, or does everything get a simultaneous release now? I remember the wait to see Star Wars in a British cinema being almost unbearable… it came out in May 1977 in the US, but didn’t see it until January 1978)

Anyway, naturally the only way to quench my desire for some Ghostbustin’ action was to… erm, buy the novelisation of the film and have every single surprise and gag completely sprung for me a month in advance. I ain’t afraid of no spoiler…

And then Jet Set Willy!!! MINE!!!! A long-standing ambition finally fulfilled. We never got too hung up about Christmas presents being a huge surprise in my house (mainly because I’d end up screaming and slapping my head if I got the ‘wrong thing’) and so I’d known for a couple of months that the ZX Spectrum 48K computer I’d  been lusting after for years would soon be coated in lurid Santa wrapping paper and stuffed underneath our plastic Woolworths tree.  So where was the harm in thinking ahead and buying the BEST COMPUTER GAME IN THE WORLD EVER????

Seriously, I really can’t describe how I felt when I handed over my £7.99* in the Middlesbrough branch of Boots (downstairs, past the photography department and the HP11 batteries) and received that iconic, impossibly exciting cassette case in a tiny polythene bag.  I felt giddy and light-headed, as though my life was now utterly complete, and anything that could possibly happen to me in the next 70-odd years of my existance had suddenly ceased to have any meaning (unless I was cast as the 11th Doctor Who, of course… that might just top it. Little did I know, of course, that by the time the 11th Doctor Who was cast, I’d be far too bloody old for the job)

(*I’m guessing at the RRP here. Does anyone have any idea at all how much ZX Spectrum games cost in 1984? I’ve got an absolute mental blank on this)

I fondled, caressed and fingered Jet Set Willy* all the way home on the bus, and then spent the afternoon alternating between reading Ghostbusters (which is written, oddly, entirely in the present tense… ‘Venkman raises a quizzical eyebrow at the First Year Student sitting across the table’ etc. I remember being really baffled by this when I first opened the book, and wondered briefly if I’d actually got a defective copy) and ‘sorting out all my tapes’.

(*Stop giggling at the back)

Which this actually meant, of course, was that all my previous tapes (filled with recordings of muffled TV soundtracks, snippets of the Radio 1 Top 40 countdown and me and Paul Frank attempting to break wind into the tiny condenser microphone of a portable cassette recorder from Curry’s) were stuffed under the bed, and their cardboard box accomodation cleared to make way for MY NEW COLLECTION OF ZX SPECTRUM GAMES. Truly, this was the end of childhood and the beginning of adolescent geekdom.

And then, just when the day couldn’t possibly get any more exciting, my best mate Doug arrived to stay the night. Trundling up to the back gate on his BMX, wrapped in his brown Parka and sporting his usual mischievious grin. We spent the night in front of the telly, making filthy in-jokes that my parents would never understand, and then – I’m sure – being allowed to sip a couple of glasses of my Dad’s home-made white wine as the clock ticked excitingly towards 11pm and Channel 4’s late-night comedy output became deliriously risque.

I’ve mentioned it before, but the prospect of staying up until 11pm and beyond was truly uncharted territory for me before the Autumn of 1984, and made me feel excitingly grown-up and responsible. Watching Hale and Pace doing ‘Der Management’ on Pushing Up Daisies while the coal fire threw an orange glow around the room, and my parents exchanged the occasional ‘Is he OK to be watching this?’ glance at each other. The fact that Doug was there as well only added an extra layer of thrills to the whole experience… we didn’t feel like kids any more, we felt like BLOODY BLOKES.

And when I say went to bed at 11.30pm, you can take it as read that we stayed awake long into the wee hours… farting, talking muck and giggling relentlessly in the gloom. Doug took my usual bed, and I collapsed on a camp bed beside it, with Jet Set Willy within touching distance in its cardboard box beside me. And I think, at about the turn of midnight, we discovered that any felt tip pen marks that we left on my Star Wars wallpaper were easily washed off with a damp piece of toilet paper.

I’m sure you can guess what Han Solo was doing to Princess Leia by the time we settled down to sleep at 2am.



  Chris Orton wrote @

Was Jet Set Willy hard?

  bobfischer wrote @

Solid. I spent most of 1985 hammering away at it.

  Chris Orton wrote @

It writes itself this doesn’t it?

  Dr Giles Parcel wrote @

It was sometimes quite difficult getting it to go in wasn’t it? And you couldn’t start until it had gone in, of course.

  bobfischer wrote @

‘It writes itself this doesn’t it?’

I wish it bloody well did.

  Justin wrote @

Most ‘big’ films now get released at about the same time in the US and UK because of the problems with pirating, or even legitimately buying the R1 DVD/Blu-Ray but I think some smaller films that are ‘fitted around the schedule’ still have release dates that can be quite far apart.

Oh, apparently JSW was £5.95 in 1984… and did you have fun with the Attic Bug?

  Patsy wrote @

Just thought I’d say that you look like you’d make the perfect Doctor Who to me (after David Tennant of course) – no way too old !

  bobfischer wrote @

Justin – thanks for that , that’s obviously a bit cheaper than I thought! What a skinflint, I could have bought two Spectrum games and still had change for the book.

And yes, the Attic bug was indeed a bugger! Seem to recall once you’d been to the Attic, you then got killed instantly when you went into one of four of five other rooms in the house? I think at the time I just assumed it was part of the game… I’d love to interview Matthew Smith sometime to find out, though!

Patsy – you’re very kind! I wouldn’t be up to much space travel, though – I get a bit giddy on the Darlington-King’s Cross express.

  Justin wrote @

I just assumed it was part of the game… I’d love to interview Matthew Smith sometime to find out, though!

No… not intentional…

According to Wikipedia:
Initially Software Projects attempted to pass off [The Attic Bug] as an intentional feature to make the game more difficult, claiming that the rooms in question were filled with poison gas. However, they later rescinded this claim and issued a set of POKEs to correct the flaws

After the player entered the room The Attic, various rooms would undergo corruption on all subsequent game plays, including all monsters disappearing from The Chapel, and other screens triggering instant death. This was caused by an error in the path of an arrow in The Attic, resulting in the sprite travelling past the end of the Spectrum’s video memory and overwriting crucial game data instead.

There are details of two other (later corrected) bugs in JSW on Wikipedia too…

  bobfischer wrote @

Oooh, thanks! It is an amazing and fascinating game. There’s undoubtedly a whole book to be written about Matthew Smith and his bizarre, brilliant computer games. I’d love to do it, but I’d probably have to self-publish… 😉

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