Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Archive for December, 2011

Our Tape-Loading Era…

Back in 2009, when I was blogging my 1984 Diary every day, I wrote very affectionately about a winter shopping trip to Stockton-on-Tees, and the pilgrimages that my scrawny, parka-clad 12-year-old self would make to Topsoft… a fabulous 1980s computer shop packed to the rafters with bleeping, flashing ZX Spectrums and Commodore 64s. Impossibly exciting visits to this tiny, backstreet mecca became a weekly ritual throughout my teenage years, and I’d spend hours crammed into a corner of the shop,  jostling through the inevitable (and equally parka-clad) crowd to catch my first glimpse of Underwurlde or Dun Darach or (ahem) Jack The Nipper 2 – Coconut Capers.

It was an incredibly exciting time to be a teenage boy, and we felt like pioneers of this new gaming technology… despite my Dad’s constant protestations that ‘it’s just little bloody men jumping about – turn it off, we’re watching Just Good Friends’. There was something thrillingly DIY about the computing industry in those days… games were written by teenage boys in their bedrooms, and sold from tiny stores in narrow back alleys to OTHER teenage boys who just might be inspired to give this ‘programming’ lark a go themselves.  And so places like Topsoft became more than just shops… they were social gathering spots, hubs of the nascent gaming community, and places where 12-year-olds like me – with a slightly unhealthy interest in Z80 Machine Code programming and the sensual qualities of the Kempston Joystick – could take refuge from the bleakness of 1980s reality and lose ourselves in a world where our major concern in life was crossing the Banyan Tree in Jet Set Willy.

Brilliantly, months after I’d written that entry, it was discovered by Steve Williams – the manager of Topsoft throughout those halcyon years! You can read the whole article, along with Steve’s message, here

I was thrilled, and Steve and I e-mailed each other for a few months, swapping memories of those giddy years when he would attempt to run a viable business, and I would hinder him as much as possible by playing Glider Rider 128K in the corner all afternoon without putting a single penny across the counter. He was even foolish enough to send me an official Evening Gazette picture of himself and his Topsoft team, back in the day! Steve – admirably refusing to pull the traditional, deadpan ‘Gazette Face’ – is second from the left…

(Note for hardcore Topsoft fans – this is the second, bigger version of Topsoft, not the one down my beloved alleyway!)

Steve told me that the original, tiny Topsoft had recently been converted into a rather nice-looking tearoom. And so, when we met for the first time last week, guess where we went for a cuppa…? (Anyone who said ‘Starbucks’ can sit in the corner of the room facing the wall, and isn’t allowed to play Sabre Wulf until they’re TRULY sorry)

And then, for the first time in well over 20 years, we strode purposefully through the door…

Huge thanks to the ladies from Angela’s Tearoom, who couldn’t have been more helpful and who – I can testify – make a very fine cup of tea as well. They were even happy for us to wander upstairs so Steve could enjoy a giddy rush of nostalgia looking around his old stock room…

And yes, one of those days I WILL make a blog video that doesn’t start with the words ‘Right, here we are…’ In the meantime, I hope this ignites a few misty-eyed memories for anyone who ever cracked a smile while frantically waggling a Kempston Joystick in front of Daley Thompson’s Decathlon (and I’ll never forget my Mum’s expression when she caught myself and Andrew Harding enjoying a spot of mutual waggling in the Summer of 1986). I’m nearly forty now, but – for one chilly December morning last week – I was thirteen again, watching the title screen of Fairlight through a steamed-up shop window and hoping beyond hope that it would be under our tree on Christmas morning…*

*…it was!

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