Our First Computer - Header Image

Today’s header image was created by Bill Bertram. The original can be found at the Wikipedia article on the Amstrad CPC 464

Today’s article is also a slight re-work of one I have posted elsewhere

The Beginnings of A Way Of Life

When I was, about, 6 years old my parents bought a second hand Amstrad CPC 464 for Djstump and  I.

Djstump would have been 4 at the time.

I remember that it came in a few plastic bags and had tonnes of cassette tapes with it. Like this one (which I’ve mentioned in a previous post)

Leeds Retro Games Fair - Animal, Vegetable or Mineral
Incidentally, this is the first video game I ever played on a computer – as we’ll find out in a few moments

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.

You can see the prompt in the header image.

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 together – which no mean feat considering how big the keyboard was and how small my hands were.

Here’s one that we spotted in the wild a few weeks back

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 – one which was very similar to the following video:

It carried on for a few minutes. Then 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 onboard 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.

Look!

Trying to Fool The Computer

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, by asking me questions about it. I would answer the questions with either yes or no.

Djstump prompted me with “Crunchy cucumber”, which is what he has always called celery. We decided to go with his 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?

Yes.

Is it round?

No.

Is it long?

Yes.

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.

Djstump 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.

The Thingy That Broke It

It’s got a thingy!

Djstump yelled, when he found the joystick whilst 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. Djstump 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 Djstump 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,

You have to remember that I was 6, and this was a big responsibility. 

I started to push random keys, hoping that something would make it work. I turned to Djstump, 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, concerned about Djstump.

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 her 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 Dad.

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 Djstump. “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 Djstump 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 Djstump 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.

A Programmer is  Born

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.

And these days I’m a computer programmer. Coincidence? Hardly.

Jamie is one of the Waffling Taylors. He spends a lot of time blogging about things sometimes related to programming and sometimes not.