It’s one of those strange quirks of life that some of the most crucial elements of my childhood, some of my defining moments, are associated with things I never owned. For instance, I never owned a Raleigh Chopper, but Stuart Denny did, and for some reason I now have an odd sense of nostalgia for his Chopper (stop sniggering at the back!), perhaps because my own Grifter XL – while undoubtedly awesome at the time – was just never as iconic.
It’s all good though, because at the time I think I probably wanted the Grifter. Another thing I wanted – partly because some of my friends had them, and partly because Jet Set Willy, was one of these:
The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was a thing of beauty to my 8 year old eyes. I actually brushed my teeth – sometimes twice a day! – just to enter a competition to win one. Fate, it seems, did not like the rubber keys.
And so, having utterly failed to win a Spectrum in any number of competitions at the time, it fell to my parents to actually buy one. Unfortunately they had just shelled out on a brand new Grifter XL, so a Spectrum was somewhat outside the realms of economic viability. Instead, we came away with one of these bad boys:
In hindsight, of course, I can see that this too is a nice looking piece of kit in its own way; as long as you didn’t have to type on its non-existent keyboard anyway. It may have been something of a consolation prize at the time, but I kinda took to the old girl. I even remember taking the BASIC programming manual upstairs as a little bedtime reading… Yeah, Sir Clive and his bargain home computers awakened my computer geek tendencies at a young age – as was his evil masterplan, of course.
However, there comes a time in every boy’s life when blocky monochrome graphics no longer tick all the right boxes, and life needs a little more colour. And where else are you going to go for colour? Even the keyboard is a technicolour marvel!
By the time my parents were persuaded to upgrade, the Spectrum+ had arrived, freshly revamped with a proper keyboard, space bar and everything. The rubber-keyed wonderkid of home computing had had its day, and I had missed out.
Of course, like the Grifter, my Spectrum+ never had the iconic looks of it’s older sibling, but I loved it all the same. I even – as a token gesture towards ‘using it for my homework’ – loaded up the educational titles (Make-A-Chip and Tasword Two) that came with it. It’s only later in life that I’ve felt this strange sense of vicarious nostalgia for other kid’s toys…
Which ultimately led me to a moment of midlife crisis – and a possibly rash bit of ebaying – which in turn led to me becoming the owner of not one, but three rubber-keyed Spectrums (well, actually two and a half; one was an empty case into which I had planned to transplant my Raspberry Pi) and three ZX81s, all with 16K RAM packs. None of which initially worked, of course, but my attempts to revive them are part of this retro-computing journey.
In the meantime, does anyone have an early 80s Chopper for sale? Preferably in silver…