I Owe It All to ZX Spectrum

It doesn't take a genius - just an eagle-eyed Google user - to realise that today, April 23rd 2012, is the 30th anniversary of the launch of the ZX Spectrum.

Now, it's still about 14 months until the 30th anniversary of the launch of me, but that doesn't mean I don't owe an awful, awful lot to the chunky, tape-recorder-and-handwritten-code-based home computer that really set personal computing on the track towards where it is today.

This isn't going to be a post purely about how much today's computers resemble the Speccy (although, in many ways, they do) - no, this is about my early years, and how the Speccy is probably responsible for everything from my slightly obsessive nature to my career as a copywriter.

HELLO WORLD!

10 PRINT "HELLO WORLD!"
20 GO TO 10
RUN

If you ever had a ZX Spectrum, and you're even 1% geek, you probably ran the above program, or a close variation.

It's the first thing most people learn in BASIC (I guess, three decades on, that should read 'learnt') and, as the screen fills with an infinite number of flickering HELLO WORLD!s, it's massively satisfying. "I can do computer programming, me!"

There was a ZX Spectrum in my house for as long as I can remember - maybe even before I was born - but it was used for more than just playing games. My brother had a subscription to CRASH, the ironically named magazine that ran from 1984 until 1992, and we still have a few leather-bound annual collections somewhere in the loft at my parents' house.

Each issue came with a program you could type in and run. Hundreds of lines of code, all with a cohesive aim, logical progression, and a zero-tolerance approach to typos. And we'd religiously type them in each month so we could run the program.

Is it any wonder that my brother went into computer programming, and I ended up torn between Astrophysics and web copywriting?

There's no need to shout...

But the Speccy wasn't just about writing code - you could write anything. I learned to type before I could write by hand, after my parents left me propped up at the keyboard with caps lock switched on.

When I started school, my teachers were worried - "We teach them lower-case first. It's the National Curriculum." - but luckily being able to read and write didn't hamper my progress in terms of what the government defined 'literacy' as being.

There were other computers in the house, of course - we progressed from the Speccy to an Amiga 500, and eventually to a PC - but I'll always have plenty of affection for the one that came first.

Incidentally, if you follow me on Twitter or read this blog much, you'll know that I no longer type only in block capitals - unless I'm shouting.

Manic Minor

As if it wasn't bad enough exposing a small child to the psychological rigours of computer programming, there were... well, let's be honest, there were other issues with the ZX Spectrum. They made me who I am today, but I'm not pretending the thing was perfect.

I literally can't say it better than Russell Brand (which is more than a little annoying, as you might imagine...) so enjoy the clip below, and if it stops working, you should be able to find it here.


ZX Spectrum, a heartfelt happy birthday. Without you, I doubt I'd be doing anything even close to my current job today. You will always have a special place in my heart.

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