Pixel mongery since 1984
A 5 minute read

Christmas 1984 and a six year old me was bouncing off the walls with excitement from a Christmas morning full of toys and sugary snacks. I can't remember exactly what gifts I would have received, but I do remember one gift in particular.

As was normally the case in the Lockwood household, myself and my siblings would spend hours opening our gifts before being presented with our 'main' gift. The 'main' gift was always special, usually something we had spotted in the Argos catalogue where we would not so subtly dog-ear the corner of the catalogue page making it obvious to all what we wanted. We certainly didn't grow up in an affluent family - far from it, but our parents worked hard and always managed to delight us on Christmas morning.

Anyways, back to 1984. I remember being told to leave my toys alone and to sit at the table ready for another epic Christmas lunch. Every year was the same; prawn cocktail to start followed by a traditional turkey roast and finished with a mint vienetta. If my parents were pushing the boat out, we would sometimes have an alternative to the mint vienetta, like a vanilla vienetta - posh, eh? 

So picture the scene, six year old me, with my nine year old brother and eleven year old sister being torn away from our gifts to join my parents at the dinner table. The beige table cloth (I still remember it, it had terrible white lace around the edge) was draped over the table, obscuring the seats. We all sat together but something was wrong. Something was on my chair.

My siblings and I all shot up from our chairs and were delighted to find our 'main' gifts - surprise!

I had a Hornby train set, my sister had disco roller skates and my brother had a computer. Not just any computer, a ZX Spectrum 48k; the dream machine, shiny black with rubber keys. I can still smell it. I liked my train set, but I was in love with the computer which we went on to affectionately name 'Speccy'. As this was the first computer I had ever had the chance to touch, I couldn't wait to read through the garish orange manuals where I learned that we had to connect Speccy up to a tape recorder and a TV; we had a small black & white TV with a rotary analogue dial for tuning into a channel. 

ZX Spectrum 48k

Pocket money was spent on a Sunday morning at Bessemer Road market on new games. One weekend I even managed to snag a tape that had 52 games on it. It didn't matter to me that they were all variations of the same game; to me they were 52 works of art.

I remember the next few months playing Chequered Flag, Horace Goes Skiing, Make A Chip & Chuckie Egg with a bright red kempston joystick. Even my parents got involved and played Scrabble with Speccy. As the Spectrum didn't have a hard drive, games were loaded to RAM from an audio tape and it was always an anxious wait whilst we sat as still as possible so not to disturb the tape deck whilst the game loaded - one false move and we would see the dreaded 'R-TAPE LOADING ERROR' on our 12" black and white TV resulting in us trying over again.

It wasn't long before I realised that LOAD "" wasn't the only command you could type into Speccy. Magazines were available which had pages and pages of code that could be copied onto Speccy so that you could code your own games. I would spend hours and hours meticulously copying code from magazines that would make the most basic of games. Thankfully, these could be saved to tape.

It was during this time that I started noticing patterns in code and soon found myself modifying this published code to make my own games. Most of these were text based adventure games, but as my older brother and sister had lost interest in Speccy by now, I was free to spend as much time as I wanted at the computer. 
I remember writing a very crude 'game' when I was about seven or eight which must have been something like this: 

10 PRINT "Hello, my name is Speccy"
20 PRINT "Press any key to continue"
30 PAUSE 5000
40 PRINT "Is  your name Gary, press Y for yes or N for no"
80 PRINT "Hello Gary, you stink"
90 PAUSE 3000
95 GOTO 40
100 PRINT "Hello stranger. I like you because you are not Gary"
110 PAUSE 3000
120 GOTO 40 
Ok, there are probably many errors in the above code, but I haven't used BASIC in atleast 25 years. Let it go.

Not much, but for an eight year old this was like magic - Gary was my older brother by the way. 

Fast forward to today, 26th November 2015. I now spend my life 'on computers'. My business depends on computers; the majority of my entertainment relies on computers. Computers enrich the lives of communities all over the World. Learn to use a computer and you can learn to use/do anything. Computers can give you superpowers.

Today is a historic day for computing. I have just bought a magazine for £5.99 which is a pretty standard price for a magazine these days. What is amazing to me is that this magazine comes with a free computer taped to the cover. A FREE COMPUTER - eight year old Craig would be losing his shit right now.

The free giveaway with MagPi magazine celebrates that the Raspberry Pi Zero has been launched and I am in awe of what the Raspberry Pi Foundation has managed to achieve; a fully featured computer for just $5 that can fit in a wallet. At just 65mm x 31mm the Pi Zero is the size of my thumb. Incidentally, these little computers are manufactured just a few miles from where I live in Bridgend, Wales.

Pi Zero

That very first Spectrum that I had back in 1984 cost £175 new - a rough equivalent to around £528 in today's money. The particular model I had boasted 48k of RAM, a 3.54 MHz CPU, no built-in capacity for persistent storage, no screen and no network connectivity. Forget wi-fi, this thing hooked up to my hi-fi. By comparison, the Pi Zero has 512mb RAM, a 1 Ghz CPU, HDMI out, unlimited storage through an additional SD card, network connectivity via USB and a beautiful OS powered by Raspbian - all for $5 (£3.30). Amazing, right.

I write this post on highly specced MacBook Pro but there are very few tasks achievable on this MacBook that I couldn't achieve on the Pi Zero. The Raspberry Pi Foundation have achieved something remarkable today, we have come a long way, baby.

Published by Craig Lockwood
on the 26 November 2015