Christmas, they say, is a time for families. So, I’d like to respect this tradition by doing something that I do all too rarely – saying “thanks” and “sorry” to my dad.
It was my dad who kick started my life-long love of gaming by providing me with the hardware I needed to do it. Who knows, without his input, I might have gone down darker paths – like going outside and meeting real people 😉
I can clearly remember the day when he came home from town with a parcel clutched under his arms. It seemed that on his way in from work, he had called in at Rumbelows (remember them?!) and treated himself (and by extension us) to a Binatone TV Master that had been in the sale.
This lovable chunk of bright orange plastic was my gateway to gaming. It offered 4 games Tennis, Football, Squash and Squash (practice). The games themselves were pretty limited – essentially they were all a variant on Pong – but we didn’t care. We sat there dumbfounded that our TV could now play games and the trusty old Binatone was often wheeled out when we had friends and family round so that we could show off our gaming prowess. To me, the sight of that orange box coming down the stairs meant an evening of fun ahead.
Equally, it was my dad who introduced me to “proper” arcade games. We were on holiday in North Wales (our destination of choice throughout my childhood) and called into a chippy to get something to eat. Whilst we were waiting, my dad – not known for easily parting with his cash (he’s from Yorkshire) – put a whole TEN PENCE into the Space Invaders machine that was there. He took charge of the controls, my job was to shoot, and between us we managed to score a whopping 420 points (Twin Galaxies take note!).
From there, there was no stopping me – I was hooked on computer games. The following Christmas I got a Grandstand Invaders from Space game (see what they did with the title there to avoid any copyright issues?!); a Grandstand Munchman (more copyright dodging!) followed the next Christmas. By this time, a friend had acquired an Astro Wars machine, so we spent many hours playing these three titles. I was in gaming heaven, practising whenever I could and making sure all my high scores were written down in a special book and recorded for posterity.
The next Christmas I had absolutely set my heart on a Tomy Firefox game. Every chance I had, I would go into town and play on one of the demo models until I was hauled away by one of my parents. I HAD to have this.
That’s when my dad broke my heart. He sat me down and tried to convince me that rather than buying these machines (which, after all, he reasoned, only played one game) we should invest in one of these new-fangled computer thingies that were just coming onto the market. That way, I would be able to buy DIFFERENT games whenever I liked instead of getting one thing a year that played just one.
Looking back, this was clearly a very logical argument to make. Back then, I was impervious to logic. I was only about 12 and I had made it very clear that what I wanted was a Tomy Firefox. Clearly it was his job, as my parent, to make sure I got it. If he was unable to fulfil his parental obligations, then clearly the only course open to me was to sulk and continue to repeat in a whiny voice that I wanted a Tomy Firefox.
Christmas Day arrived and under the tree was a big box that clearly did not contain a Tomy Firefox. I opened my other presents, leaving that till last and, on unwrapping it, found that it contained a computer – but not just any old computer – a brand, spanking new, only just released in the UK, Commodore 64.
From the moment that blue Ready screen appeared, I was hooked. It offered so many possibilities and became a loyal and faithful companion for nearly 10 years, until I moved onto an Amiga in about 1991. I bought games, learned how to program (badly) in BASIC and generally became fluent with using a computer – an experience which has meant that, unlike some people of my generation (i.e. old), I’ve never been scared of technology
Looking back, I can see what a wonderful present that was. My mum and dad were not rich, they didn’t really know anything about computers, yet they had gone out there and bought me not just any old computer, but one of the best available on the market at the time. It wasn’t cheap and at a time when (with hindsight) I can see how tight money really was, they had bought me one of my best-ever presents. And I didn’t even have to resort to the begging that other kids did, or trying to convince them that a computer would help me with my schoolwork. They just had the foresight to get one, and somehow managed to scrape together the money.
I know this post probably makes me sound like a whinging ingrate, but obviously, it’s a little tongue in cheek and exaggerated for comic effect (honestly!). However, in all seriousness, I would like to say “sorry” to my dad for any minor sulking when he suggested we got a computer instead of the Tomy Firefox and also a massive “thank you”; firstly for introducing me to the world of games via the mighty Binatone and secondly – despite not really being a gadget or technology person – for having the foresight to buy a machine which genuinely changed my life.
I never did get that Tomy Firefox, though.