The Amstrad CPC464

Amstrad CPC464

“My god, it’s full of stars.”

I can’t believe I haven’t written any blogs about 8-bit computers or games yet! I was looking over my posts today and in the three years since I set up this website, there’s not a single hint of 8-bit love! So I shall remedy that travesty of a mockery of a sham today by creating a whole new searchable category – 8-bit love – and writing a blog post, beginning fittingly with the first ever computer I owned, the Amstrad CPC464.

Now before this computer, I wasn’t a gaming virgin. In late 1983 I was bought a Vectrex and that console is worthy of its own blog post, so I will say no more about it here. However, I yearned for a proper computer. My good friends at the time all owned computers. Paul Silcox owned a Vic-20, Wayne Weston owned a Spectrum 48k, Mark Cooper owned an Oric and John Brooks was a proud owner of the only 8-bit computer to originate in Wales – the Dragon 32. Many parents ostensibly bought computers for their children because they were seduced by the “Mum, it will help with my homework” argument, that echoed throughout every home in the early 80s, even homes that didn’t have children. But the truth of the matter was that once the computer was unpacked, the child would then type in

10 print “Big tits”
20 goto 10

and then run out of the room, shouting happily “I’m a programmer! I’m going to be a millionaire!”

So in the Autumn of 1984 I started my ‘I need a computer to help me with my homework’ campaign. My mother often had shopping catalogues in her house such as Littlewoods and Grattan, mail-order services that were immensely popular throughout the 80s and 90s. This, my thirteen year old mind reasoned, would be a great way of obtaining a computer. My mother was on benefits and had little money and I knew that she couldn’t afford to buy me a computer outright. £299 was an awful lot of money in 1984. I could have bought 900 comics for that amount. So I would leave the Grattan catalogue open, with the Amstrad computer circled in thick red felt-tip, hoping that Santa would surprise me at Christmas.

I had to wait a while as that bastard known as Santa welshed on the deal, leaving me with a Tomytronics 3d Space Attack game, and not the computer I was hoping for. In the end, it was my dear Nan and Bamp who stepped in  for my 14th birthday in May 1985 and turned me into the proud owner of an Amstrad CPC464. It came with the infamous 12-pack of games. Infamous because they were mostly crap. But to a 14-year old who had yet to develop a discerning eye, they were all gold. Roland on the Ropes, Oh Mummy, Sultan’s Maze and others, gave me hours of fun.

Roland On The Ropes

Once, during dinner break at Llantarnam School, I persuaded my friends Wayne Weston and Paul Silcox to come back to my home in Southville, Cwmbran, so I could show off my new computer. We ran from Llantarnam to my home, which took about fifteen minutes. We then waited ten minutes for the Roland On The Ropes to load. When they asked what sort of game it was, I replied “Neo-despotism” which was a phrase I had picked up from last week’s issue of Whizzer & Chips comic. The game eventually loaded and we played it for five minutes and then ran back to school again, just making it back in time as the bell rang.

Technically, the Amstrad was far superior to the Spectrum and Commodore 64, its two main competitors. The Spectrum, at that time, had very limited colour capabilities and suffered from something known as ‘colour clash’, which meant it couldn’t be set on a mahogany table against a magnolia wall, as it would just look simply awful. You may read other articles stating that ‘colour clash’ was to do with the Spectrum’s idiosyncratic display memory layout and it’s pixel bitmap attributes. But those articles are wrong.

Now I was going to flesh out this blog by also mentioning several games that I bought for my beloved Amstrad, in 1985. However, as I am aware there is a huge market for retro-gaming and a very large fan base out there, I think each game is worthy of its own comprehensive installment. So in the near future you can expect blogs on Manic Miner, Marsport, Jet Set Willy, Sabre Wulf, Elite and a host of other games that I loved during my teenage years.

It was the magical era of computing. In my opinion, those five years between 1980 and 1985 were the golden era when it came to the 8-bits. From 1986 onwards, they still evolved and were still extremely popular, but the 16-bit computers such as the Atari ST and the Amiga, along with the NES console, started to slowly make the 8-bits redundant, though their real death wouldn’t arrive until the early 90s.

But even today, on this sunny morning in July, 2015, I have an Amstrad emulator installed on my laptop and at least once a week I fire it up and play games such as Head Over Heels, Get Dexter and Chuckie Egg, losing myself in the golden glow of memories that still remain, thirty years later.

Amstrad CPC464

Near Death Experiences

Beyond The Body

 

In 1989, a year when Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers urged us to Swing The Mood, Black Box insisted we Ride On Time, and Technotronic ordered us to Pump Up The Jam, I was caught up with the sounds of the sixties. I was eighteen years old and my record collection was full of Fairport Convention, The Beatles, The Incredible String Band and Donovan (the one responsible for Hurdy Gurdy Man, and not the one who banged Charlene in Neighbors). The era that the music I loved came from shaped my ideologies and interests and a burgeoning interest in the paranormal and spirituality began to develop, one that even Rick Astley couldn’t diminish.

One day in the summer of 1989 I was walking along one of the smaller side streets in Newport, South Wales. I lived in Cwmbran at the time and Newport was my favored port of call if ever I wanted to pick up books or music. The small independent bookshop I was heading for was called Bookworm and actually, just now on a whim, I googled it to see if it was still there. Apparently so. There’s a sort of comfort in the knowledge that things from the past can still remain, even when forgotten about for so long.

I wandered in and as usual, lamented the fact that there was no porn section, before moving on to the philosophy and psychology shelves. All through my life I have gone through phases where I have suddenly become interested in a new sphere of knowledge – whether it has been philosophy, psychology, evolution, religion, the paranormal, the history of thimbles – I may spend a year or so reading books on the subject and then move on to something else. It’s just my nature but luckily, suits the temperament of a writer as you can then draw upon a broad spectrum of knowledge. For example, if I wanted to write a novel where my main protagonist was a zoologist who stumbled upon a secret sect of the Mormon church whose members worshipped thimbles, then I wouldn’t need to do a great deal of research.

So I browsed the shelves and noticed the book by Susan Blackmore. I had already bought the book Life After Life by Raymond Moody a couple of years previously, so was already aware of the phenomena of Out Of The Body Experiences (I will contract this to OOBE’s for the rest of the blog, not just because it saves me typing, but also because OOBE’s sounds like the sort of purring sound of gratification that someone would emit after having gone through a perverse sexual fetish). I flicked through it, it seemed interested, so spent £6 of my hard earned YTS money (Youth Training Scheme – I got £27 a week for being forced to go on various training courses) and left the shop one book richer.

I don’t have the book anymore and my memory of the content is vague, but I do have a strong memory of one chapter that attempted to teach people how to have an OOBE. It involved starting with relaxation techniques, such as lying on your bed, tensing and relaxing each muscle in your body three times, beginning with your toes and working up to your head (not that your head is a muscle, of course. I would just flex my ears three times and wiggle my nose, like that hot sorceress in Bewitched) and then using visualisation techniques to imagine your body slowly rising off your bed and possibly floating through the window and drifting off into space and shit. Sadly, no matter how many times I tried, it never worked for me. I would just become very relaxed and fall asleep, often waking up just as Moonlighting was starting.

Moonlighting

This interest, along with dowsing, crystal healing and John Noakes, lasted for a few years until other things began to interest me more, particularly when I commenced college in 1990 and discovered crazy goth chicks.

However, approximately five years ago, my interest in the phenomena was re-awakened when I stumbled across the Near Death Experience Research Foundation website, which contained a huge amount of accounts of NDE’s. I found it hard to believe that it was some organic process that caused these extremely lucid and real experiences. If all or most of the accounts focused on the generic points – the white light, the tunnel, the feeling of love – then yes, I could be convinced that the experience was a by-product of some strange effect of consciousness, triggered by the extreme stress and shock of the near death experience. However, the accounts were not generic at all. Most contained very specific and detailed experiences – interactions with ‘spirits’, whether they were family members past or present, or other beings that were not part of the person’s extended family on the earthly plane, but were definitely part of their spiritual family. Their were many common denominators that intrigued me and yet also just seemed to instantly fit with my own beliefs about life and death.

  • There was no judgement by some external omnipotent (yet benevolent) supreme being. Unlike Christianity and many other faiths, were fear is drummed into the believer that you will be judged upon death, and so must be ‘good’ in this life else you will enter some sort of purgatory when you die, NDE’s did not reflect this at all. The majority of accounts stated that YOU were given the opportunity of judging yourself. A ‘3-d’ playback of moments from your life would begin, where you not only became the person you were at that point in time, but you would also enter their heads of the people involved in that experience, understanding their thoughts and how they interpreted your actions. And this would happen many times, as you viewed and experienced many parts of your life, leaving it up to you to draw some conclusions about your own behaviour. This makes perfect sense to me.
  • It is often revealed to the person having the NDE that time isn’t linear and that also we re-incarnate. So we can re-incarnate into the past as well as into the future. And, very importantly, we choose to do this. We chose to come to Earth to live the life we are living. This doesn’t mean we know exactly how life is going to turn out. There is no pre-destiny and there is freedom of choice. However, we understood, before coming to earth, that there would be certain experiences made available to us on our life path, that would be essential for our overall arc of learning.
  • Love is the glue that binds the whole universe together.

There are many other bullet points I could add, but this is the sort of topic that I know I am going to revisit again and again, adding (and maybe subtracting) to more core beliefs until the time comes where I can publish a manifesto on it and become a millionaire through the donations of my followers, just like L.Ron.Hubbard did.

Flippancy and genius comedic sensibilities aside, it is something that forms the core of my spiritual beliefs. In my early twenties I explored many different religions, mainly denominations of the Christian faith – Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses, The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints, Bagpuss – and none of them satisfied me. All of them were focused on being a good person, and their idea of goodness was very strictly defined. Again, through the accounts of NDE’s I have read, being ‘good’ is neither the way we think it is nor as important as we think it is. In fact, during one of our life cycles, it may be important for us to be a ‘bad’ person, simply due to needing the experience of it.

Yeah, I know. This is challenging shit and many people reading this may be taking a defensive, protective stance now, dismissing these ideas. But I believe in them wholeheartedly, which also has a negative aspect – if I believe that I am just going to come around again and again ( by my choosing) then what does it matter whether I achieve anything in life? How do I know that during this cycle, the fact that I become enlightened and start questioning the purpose of my life and the validity of all I do based on the fact that any failures aren’t failures as I can just come back again to remedy them, isn’t a necessary part of my journey?

It’s a paradoxical conundrum that has the word ‘enigma’ splattered all over it!

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog. I actually bought most of the content at Lidl’s yesterday. They sell pre-made blogs, next to the packet of crisps that are designed so much to look like Walker’s, you actually think they are Walker’s, until you take them home and eat one and realise they are Smith’s.

Bones crisps