How did it come to this?
When my eldest daughter asked me what my favourite toy was growing up, I had no hesitation in answering “my computer”. Which does it a disservice, of course. The Sinclair Spectrum was more than just a toy. Yes, it was a plaything, but it was also a hobby, a companion, a talking point and a social phenomenon. No other ‘toy’ could keep me cooped up in my bedroom as the world outside drowsed in the summer sun. No other ‘toy’ distracted me as well from the prospect of homework before bed and school in the morning. And no other ‘toy’ was a topic of excited playground conversation for so many years.
I spent much of the 1990s as a computer-user in exile. I used an in-house system at work, but we didn’t get email until ‘95, and I didn’t experience the worldwide web until ‘98, when it was all Geocities and AltaVista. The boy whose parents once claimed he was a computer whizz now knew about as much about them as they did.
I eventually bought a PC just before the new millennium and caught the computer bug again. As many folk did back then, I created my own cruddy website about nothing much in particular, full of garish fonts and animated GIFs. Learning HTML brought back fond memories of programming in BASIC on my Spectrum, and this eventually led me to the online community of vintage computer enthusiasts. The focal point for all things Sinclair was the comp.sys.sinclair Usenet group, which I jumped into enthusiastically, swapping stories and banter with fellow nostalgics.
With my interest in the Spectrum rekindled, I created a website dedicated to its memory. The first version was an unsightly mess and offered nothing that wasn't done better elsewhere. It needed more focus, so I decided to concentrate on the period of the Spectrum’s life that I really cared about - what I considered its golden years.
I invited site visitors and CSS members to complete a number of surveys, to help create lists of the five most popular games in a number of categories. Those lists can still be found on the game pages of the site today. Hundreds of people contributed, so don’t blame me for the results!
Over the next year, I redesigned the site, replayed dozens of games and added brief reviews. I also reached out to some personalities from the Spectrum’s halcyon days to conduct interviews. In retrospect, my questions could have been more searching, but the interviewees were very giving and offered great insights on what it was like to be a part of the nascent software scene.
After a couple of years, my interest began to wane. The nostalgia for childhood that seems to grip people in their late 20s and early 30s was passing. The comp.sys.sinclair group started losing members, marriage and kids intervened, and my domain ownership lapsed. A CSS comrade kindly hosted the site for a while, but eventually that went the same way, and my humble contribution to the memory of the ZX Spectrum was gone and forgotten.
Then, during the summer of 2017, I got to thinking about it again. I dug out an archive of the website, read through the pages and grimaced at the primitive design, clumsy prose and schoolboy grammar. After trying and failing to purchase my original domain name, I snapped up something similar and got to work on a complete redesign and rewrite. And that, dear reader, is what you find here. I hope it's as enjoyable to read as it was to create.
There was no relatable equivalent of the Spectrum I could offer my daughter, because modern computers are charmless, functional things, designed and built on the other side of the world. Videogames consoles don't cut it, either, because they can't be programmed like a home micro, so are as closed to the user's creative urges as those old arcade machines were.
I got my first ZX Spectrum on Christmas morning 1983, and consigned my last Spectrum to the loft around the time the Berlin Wall came down. It made a fleeting return when my Atari ST packed up a year or two later, but then my interest in computers and videogaming gave way to other pursuits, and that was that for the best part of the decade.