WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
I am Dr. Jim Waterman, and I am a Spectraholic.
All right, maybe that's not quite true, as I do have other interests... well, I did, but most of them were parasitised and destroyed from the inside, leaving this one shining beacon of light with BRIGHT 1 engaged. This is my life with Sinclair computers, which I'm sure you're all desperate to know about...
What do you mean, no? Hard luck, I'm going to tell you anyway.
On Christmas Day 1983, at the grand old age of four (work out how old I am from that, and I won't have to keep changing the number every year...), a fat man with a huge, white beard brought me a Sinclair ZX81 down the chimney. Well, actually, it was my dad, who wasn't fat and didn't have a beard, and he put it in a pillowcase, but that's beside the point. This is where my relationship with Sinclair computers began, and it's been the longest-term of all my interests. I set about writing the simplest programs ever, about the level that might be expected for someone of that age, my dad wrote some mathematical conversion programs, and my younger brother took a liking to the 16K RAM pack. Some time in 1985 he tore it off the back of the ZX81 - the computer survived, the RAM pack didn't, and a 1K ZX81 was better used as a doorstop than a computer.
But the white-bearded fat man (still actually without the beard or the excess weight) struck gold again, on Christmas Day 1987. This time, in the pillowcase was a Spectrum +2, with a nasty SJS-1 joystick, and around 100 games, most of which worked. (I now have a name for my pain: Power-Load. That, and badly-dubbed tapes.) Despite the obvious distractions of Blood n' Guts, Quetzalcoatl and Wibstars (what, you thought I'd have the latest Crash Smash titles?), I continued programming - I had sound and colour and an integrated tape deck to play with now, alongside some old issues of Sinclair User, Sinclair Programs, ZX Computing and INPUT to learn all sorts of BASIC techniques from.
Five years later, bad things happened. My dad contracted lymphoma in 1992 and died from it in July 1993, aged only 50. (I'm less than a decade away from that now and I'm already watching to see if the Grim Reaper's tracking me.) In his final few months he'd ordered a PC for the family, which he would not live to see delivered - and he'd been wondering out loud if there was some way that Spectrum programs could be transferred onto a PC. After all, even a 33 MHz 486SX with a puny 250 MB hard drive running Windows 3.1 was a powerhouse compared to the humble old Speccy, so it must be possible, mustn't it? Somehow?
Four years later, my mum had also departed this world, also due to cancer, and my teenage life was less than ideal, spending the sixth form as a boarder - which pretty much curtailed my time with the Spectrum. But I did at least ace my A-levels in 1997 and score a place at Trinity Hall, Cambridge...
...and there, quite by accident, I found my dad had been right about Spectrum emulation all along. Sometime around the early months of 1998, when the college computer room was still under 'D' staircase, I caught sight of a ZX Spectrum webpage, and I still remember the URL. http://www.grendel.cz/hry/spectrum/ - and it should come as no surprise to those in the know that it was Philip Kendall looking at it, the same Philip Kendall who developed the Fuse emulator, and who was a contemporary of mine at Trinity Hall, two years above me. Cheers, Phil, you probably never knew it, but you're the reason I discovered emulation! I found the X128 emulator worked best of those I found on the Czech website, as well as Warajevo which allowed me to transfer all my old Spectrum tapes to Z80 snapshots. That's not something I'd advocate now for preservation purposes, but everyone has to start somewhere!
Come 2002, I'd aced my finals (a year before) and started a PhD at the University of Nottingham. It was one hell of a hard job, and I need something to take my mind off it when times were tough, which was pretty much all of the time. And that's where World of Spectrum came in handy. I joined the forums in 2003, and was an active participant until... some time in 2007, I would estimate - but it was certainly long enough to discover the comp.sys.sinclair Crap Games Competition, and submit a few entries to the 2004 edition, hosted by the late Jim Langmead. These were, in effect, my return to programming for the first time in roughly nine years, the first time any of it had ever circulated further than a tape left kicking around in my bedroom, and - unknown to me until very recently - my ZX80 entry was the first time there had ever been a submission to the CSSCGC for the old white yoghurt pot.
And then... silence. I have no idea why it took so long to get back into serious Spectrum programming. Finishing my PhD took a lot of time, having a real job took... not so much time but still plenty, but after life took a serious turn for the worse in the 2010s from which I have yet to recover (and doing so is not likely in the near future, either...), I kept myself sane with Minecraft. Some will say that was a wrong turn, but I don't - and besides, take a look at the world I built that was Spectrum-themed.
I came back to the Spectrum scene in 2016 to find WOS in utter turmoil due to the drama surrounding a hand-held device which is still considered haram to this day. Even so, I'd returned in time for a successful meet-up in Manchester with some of the forum members I could finally put a face to, including Daren of the RZX Archive. And I haven't really gone away, all that much, since then; I've even returned to writing games for the CSSCGC in 2020, in which the competition is being hosted by John Connolly, who only turned 18 midway through the year, and is a genuine case of a second-generation Spectrum fanatic (in that he gets it from his dad who's probably not much older than me).
The ZX80 celebrated its 40th birthday in 2020, the ZX81 will follow in 2021 (or, "has followed" if you're reading this in the future), and the big day for the Spectrum will be 23rd April 2022. It's good to know that a 1980s home computer that was technically less advanced than its competitors is still generating interest after all this time; how many people will look on an iPad with such fondness when it reaches the same age? Not me, that's for sure, though I'll probably be long dead by then.
Until that day I intend to enjoy the ride.