Monday 27 January 2014

Wire Strippers, Beer and a Spectrum: Part 1

Written by Dan Gill

Christmas is great.  You get to eat your body weight in cheese and sweets, have the opportunity to drink from 9am without anyone batting an eyelid and you get to spend quality time doing the previous two things along with those closest to you.  You also get presents, usually socks, more sweets, socks, perhaps a book, maybe a bottle of booze and socks.  However, others prefer the money approach, a gift which is often seen as lazy, but is in fact a wonderful thing – a gift which can become almost anything just by being handed to a shop assistant in exchange for something you really want.  I was given money at Christmas, and it immediately began to burn a hole in my pocket.

Due to other life commitments and lack of expendable income, it had been some time since I'd purchased anything gaming related.  I realised that I'd played none of the big releases from the past year and wondered if maybe throwing a chunk of my money on something like Bioshock Infinite or GTA V would be the way to go, but then I started looking on eBay.  It may have been a long time since I'd bought a relatively new game, but it had been longer still since I'd purchased a gaming machine.  So the hunt began.

I was thinking of putting the money towards a new console, but that would involve waiting.  My impatience led me to start looking at retro machines.  My last retro purchase was probably my second Dreamcast several years ago, and with most of the main consoles now in my possession I felt it was time to go after a home computer, but which one?  My first computer was a Commodore 16 given to me at the age of four.  Tempting, but I felt that maybe I could go for something I wanted when I was younger.  I already have an Amiga (probably my favourite machine of all time), so that really only left a few contenders: the C64, Amstrad CPC464, ZX Spectrum and, as an outside possibility, the MSX.

For the next few days I waded through eBay listings, watching auctions to see what kind of price I would be expected to pay, doing some research on the machines and additional hardware required.  I eventually found a ZX Spectrum which had gained little interest.  There was one picture showing the little computer with a Sanyo cassette recorder and a couple of tapes.  The description was also sparse, stating that the machine was found in the attic and the seller wanted it gone.  There was no information on whether the unit was working, or if it was the 16k or 48k version so I sent a message.  The seller informed me that they hadn't tested it, but “for 99p it's worth a punt”.

A few days passed, and I'd pretty much decided not to bid as I thought that if I did I'd end up with a non-working space filler which served no purpose.  I did keep an eye on the auction, just out of interest, of course.  But as the auction approached its end, I did something totally out of character. I took a risk and placed a bid.  I won the Spectrum for £24, including postage.  I paid, then played the waiting game.

In the days to come I was beginning to regret my decision, not that £24 is a lot of money, more that I could have paid about £15 more for a machine which was confirmed as working.  Within a few days the package arrived, and with mixed trepidation and excitement I opened it.  I opened the first box, finding the cassette recorder, tapes, and a small blue box with a red button and several wires poking out.  I put these to one side and looked at the second box.  It was the original ZX Spectrum's box! What was even more satisfying was that it indicated it was the 48k version.  Already I began to feel that this could have been a steal at the price, but held celebration until the box was open. 

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