Starglider for the ZX Spectrum

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Its funny how in life some things burn bright, only to fizzle out in a heartbeat. Interests and passions that at the time seem to mean everything until a switch is flicked in your mind, and they no longer hold your appeal. Between the ages of 12 and 16, the Sinclair Spectrum was the greatest thing in my life, and its fall was grace was so rapid, it was almost as if it never existed.

What puzzles me looking back now is how short a time it held me in its clutches. I can remember the moment my household got one, coming back from WHSmith in Hemel Hempstead one dark, dank October evening in 1983, with the computer and two tapes. Myself and my older brother were allowed to choose a game each. He chose Pool, which I think reflects his interest in computing – he wanted something safe and familiar. As for me, I selected Ultimate classic Trans Am, so yes, I clearly got the best title. Over the years I went on to collect a formidable pile of cassettes, spending all my pocket money on titles. What I couldn’t buy, I copied from my friends. So I had piles and piles of tapes, with all the classics and a smattering of weird titles where really I should have known better.

In 1986, we upgraded. My brother went on holiday to Jersey and came back with the 128K model. Whilst we split the cost (I gave him £100 from my building society account, a fortune to me then) it was to all intents and purposes mine, though my interest was already beginning to wane. I bought a few 128K titles, most notably Knight Tyme, a rather special budget game, and friends copied me a few others, the best of which was Sweevo’s World, a fantastically inventive 3D action game.

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Then Christmas 1986 came rolling around, and my parents asked me what I wanted. I still bought Crash Magazine, although by now I was starting to get the NME and Melody Maker as well. and the game everyone was getting excited about was Starglider. It scored 97% in their review, and looked amazing. It had a 128K version and to my teenage mind looked as close as I would ever get to flying a space craft. If only I could show him the video games of today – I have spent the best part of this afternoon playing Spiderman on the PS4 and it would have blown his head clean off. There was a catch though – the game was about fifteen quid, but as a Christmas present, that seemed about right.

Christmas approached, school broke up, and I did a terrible thing. Remember that I was 16. I was more or less the same age John Lennon was when he founded The Beatles. One day when everyone was out, I explored every cupboard of my parents bedroom like a toddler until I found my Christmas present. I took the tape out of the box, loaded it into the Spectrum (which took about 20 minutes, a tense time), and when the load had completed hid it away again and played the game all afternoon. Shameful. I then had to act all surprised come Christmas morning when I actually received it.

What I remember most is the music, which I thought was amazing. The game itself was actually just OK, not the incredible, earth changing piece of software Crash described. Although it probably was, but I was moving on, mentally growing apart from games onto different pursuits.

The last game I bought for the Spectrum was an adventure title called Tai Pan. I purchased it on a shopping trip to London October half term of 1987. I went with some friends, teens up in town, looking at leather jackets in Carnaby Street, spending hours in HMV. I bought three tapes – this game, the New Order compilation Substance, and the new Depeche Mode album Music for the Masses. As I say, new interests were forcing out the old, and to my memory I hardly played Tai Pan at all.

All the tapes were bagged up in bin liners and went in the loft. The computer itself was gifted to a cousin. I didn’t touch any video games for five years, until I bought myself a Nintendo Gameboy, and soon after a SNES. When I moved out of home, I was asked to decide what I wanted to keep from the loft and what I wanted to throw away, and I took all the spectrum tapes to the dump. I swear there were about five big bags full, with all the titles people droll over today. Big box version of Ultimate games, lots of early tapes, and the big box of Starglider. All going to landfill. Ebay’s loss.

I loved my Spectrum, but I was the one who ended the relationship in the most brutal way. If it could feel emotions, that 128K computer must have felt very badly treated, sent off to my younger cousin’s house to no doubt be abused. I loved it at the time, spent a fortune on it, but ended the relationship in the cruellest possible way.

Derek and Clive Get the Horn VHS

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Like most British teenagers in the 1980’s, I was introduced to Derek and Clive through a grubby cassette tape thrust into my palm by a friend. “Listen to this”, he said. “It’s the funniest thing you’ll ever hear”. That night I put it on my hi-fi for about 20 seconds, before switching it off as quickly as I could, decanting it into my Walkman instead.

I was utterly shocked. I could not believe for a second that such a thing existed. I was 15, and whilst I obviously knew all the swear words, I’d never heard them used so comprehensively, so offensively, with so little regard for taste and decency. And not only that, this was coming out of the mouths of these two middle aged men I was used to seeing on television. That short bloke from Arthur, and the tall man who was in Supergirl. How did this happen? Did they know?

I told my older brother about the tape, but he just laughed and told me he already knew about it – everyone knew about it. I managed to keep it from my parents, writing “CHART HITS” on the tape sticker and keeping it out of the way. A friend had a story about how he was listening to it on a train too loudly through headphones, and how the sound bleed into the ears of an appalled woman sitting opposite. She hit the roof, he said, nearly smacking him with her handbag.

Now in my forties, I have a son who is a fan of old comedy, but the prude in me hopes he’ll never stumble across Derek and Clive. Although I have to confess, there are parts I still find funny. Dudley Moore shouting “nurse”. His song about when he was ‘walking down the street one day’. Peter Cook’s stream of nonsense about breaking a world record (before it gets nasty). But there is such a strong undercurrent of unpleasant throughout, not just in the language or imagery, but how aggressively Cook turns on Moore, with spite that is painful to listen to.

This is so apparent through this VHS I bought in 1993. It was much trumpeted at the time, the pair even turning up on television together to talk about it.

I somehow felt that I had to have a copy, and so purchased the VHS from Woolworths. I shouldn’t have bothered, I should have sat patiently for Youtube to be created and watched bits of it on there. It has a distinctly grubby feel, shot in a scruffy recording studio that looks as if it stinks of smoke and sweat. Dudley Moore comes across as if he wishes he could be anywhere else but there, whereas Cook, bloated with booze, displays a nasty temper that at times turns to bullying.

Low-lights include the appearance of a stripper, and a “drugs bust” led by a policeman which happens to be none other than Virgin boss Richard Branson. Seeing the two performing the skits visually makes the whole experience far worse. On record, it somehow takes the sting out the unpleasant. It is easier to imagine that Derek and Clive actually are lavatory attendants who don’t know any better, rather than two respected comedians, with one doing everything he could to make his colleague uncomfortable.

But somehow, they got away with it. I don’t know if future generations have delighted in Derek and Clive as much as mine, but me and my peers passed many tapes around. Clearly comedians David Baddiel and Rob Newman also heard it, as evidenced in this tape they sold on one of their tours.

So I spent about twenty pounds on Derek and Clive, though everything has been thrown away or Ebay’d, not out of some purist scourge, more because I merely didn’t want them anymore. They are on iTunes, but somehow its not the same in middle age. Would kids today like it? Do they hear worse? I somehow doubt they do, and maybe that’s for the best.