I blame the Atari 800 for changing the course of my life
There I was, back in 1979, thinking I had landed a
perfectly respectable (if a little staid) job in the Police Civil Staff
working with traffic regulation enforcement issues (no yawning at the
back please). My home was in the West Midlands, in a little place called
Stone, and on one of my visits back from London I was dragged along to
meet one of my Mum's friends (this would have been about 1980 at the
time) and she had a 12 year old son who insisted I could help him with
his new computer. This was his ZX80.
I was 22 at the time and already had assumed I was way
behind the 'youngsters of the day' and that there would be no way I'd be
able to understand what he was about to show me. I also heard that to be
a computer programmer, you needed a degree in maths. Having only just
scraped a pass at 'O' level, I wasn't too sure about how much I could
contribute. He showed me 3 lines:
10 INPUT A: INPUT B
20 PRINT "The Total is ";C
An epiphany struck me. Er... Actually, I can do this
I immediately went out and purchased a ZX81 (which was
just then replacing the older version) and I spent many, many evenings
painstakingly keying into the tiny black machine loads of programs I
could think of (and which would fit into the tiny amount of memory -
about 3K). I started to hunger for more space and a keyboard which
wouldn't numb of fingers. Enter the Atari 800/400 machines. I purchased
the Atari 800 with its massive 16Kb and the tape cassette. I must have
spent hours learning Atari Basic. Games were another marvel for me.
Here, for the first time, I could play arcade quality games for as long
as I wanted to without paying a king's ransom in 10p pieces in the
I hungered for all magazines that wrote anything about
my beloved machine - and enter Page 6! Page 6 was like a literary club
for me. I remember Les Ellingham, the Editor, who was so very down to
earth and shared the same enthusiasm as I and all the readers of Page 6.
It felt like another family (without getting too sickly about it).
I saved furiously and bought 2 Atari 810 disk drives
and extra memory to make a maximum of 48K - wow! I was in the fast lane
then! :-) I started to toy around with writing a cataloguing
database for my computer programs, magazines etc (I had them falling out
of my drawers and cupboards!) and at the time I was also getting into
Assembler language using the Atari Assembler program. The program was to
become known as MJDbase
which was published by Page 6 (in issue 29) and the event will always be
At work, I had moved over to the computer section and
the rest is history. I learnt COBOL and GEORGE 3 JCL for the ICL
mainframe computers and in 1984 I became involved in the IBM type of
The Atari ST came along and I bought the Atari 520ST
with a floppy drive. The advent of the ST became a watershed for me. Not
sure why, but I never got into ST Basic programming. It never appealed.
Whilst games, however, were much appreciated with the superior graphics
etc. (must mention Dungeon Master from FTL- absolutely amazing!),
something was lost in the transition from 8 bit to 16 bit. I can't put
my finger on it but the Atari 800 will always be best remembered.
Perhaps it was because it was the first real computer I had. Perhaps the
ST was somehow so much more advanced that I felt I was starting to be a
user rather than an 'engineer'. I faced a new and exciting frontier with
my Atari 800 and it will never be the same again.
I'm now 53 (although I still don't believe it) and am
on the verge of retiring from work (fingers crossed). I expect my
retirement will enable me to step back into the slower yet more
rewarding and fascinating world of my Atari 800. I have been using the
Atari800WinPlus emulator and it's gobsmacking how it brings the old days
back. I purchased a competition Pro joystick which is the nearest thing
I can get to the simple joysticks of yesteryear. Roll on the coming
years- I look forward to the old years coming back.
If anyone would like to chat about the old times then
please do contact me.
Michael Jackson, June 2011