It was Wednesday afternoon, not my most favourite day of the week, Wednesdays were swimming days and in truth it was the last thing I wanted to do. I had tried playing hooky before and been caught out; hauled up in front of the class I was given a good dressing down and told to ‘buck my ideas up’ if I wanted to complete the compulsory course of lessons, designed to make us water aware, submerging undignified in a pool of filthy water, used by everyone else and all the germs that bred in it. I wasn’t fond of Wednesdays at all, in all respects, not just the swimming but the whole damn process.
As a teenager I was an early developer and objected strongly to spending time in changing rooms and showers with those I went to school with. I mean, who actually thought it was a great idea, to throw a group of adolescent boys together, during puberty, showering together in front of a PE Teacher; it really wasn’t for me! At thirteen years old, I was well aware of my sexuality, the signs were always there. If I was sure of who I was, then others were aware too. Once over the embarrassment of changing in front of ones peers, it was time to begin the lessons.
It was cold, as I tiptoed out of the locker rooms and into the swimming arena. The pool was alive with the screams of children. In the distance I heard the sound of a whistle being blown, by a lifeguard perched at the far end of the pool. It was time for the first group of kids to leave and us to begin our lessons.
Situated at the shallow end, were floats, arm bands and other strange looking contraptions, designed to keep us afloat, as we all strived for the same thing, learning to swim. Most of us were well versed in the procedures employed by Mrs Hanson, a formidable looking lady, dark permed hair and what I can only describe as craggy features, heavily wrinkled face, sporting an almost burnt orange tan. Dressed in blue tracksuit bottoms and a white T shirt, she was tall, thin and a force to be reckoned with; she scared the living daylights out of me. Her approach to teaching can only be described as ‘sink or swim,’ her lack of empathy was typical of the time. There were no allowances for failure; you did as you were told, or else.
There was just me at the shallow end, everyone else had already migrated to the deep side of the pool. For the life of me, I just couldn’t swim, it really wasn’t in me and with a coach like Mrs Hanson, it was highly unlikely to happen anytime soon. I stood in the middle, still holding onto the side with my right hand, when Mrs H, told me to let go of the edge and slowly swim towards her hands, stretched out before me. I hesitated, panicked and shook my head in protest. She asked again, firmly, with a scowl on her face. After thinking for what seemed like an age, I threw myself forwards and swam towards her hands.
I was nearly there and could almost feel the end of her nails. Everything was a blur, my eyes were soaked in water, my mouth and nose also, I could barely breath; flapping my hands with terror, I really thought I would make it. Then she took her hands away, quickly without warning; I sunk like a brick. Shouting for help I gasped for air, trying to get to the surface, finally lifted out by the lifeguard, who placed me at the side of the pool. Coughing, spluttering with my heart pounding, I finally came back to life; battered, bruised with Loss of dignity and pride, I gingerly left the pool, never to return again.
In the end I was awarded a certificate like everyone else, not for the metres I had swam but for endeavour, for trying hard; a piece of paper, that I still have to this very day, a momento of a time I would rather forget. That final lesson was so traumatic for me, that I never learnt to swim again. I am content enough to realise I tried my best, leaving a mark on my life that I can write about today!
It was about a year before, when I was at a friends house that I realised I wanted one. It was truly amazing, another world and one of the best presents a young boy like me could wish for. In the mid 1980s modernity jumped head long into my life; a technological revolution and the development of a personal computer was firmly planted into the psyche of a generation, just waiting to break away from the past, establishing their credentials as inheritors of the crown. The future was rubber keys, the future was Sinclair.
The shops were heaving, customers were pushing and shoving their way around the packed isles. Supermarket trollies were full to bursting with everything one needed for a gastronomical feast. As Mum and Dad paid for their weekly shopping at the checkout in Sainsbury, I briefly wondered outside. Looking past the cafe in the centre of the Mall, I spotted Curry’s electrical shop directly opposite; in the shop window the newest gadget to hit the shelves was displayed, the ZX Spectrum 48K. I ran over as fast as I could, nose pressed against the glass, watching ‘Daly Thompson’s Decathlon’ being enacted on the screen. In awe of the graphics, amazed by the colour, I imagined myself owning one. Looking down at the price tag, 125 pounds, I realised it was too expensive for me to buy, sighed and walked back to the supermarket, waiting outside.
Mum and Dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I took the chance. I wanted ‘The Spectrum computer’ and hoped they would agree. At first they were a little unsure about what I was referring to, so I grabbed a copy of Mum’s Kay’s Catalogue under the coffee table in the lounge, flicking through the pages until I found what I was looking for. ‘Here it is, this is what I want. It will be the bestest Christmas present of all’ I retorted excitedly. After several minutes of hesitation, confused expression on their faces, they both agreed; I couldn’t wait for Christmas Day.
Santa arrived early once again. It always seemed strange to me, that the old man arrived before I got up, never did I catch him, not once, even when I surfaced at 12am. This was a present, delivered directly to the bottom of my bed, placed in a pillow case, rather than being left in the sitting room, as was usual. I guess this was a gift, that was just too bulky to be left under the tree. At 3am I was up and awake, ripping wrapping paper and trying to get to grips with my new toy; a personal computer, the modern age sitting on my lap; shiny, untouched waiting to be unlocked.
Setting up the ZX Spectrum on my desk was the easy bit, connecting the wires to the TV, loading games was another matter. One had to place a cassette in a player then wait for it to load; a screeching, wining rendition that sent shivers down my spine; so much so, I left the room, made a turkey sandwich, popped the kettle on, used the toilet on the way back and still had time to spare, before the tape had even loaded. I managed half an hour or so at the helm before everything went ‘Pete Tong!’ Two hours later I was back playing another round until the inevitable ZX Spectrum problems kicked in once again.
In the end, I probably used my new computer no more than ten times. Frustration, impatience and annoyance at the cumbersome piece of 80s kit got the better of me. After throwing it across the room, on several occasions, I decided it was best to retire the rubber wonder before it drove me insane. This slice of retro design, remained in my parents loft, until it was sold at a local car boot sale, ten years later. I never bought another PC again until the late 1990s. Sir Clive Sinclair had done what no one else could: turning my love of gadgets into a dislike of the modern world. I remained steadfast in my rejection of all things avant-garde and progressive for many years, although look back with fondness at the little black box that made my life hell, after all if it wasn’t for Clive, I wouldn’t be typing on this laptop today. I am truly amazed at just how far we have come in such a short space of time!
47 year old Author, Columnist and Blogger.