The format wars were already well under way in the 8-bit days, we just didn’t have the world wide web to sneer at other peoples choices of machines. I knew a few Speccy owners but I knew more C64 owners and only 1 Amstrad CPC 464 owner- a lad called Enzo who apparently knew how to get past the bit on Rambo First Blood part II I was stuck on. A visit to his house showed that the CPC version was so different that the solution wasn’t really a solution- if the Spectrum game had been THAT slow, I’d have had no trouble!
I got a Commodore 64 in 1986 and the method I attained it was slightly unconventional. I definitely wasn’t one of those kids that simply pestered their parents until their parents bought them stuff, and I knew my parents were fairly hard up due to the switch to home brewing from supermarket wine & beer but this was the year I got an unusual source of income.
Back then the local council (where my dad worked) didn’t have a folding and sealing machine. Every April they had tens of thousands of domestic rates bills to deliver. The district was divvied up into areas and volunteer staff took areas to deal with. Envelopes needed to be stuffed with leaflets and bills, which all needed folding, and sealing, before being delivered. I can’t remember the exact amount per house but it was something like 7p all in. Dad helped with the deliveries but we did all the folding, stuffing and sealing over the Easter holidays, and ended up with a couple of hundred quid each. When domestic rates were replaced by the community charge (popularly known as the Poll Tax) I did a little dance as it effectively doubled the number of deliveries and the cash.
It was this unusual annual windfall that gave me the money to buy a Commodore 64. Although the machine was over £400 at launch, that had been several years before and come 1986 it was down to a much more reasonable £200ish (which is a somewhat terrifying £530 in today’s money!). An 11 year old me was terrible at saving money (honestly, I’m just as bad now), so this worked brilliantly; a big haul of cash for a lot of work over Easter was ideal for someone who was utterly addicted to video games, and it didn’t take me long to plot my purchase.
What though had lead to my defection to the dark side? Well, I mentioned earlier that I had friends with C64s. and in my first year and secondary school, my friend Chris kindly lent me his C64 (with parental approval of course) while they went on their summer holiday. I was hooked. The graphics might have been chunkier than the Spectrum’s but the colours! The sound effects and music! The scrolling! It was a completely different world, and it was a world I wanted a part of.
I was the sort of lad who obsessively read games magazines, and I began reading Commodore 64 magazines (Zzap64! in particular) well in advance of actually getting one of those less than svelte brown boxes.
And thus began the first step towards ownership of multiple machines in each generation in our household- Spectrum & C64, Megadrive & SNES, Saturn & PS1, Dreamcast, Gamecube & PS2, and so on, right up to now, where I’m looking at adding an Xbox One to my Steam PC and PS4. My little brother (now almost 39, so not exactly little any more) sort of obtained “ownership” of the Spectrum and started buying games for it. Bombjack and Renegade were the two big games that I remember him buying but I’m sure there were more. Me, I started enthusiastically throwing my pocket money behind the C64.
Of course, £1.20p a week in pocket money only went so far, especially when you had to buy those pesky computer magazines AND 2000AD but I was very committed to the cause- I used to sell my packed lunch to someone at school pretty much every day (cheers Mark, my mum never realised she was making you lunch), and I also used to walk the mile and three quarters home and pocket the bus fare too, both of which massively supplemented my pocket money earnings. By the time I got home I was usually famished but I’d normally get an extra £4-£8 a week by doing this, dependent on the weather, so it was definitely worth the trade off…