Searching the Archives

A few things have come and gone throughout my life, but in terms of material objects there are a couple of things that have stayed (often because they were stored in my parents’ loft). These objects mainly revolve around particular computer games, consoles and machines that have been a part of my life at various stages and I’ve never been able to get rid of. The same is true of my dad it seems as after 30 years he still kept our BBC Micro. The Beeb was my first entry into computing and I’ll always remember it being in our family living room when I was growing up. I also remember spending hours sitting with my dad playing games, or him coding small programs for me and my brother, but as much as I have those memories, I could never remember exactly what they were.

Now the Beeb resides in my own living room, alongside my partner’s ZX Spectrum, partly as a nod towards our respective 1980s childhood nostalgias, and partly as a way of educating one another about the machines we learnt to program on (and subsequently shaped our lives). However, the one thing we didn’t keep in the loft was a tape deck, although we did keep the dual floppy drives. The floppy drives need a bit of work though as playback often doesn’t work so in the meantime a tape deck was purchased and a bit of personal media archaeology commenced.

Recovered from the loft were boxes of cassette tapes for the Beeb. Some are game backups, others contain my dad’s CV from 1982, and some are chemistry programs (my mum used to be a secondary school chemistry teacher). Yet in amongst the tapes were a couple that intrigued me. The first had a file labelled ‘baby’ written in my dad’s handwriting on one of the tapes dated from around the year of my birth. The second tape had files named ‘sums’, ‘maze’ and ‘dogs dinner’ on it.

‘Baby’ took a little while to recover as it was written in a program that we still need to find, yet after a little bit of investigation we managed to see a list emerge. ‘Baby’ turned out to be a babysitting circle listing, displaying all of the local people that could be called upon to look after me, along with home address and phone numbers (which resulted in another trip down memory lane remembering when British telephone numbers started to change over time, in this case, before an 8 was added to the start of the figure). Although simplistic in its design, ‘baby’ felt like a further connection to my family, to my dad in particular who had taken the time to sit and list the entries on the machine. Finding that file bought a smile to my face in the same way I remember finding some of my gran’s holiday diary entries as we cleared the house after she died.

After the thrill of finding a piece of my own families past, the next tape was put in. As the Beeb slowly started to read Side A, the program ‘sum’ came up. On loading the program, a title screen displayed with the words ‘Bensoft’ and ‘sums’ been displaying in the centre.

sums

Another smile emerged, as my brother’s name is Ben, and I knew immediately that this was one of my dad’s creations. The game is a basic educational game (my dad was a teacher too), prompting simple calculations by adding up the ‘aliens’, ‘crosses’, ‘dogs’, ‘cats’, ‘men’, ‘squares’, ‘faces’, ‘trains’, and ‘cars’. The next program on the list was titled ‘Maze’. Once again ‘Bensoft’ flashed up on screen, and the maze menu screen loaded. Another simple game, of guiding the character through the basic maze, as a person, in a car or in a train. (somehow the last 7 years of my life make more sense…)

maze

The final game on the tape was another educational game, titled ‘Dogs Dinner’. The aim of the game is to match the correct words to get the dog into the kennel to eat his dinner. It might seem straightforward, but my dad had added a personal touch. Instead of using any old words, many of them are linked to my family, such as using mine and my brother’s names and the names of our different sets of grandparents. It was like finding a letter he had written to us, 30 years on…

dinner

The task now is to archive as many of the tapes as possible. As I’m sitting here typing, we’ve managed to capture the last tape as a .uef to use with BeebEm, as a way of keeping the memory alive for as long as possible (and as a way of sending my dad the file to allow him to have his own trip down memory lane…)