Massive Missive

By Kevin Etheridge

Originally published in EUG #57

Hello everyone!

Just got EUG #56 - impressed as usual. (I am told that I am easy to impress so there you go.) The Editor is asking for contributions so I thought "Why not?" and here is a massive missive for you, having finally decided to 'dust down' the jolly old Master 128 and get to grips again with View (having spent all these years using MS Word)...

I'm really a bit of a "johnny come lately" to the whole Beeb business really. I got my first BBC B way back in 1983 when it cost me the princely sum of £350 from Capital Cameras in Crawley, Sussex - a tape machine only as I was a poor student and didn't have the extra £99 for a machine with a disk interface fitted (or £150 for a disk drive for that matter). So there I was with this Beeb. Having just mastered the rudimentary intricacies of BASIC, I was using it to do my college coursework (C&G Computer Programming) and written assignments, as the college had just spent a small fortune on Beebs, etc to go with their mainframes and minis which we were also using for our programming.

I must admit, I pretty soon got tired of using a machine with no DFS, so put a hell of a load of extra hours in at work to purchase said disk interface from Anirog Computers who were based in Horley (where I live) and they installed it all for me. Cumana supplied me with a SS FDD and I was away. Apart from coursework, which was pretty substantial, most of the Beeb's use was games, games and more games. There was quite a nice network of software pirates at college and pretty soon we all had most of the games software produced for the Beeb at that time - and up until 1986 when I left college.

Having spent the princely sum of £8 on a piece of software called Copycat from Integral Software in Bangor, Ireland, that was put to great use in copying Elite, Revs and Castle Quest - money well spent at the time we thought. Needless to say it wouldn't copy Clares' Replica, but we could live with that. Looking back on the naive attitude of the college "they are all too mature to go in for software piracy" was great - we were copying everything left, right and centre - and not just games either, but I digress.

Acorn User and The Micro User were compulsive reading, and I must admit, I continued buying these myself until about 1990 when I stopped because (horrors!) I just was not using my Master (Yes, sold my Beeb and bought one of the first PCs from Laskeys for £599 and a DS FDD from Opus Computers - more on that later!).

The idea of going to college was to get a job as a computer programmer on leaving. Unfortunately, the world and his wife were jumping on the programming wagon at the time, so employers really had the cream to take the pick of and, whilst I was good and came out with some great grades, I was not able to get into the game on leaving college, and so had to get a job to pay the bills and stayed out of programming ever since. Mortgages and kids and all the other parphenalia that were associated took over everything and a career in catering took off.

I did dabble again with my Master back in about 1994 when I was having a clear out at my parents, and got to playing the games again, being exceedingly furious that games like the Ultimate Play The Game series and Frak would not work on my Master. I think a fit of pique made me pack it all up again and that was that until 1999.

It was, oddly enough, the Spectrum that got me back into the Beeb again. Having bought a PC for use for work etc, I came across a disk with a Spectrum 48k emulator and near 6,000 games on it, which I immediately loaded on the PC and commenced to play all the old classics especially the Ultimate Play The Game series. I got to thinking, and then began to trawl around the PC fairs looking for a BBC emulator. I found C64, Dragon and others, but no Beeb ones.

In desperation I looked on the Internet, came across The BBC Lives! web site, and just followed the links around, finding quite a few emulators and also the 8BS web site - and that was it. I dug my Master 128 out of storage; that proceeded not to work (as the motherboard had moved on to another plane of existence) so the whole thing was shipped off to Chris Richardson, who kindly fixed it.

I then went a bit "Beeb happy" and proceeded to buy a BBC B, two new drives (one single and one double) and shedloads of software. My fiancee used to dread the post coming with the cries "Not more stuff from Hull?!" Quite a few people were kind enough to copy software for me from the PC to the Beeb to replace games like Frak etc that had not stood the test of time. Then it was back to buying stuff off eBay on the net or 8BS.

I came across the Stairway To Hell web site and got into conversation with its very helpful owner Dave M about PC to BBC transfer and how to do it and bought a 3.5" FDD off Dave E via ebay. I had a very lengthy tutorial by phone from the kindly Mr M, and awaaaaaay we went.

As a sideline to this, I said I bought a double disk drive. Well, I bought it off 8BS and am very pleased with it. It was produced by Opus. At the time it arrived I was working for Tiny Computers (in security - I'd had enough of catering at that point) and had to pick up the parcel from my local Parcelforce which was next to Tiny HQ. As I was still working my shift at the time, I took the parcel back and opened it up. It was duly seen by a couple of the directors who had worked for, and more or less started, Opus (and then did Tiny). Looks of horror was not the word - they were very eager to distance and disavow themselves from any connection to the wee beastie I had bought. They were even less impressed when I brought in a few old issues of AU with the Opus adverts in them flogging portable TVs. At that time, Tiny had also started flogging Widescreen Colour TVs and the comments about "one step forward and two backwards" started when someone accidentally photocopied these adverts and left them on the main noticeboard. Needless to say, I left Tiny a little after that...

Anyways, through Stairway To Hell, I came across a link to the Ezeebeeb emulator which I downloaded and then stocked with disk images left, right and centre. I can honestly say I am very pleased with it - again, the financee is not as she can't see why I should want to play these games on two different machines. Answer: I can't take my Beeb or Master into work with me. Ezeebeeb fits on a 3.5" floppy and is so easy to load on the PCs at work.

This letter is really by way of a huge thank you to everyone who helped me back on my Beeb feet again after my long absence: Chris Richardson, Dave M, Dave E, Sprow and everybody who either copied software for me or sold it to me on eBay. It's nice to know that the Beeb community is still alive and well, and a lot more helpful and together than it was when I was at college.

I enjoy getting and reading EUG when it comes through the door - I'd prefer it on a monthly basis, but will put up with its bi-monthly appearances. Can't say as I'd look forward to it quarterly though...

The only person I can honestly say that I have come across who does not seem to have the continued best interests of the Beeb at heart is Mr. Bradforth - both from the letters in EUG and my own experiences with him. Certainly conversations about him with others who have had dealings with him.

So here it is, Dave. A letter for the Mailbag, with some praise and gripes in it. A personal apology to the people who were not happy with coverage of Whoopsy or the mileage my query about it gave the game. I was just intrigued by it and amused. Thanks btw for the explanation on how to make it work on a Beeb from ADFS...

It is a testement to Acorn that these machines are still in full working order after coming up to twenty years, as well as the fact that they are becoming timeless, in that interest in them is still widespread even today in this PC-bound society we find ourselves living in. People like Chris Richardson deserve praise upon praise for continuing to sell, repair and come to the aid of people with these machines. As well as those still supporting them with software via the TBI disks who deserve all this praise and much more.

I'm glad to have my Beebs back and gladder still that there are others out there who share my strange fascination with them and all things Acorn after all these years.

I shall be sending some reviews to you for some games in the next few months [Thank you, thank you, oh thank you! - Ed] and having a nose through all my disks to see if there are any other 'goodies' that other EUG readers may be interested in. I'd love to see a review of Uggie's Garden [Just as well there's one in this very issue then! - Ed]. Hell, I'd love to be able to play the game on my Beeb as I'm having no luck whatsoever with a PC to Beeb transfer of it, or from Mr. Bradforth either. So if anyone wants to take pity on me and send me a copy of Uggie's Garden on an 80 Track DFS 5.25" disk to review, I'd be very grateful.

Kind regards and best wishes!

Kevin Etheridge