Old School Programming

I love computers. Always have. They offered me something which wasn’t possible as a kid – privacy and freedom. I wrote my first novel on my Amiga 500 at the age of 13. It was a Sci-fi trilogy and done on the ‘excellence’ word processor. You probably don’t realise just what a dream come true that is. To be able to write – privately – for hours without having to worry about your story being found and laughed at. Each word typed on a beige Amiga keyboard made real my imagination.

I poured my heart and soul into writing the book. Hours were spent (after homework) each nigh before bedtime. It pushed me to read; to research what I needed in history and technology. I burned with curiosity to learn about characters, story arcs, finding and eliminating tropes and hidden cliches in my little story. I didn’t care if anyone ever read it, didn’t mind it would never be published. I was the first thing in my life that was purely mine, and it made me really question – hard – everything. What was it to be a person? What did life and love truly mean? After several months I had my first draft done, and I kept on refining it.

The story was a simple one. Boy falls in love. Something happens to boy along the way and he is lost and so has to find his way back. By the time he gets back he’s changed, she’s changed, the world has changed, and all the decisions he made to get back kept him from returning to who he was before, from truly coming home. I was very young – trying to say something I felt about love and hope.

Because I was 13, I based a lot of the characters in the book on my schoolmates. They were crewing ships, leading nations and pivotal to the plot. Eventually I was happy with the manuscript, and had started to share it’s existence with my brother who was only a year younger and so closest to me. I used to let him use the computer and he saw the book and seems really pleased for me. Parents were too scary to show, and sister was too young, and I wouldn’t dare bring it up in school. I loved that computer, and loved that book.

The Amiga A500

I came home from school one day to find that my brother had formatted my entire computer. Destroyed everything completely. He’d decided to try and break into it – I still don’t know to this day why as I had no games there and I shared it with him every day. I think he just wanted to play with what was mine without my consent, and when he couldn’t get into it, he poked around until he found the option to recover the computer and that presented him with the option of wiping the computer and that’s what he did. He never apologised to me about it, and even said later that it took a long time to format so he got a can of Fanta, and came back to watch, after which he left it on the monitor when I got home.

The Amiga screen of death.

He was always in my room and leaving trash around so I didn’t think much of it until I switched on the computer and nothing loaded. I had that pit in my stomach. Then the disbelief and panic after I saw an empty prompt telling me my whole inner world had been wiped – forever. I was just a kid, and my parents didn’t give us pocket money, so there were no floppies on which the book was backed up. And after denying it initially he admitted it but laughed at me and my pain. I think, looking back, that was the point. I was bigger, older, the eldest, and I didn’t play with him enough or maybe he just had contempt for me, but he really didn’t care about the book or what he cost me – as it didn’t cost him anything. He’s never apologised for it to this day – just glides over it as if it was nothing.

It’s hard to explain but that was a turning point for me. I was afraid of losing things from then on – so I learned everything I could about computers. How to secure them? How to back up things? How to encrypt and keep stuff safe. I stopped trusting him then, and while time has passed, he every so often would still steal something, or break something, or lie, or pick a fight, and bit by bit I just drew away. He was my first friend, and after what he did I’ve been ever more careful around people since.

After a while I got used to coding, instead of writing. There was still a mixture of creativity as well as the logical challenge of economy of force, and world building. At the time I didn’t realise or even care what a big part of our future computers would be. I just wanted a private and safe space, somewhere I could feel secure and happy. Programming gave me another playground, one he couldn’t understand. One which couldn’t be taken away. And if my computer was wiped again, then this time I would be ready and able to rebuild.

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