It’s International Amiga Day. And nearly thirty years have gone by. I never saw that coming.
I was aged twenty-five when the Commodore Amiga A1000 was launched. No-one knew at the time, at least in public, what a struggle that glorious machine had to be born. But whatever difficulties it had, it was written in the stars that it would have a mighty destiny. And so it came to pass.
From my personal point of view at the time, working for the local Council and not getting paid very much at all, there was no prospect of me ever owning that remarkable machine.
Just like the Macintosh Plus it was far out of my reach. Being a computer-mad twenty-something, having owned a succession of 8-bit computers since 1982, and not being all that interested in the rather boring and overpriced ‘IBM-compatibles’ as they were known, when the time came to move up a level to 16-bit computing, and wanting something that was both useful and fun, the Atari 520STFM was the obvious choice, and I had immense pleasure from using that machine until, one day, in 1987…
I live in Walsall, England, a town in an area which is known as ‘The Black Country’ (it inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s dark land of Mordor in The Lord of The Rings…) and not far from another, similar town known as Wolverhampton, which I occasionally visited. One dark, rainy Saturday I happened to be in Wolverhampton when the heavens opened, rain fell like a hammer blow and I was forced to seek shelter in a nearby shop, which just happened to be a business computer store.
I can’t recall the name of the shop, but it was in a stately Victorian or Edwardian building, on a corner on the main road leading into the town from Bloxwich. I’d been past there many times. I’d even been in once, to lustfully ogle the Apple Macintosh Plus that had been coupled with a twenty inch paper white monitor to show off the possibilities of that then-new miracle of the age, ‘Desk Top Publishing’. One look at the price, however, had sent me scurrying, but not on this day. No, not on this day…
I tried to look businesslike as I sidled into the showroom, but the salesman chatting up the boss’s secretary in the back office glanced at me with a supercilious smirk and turned back to more pleasant matters as I dripped gently on the worn carpet and mooched about looking for something, anything, interesting to occupy a few minutes until the clouds might have hurried over and I could get on about my business.
A pile of leaflets on Wang, ICL and IBM business computers were deathly dull, so I put them back in their dispensers and noted that the Mac was switched off so there was no chance of a furtive play. As I rounded a display cabinet, however, I beheld, lurking almost shamefully in a dark corner of the showroom, something that I could hardly believe at first sight.
An Amiga A1000. With a second floppy drive. And a Philips colour monitor showing the now-legendary boing-ball demonstration…
Much as I’d loved my Atari gear for the past couple of years, I knew that one day I must have an Amiga. I could see it was the future, at least in spirit. Even if it went the way of all digital flesh in due course, as technology comes and goes in generations shorter than dog years.
The Amiga A500 had been launched earlier in the year, but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to lash out all that money on something that didn’t look all that much different from my ST. I know, I know, but there it was. Subjective, certainly, not objective. I’d fallen in love with the A1000, although it had seemed doomed to be unrequited.
Maybe not. You see, this shop (I really do wish I could remember the name) had been trying to sell their one and only A1000 for six months as a business computer and, well, you can guess the rest. “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” they used to say. They also used to say “Garbage In, Garbage Out”, and as the son of a binman and a lifelong geek, back when it wasn’t fashionable, I knew all about that.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, they’d had no luck shifting the A1000, and not long before I arrived they’d cut the price back, to just above that of the new A500. I had a grin a foot wide, as you might expect. It had been payday that Thursday, and I didn’t need any persuading when the manager leapt out from behind his desk.
“Can I help you, sir? Lovely machine. A quick dust off and you’ll never know she’s been on demonstration.”
He looked wistful for a moment, as if half-expecting me to ask which version of MSDOS it used, but his slightly lop-sided smile turned to a grin nearly as wide as mine (and mine would have embarrassed the Cheshire Cat) as I pulled out my cheque book.
Twenty minutes later, my Amiga was boxed up and we were away in a taxi, heading for an unknown future. All I knew was that something wonderful had happened, and my life would never be the same. For one thing it launched my writing career with Amiga User International and other magazines, though that eventually took a few strange turns. However, that’s another story.
It’s almost thirty years now since that remarkable computer was born, thanks to the genius of engineer Jay Miner and others, and though Commodore is long gone and technology has moved on by leaps and bounds, the Amiga still has the power to make me, and thousands of today’s retro enthusiasts, grin.
It did point the way to the future, and what was so amazing about that all-singing, multi-tasking, windowing, colourful, multimedia computer, born into a world of dreary DOS and black-and-white Macs, is commonplace now, though somehow, it doesn’t seem quite as much fun.
Which is one reason why I’ve set up this blog, ‘AMIGA meditations’, in tribute to happy days gone by and yet to come, and to a work of genius loved by many and not forgotten despite the way of the world.
Thank you, Jay Miner, and happy birthday. International Amiga Day would have made you proud. Even though you’re no longer with us, the work of you and your colleagues still has the power to inspire us, and to raise a smile fit to embarrass a Cheshire Cat. My recently-acquired A1200 still does so, even though my dear old A1000 is now lost in time, like tears in rain…