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XCOM 2002, Extreme Computing Festival, London, June 9th 2002

When pressed before the event for a description of what Xcom 2002 was about, organiser Dave Green told me to "Imagine a village fete run by Daleks". I did and, well, you can imagine my disappointment when I turned up and found an event attended in the main by humans. Still that was well compensated for by the thrill of being able to skip an about-to-get-very-wet queue by telling the bouncer at the door that I'm a bloke that wrote a Spectrum game in 1983. I think I'll try that one again next time I'm queuing for a MacFillet of MacFish Meal and apple Macpie. The journey from the main door into the foyer was eventful. A busy Dave G brushed past, motioning to minions that the queue was pretty well soaked now, so they could open the doors. I had barely attached my sticky label when I bumped into James 123, the man with the wearable Spectrum. I noted immediately that he was not a Dalek and wondered whether he perhaps wished that he was. I think you can have it done in Harley street if you've got a few bob, but James has settled for a Spectrum taped to his arm, and good luck to him I say.

James with wearable Spectrum (the one with the glowing wrist)

I'm amazed at how many programmers I know who are would-be pop musicians... it always struck me as a strange trade to make, stage for keyboard I mean; but count me amongst that number anyway. Oh yes, I was a would-be Gary le Strange, but wasn't quite strange enough. I wonder if Gary ever wishes he'd made it as a programmer?

Gary le Strange

I still harbour a middling to vague hankering to be on stage, so a couple of weeks previously when Dave G asked if I would appear as an ex Speccy programmer in "Tribute to 20 years of the Speccy", I naturally immediately said no. I have always been an enormous fan of Leonard Nimoy, and immensely admired his book "I am not Spock". "I am not a Spectrum programmer", I told Dave in no uncertain terms. Of course, Leonard did go on to write, "I am Spock", so I immediately phoned Dave back and told him that I'd do it, on condition that he installed a crappy PA system and gave everyone carbon granule mikes. Dave went one better and installed Alexander Graham Bell's original prototypes along with Edison's compressed air audio amplifier. And then left them unplugged.

Left to right: Rupert "Rupert Goodwins' Diary" Goodwins, Nigel "Chuckie Egg" Alderton, yours "Ant Attack" truly, Paul "Machine Code Made Easy" Holmes, John "Quicksilva" Hollis

A word of advice to you fledgeling Speccy programmers who are keen to get into the trade. Bear in mind that once you've written your hit game you'll have to be famous once every twenty years, so be sure to keep your public appearance skills well honed. Although you do get a full 19 years to practice between speeches, that's also 19 years to get very nervous indeed. One minute you might find yourself, as I did, standing at someone's stall listening to the knocking sound a solid wooden prototype Spectrum makes against your knuckles, the next you are being transported by the white legs of fear onto a big brown stage which has hitherto lain concealed to you behind a large mist. I warn you now, if you ever find a solid wooden Spectrum, take care before you knock.

The first question Rupert asked me bounced off my forehead just like the bits of chalk that Miss Dow used to launch when I daydreamed at school. The amazing thing about stage fright is that it totally and utterly leaves you after you have spoken your first word. "Ahem", I said, and then immediately felt an urgent desire grab the mike and launch into some kind of improvised talking in tongues with combined dance routine. I was pretty sure that I could do better than the rendition of "Rocket Man" by a certain Mr Shatner which we had just been treated to. Fortunately perhaps, before I could do any such thing, I was already answering the question. And really it was nice to be up there, and in such auspicious company. While Rupert our host was between questions, Nigel and I were busy exchanging notes on how much money we had made out of our respective speccy hits, and agreeing that people who wrote games never made as much as the people who took them from the people who wrote them and sold them to the people who bought them. That is, unless you were one of that rare breed of people who wrote them and sold them as well. Paul's resume kinda confirmed my fears that I am slow at coding, (hey, but I'm moving into management, honest!) and John regaled us with some anecdotes from Quicksilva days. Then, just before I could get to my top hat and cane, our bit was over and suddenly, as if by magic, where once had stood a solid stone wall, now stood the glittering image of a pub.

Before I could pinch that Russian clone Speccy and shove it up my jumper John was back on stage doing some circuit bending. What's that you may ask? Visit to John's site to find out! It did involve John prizing open a toy keyboard, whipping a resonator out, sniping off a resistor or two maybe, then shorting between a pad or six. The poor little keyboard was in pain and it let us know audibly of it's suffering. I'm waiting for the promised CD. Applause and cheers. I told you all programmers just want to be on stage really.

John bending a circuit

Several imaginary beers later my steady hand wiggled a hoop round a wiggly wire and I won a Chinese confection, viewed myself distorted on a TV screen, and simultaneously signed my autograph on a Map of Antescher. Well, honestly officer, it looked like a map of Antescher at the time.

what you lot look like

If I may get a little fluffy, my lasting impression of the day was, well, what an interesting and nice bunch of people all collected together in one big hall! I even got to meet one or two one might say "fans" of the game (AA) , and share some conversation of the sort that often happens on the visitors page. I think I have a better picture in my minds eye of what you lot might look like now!

Well done Dave and all you other organisery type bods for making it happen!

I'm off to practice my guitar!

Sandy :)

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