“I want you to use this computer to work out 2 x 3 and I want you to tell me your thought processes as you do it” the man said. This was a job interview. This was 1984. The job was Field Service Engineer. The man was Ted Davison, Managing Director, BTS. I’d never used a computer.
I lived and breathed bicycles - I raced them, I toured on them, I built them, fixed them and sold them. I knew pretty much everything there was to know about chains, sprockets, gears, wheels and frames. I could even tell you which saddle would suit you best. And no, madam, the lycra shorts don’t make your bum look big. My claim to fame - being the only member in the then 105 year history of the Anerley Bicycle Club to beat the hour for 25 miles on a single geared fixed wheel bike. Time:59m 54s on the Colchester bypass course, 86inch gear. That was my life.
It was the Christmas party. Actually it wasn’t. It was before the Christmas party because Julian was already wanting to move on so I don’t really know when it started. But it started for me, that is when my direct involvement started, at the Christmas party.
Normal kind of thing, finger food, plastic glasses, white wine, red wine, slightly stilted atmosphere, lots of in-jokes and shop talk that made absolutely no sense. Here’s an example or two “..and you’ll never believe it, the twat was half way up the M6 when he remembered he’d forgotten the memory chips!” and “We got the floppy disk back with a with compliments slip stapled to it”. Nostalgia is swelling up in me as I type this.
Two weeks later I was sat in front of a computer and Julian was still wanting to move on and I had to use this machine to work out 2 x 3. I’d met this short guy with a goatee at the party. Turned out to be the MD. History doesn’t record, or my memory doesn’t recall, what was said by whom about what. But whatever it was, and whoever said it, it was enough for the short guy, Ted, to invite me back for an interview.
Ted knew I had never used a computer. I knew that too and I also knew that Ted knew and you can’t bullshit your way through that kind of situation. As I’m a Marketing Director by profession you might think I’d be able to do that all the time, but I wasn’t Marketing Director then.
Come to think of it I didn’t even know that marketing existed, let alone what it was. In any case, my marketing is bullshit-free. But I did know a keyboard when I saw one. “That’s a keyboard” I said, pointing at the keyboard. “And that’s the computer” I said, pointing at the computer. “And that’s a box of disks” I said pointing to a box with “3M Disks” written on it.
“But I don’t know what that is” I said, pointing to an object I didn’t recognise from any of the sci-fi films I had seen.
“That’s a mouse” said Ted.
There are times when the human brain just freezes. Probably stemming from its primitive reptilian roots, it can’t just assimilate new information in random order. Information input needs to flow smoothly. Mine was grooving down hi-tech - circuit boards and chips and Dolby and computer crashes - whatever they were.
A small, furry, cheese-eating animal with four legs and a tail did not fit into the world my brain was struggling to create. The non sequiter was too much, the conceptual leap too great, so the brain shut down, eyebrows furrowed, vacant expression assumed and the last remaining few functioning cells kicked the vocal chords into life which emitted something that sounded like “You what?”.
“A mouse” repeated Ted.
In answer to the obvious question “what does it do?” Ted asked me to find out. So I prodded it. And the screen lit up. A light bulb went on. “Ah” I said. “How do you think it works?”. I turned it over and saw. And remembered. I had stayed on at school and did A level Biology and Physics. I failed the mock in one and got a F in the other, but I did remember variable resisters and X, Y coordinates. And that’s what I said.
And I was right.
Two weeks later I was out on the road fixing DEC PDP11 computers. In the interview I had used the mouse successfully, found the calculator, got 6 and got the job. Julian had moved on and now I was fully kitted out with an Astra 1.3 estate, tool kit, spares and an oscilloscope. I was wrestling with a command line operating system called RSTS and swapping memory chips and upgrading processors.
But always on my mind was that amazing machine, the first computer I had ever used.
It could draw, it could paint, it could write, it could do maths and plot graphs. And I could use it, I was in control, I could do anything, I had no fear. I was seduced. It was Lisa, named I believe after Steve Jobs’ daughter.
And I’ve been in love with the Mac ever since.
First published 2002