Between 1986 and 1991, from age 8 to age 13, I attended Bramcote School, a small boarding school of about 80 pupils in Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

Picture of a BBC Model B
BBC Model B

The school was equipped with some BBC Model Bs - I can't remember how many to begin with, although we had a whole roomful by the time I left. The BBC Micro was a ground-breaking microcomputer produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation at a time when they still took their educational mandate seriously. It had 32K of RAM, an OS in ROM (so it booted in about half a second), and used 5.25" floppy disks. It could use a TV or a dedicated monitor, and the built-in programming language was BBC BASIC.

Picture of a Tandy TRS-80
Tandy TRS-80

The school also had three Tandy TRS-80s, one of which lived in the staff room and produced all the timetables and pupils' reports, the other two being in the Maths room. These were less used, although I do remember being very frustrated when it failed to load a game from tape after what seemed like an interminable wait.

From day to day, however, computer time was somewhat scarce whereas thumb-twiddling time sitting at a desk under the watchful eye of a teacher was abundant, and so I amused myself by hacking with a pen and paper instead of a keyboard. I had a shiny green "Computer Programs" textbook which I was very proud of, principally because I remember Mrs Moyle, the Form I teacher, saying that my then-nemesis Alex Shepherd couldn't have one because he wasn't as serious about computers as me.

Recently, when cleaning out my room, I came across that "Computer Programs" book in a box of old textbooks and exercise books from that time. It contains what is probably the first serious program I ever wrote - a text adventure game, probably inspired by the "Choose Your Own Adventure" and "Fighting Fantasy" gamebooks which our family were great fans of. The program was originally called ADVENT (later changed to ADVENT1) and I believe that, while indicative in many ways of the time it is written and my needs for further skill development, you and I can learn important lessons from it today.

Don't worry if you don't know BBC BASIC. You can't know much less about it than I did :-) Begin.

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