My first exposure to computers came courtesy of Clive Sinclair. It must have been somewhere around 1980 and the school I went to had somehow acquired a ZX80. Having never seen or even heard of computers before (remember, it’s 1980) I had no particular idea of what it should look like so when I first saw it - small, white, blue keyboard - it was neither underwhelming or overwhelming. It just was.
Access to it was strictly limited (the school only having two televisions into which to plug it) and restricted to watching one of the teachers typing in programs and running it before our amazed eyes.
I don’t remember ever seeing it actually work, but it can only imagine the reactions of the masses there assembled when the first characters lurched their way across the screen.
Skip forward several weeks and I had somehow convinced my dad to get in on this technical revolution - the future! - and order a ZX80 for us. In those days you couldn’t pop down to your nearest PC World (they hadn’t been invented yet) to get hold of a unit. You actually had to send of for it and they assemble it yourself. This in itself was not easy. Indeed, reviews of the time more or less encouraged people not to go down this route, instead suggesting that people pay a little more for the pre-assembled units. I have no recollection of ever using a ZX80 at home. I think my dad may well have completely failed to get it worked and sent it back when I wasn’t looking.
Shortly after we got a ZX81, and not long after that, a ZX Spectrum. I got the 16k version, a matter of some shame as most of my friends got the one with 48k, closing off a whole world of classic software such as Jet Set Willy, Manic Miner and Atic Atac.It wasn’t until The Hobbit came out in 1982 that I convinced my parents to buy the 32k Expansion Pack that finally saw me entering the big leagues and respectability at school.
I had the Spectrum for a few years, destroying two keyboards along the way (anger destroyed one, crappy glue the other, the keyboard curling up on the corners like an old slice of cheese) before it made way for, in order: a Commodore 128, an Amstrad CPC 464 and an Atari ST.
The site The Spectrum Golden Years has some great information about the rise and fall of Sinclair.