Chapter 1 - In The Beginning

"Well", I hear you ask, "how on earth did this ramshackle outfit called Electrobaconics come into being?" Patience Gentle Reader, I will explain. (I should add at this point that the first person singular pronoun is going to appear quite frequently in this discourse - Electrobaconics is a small concern.)

Many decades ago, probably in the 1980s, I was doing what a lot of A-Level failures were doing then, teaching. Well, trying to, in between comprehensive reviews of the British Education System by whichever Secretary of State for Education and Science was trying to justify his or her existence. One of these reviews came up with the brilliant idea of equipping all schools with computers, even minor Junior Schools like mine. Yes, Information Technology was on its way.

Now I had heard of computers, of course. They seemed to me to be a piece of electronics best avoided, not least because they did not come equipped with rows of glowing thermionic valves, but relied on those new-fangled upstarts called transistors. You could fit a valve to a circuit board with an oxyacetylene torch, but breath on a tranny and it turned turtle and died. And why did they have to have THREE legs? (Transistors, not computers, that is - base, emitter and something else...) But I digress. Just let's say that I was on my way to becoming a computer-phobe.

So, the Great Day arrived along with a lot of hefty cardboard boxes. The boxes were opened and out came the the not-very shiny, but definitely brand-spanking-new BBC Acorn machine. It was a truly creamy moment. A big cream-painted metal box with a glass front called THE VISUAL DISPLAY UNIT, a cream-coloured plastic thing that looked like a type-writer, with black and red buttons, called THE COMPUTER, and another, smaller, cream-painted metal box which was THE FIVE AND A QUARTER INCH FLOPPY DISK DRIVE. Well, that's what the Instruction Manual said they were, I was told, and I was not going to argue with the Instruction Manual, it was bigger than me. Oh, yes, and several miles of assorted cables and plugs. And that Instruction Manual.

Thankfully, at that time I was in charge of the Art Department, which meant ordering paper, paint, brushes, glue, etc., attending courses on designing an Art Syllabus and producing the afore-mentioned Art Syllabus. The computer and all its accompanying paraphernalia lived in someone else's classroom, lurking in a querty-ful way in one corner, with its ever-watchful guardian hovering over it like some dutiful High Priestess in an ancient Greek temple of Apollo. There was definitely something mystical about it, as those of us who were not its acolytes found ourselves unwittingly drawn to its malign presence. Perhaps it was the unfamiliar noises which it produced, as it digested whatever was on those curious 5.25 inch disks. Perhaps it was the images moving jerkily across its screen. I learned that its diet consisted of something called programs. One of these was a sort of adventure story involving a large black bird. The quality of what I would also learn to call its graphics was about on a par with the images you might see on the text pages appearing on analogue television sets.

Apparently, there was something called DOS, which was pretty important, and you had to put the disks into their special box with a certain amount of care. They had to go in the right way up for starters. And not back to front. I seem to remember one terrible occasion when a child, (yes, this was a school, remember), had managed to put a disk in the slot both upside-down and back-to-front. The disk then refused to come out again. There was a certain amount of panic, and in desperation, the Art Department was summoned to assist. Or maybe by then it was the Science Department, or possibly Maths. Anyway, it was me. I do believe that this was my first, successful, act of Computer Maintenance and Repair. Don't ask how I managed to extract the recalcitrant object, but it may have involved a knife and a bit of brute force, these being essential to the successful running of any Department, but especially Art, Science and Maths. As a result of this act of extreme heroism, I was allowed into the Inner Sanctum and, having sworn several Oaths of Secrecy, was given access to certain items of knowledge, such as the correct method for the insertion of disks, and how to "boot" the beast. I was also allowed to read the Instruction Manual. I was convinced by all this that computers were, most certainly, not for me. I was further convinced that they were a complete waste of time and money, being of absolutely no use whatsoever. Especially for educating the young. I was now a fully-fledged computer-phobe.

Time passed, as it does, and a holiday came along, as they do. Now there was more panic. This machine had cost the local authority several hundred pounds, was the most valuable item on the school premises after the Head's car, and despite my convictions, apparently an item much sought-after by those persons commonly known as thieves and vagabonds. The machine could not be left in its holy classroom corner. It had to be taken home by a member of staff. The member of staff chosen on this first occasion was, naturally, the High Priestess. The rest of us gave a collective sigh of relief. Alas, this situation was to change. For the worse. And would have severe consequences for the future mental health and physical well-being of the Head of Art, or Science, or Maths, or whatever it was that I was. On returning to school the following term, we were informed by the Head that all members of staff would be expected to take a turn at looking after the computer during the holidays. And so, one dreadful Easter, it was my turn...