Rooftop heroics

Sammy left many curious contraptions to me when he passed away in 2002. He had reached his 90s despite having raced trains in a Mini Cooper; survived a car-crash by holding on to the passenger seat so hard that he took it with him through the front window; jumped onto an out-of-control lorry that was jack-knifing its way over ice; and been a motorbike dispatch rider for the B-Specials in WW II.

This one is a chimney cleaner: lowered down from the roof directly into the chimney for the bolts to scrape away excess soot. I remember watching Sammy do it. Only his chain-saw gymnastics were more terrifying, yet oddly life-affirming.





Just The Thing

These pictures, taken on the Wrist Camera, were from Sammy’s Garage. Sammy was a very dear friend  who invented fearlessly and was blessed with the gift of spotting Just The Thing that he needed from within a maelstrom of spare parts and surplus fittings. He would use a long screw to stir up the contents of assorted tins from which would emerge an improbably apt candidate to be declared Just The Thing.


Watch My Day

In later years (C2001) I relished taking the 16kb black and white images that the Wrist Camera could produce. I registered then used an uploading script built by a friend to beam these little postcards out. They are comically dark and indistinct now but they capture a moment in time for me – I will create a gallery for them up here soon.




Wrist companion

The thing about boarding school is the lack of having your own private space (apart from a tuck box with, let’s say, a false bottom and number coded padlock..) For me the humble watch became a constant companion. From the early Butler Solar Powered watch that had been my Grandfather’s (worn and worn out by the time I was eight!)  via this radio watch and a range of data bank Casios, they each lent a reassuring presence – and kept me one step ahead of when I was meant to be on the games pitches.


Portable Paranoia

The Personal Alarm System was born!

I remember showing it to Dad and trying to summarise what a jumble of wires were inside the switch box.

(The switch box had been a joyous find nestled in the driver’s cab of a bus which had come to rest in a local scrapyard).

He must have winced when he saw the emergency ‘short’ feature – which literally short-circuited everything in case it wouldn’t stop!



For reasons that still elude me I was predisposed to secure my living environment. I loved a good security setup and having wired up my bedroom in ways that I will detail at another time – the idea must have come to me that to secure any environment – and to do it from a box – would be cool.


The first old box

Where I grew up there was a seemingly never-ending supply of Interesting Old Bits. During long Summer Holidays from boarding school I would make it my business to make. Literally nothing made me happier than the sheer act of making. This box appeared mid-rummage.


Close Up

Then I noticed the date when the fax was sent to Dad: 27 Jan 1992. It took me time to process that. I am so used to 1992 being the start of when Dad wasn’t there. Dad passed away on 13th Feb 1992 – seventeen days after that fax was sent to him. He was 47, in the final stages of kidney cancer, flat on his painful back on a bed in his beloved Study. His last mission which he had set himself was to learn to code.

I rushed home from boarding school, arriving on the night of 12th Feb 1992. I was 15. Dad mustered enough energy to wave to me when I stepped tremulously into his Study. Moments later he was unconscious. We could not speak again.


The Fax

It was while sorting through his papers some years ago that I found this fax. It was a guide to commands that would be used to program the Apple II. Dad used it for keeping his company accounts mainly with letters and shipping manifests also patiently tapped in.

This would have marked a departure for Dad: a getting to grips with the system architecture, a look under the bonnet. A logical man with a great capacity for studied reasoning, he would have loved this untapped functionality of his marvellous toy.




Dad had form with tech – long a fan of the telex and latterly the fax, he carried a shoulder-worn analogue mobile (which he called “Yuppy”), sported a Sharp IQ organizer (pocketable qwerty, touch screen for removable app cards and a hefty 128kb memory) and had assembled a hotch-potch of venerable old technology stars. This ‘Teletran’ is now on display in the Swindon Computer Museum (they gamely accepted it despite a general air of unspoken confusion between us about how it had actually functioned).


It wasn’t just Yuppy who was given a name. His battery-powered golf cart (c1984) was Herbie; the heating boiler was Helga (assisted by the more modest stoves Pinky and Perky); and a Landrover with glass windows in the back was The Popemobile.


The Apple II

That was 1987, back when beards and technology were rather interwoven. A few years back I got it going to some extent (a troublesome ROM chip notwithstanding) in the hopes of reading from some of the boxes and boxes of floppy disks that Dad had carefully saved (onto)