Back to Basics
The other evening an envelope containing an article (and a Naspen tape of it)
was shoved through my letter box. The article was yet another review, but this time
on a most unlikely subject. A computing holiday !!! So if you have already recovered
from this years holiday, and are thinking about next years, this might be worth
On Holiday in Basic
by R. White
As a computer addict of some eighteen months standing, the thought of
spending a week away from the keyboard for a mere family holiday was indeed hard to
bear. When a fellow addict produced a brochure of ‘Marlborough College Summer School
1980’ all our holiday decisions were made in one fell swoop. The Summer School was
offering a range of courses to suit all possible interests: Yoga, Bridge, Swimming,
Painting, Walking, Languages, Philosophy, History and many others … including
Computer Programming. The children were soon convinced the ‘Children’s Activities’
were what they always wanted, while my wife realised at once that the ‘Pre-history of
Wiltshire’ had an irresistible fascination for her inquiring mind. So we went.
We arrived on a Sunday evening and installed ourselves in our twin-bedded
room, the children being nearby in dormitories. The accomodation was adequate if a
little spartan compared with a modern hotel. The food however was excellent.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner were all served in the main college dining-hall on a
self-serve basis, with an excellent menu at each meal. There were several bars
including one within the dining-hall itself which was about the only extra expense we
had during the whole week – absolutely everything else being provided, including the
never-to-be-forgotten doughnuts served with morning coffee each day.
On the first morning the whole of the Summer School, about five hundred
people, assembled for a few minutes talk introducing the various Tutors, many of whom
were staff at Marlborough College itself. The computer programming course was to be
in the hands of the College computer System Manager, J. Marcus Gray, and the language
was to be Basic !
After introductions all round it became apparent that all sixteen members of
the course were from widely differing age groups and interests. At least four were
still in full-time study where they had picked up an interest in computing at school
or college and now wanted to learn more. There were two medical men, both G.P.s, who
were interested and even concerned as to how computers may invade their sphere. They
had no computing experience whatsoever and had perhaps only read one of the books on
Basic that had been mentioned in the ‘suggesed reading’ list before the course. There
were two or three hobbyists like my fellow Nascomite and myself, plus one or two who
ran small businesses enquiring into the possibilities of the machine for them.
Altogther we were a very mixed bunch.
In the lecture room itself there was no sign of any computer – just desks and
a blackboard. There was one rather nasty moment when our tutor began to talk about
the college computer itself and produced from his briefcase – horror of horrors – a
ZX80 ! The thought of a week with a ZX80 between sixteen people ........ But this was
only to make the point to the inexperienced of us how small(!) the home computer has
The general pattern of the course was an occasional lecture with blackboard
and notes etc., and then adjournment to the college’s eight-terminal computer for
practice on one’s own with suggested experiments. There was always help available
both from our tutor himself and from his assistant, a very enthusiastic and helpful
sixth-former at the college. Thus there were two students per terminal and two
sources of help when in trouble – a very satisfactory arrangement.