The sense of nostalgia for things one has never experienced has always amused me. A foggy gas-lit London… ah, I remember it well, even though I’m too young (not something I can say often) to have seen it.
The perceptive among you will have gathered from the photograph that my lead item here is an accurate recreation of an early 1980s Sinclair ZX Spectrum – one of the first popular UK home computers and a machine of huge nostalgic power for millions. I fondly remember those evenings in my bedroom hunched over my little Sinclair and a 14in TV playing ping-pong.
Except I don’t. In 1981 I asked Sinclair for a review sample of the ZX’s predecessor, the ZX81, and I’m still waiting. Thus rebuffed, I was not about to spend a week’s wages on its products, so I missed out on the whole Sinclair computer thing, even though I’d been a fan going back to Sir Clive’s 1964 Micro-6 matchbox-sized radio. (I’m also too old to have been acquainted with its competitors – the BBC Micro, Acorn and Atari this and that – at school.)
So although I have compared this new ZX Spectrum side by side with the original and am able to say that it looks and feels identical, I’m not wonderfully qualified to review it. But it has been satisfactorily demonstrated to me that the 2015 ZX is a faithful recreation, complete with that rubbery keyboard but with modern, reliable, British‑engineered electronics (made properly in China rather than in a slightly hit-and-miss manner in Dundee, as was famously the case with the original).
It is, in truth, a different beast under the skin. Steve Wilcox, the former Midlands computer games-shop owner who spent years getting the IP rights and updating the ZX, had the brilliant idea of making it a Bluetooth controller that combines with the computing power of a tablet, PC or Mac (or even a television with Apple TV, Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV) to do everything a ZX did, but a bit better. Games, programming apps and all the other stuff I don’t understand are available to download (anyone for Chuckie Egg?). And you can also use the new ZX as the coolest-ever Bluetooth keyboard for your office computer. Eccentric and very British, yes, but rather wonderful at that.