Monday, 6 June 2011

Of Daisywheels, Anchovy and Claptrap..

Ah those heady days!  OK, if you were born after 1990 you won’t know what on earth I’m on about but if you were born a little (well, let’s face it, quite a while) before then and you were writing anything more than the odd shopping list, you probably remember the revolutionary Amstrad 9512.

Yes, in the days when Lord Sugar was merely Mr Alan, this incredible, labour saving PCW (that’s Wordprocessor to you and I), launched onto the market to a hail of instantly discarded manual portables and Imperial office typewriters.

It came with a floppy disk drive (well, it didn’t have a hard disk so until you loaded that when you switched on, all you would get is a blank screen) and it had its own printer. This printer took daisywheels and you could buy different ones. So, if you were tired of looking at boring old Courier, you could buy a more interesting looking font – even an attractive joined-up writing one!
And oh the bliss of relegating the box of carbon paper to the back of the shelf ‘just in case’ and the rapidly hardening Tipp Ex to the waste bin.

The printer made a wonderful duh duh duh duh, duh duh duh, duh sound, except when it was drawing a header or footer line whereupon a noise like a rapid machine gun would set the house shaking. Only seven hours and twelve expensive ribbon cartridges later, your six hundred page manuscript was ready. Imagine that! And, if your by now throbbing head (and rapidly dwindling finances) could stand it, you could print off another copy! Wow, the days of saving your precious original in the freezer (it's the last thing to go if your house burns down) were over.

Then, of course, there was the magical spellchecker. Here was a complete novelty. Every time the Amstrad failed to recognise a word you had typed, it would highlight it and give you an alternative – or sometimes, if you were really lucky, more than one. The problem was that its dictionary was quaint to say the least. It was wonderful with medical terms (were doctors part of their market research focus group?) but when it came to common names, it hadn’t a clue. For ‘Anthony’, it offered ‘Anchovy’ and if you didn’t refuse, it would insert it anyway. Try and type ‘Cleopatra’ and it was sure you meant ‘Claptrap’ and, when you weren't looking, would sneak up and insert it. Every single time.

Yes, folks, presenting that well known tragedy by William Shakespeare: ‘Anchovy and Claptrap’.

Still, despite its shortcomings, I loved my Amstrad, we wrote six books together and numerous articles, a play and some short stories, until one sad day, I switched it on and nothing good happened. It had finally given up and surrendered to the inexorable march of time and the fully functioning full colour, versatile PC. I now have a quiet, unobtrusive laser printer but, you know, now and again I still hanker for the deafening racket of a fast-moving daisywheel…
The Amstrad PCW9512
The noisy, but nice, printer


  1. I remember those, Catherine. I even remember when electric typewriters took over from the old manuals - my mother hammered away on the keyboard of her Imperial, I think it was, and she broke it :). Even today she refuses to use a computer and still has her very odd "Brother" (which she can't get the hang of and still thumps away at it).

  2. I used to have a Brother electronic once. It was a kind of transition for me in between an Empire Smith Corona and my beloved Anstrad. I used to love trying to beat it - typing in the letters faster than it could print them and then waiting for it to catch up. Oh, what larks!

    (I didn't get out much in those days)