How is that possible? How could this three-and-a-half decades old system still be alive? Even at the time, the Spectrum wasn't the most powerful machine. The first iteration was a weird little thing with scarcely enough power, a keyboard made of dolphin flesh, and a tendency to scream at you whenever it loaded software.
Alright, every Commodore 64 game was created in Brownaround, but let's settle it once and for all: of course it was the more powerful machine. Likewise the BBC. Doesn't mean they were the best. Much as it pains me to say it, the Spectrum should never have been the phenomenon it was - and yet... somehow it booted the competition into a latrine.
Sir Clive Sinclair might've been a very clever man with a taste for ladyblondes, but the success of the Spectrum was down to two things: timing, and the imagination of the burgeoning British games industry.
I can think of no better tribute to my most beloved games machine than to list my ten favourite Spectrum games. Please note: this is not a definitive list.
Pyjamarama had something which - I've come to realise - is behind my love for many of my favourite Spectrum games; a certain quirky British sense of humour. It certainly explains why the Spectrum never really took off overseas; its games were made here, and reflected that. The follow-up to Pyjamarama, Everyone's A Wally, was even more parochial, with its depiction of British high streets - complete with red phone boxes, and post offices.
Back then, no concessions were made to maximising international sales like they are now. That Britishness is something that has been lost in the globalisation of gaming.
Oh, how I weep for my country...
Frankly, I never really knew what I was meant to be doing in Valhalla. I just liked the fact you could instruct your character to throw any object at any other character.
"Throw helmet at Thor..."
Also: if you typed in a swear word, you'd receive the message "Mary is not amused", and be punched in the testicles by a dwarf (Mary, presumably). That alone made up for the obtuseness of the "plot".
Also: we all had a version of Skool Daze's Mr Withit didn't we? Ours was called Mr Langrish, and he used to perch on the corner of the girls' desks waiting for them to arrive for his graphical communications lessons. Of course, we all assumed he was a lech, so imagine our surprise when we later found out that he was gay.
Apropos nothing, he once told me I'd need "special attention", because I'd designed a carton for something called "Cheese Drink".
I saw him last year, singing in a carol concert, along with my old woodwork and PE teachers. That was a bit weird.
As impressive as Knight Lore and Alien 8 were, I always found them too difficult and slow. Underwurlde is also similarly impossible to complete, but the means by which you explored its caverns was a joy in itself - bouncing around like a pinball, and lowering yourself on a rope, just like real cavejohnsons (potholers) do.
So many of my favourite Spectrum games were about exploring big spaces, otherwise devoid of human life. Underwurlde was that writ large.
It was designed by Jez San, who I later interviewed for Digitiser. I rarely got starstruck meeting developers, but I believe I was slightly excited at the thought of meeting "Jez".
I recall thanking him for the game which had given so many hours of pleasure. He didn't seem particularly interested by my gratitude, and remained focused on showing us a magic pen that he'd bought in Japan.
I never finished it... it was yet another unforgiving Spectrum game... but those times when I'd get further into Willy's mansion than I had before were a thrill - like descending into madness.
There was something incredibly seductive and mysterious about the names of the various rooms; The Forgotten Abbey, Entrance to Hades, At The Foot Of The Mega Tree... They evoked something beyond the boundaries of the game.
In some respects, it's the first survival horror game; isometric view, limited ammo, a creepy, abandoned location... and horrible mutant monsters. Sandy White's follow-up, Zombie Zombie, basically did the same thing all over again, but with the undead. Wasn't as good.
Urban Upstart felt real to me, the object being to escape from a grim British town. It had no truck with fantasy settings - one of the reasons The Hobbit never really gelled with me - and the bleakness of its humour once again seemed to reflect the country I grew up in.
I'd love to know whether it would've been anywhere near as evocative for an American kid, who'd been born under palm trees and blue skies with a hotdog in their gob.
Also, whatever happened to "Programmer Keith"?
It reminded me of the time some posh people shouted at me because I was riding my bike and shrieking near their house, and their baby was trying to get to sleep, even though it was only, like half four in the afternoon.
"Do you live round here?"
"Then go away."
I had the last laugh though; I went back later and set fire to their house!!!