Joyce – the Amstrad PCW 8256

Was just chatting to a friend about ‘the old days’ of computing. The wife and I got our first machine back in 1984.. an Acorn Electron… basically a cut down version of the BBC ‘B’ sold in attempt to cash in on the market created by the Beeb’s success. Didn’t work of course. They missed the Xmas rush in 1983 and by Xmas 1985 it was out of date as technology lifted its skirts and began it’s forward gallop.

Still it was a start. All I ever did on it was try to write a basic program to play ’10 Green Apples’ 🙂 but than as now it was the wife who was the genius. She’d been doing computing in school fighting off the boys for some time to learn and practice on the school’s machine.

My first *real* useful computer was the Amstrad 256… affectionately known as ‘Joyce’ by those who loved it 🙂 This machine was awesome for its day. Tho based on CP/M and sporting a weird 3″ drive this came complete with a monochrome monitor and a noisy little printer.

Amstrad 8256 - Joyce

However, the best thing it came with was its word processing software Locoscript. Without doubt, at that time this was *the* best programme of its sort available to the masses… like me. It was truly incredible. Looking back, what was even more astounding was that not only was the software on the disk… so was the *boot up* software. The 256 had no OS of its own on board!!!

The college itself, P.C.L. (The Polytechnic of Central London) ran mini-computers (VAX if I recall correctly) but compared to the Amstrad they were already lumbering dinosaurs. Yes they had the power… but they were hell to program and trying to get any regular access to run something useful was a waste of time. As for word processing… forget it. You were better off with a pen and paper 🙂

Quite seriously I feel that had I *not* spent an entire terms grant buying one I’d not have passed that first degree. The software enabled me to brainstorm effectively and then assemble my chaotic rambles into a sensible coherent order. I once said to Nicky Towell (one of the lecturers) that I doubt she’d have given me anywhere near as high marks was it not for the word processor… which of course she denied. Then I asked which would attract higher marks. A badly written piece work with corrections, spelling mistakes and jumbled concepts or a legible coherent logical progression of well presented concepts reaching a sensible conclusion. Naturally she had to concede the latter… though I did notice my marks went down slightly after that 🙂

I loved that little machine. I even upgraded it to become a ‘Fat Amstrad’ by adding a second floppy drive and an extra 256k of RAM… I was *so* scared when I did that… looking back I really had very little clue about what I was doing or what a great leap I’d made by buying the original machine *and* the extra RAM! I even added an RS232 interface so I could access the nascent Internet… will little success I might add. All that came a little later.

The only other word processor we’d heard of back then was WordPerfect so The Phantom and I went to another branch of the college to try it out… neither of us had any idea whatsoever about how to use it. The result was utter failure… dreadful to use. Strangely, a year or two later I found myself using WordPerfect to the exclusion of all else… including the much loved WordStar… loved by others anyway, I hated it. In the end I used WordPerfect until the release of AmiPro which was also one of *the* landmark word-processing programs.

Getting back a stage or two… I became quite expert in the markup language used by Wordperfect so from there I found it a relatively simple step to move on to HTML which after all is just itself ‘just’ a markup language.

Anyway time moved on and so did I. Much as I loved little Joyce I outgrew her and needed something a little better. After some nagging I persuaded the wife to let me buy an Amstrad 1512 which came with a 20Mb Hard Drive. Wow… how would I ever fill that! I thought it would last me forever. 🙂

Joyce was relegated to a cupboard in the bedroom, and thence to my old bedroom at my fathers house. Eventually I told my sister she could have it… where she is now I don’t know. Occasionally I wonder if she’s found herself a way back to my fathers because he says he still has an old computer sitting around somewhere… if so I’d love to get it over here… if only for old times sake 🙂


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