Commodore 64

Of course, back then, I didn’t have the dedicated screen or a floppy drive. I used our soviet-made colour TV and a tape drive (this one was orignal Commodore one though).

Then there was the very first computer I ever owned.  My parents were obviously aware of the passion I nourished towards my cousin’s Atari,  although they probably didn’t understand much of it, or at least treated it like it was one of the toys that demanded much time. But progressive and caring as they were, and presumably after being convinced by my technically interested older brother, they bought me my own Commodore 64. We went to a nearby town, to a store that’d used to only accept dollars before 1990. The people who had dollars were either the ones with family or relatives in a western country, members of the political or other elite, speculators, or seamen returning from their voyages. All other foreign currency had to be exchanged at the border, at the official, draconian rates. The deal was, you traded good, exchangeable money in a bunch of useless zloty at pretty bad rate, while travelling into a country where shelves were empty and nothing was to be bought for the zloty anyway. All the things foreigners wanted to buy were at the dollar-stores anyway, but they had to leave the dollars at the border (and, at the end, in the Polish state treasury)! This was, as far I’m convinced the usual praxis in all the Soviet satelite states. Of course, not everyone left all their dollars at the border, but you had to exchange at least a certain amount of money into polish zloty, and that kept the treasury provisioned in hard currency, which was the most important thing, at least for those keeping their hands in the treasury.

An advertisement for Pewex – Internal Export Company, regardless how oddly it sounds

We weren’t in any way a part of this privileged group  (except some distant relatives in West Germany, but they never sent us anything, let go money), so the goods exhibited at this kind of store – chocolate, jeans, chewing gum, Cola, parfume, alcohols – the “real deal” from the West, not the bad Soviet or Chinese copies rarely available in “normal” stores – were way out of reach for us. I remember as a kid we sometimes would walk into this store just to smell the exclusive scents of things produced in the wealthy countries for the wealthy people. We knew we couldn’t buy anything there, and we didn’t even know if we’d ever be able to… After the revolution of 1989 the state monopoly of currency trade was abolished, so the means of subsitance of this kind of bussiness disappeared. But the stores lived for quite a while after that, by the sheer strenght of momentum, or maybe someone was still making big money on milking the cow that was on it’s way to the slaughterhouse… Small currency exchange kiosks popped up from the ground on every corner in pace with the Red Army’s retreat from Poland, and since everyone now could exchange their zloty into dollar or deutche Mark or whatever hard currency they wanted in one of those, there was really no point holding on to the dollar trade, so those stores started to sell for usual Polish zloty. Now you colud just walk in and buy a piece of exclusive, electronic equipment, or anything else for that matter, if you just had the cash. That was a big thing back then. Before, this kind of luxury was restricted to the political elite and their associates, “we the people” could only dream about it… For us, relatively poor people from Polish countryside, who never really experienced the full extent of the dreaded oppresion of the communist regime (aside of the usual, periodical problems with lacking supplies of meat, sugar and vodka), this was probably the most visible sign of the new times – you could really just walk into a shop and buy yourself some of the luxury, that earlier only had been obtainable for the richer and mightier than us. The western freedom had come to us.

So it was, a Commodore 64, back in 1990, or maybe 1991. I loved it, and I can still remember the long hours I spent playing games and typing Basic commands into C64. It had less ROM memory than the Atari 65XE, and the built-in Basic interpreter was much poorer, so the  fun-programming possibilities were fewer. Especially graphical commands were gone, that was a pity, because that was what I liked best… Annoyed by that I went on learning boring things, like arrays and hash tables i Basic, because that’s what C64’s Basic was good for… But then, after a while i discovered LOGO, a cool laguange designed for teaching kids programming skills through visual programming. And it had a little robot called “turtle” drawing lines on the screen, how awsome is that! The language’s semantics was based on natural languge, thus contributing to my further education in English language. It contributed to the fact that I as an 7th-grader (13-year-old) was able to understand, read and write quite much English, without ever having had an English class… That, and, of couse, all the video movies i saw om my uncle’s VHS player. That VHS player was the reason of my acquaintance with the third of the languages I knew about, English. Polish TV had then, and still has, an annoying habit of dubbing all foreign movies, so you actually could not hear actors speaking, only one, passionless and at all times inexpressive voice of the lector. I know many countries do that, in Germany or Italy they dub all the movies, but at least they do that properly, with actors voice-acting while recording their version of the dialogues. And differnt voice for each character. Polish TV solved this by turning down the volume of the original movie soundtrack and letting the lector read all the dialogues in a monotonous, dull way. As if the music and the sound effects were not an essential part of the movie, and the actors didn’t act with their voices as well as heir bodies and faces… I didn’t think about all that at that time, because this was all I knew, so it was natural. First after moving to a coutry where they translate the dialogues in the captions instead of dubbing them I realised how much I’d been missing. So I saw quite many movies again as if I was watching them for the first time…

Back to the VHS-player. The habit of dubbnig movies was also taken over by the companies distributing (mostly) illegal copies of western movies on videotapes. But the dubbing on them was in many cases home-made, with evidently poor quality control. Many of them didn’t turn down the volume of the original soundrack enough, making it harder to hear the Polish lector. But it made also hearing the original, English dialogues a whole lot easier! And so I learned quite many English words and phrases thanks to badly dubbed video blockbusters watched on my uncles VHS-player. I’m sure I’d saw every movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylverster Stallone to date, long before our part of the world heard of movie age rating…

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