John Minson

In Search of a Story

JOHN MINSON, our man with an overdraft goes on a Scandinavian sortie, braving seasickness on an empty stomach...

I think that we should make one or two things clear right now. This has been a very hard month indeed. There have been virtually no launches — at least none to which I was invited — and that meant no free lunches. Which means the London Desk has gone hungry this month and there’s not that much scandal or hard news.

The copy date for these words passed ages ago, so let’s talk about lateness which seems to have become an industry trend, and nowhere more so than in Manchester. Of course that should come as no surprise as the software business now seems to consist almost solely of members of the Mancunian Mafia. (What about us, then pal?The Godmother, Ludlow Mafia).

At last, this month I had a copy of the long awaited Superbowl in my hands. Only it didn’t play properly. Phone calls north illuminated the situation. Yes, it was bugged. No, Ocean were not putting it out in this form and would I refrain from reviewing it, please. Congratulations for not dumping the product on the public — the temptation must be there — but really, it’s now so long since this year’s feeble final and all the Channel 4 hoo ha, wouldn’t it be better to drop all reference to Super Bowl XX when the game finally appears?


Seeking relaxation and sorely in need of a lunch, I made a date to meet eligible Solution Public Relations Supremo Michael Baxter in a pub. What an excellent PR person Michael is. He’s a genuinely friendly guy, so that when he slips you the old Mickey Finn — the information about the new product — you don’t feel too desperately bad about it. But no new project news this time. Instead a good old drinking session followed by a Chinese meal. And then the moment of inspiration! The Rocky Horror Picture Show! Late showing at the Cannon Cinema, Praed Street.

Anybody who has just played the computer game (from CRL) cannot know the sheer joy of shouting insults at the screen during a showing of this deep and moving masterpiece of cinematic art. A seasoned Rocky Horror cultist, I joined in with the best of them. Poor Baxter, though. I don’t think the PR world had prepared him for the experience of a crazed computer journalist going gonzo in the seat to his right at one o’clock in the morning. I’ve not seen him since, but Michael, if you’re reading this, let me warn you — it’s catching. Who knows, you might one day feel the urge to dance The Timewarp in the aisle of some sleaze pit in the early hours of the morning.


Days later, and with no little trouble I managed to blag my way into Ariolasoft’s exclusive office warming party. This was all thanks to the lovely Amanda Barry, who I’m glad to say had escaped from the tree to which the two cowboys had tied her. And if that means nothing to you, then you don’t read CRASH carefully enough. Mandy — for it was she — subjected herself to this humiliating spectacle merely so that the hacks of the micro market could drool over the resulting publicity photo.

Nobody got tied to anything at this gig. And Covent Garden’s Long Acre is definitely a step up from the romantically named Asphalt House that used to be Ariolasoft’s home. In fact, the new offices seemed to be very spacious indeed, though I soon realised that was mainly because they’d sensibly not moved the furniture in. After all, who’d really want to start work at a new desk over which some inebriated journalist had liberated his lunch?

It wasn’t just journos, either. A small, but select party from other software houses had been invited. I don’t imagine that they, too, will rush out and hire themselves luxury office space though. The good Doctor, Tim Langdell of Softek and The Edge is already Covent Garden based and Mikro-Gen have just brought their whole operation together under one roof in sunny Bracknell at the heart of Britain’s Silicon Valley.

It wasn’t me who managed to get the most paralytic, for a change. A representative of a rival organ was last seen making for the safety and stability of his office floor to escape the sensation that the world was rocking on its axis. En route he attacked a car, almost starting a fight with its owner who understandably didn’t take kindly to having his doors kicked as he rounded an island! Ahh — such are the evils of drink, but do not worry, anonymous inebriate (LMLWD x2), your reputation is safe with me. For the time being!


After this triumph, I decided to go for the double with an invite for the Golden Jockstrap — er Joystick — awards. But alas, it was not to be. The excuse that they were holding the ceremonies on a boat chugging up and down the Thames was used to bar me from the proceedings. Never mind, though. It seems the great and wonderful Rod Cousens of Electric Dreams had to hire a launch so he could chase after the floating party and plead for a boarding pass! So what if we had gone down — with all those software chiefs on board, it might have been a great service to the population at large!

What to do? The wanderlust was upon me. Only one thing for it: fall back upon the old expense account. The London Desk was about to go International — or Swedish at least. It may surprise many of you out there, that despite an alleged drink problem (actually, no problem till the fifteenth Bloody M when I tend to pour it down my shirt front rather than into my mouth), somebody has seen fit to love me. And It just so happens that this Light of My Life lives out in the land of Hurdi-Gurdi and smoked herrings.

So onto the phone. “Graeme, I feel the need to conduct an in depth investigation of the Swedish software scene.”

“Have you been drinking again?”

“No — seriously — it’s a fascinating topic.”

“We won’t pick up the tab.” (Always a good joker, old Graeme.)

“Sorry, can’t stop to discuss it — got a plane to catch.”


I actually did find a software shop in Stockholm. It was full of Commodores. As far as I can gather, Sinclair’s finest doesn’t seem to have made mighty in-roads to Scandinavia. A profusion of business machines and serious software made me wonder if the Swedish reputation for being boring wasn’t without some foundation. What was really missing was the expert opinion of Bo Jangeborg, the demon programmer of Fairlight, The Artist and author of Fairlight II, The Artist II, The Writer and all that other good stuff that the Good Doctor of Softek/The Edge keeps promising us ... but we’re back to lateness and I decided not to phone Bo in case it delayed him further!

Instead, I picked up the first issue of a Swedish computer mag, going by the grabby name of Hemdator Hacking. Despite the impenetrable nature of the native tongue, it was interesting to see how universal a language home computing is. There they were — familiar products like the excellent Saga Keyboards and the AMX Mouse. And there were all the same game titles... well, with one or two exceptions. There at Number 42 in the chart was Aacksoft’s game Oh S··t! I guess it’s a s**t em up, (my asterisks in deference to all those readers we upset so badly 20 months ago — shocked Ed) but as it is produced for the decadent tastes of MSX-owners, who can tell?

If I get out of here in time, I’ll be back to cover the forthcoming Hewson launch — always a favourite. But if not, tell mother I died inebriated!

Hunter S Minson