Fear and Loathing

John Minson


Nobody said it was going to be easy, but did it have be as bad as this? The first victim of ligging is sobriety, and Minson joins the other grunts in a fight for survival as publications explode about his ears.

This has been a tough month. It’s not that there’s been a shortage of launches — far from it. But mighty forces are shifting, the walls are closing in and the sticky brown rain is coming.

But let’s start our weirdness at the American Embassy. I’ve only visited this imposing bunkhouse once before, and that was to obtain a visa. That time the marines all but strip-searched me before letting me into the building.

This time I wasn’t taking any chances. The night before I lawn-mowered my hair, giving myself the sort of cut that only a GI could love. Then I donned mirror shades, a Hawaiian shirt, and a ‘Vote For Nixon’ badge to show that I wasn’t one of those commie pinkos who’d kick a president just because he was a bigger bugger than most.

As I approached the building I felt a strong desire to start chanting ‘Hell no, we won’t go’, and burn my draft card — sorry invite — but Microprose had made it quite clear that there was no admission without that square of card, so I bit on the bullet.

Having run the gauntlet of metal detectors and sworn that I have never been a communist or related to Gadaffi, I was allowed into the reception. And who was the first person I saw? If it wasn’t my old (and I use the word advisedly) nemesis, Kremlin, a well known Commie(dore 64 user).

Didn’ t this make a mockery of all that stringent security? Not at all. From the number of journalists nobody had ever seen before, all of whom had matching crew cuts and wore matching, light-weight grey suits (with equally matching bulges under their left armpits), I guessed that they’d got everything under control.

Yes, it seems that even the CIA loves Microprose programs, unlike the German government. That noble institution has put restrictions on titles such as the submarine simulation Silent Service, in case the militaristic aspects corrupt their youth. I can just see a teenage gang cruising down the Bonn high street in a submarine, torpedoing old women and children.

Of course Microprose isn’t warmongering. But Microprose is Major ‘Wild 8411’ Stealey, Fighter Pilot Supreme and Chief Advisor, Joint Chiefs of Staff, as his ‘Wild Bill card’ proudly proclaims. And what do you expect of a pedigree like that — a lesson in lying down and letting the commies march all over us? No siree! You can almost hear the sneer when the Microprose promo video turns from the joys of trashing the towel heads in F-15 Strike Eagle to the likes of Solo Flight, a pacifist prop plane for mummy’s boys who like to play with themselves. By the time we’d reached Conflict in Vietnam I was so keyed up that I was ready to enrol and nook those gooks.

But an army marches on its stomach, and I can highly recommend the American Embassy any time you’re feeling peckish. Burgers, hot dogs, ribs, and great pecan pie, plus Bud to guzzle of course. Beats MacDonalds any day.

After my visit to the helm of the aircraft carrier USS Great Britain, the Rock Garden was something of a step down. Actually there’s a lot of steps down into that cellar, better known for sweaty crowds on Saturday Nights. But on a Friday lunchtime, the only starlight to be found was the software label... and the sparkle in the eyes of the unbelievably wonderful Amanda Barry.

Security was, if anything, even tighter than at the American Embassy. I’m used to bouncers when I go to gigs, but heavies at a press launch is a different story altogether. Combined with the opressive atmosphere of an impending storm outside and the prospect of Rock Garden cuisine, I did what any self respecting journalist would do... I freaked!

Staying sane just long enough to log Starfire nouveau shoot wem up Red LED, which involves fast blasting to win spaces on a battle grid spread over a multi-level landscape, I did a quick survey of the throng. Almost immediately my eyes alighted on the eligible Michael Baxter and his divine partner in PR, Sarah Donovan.

‘Save me’, I screamed. ‘Don’t you know that they’re closing in? We need to take your car, load up with an expensive sound system and enough recreational aids to keep us unhinged, then drive out to the Fens at 125 mph, with the hood down and me standing naked shouting at the elements!’

Would you believe that Baxter just giggled? I wouldn’t take no for an answer though. Pausing only to pick up my super Starlight goodie bag, I slipped outside. But Baxtie and Donovan were slippier than I was and had given me the slip. Never mind, I did learn several very interesting facts about the eligible one, and you’ll be reading more about them next month unless a meal is forthcoming in the interim (that’s what you said about Maria Whittaker — Ed).

By now the fear was upon me and it was only the calming presence of Clare Edgeley that kept me together enough to drop in on Rainbird’s do at The Cheshire Cheese, off Fleet Street.

Apart from the fact that 128 owners can now enjoy the king of adventures, The Pawn, there was nothing imminent for Spectrum users. This was a birthday party for its sequel, Guild of Thieves, which is first appearing on all those yuppie machines like the Amiga and ST. Everything comes to those that wait though, particularly with the +3 on the horizon.

Everything comes to Minson too. As I stumbled out of this thieves den, Clare pressed a bag labelled ‘Swag’ into my sticky hands. Seems that she’d just done over a wine merchants and wanted me to help dispose of the evidence — a very pleasant white, Cheers!

But making a beast of myself hasn’t been enough to keep away the harshness of reality. It’s time to get serious. This month has seen the departure of three magazines. Two were computer titles, ZX Computing and Computer Gamer. It’s always sad — and somewhat worrying — when the market starts to shrink. There were some damn good people on those mags too, more faces who’ve gone missing in action.

The other tragedy lies closer to home. As you’ll have read elsewhere in this issue, LM is a victim of the accountants and other financial problems that make a publishers life so hard. Speaking as both a contributor and a reader, I’m sorry to see it go. It had a fine, dedicated team working to produce an intelligent, perceptive and often controversial publication. And perhaps that was the problem. Maybe it was just too hard hitting. Maybe it was ahead of its time. Whatever the reason, it will be missed.