From memory, my first pocket calculator was given to me by Dad around 1977. Like the first mobile phones, it was a clunky bit of hardware. But it seemed magical. Not only could multiplication and division be done rapidly, there was no need for that dog eared log book to calculate cosines or my completely incomprehensible slide rule.
I hated maths. Always preferred arty subjects. But if I had to do maths – which I did to ‘O’ (ordinary) level – then I was going to use my calculator. Or so I thought. Because in the 70s, calculators were viewed as a form of cheating. So in spite of the march of technology, you still had to master the bloody slide rule.
Why? I mean, when I went to the local greengrocers, did the shopkeeper sit there with an abacus to work out my bill? No, there was a till. For the life of me, I couldn’t work out why I was denied the opportunity to take my Texas Instruments calculator into the exam room.
Unbelievably, this debate has rumbled on into the 21st century! There are still stringent conditions about the use of calculators in GCSEs with some papers prohibiting their use. Obviously using a calculator in your smartphone is not allowed as somebody might be texting you the exam answers from outside.
All that aside, calculators were so amazing in the late 70s and early 80s, that the German band Kraftwerk even wrote a song composed on them. I saw this gig at the Lyceum in London in 1981.
Klaus Nomi had grown up in post-war Berlin lapping up the art scene, the gay scene and the thrill of being in a city divided between western and Soviet control. I had friends who used to go over to Berlin imagining they were Bowie recording ‘Low’ or the long lost members of Kraftwerk.
There was a lot of that Weimar thing going on. Think Cabaret meets Bertolt Brecht with a whole load of camp thrown in and you’ll be close. I suppose we felt like Britian had been taken over by a dictator – a female one and no little moustache in her case – so the whole Weimar underground feeling had its attractions.
Nomi did some rather interesting if slightly tongue in cheek electro numbers. I really like this one. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it out of the 80s succumbing to full blown AIDS in 1983.
The Royal Wedding was about to happen and the riots in Toxteth – when me and my school mates went to see Kraftwerk play at the Lyceum in London. I seriously think that barring Iggy Pop a year later, at his drug addled most bizarre, this was one of the best gigs I ever went to. Enjoy.