Computers: Building Big Sur on the back allotment: Andrew Marr puts go-faster stickers on his new Apple Performa 'pizza-box' and is reborn as a bronzed, brilliant Silicon Valley software engineer

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The Independent Online
I am not a technical sort of person. In our house, if there is a screw loose or a plug to be wired, if there is any sort of job to be done requiring sinews, or practical commonsense . . . then my mother-in- law arrives with her toolkit. I have a drill, but it is a bit intimidating, so I have hidden it under the bed. The electric toaster I am starting to get the hang of, but then several years have passed since we acquired it. So, a computer . . .

I had an Amstrad, years back, but we never hit it off. Now I am about to write another book, so decided I needed a machine to help me. Unlike most readers of this page, I was able to sidle up to its editor and ask what I should do. He took one look at my expression and said: 'Buy an Apple Performa 475. It comes with Clarisworks.' I solemnly wrote that down, nodding as if I too spoke Assyrian.

He also told me to buy one of Apple's Personal Laserwriter printers and a modem. I noticed Mr Editor seemed to be listening to a Grateful Dead album through his computer, so I asked whether I could do that. Yes, he said, if you buy a CD-rom drive. So I bought one of those, an Apple 300, too.

After a few days, when all this stuff arrived, our smallish study was filled with intimidating boxes. I wondered, briefly, about sending them all back and buying a biro instead, but then, courageously, opened the boxes. (This is quite easy. You use a knife to cut the sticky tape on the outside. But be careful not to hurt yourself.) There were books inside and all sorts of stuff. Should I phone the mother-in-law? No, Marr. Be neither nerd nor wimp. On, on.

Well, next I discovered something quite amazing. The Apple Macintosh guides are actually easy to understand. I had read about Apple being 'the computer for the rest of us', but had not believed it. I knew I did not have enough spots on my nose for this game. Yet, mirabile dictu, within about an hour, I had everything connected up, winking and burbling away.

I took out the Apple stickers which came with the machine and plastered them everywhere to make the plastic look less intimidating. There was only one hitch, which was that the printer did not come with a cable to connect it to the computer - or pizza-box as I now think of it. This seemed pretty stupid, and I wasted quite a lot of time tramping about buying one. Still, that aside, it was remarkably easy. Not a screwdriver in sight.

I also then discovered that it was quicker to learn about the machine by using it, than by reading the book. The Clarisworks software which comes with it was as straightforward as the Performa itself and everything worked about a million times faster than my old steam- driven Amstrad. After I had done the boring business of copying the hard disk on to 'floppy' disks - they seemed pretty hard to me - I was writing and editing copy. By my second evening, though I had only scraped the surface of what the Mac could do and was becoming ever more aware of how little I knew, I was in love.

It took a little longer to get the CD- rom drive into my life, partly because I had forgotten to switch on the headphones and thus heard nothing for an hour. (I warned you I was technically thick.) Hovering back at the computer editor's desk, I asked him about this exciting new world of dictionaries, games and books on CD-rom. He looked at me sternly. He had understood I wanted the machine to write a book. Yes, but, still . . . The editor sighed and passed me over a couple of gaudy-looking CDs. He emitted what I can only describe as a faintly sinister whuffle. 'I slightly feel like I'm handing out bags of white powder to an infant.'

Too right. Most CD-rom disks strike me as ludicrously expensive. Browsing in a shop on London's Tottenham Court Road I saw plenty of appealing ones - a complete guide to the paintings in London's National Gallery, an Oxford English Dictionary, a rather good one about dinosaurs - for the children, you understand. But they were so highly priced that, having splurged on the machinery, I could not possibly impulse-buy. I think these prices will have to fall, and sharpish, if the CD-rom revolution I keep reading about is not going to be put down by the White Guards of the printed page. Still, the promotional ones I did try, plus a cheap one from San Diego zoo, were impressive.

The most important thing about buying a Mac, however, is that you become a different person entirely. The multi-coloured logo is not only cheerful but immensely reassuring. It says: you are not the jug-eared family man you thought you were. You are a young and brilliant Californian. You are the wave of the future. That ain't an allotment with a pine- tree out of the window, that, my boy, is Big Sur.

I have already humiliated myself so much I might as well admit that I put a Fleetwood Mac album on the CD-rom. Alert readers will have spotted that I have also spent rather a lot of money. But think of all the dosh I am going to make if I write that book.

No, no, when. Just as soon as I finish learning about all the monkeys they have got at San Diego.

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