York’s Computer Museum

When people say “best kept secret” they usually mean “tourist hotspot,” but the computer museum (called The Jim Austin Computer Collection, or the Computer Sheds) in Fimber, about 40 minutes out of York, is York’s best kept secret, and it’s anything but busy. In fact, we should keep it between you and I. I would be pretty sad if it suddenly became a major tourist attraction because as it is, it’s pretty much the best collection of artefacts that I’ve ever seen (and all the guys who keep it running were only too happy to talk computers with our group of 5 people who ventured out of York). I’d wanted to see this collection since 2008, when I first heard about it, but this was my first opportunity to do so, and I’m glad I did (and that I went with a bunch of people who knew more stuff about old computers than I do – and I’m pretty enthusiastic about them).

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

One of the best things about this place is that it hasn’t had “museum heritage management” done to it yet; it’s still got that sense of discovery, you’re not just seeing what some overpaid museum education officer wants you to see, you get to see everything. And touch some of it (if you’re careful and sensible). There’s other electronic equipment besides computers – televisions, cameras and radio equipment are also represented in the collection.

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds
A 1917-1920 wireless (radio) receiver device.

There’s no cafe, there’s no gift shop, no ticket office, and no twee middle aged women reiterating the same 5 facts every 20 minutes to new tour groups; there’s just boatloads of computers, and the people who love them (and they do actually have a boat). It’s fitting, because that’s really how the whole computer movement has progressed. There are so many stories of “Windows started out as two enthusiastic guys in a garage,”  “Apple started out as three enthusiastic guys in a garage,” and so on, that if this place got the proper museum treatment, I’d be sad.

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds retro motherboard

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds
This unassuming device is what was used to make punch cards (the input in very old computers).
Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds punch tape
And this is some punch tape (which would have been done on a different machine to the one pictured above).

The Jim Austin Computer Collection reminds me of why I fell in love with archaeology – and exactly why I have no intention of working in a museum. This stuff is real, it feels real, it’s being taken care of by people who know about it, and I recognized loads of the stuff that was there. More than that, it felt alive. There’s no arbitrary reductionism going on to cheapen the past to make it more palatable for people with short attention spans. I wish I could say the same for most museums.

But if this place did become a ticketed, gift-shopped museum, I think it’s the one museum I’d actually enjoy working at.

I have more photos, but since the majority of my readers are not computer enthusiasts, I shall save them for another time.

If you are in the area and would like to visit the Jim Austin Computer Collection, further details can be found at their website. Personally I found this to be a great day out, although I wouldn’t recommend it for (chronological) children unless they’re sensible and very well behaved. Entry is free but it would probably be polite to get in touch in advance so someone’s there to open up the place for you.

11 words British people don’t actually say.

This article is about the “British” words and phrases we don’t actually use in Britain, so if you’re planning a holiday to England, Scotland or any other part of Britain, and trying to learn some colloquialisms, scratch these from your list – the consequences of saying some of them can be a fist to the face (which, curiously, we tend not to call “fisticuffs”). This article has occasional use of the f-word etc.

This article about British words came about after an American blogger mentioned how if he ever came to the UK he’d be sure to tip a bob to the waiter. That was shortly followed up with someone (also American) commenting on a page on dialects with some sense of authority that British people said “sitting room” or “parlour” instead of “living room” or “den.” If you’re writing a British character for a book, these words will throw up a big red flag that kills suspension of disbelief for anyone British reading the book, and if you’re coming to Britain for a trip or travel, you will be mocked for using these words.

So here’s the words and phrases we just don’t say (or very, very rarely) in the UK:

1. British Accent – we rarely classify ourselves as “British” as opposed to our individual countries. For example, I’m English, my mother was Irish (which ISN’T part of the UK), my father was Jamaican (we say Afro-Caribbean not Afro-British, BTW), the man on my birth certificate was Scottish, my best friend at uni was Welsh. So we would start by saying “English accent” or “Scottish accent.” Then we’d get more specific, such as “Northern accent” for people from the north of England.

2. Bob – we call it money or cash, we use the word quid to mean pounds, or p (pronounced “pee”) to mean pence (multiple of penny). If you say “pennies” (multiple of penny) to anyone from the UK who speaks Polish, they will laugh at you because that’s how you pronounce the word “penis” in Polish.

3. Ta – Nowhere do people in the UK say “ta” for goodbye. That’s an Americanism you have imposed on us. “Ta ta” might be said by a posh elderly aunt (or a young lady with adorably misguided aspirations) from time to time, and “tara” (pronounced ter-rah with a long a at the end) is another word for goodbye, but we don’t say “ta” to greet someone’s departure. Ta is an informal way of saying “thank-you” in the North of England (as in, ‘ta very much’).

4. Cheero – Nobody’s said this since the second world war. Cheerio is sometimes used by older people, but again it’s dying out and it’s considered more old fashioned than roast beef. The last time I heard it was in the lyrics to a song in Oliver Twist, in the context “so long fare thee well, pip pip cheerio…” and we also don’t say “thee,” so it shouldn’t be considered an accurate representation of our modern language (it was made in the 1960s, after all).

5. Codswallop – Another old-fashioned term, we tend to say “bullshit” “bull” or “crap” (crap has three meanings – excrement, something that is really terrible, or something that is untrue). Our favourite, however, is “bollocks” when we want to call out something as untrue. The only time in living memory that a British person’s said codswallop was when Hagrid says it in Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone (we call it Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, BTW) – and that’s set in 1991 (if you do the math from the gravestones etc this adds up).

6. On your bike (actually, it was always “on yer bike”) – Very dated to the 1980s. We tend to say “fuck off” these days or, if we’re being polite, “sod off” or “get lost.”

7. Fitty – this isn’t a word. I’ve lived in Britain for 29 years, I’ve travelled all over, I’ve voraciously devoured literature, and nobody has ever used this word in any context. It’s made up. Some people would say someone is “fit” meaning attractive (or “she’s well fit” or “he’s dead fit”), and there’s the very outdated and generally offensive word “totty” which again no-one has used for a very long time, but we just don’t have the word “fitty.” It even sounds made up. Referring to someone as “fitty” will probably have people wondering whether you think they’re epileptic. If they buy into fear-of-rape culture, they might even use this opportunity to make a scene.

8. Rumpy Pumpy – if you suggest having some ‘rumpy pumpy’ to any woman under 45, she will tell you to fuck off. AVOID! Nobody’s used this word since 1995, and even then it was only in an ironic sense. Nobody actually uses this word to describe sex that they have had or are going to have.

9. Sweet Fanny Adams – no, we say “fuck all” to mean the same thing. Nobody’s used “Fanny Adams” to mean “Fuck All” since World War II.

10. Toodle Pip – again, the only time this gets used is by people who are being ironic. It’s a joke. People are taking the piss when they say this.

11. Cack-handed – I got this claimed as “I’m not co-ordinated” from this page but actually it’s a derogatory term meaning left handed (the hand that you wipe your arse with if you’re right handed), from the days when schools were run by a certain type of nuns (and other pro-social psychopaths) who thought that left-handedness was a sign of the devil. There are plenty of British people out there who hate on lefties due to their subconscious cultural conditioning. Use it anywhere near a left-handed person and prepare to get bitch slapped. It’s as offensive to a left-handed person as the N-word is to most human beings.

12. Fisticuffs – another one from Oliver Twist, people tend to call a fight a “scrap” a “punch up” a “brawl” or a “fight.” Then they tend to call the police. Assault is a crime in Britain, and is defined as “any unwanted physical contact” but people still do it and the police are utterly arbitrary in whether they choose to enforce it or not, like most other things here. I know someone who got a criminal record for putting their hand on someone’s shoulder, and I know someone who got away with trying to kill their child after years of abuse. It varies.

Generally when looking at British words and phrases, when faced with the choice between a bigger or smaller word, we will use the smaller one. Water will always find it’s lowest level, and it’s the same with language – think about what the minimum is that you need to say to make yourself understood instead of trying to dress it up with loads of words or phrases that might be inaccurate. Communication is about understanding, and the only real rule of communication (at least, general communication, not specialized e.g. academia) is that if most people can’t understand you, you’re doing it wrong. I stated “most people” not “all” because you can’t please everyone and some people will just never understand you.