Not one to just sit on his hands and watch the world go by, our own Ron Blicq is currently editing a new book of his short stories: Short Stories and Tall Tales. It follows a 400-page memoir titled Oh, No, Not Now! which he published last year (available at McNally Robinson booksellers in Winnipeg, and at Tergesens in Gimli). My First Computer was almost one of those short stories. Ron cut it from the book at the last minute, but has offered it up for us to enjoy here—an HG exclusive!
When did you first put your hands on a computer? In the 2000’s? 1990’s? 1980’s? 1970’s?
When did you most recently use your computer? Today? Yesterday? Earlier this week? Last week?
Well, in my case, the dates are unusual. The first time I put my hands on a computer was in 1943, and that was in Ancienne Lorette, Quebec, now Quebec City airport. And the last time I used that particular computer was in April 1957, flying over Worcestershire in England. During those years I was flying as a navigator with the Canadian, British and Australia Air Forces.
For 14 years my computer helped me navigate my way to, and within, many parts of the world. It became a much-trusted friend, assisting me to find my way across major seas and often poorly charted lands, frequently at night and at a time when few navigation aids such as those we know today were in place. Or even thought of.
The computer was tricky to use, yet it helped me find my way south above the eastern Atlantic Ocean to Gibraltar, east through the length of the gleaming Mediterranean Sea and over the wind-swept North African desert to the Suez Canal and on to Baghdad. Then it would accompany me south from Karachi to Sri Lanka (which when it took me there was known as Ceylon), then east across the seemingly endless expanse of the Indian Ocean, circumventing towering cumulonimbus clouds which, although glorious to look at, had the potential to tear our bomber apart,until we reached the desolate west-coast forests of Indonesia and turned southeast toward Singapore and Australia, where it helped me find my way back and forth many times across that immense land.
And all this happened before jet engines, when we would labor our way slowly across each expanse of water or land, propelled—thank goodness—by noisy but reliable Rolls Royce Merlin engines.
My computer was known as the I.C.A.N.* Mk III Navigational Computor (yes, it was spelled with two O’s), although it bears no resemblance to computers and laptops we are accustomed to using today, for it was manually operated. Designed in the mid-1930s by Philip Dalton in the US, it was adopted by Great Britain in 1939 for use by the Royal Air Force and all Commonwealth Air Forces. I still have it, and it still works, although my fingers today are not as nimble in manipulating it as they were in my youth!
* I.C.A.N. = International Convention on Aerial Navigation
Ron’s is the second HG-member article—thank you Ron—in a new “Celebration of (Retired) Life“ series. We welcome any uplifting, funny, inspiring, or otherwise simply interesting story, profile, or bit of whimsy. To share with our other retirees, simply email your 500- to 1,000-word piece to HG-Editor@RRC.CA.