Ben Fenton hands over the motherboard of all christmas presents
My 11-year old son Alex's crestfallen face was more than I could bear when I told
him he couldn't have a hand-held Playstation Portable for Christmas. Talking him out
of something "cool" but a waste of money made me feel like Santa's evil twin.
"Never mind Alex, why don't you have a computer instead?" I heard myself saying. On the spur of the moment, I then suggested that we might build one together.
Well it seemed a bright idea at the time: the whole process would be educational, I reasoned, encouraging him to value his new toy a bit more than a glorified games console.
The first step was to enter the words "how to build your own PC" on Google, which led me to a wonderfully informative site called www.buildyourown.org.uk. It's a discussion forum about putting together your own computer, written by enthusiasts for the sort of people who have only ever built Airfix models but would like to show off to their pre-pubescent children.
I was recommended a Yorkshire based company, www.ebuyer.com, as a reliable and well-priced supplier. After I chose what to order, forum members checked the compatibility of the components I had selected. Believe me, making sure the video card works with the motherboard and the hard drive will talk to the silicon chip is a subject that makes 3D sudoku look like noughts and crosses. As helpful as the forum experts are, they can't put it together for you when the big boxes arrive.
Here's my next tip: never try to assemble a computer with a hangover.
On Christmas morning, I put on my best "Dad is undaunted" face as a delighted Alex opened up all the boxes. "It looks like a city," my three-year-old son Julius observed, gazing at the motherboard. It did indeed look like an aerial shot of Los Angeles. If only I could find Rodeo Hard Drive...
Bits of things you normally only see hanging out of the Tardis when it's broken were sitting menacingly in their boxes as Alex went to find a screwdriver (which as all your really need in the way of tools). I thought about a hair of the dog but instead opted for an anti-static wrist strap, which Alex also had to wear - static electricity is the PC's equivalent of a Harry Potter Death Curse.
I let Alex take the lead with the screwdriver and I read the manuals (something of a first for me). He followed attentively as I got confused. It was a fraught, fun and ultimately very fulfilling process. After hours of stumbling through manuals and referring back to the website, we finally stuffed the box with all the DVDs, CD-RWs, RAM DIMMs and as many acronyms as are in the OED, connected them with a bewildering maze of cabling, and loaded up the software.
Guess what? The thing actually worked.