First there was Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, then Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, and Marlowe’s Hero and Leander, and now may I humbly present my Ode to Code!
Ode to Code
There was a time when I eschewed
Programming as rather crude.
All those loops and IFs and THENs
Would drive anyone around the bend.
But then I bought my own domain,
And thinking it looked rather plain
Decided it would be more pleasant
To have an interactive presence.
Web design was all the rage
“I can make you a handsome page”,
Young folk would say,
To which I’d reply, “What will I pay?”
Just to tweak the site a little
Would make my finances rather brittle,
Not to mention having to wait and wait
By which time it would be too late.
And so I felt it not amiss
To learn some expertise in this
Language called HTML
I taught myself to close a bracket
And whooped with joy (oh what a racket!)
And discovered H1 and 2 and 3
To make my pages rather neat.
And to do it quickly with no mess
I learnt about the CSS.
It’s true these days I use a template
But if there’s a look I’ve come to hate
I can very quickly tweak it
And test it all as soon as speak it.
Now so far I’ve not mentioned coding,
Which I approached with some foreboding.
But I discovered it was quite fun
To change the colours one by one
Or have the computer say “Hello”
As soon as anyone typed “Go”,
Or spend an hour to create
A program that would calculate
The tax on goods I bought.
It wasn’t long until methought
That everybody should be taught
(if it didn’t make them fraught)
The intricacies of VBA
or even Basic, dare I say?
Then I turned to lovely Scratch
And then to Java and to Python — natch.
With programming you can do a lot
To solve the problems that you’ve got,
And if it’s hard, no need to fret:
There’s help aplenty on the internet.
And now whenever I look back
I marvel at my one time lack
Of skills and courage regarding code,
And feel glad I travelled down that road!
The poem is semi-autobiographical, but there are important differences. First, of course, the timeline is wrong: I learnt to program more than a decade before I taught myself HTML (mainly because the world wide web hadn’t been created yet). Secondly, I didn’t “eschew” programming at all, but approached it with great relish.
The line about “colours changing one by one” refers to a discovery made by some boys in my Business Studies class circa 1988. Someone had decreed that they should learn word processing, a subject in which they had no interest whatsoever. This was in the days of the BBC micro, and so it did not take long for the urchins to realise that you could easily delve into the innards of the thing and program the colours to change. As well as red text on a blue background, or white text on a yellow background, they managed to make flashing text on a flashing background.
All good fun.
The bit about creating a program that would calculate tax refers to a project I set myself while learning Visual Basic. I decided that the ordinary calculator that comes with Windows wasn’t specific enough for my needs. I wanted a calculator that would work out VAT (value-added tax) on purchases of goods that were not zero-rated, and exclude those that were. At the time I was working in a school that was outside of the usual financial arrangements (it was a so-called Grant Maintained school), and therefore unlike schools under local authority control it did have to take VAT into consideration.
What I invented was, in effect, a mini-spreadsheet dedicated to school purchases. I used this for quite a long time in managing my departmental budget.
As for teaching programming, I taught Basic to both both pupils (in examination classes) and adults (in evening classes). I subsequently ran a computing club based on Visual Basic.
Although I always created my own web pages using a combination of Microsoft’s Front Page and an HTML editor called Arachnophilia, I am no graphic designer. Out of curiosity I asked a web developer I knew how much he charged for creating websites. He told me £600 per page!! As this was around 20 years ago, it would be an even more outlandish sum today. (According to this historic inflation calculator, it would equate to over £800 in 2016.) And note that this was for each page. Under that arrangement, my current websites would have bankrupted me long ago.
Finally, I should perhaps point out that I wrote the poem as a challenge to myself. I was ruminating on different types of blog post, and thought to myself, “Why not a poem?”. Before I suggested it to the world, I wanted to make sure I could write one myself! I am not waiting by the phone in case I'm offered the post of the next Poet Laureate (although you never know), but it was fun coming up with it. I hope you enjoyed reading it. Perhaps you would like to write one yourself?