- potted autobiography

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I first wrote this as an address to ex-Long Eaton Grammar School colleagues - Friends Reunited only gave you one entry no matter how many schools and companies you signed up for and limited you to 5,000 words total.

So - this page is for anyone who shared a school with me or worked with me. You can read it, have a good chuckle in the Devil's IT Dictionary, and then forget me again.

In 1952In 1967In 2011
March 1952 - 1967 - June 2011

First school; St Joseph's Roman Catholic Primary in Cromwell Road, Derby - it was later a Hindu cultural centre, now four rows of terraced town houses. Toilets out in the playground, open to the skies. My right knee is permanently chipped from genuflection at Mass twice a week. Marked down as a troublemaker on day one - Sister Fimbar, taking the induction class on the first day, started to teach us how to cross ourselves in the approved Catholic manner. She did it in reverse, knowing that 5-year-olds would copy her mirror fashion. But one little sod in the front row didn't. This offence was compounded when Father McCarthy told us at Sunday school that all good Catholics should choose saint's names for their children - the same little sod asked why we aren't all called "Peter".

Got to say a lot of Hail Marys. Or Ave Marias - the syllable count is lower in Latin so penance doesn't take so long.

Hothoused through the 11-plus - sitting mocks twice a week for a year - I got the second highest score recorded in Derbyshire. And got retested, with the same result. Big mistake - I was marked down as an academic, which I never was. But it helped later on. Went to Derby School - supposedly the best in Derby - and hated it even more than it hated me. Bullied mercilessly. A lad in the form below me was singled out and the bullies' target was the textbooks in his desk, which were messed with in sometimes quite revolting ways. He took to carrying all his books with him in an enormous satchel and gave himself severe scoliosis. There was a lot of sound and fury but no action. A truly awful place - Loopy Sommerville taught history with an ancient size 12 tennis shoe on the desk - any transgression he didn't like and you got thrashed. It wasn't so much the thrashing, but the brutality of being held over a desk by the neck and the sheer violence of the event. At eleven, terrifying. Pettigrew, the sports master, liked walking among naked 11-year-old boys just out of the shower with a table tennis bat. The headmaster, Norman Elliott (obviously known as "Bog" - spell his name backwards) was inordinately found of his cane, and senior pupils - ludicrously called "praeposters" - were sometimes allowed to use corporal punishment as well. Margaret Thatcher wasn't all bad - she shut it down.

Am I jaundiced in my opinion? It seems not - Friends Reunited listed only seven names for my year at Derby School - Long Eaton Grammar School listed 118 for the same year. A lot of people, it seems, do not like to be reminded about Derby School.

The masters' incompetence was classic. My mother was called in because they were concerned that I was "forming an inappropriate relationship with an older boy". Martin Jenkins, whom I'd sat next to for two years at St Joseph's. Idiots.

Moved to LEGS at 14 - a complete revelation, not least because it was co-educational. In fact, more than that - us males were in a minority. It can't be half so much fun now that Trent College is co-educational as well - in my day it sucked out most of the competition. Why were all the girls gorgeous, or nearly so? Was it really nearly always sunny in those days?

Of course, I remained a troublemaker. My first form room was one of the old music huts down by the Golden Brook; one day it was raining and Mr Picton - our form master - was late. To get these dear girls in out of the rain, I picked the lock with a bit of scaffolding wire I just happened to have handy. Boys' pockets. Thereafter that was my party trick for 4C. I still pick locks, but these days only on cars. And in "O" level biology with Mrs Maskell, objecting to the pronoun "it" and proposing "she" in discussions of female physiology. Well, I was seriously outnumbered. I also remember vaulting feet first into our hut through a missing window pane and opening the second door which was only bolted shut. And doing very little homework, if any, throughout my time at LEGS.

These days, every phone has a camera and everyone old enough to hold one seems to have one. Back then cameras were rare, and single-lens reflexes (actually a Miranda F) even more so. But as a result, Long Eaton Grammar School was incredibly well recorded for a few years.

Simon Gilmore of the Audi Club says I looked a lot like Charlton Heston - something my female fellow pupils unanimously failed to notice. Others say my current picture looks like Harold Shipman.

Being nominally Catholic also got me out of morning assembly, which was quite handy. Thoroughly enjoyed my LEGS years - probably the best crowd I've ever been around. I've had some great work colleagues since then, but there was (almost) no one at LEGS I didn't like - an incredible contrast with Derby School.

Never fancied university. Perhaps in advance of my time, I disdained pre-emptive learning of skills I might never need and decided to collect the ones I did need on demand. I'd been staring at the walls of a classroom since I'd learnt to read - I didn't want to volunteer for another three years. For many university is just a way of delaying the inevitable. Of course, even the most learned now use the web. Lost a girl I was very fond of to a university - long-distance relationships are hard enough even with current technology, but with the 1960s Royal Mail and the GPO (over £1 a minute) they were utterly impractical. Also had meagre prospects - if anyone had told me then that I'd be earning 2 1/2 times Diana Rigg's salary within four years I'd have thought them insane. In the end I had to move away for my own start in life. Wonder if she learnt to play Backgammon.

"If you don't get good grades, you'll wind up stacking shelves." What rubbish - mostly promulgated by people without the guts to step outside academia. Some academics are far removed from reality.

If you're in an academic world, you're judged by academic standards. No matter how irrelevant these are to the world outside. Sir Richard Branson, Sir Alan Sugar and Sir Philip Green? Not an 'A' level between them - and neither Bill Gates nor Steve Jobs finished college. Professor Sir John Gurdon got the Nobel prize in Medicine despite a school report saying:

I believe he has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous.

Left LEGS with hearty handshakes and a balanced view of life, and went to Concordia Electric Wire and Cable. A fun six months putting my experimental skills to work in embryonic quality control. And being paid a starvation wage.

Threw my GCE certificates away many years ago - later I got a much more useful certificate from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services that allowed me to flip burgers in the State of Virginia. Wash your hands for twenty seconds every hour, make sure the interior of each burger reaches 155°F for 15 seconds, etc. A truly useful qualification.

Revisited the Concordia site in 2010 - the day of the LEGS Centenary Celebrations - it was all gone. That blue was once so familiar - I hadn't seen it since. On my first day there I had to use a slide rule and a plug-in Wheatstone Bridge - just like the ones even then consigned to museums. The old wire drawing and enamelling works is now a housing estate - I wonder if the owners know what we poured into the ground. The old headquarters was being refurbished for letting. So much for my career prospects there.

And then I made a fool of every careers master I'd ever met. I went to visit my mother, who'd moved to Wellingborough with her latest beau. On the north side of the centre there's a triangular grass space called Broad Green, and at the top of it is a spectacular late Georgian red ironstone edifice - mullioned windows, diamond panes, the lot. A beautiful building. I decided to take a closer look at the architecture, found it was the Labour Exchange, and decided to take a look inside - a public building, after all.

I came out with an interview that same afternoon at Barclays Bank in Northampton as a trainee computer operator. Got the job and moved down to Wellingborough. For those who know the town my mother's first shop was "Newcomen Corner" - it's now called "Triangular Autos" on Newcomen Road. Then we had shops in Bridge Street, Northampton and Occupation Road, Corby. Lots of fun on the fringes of the antique trade. Crooks, without exception. I was told I was unbearable when watching Cash in the Attic. Ever notice they show you the lots being sold out of order? And sometimes a lot will simply disappear? Don't 'invest' in antiques - always remember that at some time someone threw it out. You see people being told their table, etc., is worth a fortune once a week on television? There's a lottery winner once a week too; the odds are much the same and the lottery ticket's cheaper.

There was an auction house on The Mounts in Northampton. If the porter held up a chair and smiled it was wrong - either woodworm or a fake - and the dealers left it to the amateurs. Bought a handbag there once and was never allowed to forget it. But it was a masterpiece of the ironmaster's art made for the Great Exhibition, with a steel chain mail pouch. Made a healthy profit on it.

Computing was clean, bright, shiny and new - it even smelt that way - and nobody knew what they were doing. In 1969 there simply were no courses about commercial mainframe computing. All UK computer education was about floating point FORTRAN in universities on stack machines - years out of date because of curriculum inertia. An expert was someone a page ahead of you in the manual. A careers master would never have recommended computing to anyone but a maths genius, but the truth was that there was no maths involved at all - that's what the machine is for, dummy. We had to develop all of our own techniques for workflow control, backup, disaster recovery, change management, etc. Very rapidly got promoted to Assembler programmer (the 11-plus hothousing coming in handy - pattern recognition is important in debugging) and wrote about a third of the Barclaycard New Input Suite - 250,000 lines of IBM Assembler in nine months. The limit was supposed to be ten lines a day at the time - but no one told us.

So much for careers masters. My son had much the same experience.

Being a programmer who was also a qualified operator was handy - I was trusted not to break the gear during test sessions. "Here you are, you can borrow this £10 million 17-tonne mainframe for an hour. Don't break it - we're going for coffee." They made me wear a hairnet, though - at the time it reached below my shoulder blades and an IBM 1403 line printer was a potentially deadly beast to get caught up in.

They called it "hands-on". Hadn't managed it until then.

Later on, in sales support, the all-round technical experience came in handy again. A systems programmer looks both ways before crossing a one-way street.

Early mainframe computing was unique in ways other than the hair - it was normal for managers to be younger than their subordinates, and no one thought anything of it. Who knew the most was put in charge. And also routine for a twenty-year-old girl - known for going on spectacular benders - to be trusted with the master keys to the entire Barclaycard Centre over a weekend. Mind you, she did look rough emerging from the St Giles Terrace fog at 05:00 on the Monday. Frighteningly rough, God rest her soul. The original offices were like a rabbit warren behind Abingdon Street in Northampton - Barclaycard grew like honey fungus taking over a tree, eating away the heart of a city block in a maze of passages through what had once been dozens of unrelated buildings, no two of which were on the same level. An eerie place at night or at the weekend - computing wasn't 24 x 7 back then.

Barclays closed Northampton Computer Centre a couple of years later so we started our diaspora - I went to ICL, then a software house (ACSIS), Ford, Littlewoods Pools (Dickensian at the time - literally - Izal toilet paper) and the Bank of England, then spent a year rock climbing in Sheffield (soloed Great Harry on Lawrencefield above Hathersage one warm summer evening - stone cold sober, too). My office in Blonk Street is now the cocktail bar of the Park Hotel. Got to Toronto for a while, but it was more boring than Long Eaton on a wet winter Tuesday at midnight. Went off to Germany (Hannover and Frankfurt) for seven years. Still emailing the old neighbours in Germany almost three decades on - a terrific "Nachbarschaft" - always in and out of each other's houses, drinking each other's beer, barbecueing on each others' lawns and correcting each others' children's grammar. Learnt spoken Japanese (taught in German) at the Volkshochschule in Frankfurt. Brain-bending language - never had to work so hard. Forgot almost all of it - never really used it. Went back to Germany (Hamburg/Norderstedt) for another 18 months in 2000.

But - overall - my enduring thanks to Barclays Bank. One of the best employers I've ever had, whose thorough training and discipline in IT equipped me for a fantastic life in the industry. I really was amazingly lucky - lots of very talented people were trying to get into computing at the time, but they all faced the "experience hurdle" - unless you had experience you couldn't get any. I also always much preferred maintenance programming to new development - the opposite of what all the job ads seemed to think. Doing it your own way is easy - getting your mind around how someone else has tried to do it and then finding where they went wrong is vastly more challenging.

Spent a while in Dacca, Bangladesh. Gulshan and Banani. Got to know a genuine Soviet spy (KGB officer) and partnered him in a round of golf against the western defence attachés under absolutely beautiful kapok trees. Never played golf since - I couldn't beat that experience. Couldn't beat Yuri Yakamenko, either. I wonder if the Bangladesh Naval Academy ever paid compensation to the labourer poleaxed by one of his slices. Went to dinner in the Russian compound - caviar, salmon, and vodka. And vodka. Only one of the two Canadians drank - the US Defence Attaché told me the sober one was supposed to shoot the drunk one if he blabbed. Never sure if he was joking.

Vignette: Watching Tony Jeapes of the SAS - later its commander, six foot something and white - trying to look inconspicuous in a Dacca market where everyone else was four foot something and brown.

Worked for every mainframe company (ICL, ITEL, NAS/HDS, BASF/Comparex, Amdahl) in the UK, Germany and the USA except IBM, who fell out with me. Again. Anyone else get megacorporations on their neck every now and then? ITEL was a leasing company and awash with money - all the senior management were Italian and I seriously thought it might be a money-laundering operation for the Mafia. Real gold leaf on the letterheads - £1 a sheet. In 1978. They taught me to use the HP-12C Financial Calculator, which is a Reverse Polish Notation device - couldn't use a "normal" calculator. If it had an "equals" key - straight in the bin. There's an HP-12C emulator for Android smartphones.

As "European VS1 Specialist" I held the company flying record for a while - 219 landings at Berlin Tegel alone in 19 months - and the Frankfurt-Stuttgart office-to-office Autobahn record at 2 hours 19 minutes. Autobahns redefine boring - Clarkson gets an adrenalin high every year with a quick (and usually illegal) blast. Fact - average speed on German Autobahns is LOWER than average UK motorway speed. Day in, day out - in all weathers - you can keep it. You start on The Wall and wind up on John Betjamin.

The weather in continental Europe is different to the warm but damp UK. Where we lived it would snow sometime in October/November and not clear until March. The first snow of the year caused the phone to ring - even at 03:00 a neighbour would shout into the phone: "PHILIP! SCHNEIT!". And we would all go and get our cars out - in the middle of the night - to practice braking and skid control for the new season. Then back for a coffee and schnapps at someone's house.

It was weird - debugging storage dumps one minute, writing a presentation the next, and then checking someone's net present value calculations on a multi-million dollar lease. "Hunting the worm," as the Germans called it. Found my share as well.

And for the technically minded - it's quite amazing what an electrolytic capacitor the size of a small dustbin can do to a 4mm x 15mm copper busbar in a few milliseconds, which it did one day in Saarbrücken.

This was the time of the infamous bar bill - which has become associated with me, though I had almost nothing to do with it.

Baghdad in 1982 via East Berlin and Moscow - it's cheaper. Square pin British plugs but mounted at waist level inside doorways like the Germans do it - so you can move from room to room with a vacuum cleaner and not have to bend down. When will we be so sensible? The Iraqis were wonderful people - what we did to them saddens me.

Was always interested in photography, but a German salary and living only 30km from Leitz in Wetzlar brought it to a head. I'd bought my first Leica in 1973 - an M3 with a collapsible 90mm Elmar. An M2 followed, another M2, an M4, and then an M5. In Germany, this collection was expanded and maintained by the factory. Both M2s were equipped with M4 shutters and six-frame finders. Long before decent-quality videos, the only way to produce a stunning show was slide dissolve. Got a standing ovation in the basement (below water level!) of the Bauer Grünwald in Venice for "Three Hundred Years of Vivaldi" using a sound track from the Amadeus String Quartet and Sky, with rostrum pictures from Hutton and three hundred of my own shots.

Had some fun taking the pictures. If you're a rich Swiss lawyer and your wife is a rich Swiss lawyer and you don't want her to see pictures of you with your mistress - don't take her into Harry's Bar in Venice. One of the shots (a group standing in a ferry gondola silhouetted against backlit fog) earned me £50 a year for ages.

Corrected a salesman one day, at Spar Giro Verband in Saarbrücken. He'd said we had five machines in West Germany - I said it was four plus one in West Berlin, which wasn't legally part of West Germany. When the customer thanked us, he referred to my comment. "Quite correct. This actual room has special significance - it's where the votes were counted for the plebiscite for the Saarland to return to NAZI Germany in 1935. Herr Hitler sat over there, Herr Dr Goebbels over there ..."

Commuted to Berlin by air three times a week in 1978/9, working in Eternit in the Ernst-Reuter Platz - and back every evening to support the teaching hospital in Hannover - the MHH. We were very near a checkpoint in the Wall - there can't be many people who've regularly popped through the Iron Curtain for lunch because the beer was cheaper. You discovered on the ground that a lot of the Cold War propaganda was bullshit - the East Germans and the Soviets were quite friendly. They were just as worried about us being where we were as we were about them being where they were. Berlin was my introduction to good food, especially Italian.

Germans aren't supposed to have a sense of humour, but sometimes they do.

Got to canoo on the Huron, solo. No - no tour group - just me, the egrets and the snapping turtles.

Worked for Morino Associates, later called Legent and now part of Computer Associates in St Albans and Vienna, VA. Went to an "Eat all you can for $6.95" Alaskan King Crab festival at Seven Corners, VA, and was pink for a fortnight. Bright pink. Really, really bright pink. Mario Morino got $600 million from CA and is still the only multi-millionaire I'd buy a drink for. And have. [Since I originally wrote that, he's emailed to comment that he did return the favour. As I recall, we both did. Many times.] At Morino I discovered I wasn't at all the mathematical dunce I'd been continuously told I was at LEGS - Dr H Pat Artis taught me the basics of statistics in one afternoon. Two months later I was teaching summarization and n-dimensional cluster analysis in English and German. And SAS is a lovely language. And IBM's REXX. And XHTML (this piece, for instance), and PHP, and XML, and Java ...

The IBM plug-compatible business was fun. One day I realised I had more shelf space devoted to European competition law than to software. Helped with preparation of our case for the Competitions Directorate (DG IV) that resulted in IBM's 1984 Undertaking to the EEC. Our corporate counsel defined his job as:

I picked up the term "rat-fucking" from Bernstein and Woodward's Book All the President's Men and used some of the "ambush marketing" tricks:

It got nasty one Christmas. Someone rang all our wives and told them their husbands were having affairs. Most of us laughed it off, but one lad really was having one. He admitted it, asked his wife to forgive him, and was sitting on his suitcases in the gutter an hour later. The same guy was driving down the M4 a year or so later when his mobile phone stopped working. He called the provider who said it was discontinued because of his redundancy. So he left his company BMW at Corley services with the keys in the ignition and hitched home. Fun business.

Got to Kuwait to change our cousin. If you don't have the right cousin in Kuwait, you don't do any business. Out to the tent in the Empty Quarter - good name - on a Friday. Sitting round a campfire; one Irishman on a US passport, one Palestinian on a Lebanese passport, one Kuwaiti on a Saudi passport, and me. Someone said: "If our security services only knew..." and someone else said: "Perhaps we all work for our security services."

Finally (because of the marketing stunts) got head-hunted by Amdahl - probably the toughest firm to get into in 1985 - and the toughest to stay in - and spent seven happy years there. Wearing an Amdahl tie earned you instant respect among large computer users. Paths would clear in front of you at conferences. Chief european spy (they called it "Commercial Analysis") under the cover of being Services Marketing Manager. Which I also did, but it only took an hour a day. The UK group still meets up in a Midlands pub every few months, usually the Company Inn in Nottingham, sometimes the Sheffield Tap on platform 1B in Sheffield. Has to be somewhere with free WiFi for Skype.

Went to the inaugural meeting of the UK Computer Measurement Group and was too slow getting out of the way - wound up on the Programme Committee and thence, in stages, to Vice-Chairman. Presented a paper at every one of the first ten Annual Conferences, mostly on storage technology topics but sometimes on futures. Still hold the record for the shortest presentation - everyone else ran late and I stood up at 17:48 to talk for an hour on solid state disc emulation (fantastic technology in 1987 - now in every netbook) with the bar opening at 18:00 and 1,200 thirsty mathematicians in the audience. Rented the "Pink Flamingo" nightclub in Brighton for sponsored entertainment one year - once the ink was dry the proprietor asked who was coming. I replied: "1,200 statisticians." He said: "Oh God, I was depending on decent bar receipts." You can guess what happened - mathematicians don't get out much.

Was challenged in the bar at the UKCMG Annual Conference at York Racecourse:
"Do you know you look just like that guy in Blackadder? Baldrick, that's the one."
"You mean Tony Robinson?"
"No - Baldrick."

For a plug-compatible, knowing what IBM is going to do is as important as the weather forecast to a North Sea fisherman. IBM used to have regular "Investigations" to find out how their secrets were leaking - but never got close to the truth. It's now a couple of decades, so one of many stories won't go amiss. I heard that IBM was having a secret squirrel meeting to discuss their competition (us) and their competitive strategies, etc., in a certain hotel in a European capital. So I flew over. Each day I checked the garbage behind their hotel - and on the last day there was a mass of material in one of the bins. Everything is owned by someone, and rubbish is no exception. So I waited for the garbage collectors and asked if I could buy this pile of material. Not only did I legally buy around 8 kilogrammes of IBM documents for the cost of a few pints of Guinness (what a giveaway) - I got a receipt and claimed it as expenses.

Another time a reporter called me. Patricia Tehan, then working on Computing, whom I was not allowed to talk to on pain of dismissal. "John Akers [then CEO of IBM] will give a press conference at the Café Royal in an hour - I need four questions to ask". So I shot an email to all UK sales and marketing staff: "If you could ask John Akers a question, what would it be?" We'd just announced the Amdahl 5990, which IBM UK was dissing as not as powerful as their system. One of the questions was: "When will IBM answer the 5990?" It went to Pat verbatim, she asked it in the press conference, and Akers mumbled: "We have the labs working on it." His minders shut him down. Pat, as a quid pro quo, followed him out of the building and saw him get into a taxi. London traffic is often bad, but that day it was execrable - she easily followed the cab across the West End on foot. It pulled up in Baker Street, in front of Marks and Spencers' headquarters. Pat rapidly found a phone and passed the information back as a return favour. I called the salesman responsible for the M&S account and told him - he then called the CIO and offered to beat any deal Akers was offering. The CIO was stunned that we knew Akers was visiting him, but I don't think anyone ever told him exactly how we knew.

The next day Computing's headline was: "IBM struggles to catch Amdahl". M&S also became our pilot user for Huron/ObjectStar.

Ever driven an airboat? They work backwards - you can only steer with the rudders behind the fan and they need airflow, so if you're going slowly the steering doesn't work. You only get between those two trees flat out. Much like a hovercraft, except hovercraft don't have quarter-tonne aero engines right behind your head held on by only four bolts. Airboat pilots wear sunglasses to hide the fact that they shut their eyes a lot.

Wound up - for complicated reasons - in Alma Ata (now called Almaty) in the old Soviet Union and threw a nominal rock over the border into China. Went down the hotel fire escape from the "western" floor and found another door open, and went in. Found a bunch of East Germans and had a chat. We compared wages, costs, etc. Then I asked a question, in German slang: "Was kostet dieser Spaß?" - "What does this fun cost?" The answer was: "The trip cost DM(E)n - the fun costs a bottle of vodka per evening" - pointing at the drunk Russian Intourist minder with the empty bottle on the floor beside him. Tried out the open air Olympic ice rink - the world's highest, largest and bleakest - on borrowed speed skates.

Got bored in Tashkent Airport. It's not hard. What do people do in airports once the formalities have been dealt with? Wait and drink. Comrade Gorbachev had just decreed that alcohol could not be sold at railway stations and airports. The Soviets were literal people and the shop was still fully stocked and manned - it just wasn't selling anything. So I made it my evening's task to get a drink. It took three hours of painful, tedious but boredom-relieving negotiations before the airport manager appeared with a telex in his hand and a look of triumph. "Moscow has agreed to let me sell you one decilitre of vodka for one rouble." A decilitre's quite a lot, so I passed the glass around the waiting party, we finished it, clapped the airport manager on the back and everyone shook hands with everyone else.

Then a surreal overnight on the Trans-Siberian, drinking green tea with the waiter in our carriage. His Yiddish was close enough to my hessischer Babbel - just the odd noun to worry about. We had the windows open rolling through Genghis Kahn's steppes with everyone else on the train asleep. A German coach built in the 1950s that would have looked perfect in an Agatha Christie movie - Meissen porcelain with each cup and saucer numbered for the carriage seat, silver spoons (also numbered) and the very best in cabinet-making. Little folding chairs in the vestibule with a samovar on the go. Green tea with sugar in sticks - break off what you want. Then our Intourist minder turned up and I had to translate local political stories.

When I moved away from Frankfurt the neighbours bought me two volumes of Asterix translated into Babbel so that I could practice in case I went back.

Ex-LEGS people seem predisposed to travel. I wonder how many other schools have lists like this.

Very early on the Internet. Within days, in fact. We were desperate for some effective global-scope networking system for our engineers to use in the field and I'd spent huge resources on X25 dial-up. Almost by-the-bye, we'd connected our internal email system to JANET - the Joint Academic NETwork - so we could talk to our UK university customers and when it hooked up with ARPANET to form the Internet we were right there. Anyone remember ftp "mirror sites" - mostly at Imperial College? No one seems to give a damn about bandwidth these days but back then the Internet was built from wet string.

Invited to join the legendary Canopus forum on CompuServe and got up to my tits in the famous Steve Barkto affair. Spotted both the three-dot ellipsis and the "then for than" semantic oddity. But we're still friends. There was even a Barkto news site dedicated to the business that we used for baiting ultra-right American neocon Christian fundamentalist rednecks. Sadly, it's now gone.

Easy to find on the web - always was. 70,000-odd times easier than the Pope, apparently. Used my real name and phone number right from the beginning - can't understand why people conceal them. Baby and bathwater syndrome - "I'm going to hide from the whole world in case someone sends me a nasty message." And?

Got deeply involved in the only Internet libel case ever fought in the UK - Dr Godfrey vs Demon Internet - as a principal witness for the complainant. Preparing a "witness statement" for the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court is no easy task. It makes me laugh when people threaten to sue me for defamation (which they do, every now and then) because it costs around £300k to get into court and there's no legal aid for it. Perry Mason is ludicrous - if you whip a rabbit out of a hat in front of a High Court judge like he does every week, you'll go straight to jail for contempt - wasting the court's time with something you should have told them about a LOT earlier. If you want to take a look, the discussions of the period are in the Usenet archive. There's more than enough to bore you rigid. Before Mr Justice Morland (the Bulger case judge) and Mr Justice Eady in Court 13. All that matters - we won. Well, they caved in when Eady J., during the pre-trial, quite brilliantly pointed out a minor hole in their case. That you could drive a bus through. Sideways. With a brass band on top. There never was a judgement, which is a shame - some important issues could have been cleared up for ever.

http://www.isham-research.co.uk/press.html has some of my press quotes (in seven languages, only three of which I speak) and an interview I gave in May 2005 to BBC Radio Five DriveTime. Beware - it's 14MB. I was lying on my back under a car in a darkened garage at the time - they give you very little notice but the experience was fascinating - sound tests, being "patched to the sound desk", coached by the director and then the countdown to air while the BBC correspondent did the lead-in. All in nine minutes. They don't tell you it's live until the very last minute. What with the Internet and satellite services they reckon the potential audience was 680 million - they used the tape several times that evening, including on Radio 2 and Radio 4. I got an email from Australia and several from Canada. I wonder if they'd have done it if they could have seen where I was. Or what I looked like at the time - sometimes radio IS better.

I also did a television interview in German about twenty years back for ZDF at the Hannover Fair but that was recorded and we did several takes because my stomach kept rumbling and upsetting the sound man. Funny thing - when I lived in Hannover (2 years) I managed to take holiday for the Hannover Fair week, but when I lived in Frankfurt (5 years) I got sent up on stand duty every year. There's no justice. But there was once an incident involving a grandfather clock full of teabags and a girl with very prominent nipples wearing a string vest. March is sometimes quite cold in Hannover.

LEGS people may remember me with a beard in the sixth form when I got burned at home in a chip pan fire. It could have been worse. Well, I shaved it off for the first time in 2001. Wandered into the local pub (at the time, the Lilacs in Isham, Northants - same place I got picked up by The Beast) and expected to be told: "You look ten years younger". The consensus was 15 years. Used to get wound up about "clean shaven" - can the hair on the bottom of a face come out of a shower any dirtier than the hair on the top?

Married Sarah (first cousin - mothers were sisters), divorced in 1999. She ran off with a bell-ringing tax inspector, which my kids tell me - to my eternal shame - is no better than a train-spotting taxidermist. She's put on a few stone since, so she must be happy. Gave me two great kids.

Son Thomas was born in 1980 and is just like his father (though I suspect he has a higher IQ - he catches me out regularly) and settled in Nottingham, married to a lovely girl who has a PhD in chemical engineering. Supercritical fluids, no less. She looks much too nice. Made me a grandad in February 2010 - little mite looks just like Tom did.

Daughter Jenni was born in 1982 (ran Top Shop in Kettering for a while, but is now in the NHS) and married to a long-term boyfriend in Kettering. Not at all like her mother. More like mine, who had a chain of shops in Northamptonshire supplying standard furniture sets to the DSS for rehoming battered women, and collecting potties, sewing machines and marble washstands to ship to the USA. Then she ran The Sun in Broughton for a while until she went broke. Died in 1992. My father, of course, committed suicide while I was in the Fifth Form at LEGS.

Jen also made me a granddad with Orlaith, born in August 2010.

Edward and Orlaith - April 2011

They say you should never go back. A while ago, on my way to a LEGS reunion, I went to see the bungalow at Borrowash that we lived in while I was there. They're right - you should never go back. UGH!

Diagnosed NIDDM in 1999. You're supposed to be obese to get that, but I never was. Never smoked - needed all the money for booze. Remember being stunned when I saw one of the most intelligent people I knew with a cigarette for the first time. Nearly been killed a few times - a bad landing in a BAC 1-11 at Hannover, struck by lightning taking off from Stuttgart, engine explosion at Malton Field, Toronto, a desperate situation on Shepherd's Crag in the Lakes, and rolling a Ford Granada end-over-end seven times on the Sherrington Bypass near Newport Pagnell in February 1989. Cleared the fence completely. 230 metres from the carriageway - the first copper on the scene said: "Where's the body?" "You're talking to it." Eight miles from the M1, but they still exhibited the remains on the exit from the northbound Newport Pagnell services with a sign on it: "Tiredness Kills". At 06:00 after a good night's sleep? Hit by a plummeting swan in Frankfurt - it flew into the tramwires on a bridge over the Main. Messy business; they carry a lot of ballast. Wrote the car off. Rang the insurance company (HUK Coburg) and they said: "OK - we'll send you the swan damage form."

Had a near-death - admitted to Rotherham General in February 2008 with an HB of 4.07. Gutted when I found out the lowest survived value at Rotherham is 4.02 - no cigar again. Set the resident gastroenterology consultant a little challenge, but she was more than up to it - clean gastroscopy on 11 August 2009, and back for a check-up every year.

Politics? I marched against the attack on Iraq. A truly wonderful day full of little cameos, like a dozen or so Socialist Worker activists behind three huge trestle tables groaning with literature being utterly ignored by two million people. It was going OK until Jesse Jackson started, then I went to Bruce Forsyth's old pub and watched the rugby.

Bush: One of the worst disasters to hit the US
Photo courtesy of the Urban Myths Website

And I even have thoughts on the future of the human race.

My web site is http://www.isham-research.co.uk - be sure to check out the Devil's IT Dictionary - suggestions are VERY welcome. No, my sense of humour didn't change much. Yes, it used to be a .com address but I changed the TLD to .co.uk because some of the search engines thought I was in Germany.


Why the music? Here's one idea - a couple of decades ago we went, as a family, to Blackpool and visited the Tower. We were sidelined and invited into a small room on the same floor as Jungle Jim's. In there we (myself, ex-wife, six-year-old son and four-year-old daughter) met Matthew Corbett (long since retired) who'd just re-acquired the rights to the Sooty franchise. We had a great afternoon with him showing the puppets to our two kids, letting them play with them, etc. They just loved it. Then he stepped behind his counter and did a five minute show for them - they were spellbound within seconds.

Then when she was about 18 my daughter came up to me and asked if I was still a Suzi Quatro fan. Yup. So Jenni somehow arranged tickets for a gig in the Hard Rock Cafe in Northampton - top end of the Market Square. Just 60 in the audience - it was a shakedown of their playlist for a tour of Australia.

Some brilliant exchanges:

Audience: Are you still wearing the same leather jump suit?
Suzi: Are you kidding? You should smell one of these things after a month.

Ever since that I always liked being a few feet from expert musicians, especially at jam sessions when no one knew what was going to happen next. Fortunately such opportunities are frequent in Sheffield. In any list, people get left out - so we'll keep it short and leave quite a few out; Nix, Kev, Chris, Bob, Jules, Pete, Gary, Tommo,JJ, etc. And who could ever forget Black Tony's verbals?

Concerts? Pah! I managed to see Nena, Suzi Quatro, Status Quo and the Rolling Stones in small venues for almost nothing. All great.

Here's one some will find hard to believe - I found an old photograph of me with a sticker on the back - "Sunday Dispatch Beautiful Child of the Year Competition". Don't think I won.

And after all that, what next? My original end-of-life plans were destroyed by the divorce, which not only cost me my partner but also the property I was counting on to finance it, sold off at a ridiculous knock-down price after massive effort to increase its value. It's sad to be betrayed, but even sadder when you offered explicit trust.

I've seen a good number of old school friends, work colleagues and friends die. Some suddenly, some after protracted illnesses. It has amazed me how quickly they seem to have been forgotten. We jokingly refer to retirement areas - here or abroad - as "God's waiting rooms" (except there is no God) but that's really what they are. Since I believe oblivion follows death there seems little point in hanging around even to collect pleasurable experiences if memories of them too will be erased. And no reason to collect brownie points for Heaven, either. I've always wondered - who sits on God's left hand?

Lying enfeebled in some care home with tubes sprouting from every orifice has no attraction. It costs the living a fortune to no purpose anyway. My invalidity has already started - my Type 2 diabetes was diagnosed in 1999 but probably affected my health for some years before that. I now have peripheral oedema, possibly the result of the pounding diabetes drugs have given my kidneys. Diuretics are fun - they wake you up six or seven times in the night instead of perhaps once - it's amazing how oftem you find you've been dreaming. Never knew I dreamt so much.

So given that there's no point staying on and there's a danger of losing control of my destiny in the future, it's better to go now, while I can still run upstairs if need presses. There's no real difference between a doctor telling you've got three months or deciding that yourself.

At the end of the day Cecil Joseph Payne and Mary Gunn decided to make me without any kind of divine intervention - it's within my power to end that.

And if anyone so much as mutters "... in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection into eternal life ..." please shoot them.

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