About the author
I am a hang glider pilot, photographer, and amateur philosopher. My profession is software engineering. See Programming career for brief details of the latter. (The link skips down this page.)
After we moved from north London, where my dad lived, to the central south coast of England, where my grandparents (on my mother’s side) had retired, at eight years old I was surrounded by fir trees, sandstone ridges and quarries, and disused air raid shelters – instead of (or rather, as well as) streets of houses and shops.
Crossing a plateau of waist-deep heather on a lower slope of a nearby hill in about 1965 with my brother and school friends one day, we were surrounded by buzzing and several thwacks – then the staccato of what sounded like automatic fire. (It was rifle and/or pistol fire by several shooters simultaneously, which the mind seems to perceive as automatic fire, likely from watching too many war films on television.) We lit out of there and they moved the firing range to a safer location soon after. To this day (2018) the cool still air of summer mornings carries the sound to us from that (safer) outdoor firing range.
As a male in your late teens in Britain of those days, you either went into the military or further education. I opted for the latter and I am grateful for the way the sixth form college unobtrusively made leeway for this troubled and troublesome individual.
While I believe I still hold a rifle accuracy record from sixth form college (all the bullets from the magazine went through the same ragged hole in the target – which I still have) shooting was not really my thing. Riding bikes off-road and, starting in 1974 at age 18, hang gliding became the main activities that defined my life up to the turn of the century.
When The New Avengers first appeared on British television in 1976, I had the bizarre sensation of wanting to somehow climb in through the screen of our small black-and-white TV to get at Purdey, played by Joanna Lumley, to possess her. Eight years later, a taller (and younger) version of Purdey walked into my life. We were never more than ‘just friends’ (unfortunately). She is the girl with her arm around me in the 1984 photo, although I have cropped her out. Sorry.
The BPA sweatshirt reminds me that I founded a university parachute club in early 1979. (First jumps from a Cessna 206 at Shobdon airfield, Herefordshire.) Last I heard, it is still going.
By that time I had acquired a broken nose (bike crash), a crushed vertebra (hang glider
crash sub-optimal landing), and not forgetting a splinter of bone sticking out of a knuckle from skiing on the army’s dry slope at Aldershot. (The army nurses at Frimley Park hospital could not help with that one either.)
In the mid-1980s, being unemployed, I took up BMX racing. No longer able to afford to run a car, I raced only at my two local tracks, but I eventually reached national level and I won the Bournemouth Summer Series in my bike/age classification in 1985.
In the summer of 1987 I started a programming job in London. Because I was paid in arrears, but accommodation and travel costs had to be paid in advance, I was in temporary debt and I saved money by not going home on the first few weekends. (Initially I slept on the floor of a shared house in south London and I used cardboard boxes for furniture.) We had troubles at home and, unknown to me, my mother suffered a semi-paralyzing stroke (a blocked blood vessel in the brain).
How long since you wrote to your mother?
For you the hours may fly
But these hours are years to your mother
When the mailman passes her by.
How long since you wrote to your mother?
Better get that letter done
For mothers fade like flowers
When they miss their wandering son.
— From Stars and Stripes during World-war II
I spent my weekends and holidays over the next eight years taking her out in a wheelchair.
Unfortunately, I have no photo of the nearest thing to a proper girlfriend I ever had. Quite unlike Purdey, but even more desirable, if such could be imagined. She was a former Wren — Women’s Royal Naval Service. Oh, women in uniform!
While I gave up painting (pictures) in the early 1980s, I continued with plastic modelling, on and off, over the years. The launch tower of the Vanguard rocket is 14 inches high.
My hang glider in-flight photography really took off when I changed from a film camera to a GoPro and I had photos published on the covers of hang gliding magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. I took the photo that became the 2017 calendar cover over north Dorset, England, in 2016. I was flying a Wills Wing U-2.
I carried on hang gliding and mountain-biking but, in October 2000, Rebecca arrived in a wooden crate from California, initiating what was for me a new life surrounded by silicone rubber women.
One visiting lady photographer stopped work for a minute and said, “It’s not just a doll. It’s a whole world.”
In provincial Britain during the 1960s, heavily-built types were assumed to be mentally dim. The occasional exception, like the science prodigy at our school who was a big lad wearing spectacles, paradoxically seemed to reinforce the stereotype, as did the one girl in our physics class who challenged the assumption that girls’ minds are ill-equipped for reasoning.
The discarding of those prejudices has undoubtedly improved society. However, there is a down-side. Now the pendulum has swung the other way and men are supposed to be ‘hunky’ rather than slim and have ‘social skills’ instead of intelligence of the technical kind.
The goalposts have been moved. (Who moved them?) Is it a side-effect of democracy? How do we correct it?
It is imperative that we fix this problem. Although humans are uniquely cultural among living things, we are nevertheless primarily genetic beings. Women who select gangsters and businessmen (or other dodgy geezers with ‘social capital’) as the fathers of their offspring cannot expect the panacea of education to stand in for technical intelligence. The genetic quality of humanity is at stake.
To be clear, I have failed in life not because of external causes, but because I failed to measure up. Nonetheless, I have yet to hear an argument that assuages my fears for the future of humankind.
- In the early 1980s, I programmed radar guidance for point-defence surface-to-air missiles used in the Falklands War.
- In the late 1980s, I led a team of seven programmers at a software house in central London creating ‘interactive video’ computer-based training programs.
- During the first Gulf war, I worked for the computer-based training arm of a maker of mine hunter patrol boats.
- Operating as Flight Training Systems, I created the computer-based training program Aerodynamics & Propulsion in the early 1990s.
- In the mid 1990s, I programmed airliner flight deck procedures training at premises directly under the final approach to London Heathrow Airport.
- In the late 1990s, I wrote the online help for the Apache attack helicopter forward maintenance data station in time for the second Gulf war.
- In the mid 2000s, I led a team of seven (again) technical authors tasked with writing online help for automotive software. My last job involved compiling release notes for the same automotive software house.
Lars and the real Everard — my review of the Canadian movie Lars and the Real Girl, 2007
The following comedy set in 1960s London illustrates where I grew up until about eight years old:
SMASHING TIME – full movie – 1967 – Rita Tushingham & Lynn Redgrave on YouTube.
Thanks to Davecat, American Anglophile extraordinaire, for bringing it to my attention.