Childhood and education
I am the eldest of five children of middle class parents. I was born in Horsham, Sussex, and lived there until I was 7 years old. By then two of my brothers, Robin (1952) and Alan (1955), were born and we moved to Leatherhead in Surrey. My parents stayed there until my father retired from work and my parents moved to Bognore Regis on the coast in West Sussex.
I was sent to Roman Catholic schools including a boys-only Jesuit grammar school (1961-68), and therefore confidently abandoned religion on leaving home for university; I have remained free from any religious beliefs or superstitions ever since.
I went to Bristol University, where I ended up with a BSc degree in mathematics; but for my degree I also studied particle physics with the honours physicists for my first year, during which I was officially a physics major — so supposedly going to be an academic or research physicist; and for my third year along with the maths I also studied ancient Greek with the honours classicists (who had all passed Greek A level about 5 months earlier, whereas I had merely passed Greek O level about 5 years earlier, which gives you a clue)*.
On completing my BSc I stayed on at Bristol and did the
Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE),
to be a secondary school maths teacher and specializing in gifted children as an education topic.
I then had to find my first job. Unlike some people who started in the autumn to look for what they would
do the following summer, I left it until the summer term then looked in the Times Education Supplement job adverts,
and saw one for a maths teacher needed at Birley High School, Manchester; I applied and went to see the headmaster,
and he offered me a job if I would start immediately, to get in a few weeks work in July before the summer holidays.
I accepted, and moved up there — apart from the interview, my first visit to the north of England.
I taught until the following APril, when I decided that this career was not for me, and wrote to the employer,
the Manchester Education Committee, giving my resignation. The headmaster was told and was furious that I had not
spoken to him first; he told me on a Thursday afternoon 2 weeks before the sping term ended that I could finish the following afternoon.
I only had time to tell one class that I knew well, my one top stream group in the third year, now called year 9 (13 and 14 year olds).
Their reaction has stayed with me: one boy, a lad who was half white and half West Indian, said, sounding very disappointed:
“Oh sir! We was just starting to get the hang of what you are on about!”
and the only other sound was the nurmurs of agreement from the rest of the class. I took it as a compliment.
After stopping work as a teacher suddenly, with only a day’s warning, I was unemployed for a few months, through the school easter holidays until about July when I got my first permanent job in the computer industry. During those months while I was looking for work I signed on as unemployed, to get support to pay the rent, except during a few weeks when I got a job working backstage at the Palace Theatre, Oxford Road, Manchester, during a season of English National Opera. This short experience meant that I knew what it was like backstage during performances of a professional opera company, which was nice to know when I was participating in amateur opera productions.
During my time in Manchester I joined the Manchester Opera Company and took part in some productions as well as helping with scenery and props. Anyway while I was looking for a new job I also wrote a novel, and sent it to one publisher but it was not taken up by them and I did not send it to anybody else. I still have it somewhere; but nobody else ever saw it. It was my first realization that I could be a writer.
I then got a job in an office somewhere near that theatre, working for Philips Electrologica, a branch of Philips which made and supplied custom software for small office computers. I wrote application software in machne code and assembller, which was loaded for use by the customers daily from decks of punched cards (one car per program instruction). Customers included C&A, the clothing retail store chain, and a schools examination board. I wrote whole systems that way for each of these clients.
After a year, the work was starting to get repetitive, and I was looking for another job in the computer industry. I saw an advertisement for a person to write courses on how to program computers for the Education and Training division of ICL (International Computers Limited) in Old Windsor, Berkshire. This was back in the south of England, and I would be able to go and see my parents who were just a few miles south-east of there in Surrey, so I applied for that job. The manager was Peter Bloxsom, who appreciated the fact that I had written a novel (although it had not been published) as well as programmed complete applications for customer businesses and public or quasi governmental organizations in assembler level language, and gave me the job. I moved south to that job and never returned to the north of England again.Horsham
To be continued ...
* I got the equivalent of a 2-1 score in the Honours Classics Greek exam taken the same summer term as my maths finals. The fact that I did not, as it happens, get a brilliant maths degree can be put down to distractions throughout my undergraduate years more than to particular ineptitude in the subject. I was never going to be the sort of person who would spend 3 or 4 years of his life on a doctorate, or even just one year doing a master’s in mathematics. At that time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and indeed I spent the year after getting my degree on a PGCE (postgrad secondary school teaching course) before realizing after only two terms actually teaching kids that being school teacher was definitely not what I wanted to spend my life doing. To I get onto that Greek course at Bristol I wrote some Euripidean hexameters that you can see under Verse.