I've had pages on the web since '94, with a WebÞing server since '95, and with WDG since '97. Yet here I am in June '98 with no personal webpage. Am I too boring to write about, or what?
Well, I'm a confirmed 'net junkie. In words too famous to need attribution, I have a dream. Though I have neither the courage nor the charisma of he whom I quote, I too believe I can play my part in creating a better world.
If you want to know all about me, there's lots of good factual information in my CV (that's resumé to readers whose English has an American accent). Well OK, it doesn't really tell you very much, like why I live alone, why I cycle to work, why I don't eat meat, or - most interestingly - why I believe the Internet can transform our lives. I guess a personal page is the place for these things, so let's try...
Am I allowed to introspect on the Web?
And I mean it! At the age of 13, I saw myself as a young scientist. Faced with a choice of 'sissy' arty subjects at school (none of which I really wanted to do), I chose music (well, at least you don't get your hands messy ;-). The music master was not a popular teacher: I think most of us would have described him as a crusty old somethingorother. But when lessons got underway, he did a truly wonderful thing! In spite of the school's poor equipment: an ancient mono record player and books fit only for biology practicals(*), he spent the entire first term on a detailed analysis of Beethoven's First Symphony. The level was really more appropriate to a university than to a middle school - though university students would no doubt have had to do more of the analysis on their own - but it was an inspiration! An understanding of music (and yes, that one work is a foundation for understanding most of the music ever written) has been a source of inspiration and pleasure that will never grow stale. Maybe one day I'll write a musical serendipity page, about some of my wonderful memories.
(*) Who needs a petri dish, when you have a mature culture growing in every textbook?
The music teacher responsible got into serious trouble with the educational authorities of the time over this, and the following terms were just boring. If only I and my classmates had realised this at the time, and could have spoken out.
The following year, a new and charismatic music teacher persuaded me and many of my contemporaries, against our better judgement, to join his choir. It was the start of my oldest surviving active hobby: I still enjoy singing.
What about theatre? Does it hold up a mirror to life? Well, maybe. To history, certainly. I hated history at school: dry, boring lists of kings, battles, dates. Marx or Orwell are far more interesting, and Shakespeare truly brings it to life. Did Henry V really turn from an unspeakable yob to the inspirational leader of Agincourt? Who knows? Who cares? The play is so much better than the facts. Ancient Rome is I Claudius. The dark ages are Wagner, John James, or Alan Garner. Jesus and Odin passed through a terrible death for mankind .. and braver still, Prometheus never returned. Macbeth and Boris Godunov murdered their ways to thrones they could never enjoy. Never mind historic uncertainty!
- or eggs.
Well, it's a hard decision. I'm not a real veggie: I do eat dairy products, and haven't the strength to quit. That makes me feel a hypocrite. I don't see meat as intrinsically wrong: I'm biologically an omnivore, and my two forward-facing eyes betray hunting genes. But what I cannot support are todays farming methods, breeding animals genetically-modified over many centuries solely to meet man's insatiable greed, and keeping them in unspeakable conditions for their entire lives prior to slaughter.
Well, in principle I should then devour the flesh of a sheep that's lived its life on the open moorland. And I should not eat the wheat that is grown by destroying the natural flora and fauna of so much of the world. It's hard to draw a satisfactory line...
Well, well, 1999, and a b***** great war of words! The xenophobic UK press as usual are digging up all the dirt on foul practice abroad (in this case French farmers). Excellent, but will they please be a little less partisan, and stop trying to pretend British farmers are any better? A plague on all their houses!
I said I'm a 'net junkie. I recently discovered Peter Seebach's hacker FAQ, which is a rather good insight into people like me. Yes, there are few of us, and - outside academia - you're most likely to meet us in Cyberspace.
I love children and animals, and I even get on with most adults when I get to know them. But I don't have family. On the few occasions when I've been seriously interested in a young lady, the nerves have always deserted me (well, nearly always, but the story of the one and only major exception doesn't bear retelling). I don't even have an animal companion, partly because it wouldn't really be fair on a pet to subject it to my lifestyle, but more because my country's ludicrously antiquated quarantine laws mean that any non-human animal would face a long prison term if it ever committed the crime of travelling overseas with me.
But I'm just mostly a sad case. My social life centres on my music and theatre: currently I sing with a chamber ensemble an opera group. At one time - back in the Good Old Days(TM), I ended up from a similar starting point rehearsing 8 days a week. 'Twas fun while it lasted!
I first took cycling seriously as a student at Cambridge. In my final (postgrad) year, a good friend suggested a cycling holiday. I agreed - at first on a "try anything once" principle. We ended up doing a tour best described as Cambridge to Oxford via Edinburgh - and many other great places. We spent nights in a tent, finding many lovely spots. I've been hooked ever since.
My cycling peaked around the later 1980s, when in addition to cycling to work I would ride on various club runs (usually CTC) most weekends, for a total often in excess of 200 miles a week. Social riding was good when I lived within a couple of miles of two different clubs' regular starting points. I still cycle regularly, but over lesser distances.
My first job was in central London, where I soon found that cycling was not only faster than public transport, but also faster and much more fun than motorcycling, while a train+bike combination was ideal for travelling further afield at weekends. Although it's harder in the countryside, with narrow, unlit roads and drivers who "know the road" and don't pay attention to it, the bike is still my preferred means of transport.
While the bike remains my preferred mode of transport, for recreational purposes I'm more likely to go into the Great Outdoors with boots and backpack. And now I'm also happier under the stars than in a tent, in anything but heavy rain or snow, or a spot where I have badly misjudged the insect population. Whilst living in Sheffield I could walk out of my front door and straight up into the Peak District national park, with its open spaces and good, clean air and water. Maybe someday I'll get the chance to live in my favourite part of Europe - the Italy/Austria border region and the Tyrolean Alps. But there's not time in one lifetime to live everywhere I'd like - even amongst places I've seen.
As I grow older, I find myself drawn to ever more remote places. But on a day by day basis, my more modest need is just for places not desecrated by the motorcar and driver. In a limited sense, that's surprisingly easy: in much of Britain (alas, less so in some other places I've lived), you only have to be 100 metres from the nearest road or car park, and it's free of their litter! Now, if only we could rid the place of cast-off fertitiliser bags, and the miscellaneous detritus of an insufferably arrogant agricultural establishment(*) whose propaganda would have us believe they're guardians of the countryside! It's a shame you can't go more than a few miles, even in the most 'remote' areas, without encountering roads or car parks.
(*) You can tell the decent landowners by the condition of access to their land. If you get a narrow path bounded by barbed wire, you know it's a real fascist. A decent path or open land, and you respect it.