Autobiographical mutterings

I doubt I'll ever actually try to sit down and write a full account of my life: I have trouble imagining why anyone else would be interested in reading it. The bits of it that relate to work are properly covered by my CV. As for the rest, I sometimes feel the urge to write about things that I've experienced, so I'll bung them here and see what accumulates. The results may be a little depressing. I tend to self-censor, mainly to avoid embarrassing others implicated in my tale.


I was born in the middle of 1963 at home into a prosperous family living on the edge of Countesthorpe, a village about seven miles (11 km) south of Leicester, in the middle of England. I have only dim memories of my early life (and my memory is fairly hazy in any case), augmented by tales I have been told and complicated by some memories that I suspect were actually dreams, sometimes prompted by things I'd been told. (For example, when our house was extended, Dim Tim walked across the wet concrete leaving foot-prints; I remember this, and my mother is in the scene, but her memory of that cat leaving his mark in the foundations doesn't match mine, so I suspect I dreamed mine after hearing her mention the real crossing.)

My parents were not fans of Harold Wilson's comprehensive school system, so resolved to send my brothers and myself to private schools. The preparatory school they chose, Stoneygate, was in Leicester and had an entry age requirement above that of the state school system; so I spent a year or two in the village infant school, just across the road from the church my family attended, and one term in the kids' annexe to Countesthorpe Comprehensive (a flag-ship school of Mr. Wilson's grand experiment, as it happens). I then spent several years at Stoneygate, an almost-all-boys' day school, from which I moved on to Shrewsbury School (on an exhibition – a kind of partial scholarship), an all-boys boarding school with a history stretching back to The Rennaissance. I'd have been happier going home to my family each day than I was there. While I suspect most teenagers suffer psychological abuse from their peers, as I did there, having some escape from those peers would have made that less traumatic, at least for me – home was a happy place for me, especially thanks to my much younger sisters. All the same, there was privilege in that schooling, and I did not suffer the worse kinds of abuse some others have reported from similar schools. There I took O, A and S level exams, the public qualifications in the UK at that time, and Cambridge's scholarship exam, winning a scholarship to Trinity College, where I studied mathematics and theoretical physics for four years. My school awarded me the Philip Sidney medal for being a clever and hard-working boy.

As a student I encountered social contexts in which I actually felt welcome; I also met a great many women and learned to juggle. These novel experiences distracted me somewhat from my studies: I attended many lectures (including the party at which I introduced John Conway to what some describe as the look-and-say sequence; later I was the sub-editor of Eureka who helped make his tale of audioactive decay fit to print), but neglected my home-work, for which I have been doing penance in the software industry for most of the time since. Before embarking on that pennance, though, I did spend a year supervising students (anywhere but Cambridge would call this tutoring; I would meet with groups of typically two students and discuss their attempts to answer questions their lecturers had posed, but that had no bearing on any kind of grades – the questions were there: to give them something on which to exercise their understanding of what the lectures contained; and to provide a focus for discussion with me about anything they struggled with); I was good at it but the pay was mostly academic.

All this I did without the benefits of a crucial neurochemical, serotonin; this held back my emotional development and left me susceptible to depression. The former lead to my being utterly incompetent at anything resembling courtship, with heartbreaking results – probably for more of those I met than I ever realised at the time or can remember now. The most egregious example of that had me neglecting a woman I loved (I'd managed some preposterous mental contortions that left me imagining her still attached to a prior boyfriend, despite clear evidence to the contrary) at a party she'd invited me to – and, to make matters utterly disastrous, getting tangled up with another woman, whom I should have ignored entirely but instead ended up divorced from four years later. After the first year of that débâcle I understood how I had hurt the woman who'd brought me to the party and saw plainly that I had little to look forward to; that broke my will to fight the depression that had always threatened to engulf me, leading to three years of total despair, in free-fall down into The Abyss. The stubborn part of my head that kept dragging me, against my will, round the daily cycle of work, eat, sleep and other necessities eventually dragged me to the doctor who diagnosed and cured the neurochemical disorder that underlay it all.

That had involved an excursion to Warrington and Liverpool for about three years, after which I was glad to return to Cambridge. Another, rather more refreshing, excursion took me to Bergen for a year a little later, but otherwise I remained in Cambridge, making software better for various businesses there while starting, in my spare time, to build up the tangled mess that is now this web-site. In the summer of 2000, I had an idea that I've been slowly chasing up ever since, in my spare time, when I have any enthusiasm to spend on it. The bursting of the early internet bubble left me out of a job just weeks after I'd, on a summer 2001 visit to friends in Oslo, noticed that Opera software would be a nice place to work. In spring 2002, I duly moved to Oslo, where I have remained ever since. I even own a modest flat in a reasonably nice part of town (and have finished paying off the mortgage on it).

While my delayed emotional development was still catching up through some semblance of what others experienced as teen-agers, early in my time in Oslo, I met and grew to love a good woman. We had a happy decade together; though the tale ended in tragedy (via a diagnosis that forced me to discover the meaning of the norse word bukspithjertelen; I already knew what kreft meant), I do at least have one happy long-term relationship to look back on. My attempts at courtship since have proven as incompetent as ever and a precious friendship that I neglected while mourning seems now lost to me. Mostly I manage to remember how to find solace in solitude. I have little to look forward to but work, aging and eventual death. I take some comfort in moderate prosperity; but money famously cannot buy love, without which I have no prospect of ever being the good father that a few folk have remarked I would make. Fortunately, there are (to me) surprisingly many people who are friendly-disposed towards me, that help me to endure a life without snuggles.

Maybe some day I'll be able to afford to retire to a dome home embedded in the side of a hill.

I'd never heard of aphantasia until watching that video lead me to discover I have it.


I am an agonisingly shy introvert (who gets over it enough to be routinely mistaken for an extrovert). I have no reason to expect to ever again be anyone's boyfriend. I usually manage to at least accept my fate with moderately good grace, with a little help from my friends.

I have a talent for algebra, a vigorous interest in theoretical physics and a long history of earning an honest living using my brains. I would give up my mildly lucrative career for an entry-level position in academia if that would let me teach bright young people to do algebra better than their present teachers understand.

I take enough interest in a broad range of fields to be able to extract sense from people fluent in a wide sprectrum of specialisations; which has left me willing to put forward opinions on far more subjects than I can honestly claim to know much about. Mostly I have the humility to listen when folk who know more about those subjects tell me how woefully wrong those opinions are; this process provokes others to teach me more about their fields.

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