Friday, February 06, 2009

25 things

25 assorted facts about me. Probably considerably more, if you expand each out into its individual statements. It's actually a copy of a Facebook note, and explained there - I'm probably one of the last people to do this anyway. But if you wish to tag yourself and do this too, feel free.

1. I am verbose. "Paul talked on and on" is a prophetic word, according to my wife. So this may well be somewhat longer than your average "25 Things". Also, they aren't in order. Sorry. Go get a coffee first ....

2. I went to university in Cambridge, but I didn't attend any May Balls (in June), row in any boats, go punting, have any champagne picnics, or get recruited by the KGB. My politics were somewhat right wing at that stage (I didn't see the need to close my account with Barclays just because they were sponsoring the South African government's imprisonment of Nelson Mandela), and our SU never asked the male students to buy women's sanitary products (unlike that of King's College).

3. However, I did join the University Air Squadron. This was excellent - cheap drink (cheaper than Spoons), and a Soc that actually paid you for turning up. In addition to which, they taught me to fly. And didn't kick me out, even though aerobatics made me airsick. And you actually had to put together your own ents, so it was very involving.

4. My most unpleasant experience at Cambridge was being beaten up by a drunk townie. I didn't know how to cope with this casual violence, and this had quite significant psychological consequences.

5. Technically, I am an MA (Cantab). However, I'm not one for letters and stuff, and particularly those ones, since they imply I have done more to deserve them than I have (which is basically stay alive for 3 years after graduating).

6. I didn't have a gap year, but between A-levels and university, I worked on a summer camp in the States, on the Camp America scheme. I didn't have the nerve to apply to be a counsellor, though I'd probably have enjoyed it. Most people ended up in NY or Pennsylvania. I ended up with an eclectic group in Mississippi. There is a little camp in Pinola, Mississippi, and if you look closely, you'll find its Facebook group.

7. After that, I went to Toronto, and from there took the Greyhound bus to Vancouver. In Vancouver, I visited Expo 86, which was also excellent, and gave me a taste for the Expos that hasn't really been sated yet, despite getting to Expo 2000 in Hanover.

8. I met somebody on the bus to Vancouver, and in a parallel life, this would have led to me staying on in Vancouver.

9. I was pretty insufferable as a teenager.

10. My parents didn't want me to go to the secondary school that I was destined to go to. So I didn't go to any of the open days or visits, and when I turned up, and all the children went from the assembly hall to their assigned tutor groups, I was left behind. The school was cool about it, though, and within hours had found me a place in the right tutor group. This may have led to me moving away from premillenialism.

11. There are relatively few things I value that I have "discovered for myself". REM, Sixpence None the Richer, Garrison Keillor, Jostein Gaarder and Francis Schaeffer are some of them. U2 I owe to Suzanne McEwen, though I did rediscover them when "All That You Can't Leave Behind" came out; Talking Heads I owe to my sisters.

12. My interest in literature dates back to the time I was doing a science degree. It irritates me that whilst people apply the term "philistine" to someone with no cultural depth, many people still take pride in their innumeracy, let alone their lack of scientific knowledge. The world would be better for more people having a broader education.

13. On the back of this, I was Literary Editor of GROGGS for a while. GROGGS was a bulletin board, but to be honest it was much closer to a community along the lines of Facebook (for example) than this would suggest - albeit a somewhat geeky one. I picked the handle "Exiled from GROGGS" because I missed it. Then I managed to get back to it, and discovered that it wasn't as satisfying as it had been. The exile is now self-imposed.

14. The first unsolicited writing that I had published was a 100-word review of "The Cat Who Walks Through Walls" by Robert Heinlein, a book which started well but drifted away half way through. It was published in "Paperback Inferno", one of the publications of the British Science Fiction Association ("DON'T call it Sci Fi!!"), and you can still find reference to it on the internet, if you know where to look.

15. When I first met Liz, she was going out with somebody else. I met her again when she came to my baptism, just before I started my flying training, and we corresponded intensely for three months, particularly whilst I was in Florida. So when we next saw each other, we knew each other pretty well. I think I knew by then that if I was going to marry anybody, it would be her - knowing who your future wife will be pretty quickly seems to be a fairly common experience amongst the men who I have been close to. We will have been married 17 years in April.

16. I didn't cope well with being the focus of attention, and still find it somewhat unnerving, which is a little odd for a lay preacher, I guess. This led to me having to walk out of our wedding reception during the best man's speech.

17. Talking of walking out, I was part of a group of people that walked out of the first funeral I went to.

18. Flying is amazing. I knew when I left the University Air Squadron that I wouldn't cope with the RAF. But I also knew that I would either have to get somebody to pay me to do it or spend a lot of money I couldn't justify on paying to do it as a hobby. I chose the former, and was fortunate enough to get part of my flying training paid for by British Midland (who became bmi).

19. Oxford Air Training School was a means to an end (ie. getting a professional pilot's licence). But if you think student accommodation is bad, you should see what they offer - and how much they charge for it. And you are treated more like a secondary school pupil than a university student, despite the fact that it is your money that they are spending, and most people going through there have already managed to establish themselves in careers.

20. Back to uni. I was disappointed with a good 2.2 - but the fundamental problem was that I'd not needed to work before going, and thus didn't know how to. Had I got a 2.1, I would probably have ended up in academia, which would have completely changed the shape of my life.

21. I would have called myself a Christian when I was 13, because I had "responded" to an "appeal" of sorts. However, I didn't know how to make sense of it all. That changed around the time I was 21, under the influence of Roy Clements at Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge, the books of Francis Schaeffer, and my now brother in law, who had become the minister at my home church. All of a sudden, I could see how Christianity was not just a "religious" bit of my life, but an entire worldview which made sense, and allowed me intellectual coherence. I am still utterly convinced that Christianity allows me to make sense of the whole universe in a way that no other belief system does. I would be more than happy to speak about this with anybody who has a few hours to spare - in fact, it is one of my favourite activities.

22. Despite my verbosity, I also love listening to people. One of the most amazing things that humans are capable of is getting into somebody else's mind - understanding their desires, motivations, feelings, thoughts. I am so thankful to the people who have permitted/invited me to do that. You know who you are. It makes me teary.

23. Talking of being teary, I am regularly ambushed by small children's books. If I pick up a children's book in a bookshop, there is roughly a 1 in 3 chance I will end up nearly weeping. It made it difficult to read to the children, sometimes. We have three of them, by the way, and I don't read small children's books to any of them any more.

24. Books are very important to me. Our bookshelves are often double stacked. Facebook notwithstanding, a defining feature of my friends will be that they are likely to have had books recommended by me to them. Sorry. You don't have to take it seriously. But they are good books.

25. Life is very short.

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