Have I ensured that a world socialist revolution will never happen?
A book by Steve Wallis (www.socialiststeve.me.uk)
I was born on the 14th of May 1966, in Withington Hospital, Manchester, England. The name on my birth certificate is Stephen Kim Wallis. My first name was my mum’s choice – she was brought up as a Christian and named me after the “first martyr” Saint Stephen, the person whose feast it was when Good King Wenceslas looked out (according to the Christmas carol). However, when my mum taught me to spell my name, she taught me to spell it as “Steven” and consequently it was spelt that way on other important documents including my passport. She has told me that she taught me the Russian spelling to avoid confusing me with an irrational spelling that differs from how the name is pronounced, but the decision may have been influenced by the loss of her Christian beliefs and my dad’s politics (identifying with the regime in the USSR).
My dad’s middle name is Klim and he supposedly chose the middle name Kim for me because he would have liked to have been called that himself (rather than his obscure middle name Klim). I have suspected, however, that he chose it so that I would be teased at school for having a name most often chosen for girls! That is probably not true – Kim is fairly common amongst older men and there was a film called Kim about a young Indian boy with that name that he liked. Nevertheless, I hated the name due to being teased about it at one school, and still do because most famous male Kims (including New Labour politician Kim Howells, Australian Premier Kim XXX and North Korean dictator Kim il-Sung) are people I don’t identify with. Because of being teased, I refused to tell my fellow school students what my middle name was in the school I went to after we moved. Some of them knew I had a middle name beginning with “K” due to seeing the initial in an item of my clothing but none of them guessed what it stood for. Eventually they said that “Kremlin” was the most likely “name” due to my political views!
Towards the end of my time at school I became known as Steve, and that is the name I have been known as throughout my political life and for most of my work life. My full name would have had to appear on ballot papers if I stood in an election, and I didn’t want people in the polling booths sniggering at my middle name scuppering my chances, so when I was considering standing I changed my name by deed poll to “Steve Wallis” (removing the final “n” from my first name as well as my middle name). Another (much less serious) motivation was my desire to avoid being embarrassed about showing people my passport.
Later, when I was in a police station cell in Glasgow and told a police officer my new name and the two different names on my birth certificate and passport, I discovered that they had no way of entering these details in the police computer system to find out who I really was! The New Labour government’s current ID cards proposal is designed primarily to increase the surveillance of left-wing activists (the main enemy of big business and its representatives in the Labour Party). I once commented that the authorities would not be able to issue me with an ID card due to the peculiarities around my name! On further reflection, I realised that that is untrue; the new computer software would not have such an insurmountable flaw, and issuing me with an ID card and corresponding identifying number would finally allow the police and “security services” to keep track of me properly rather than having multiple instances of me (that they don’t know refer to the same person) on their computers.
My mum’s name is Jenifer (with one “n”) but she used to be known as Jen and now prefers Jenny (and has the usual spelling “Jennifer” in her email address). My dad’s first name is Max. I call my mum “Mum” but have usually called my dad “Max”, and that is how he has referred to himself when he has written/talked to me. I have cut off all contact with him, but he still tries to interfere in my life from time to time, for reasons that I will specify later in this book.
I look white, but I am a quarter Jewish. My only living grandparent, Max’s mother Ruth (who I call “Granny”) is of Jewish origin with German ancestry, but says that she is an atheist. I now have some religious and semi-religious views (which I will explain in chapter YYY) and feel that I may have influenced her by discussing them even though she denies it. I am also an eighth Welsh (through Max’s father’s mother), an eighth Cornish (my mum’s mother’s mother was from a Cornish tin-mining family) and also part Scottish (a great grandfather was born in Edinburgh but I’m not sure whether that counts because he had English ancestry). There were also German Jews in my family, ancestors of my Jewish grandmother; she doesn’t know if any members of her extended family were in Nazi concentration camps but that must be very likely. I visited Auschwitz in Poland on a holiday with some friends on one occasion in my life – a very moving experience. I have generally regarded myself as English but found out fairly recently that I am only about half English!
Both my parents went to Cambridge University, which is where they met, and both have PhDs. Once, when I was quite young, I was pondering that fact along with the realisation that I am living at a very important time in history, and wondering what I could do to make the world a better place. I wrote some ideas down in a book of paper. I can’t remember what I wrote and I don’t know what happened to that book. I probably threw it away realising that it would be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands. I believe that my subconscious has been working on the problem of trying to make the world a better place from at least that moment on.
Max once described himself as “a theoretical astrophysicist” – he used to study comets (and still did to a limited degree last time I asked him about it) but now he mainly works as a scientific consultant for the environmental organisation Friends of the Earth. There was limited funding available for comet study until Halley’s Comet returned in XXX, so we had to move house a few times and he was often unemployed but continued working on comets for nothing. This meant that the family was often hard up. Some would imagine, due to my parents’ education, that I had a privileged upbringing but the family never had large amounts of money. Of course the fact that they were well educated helped me in my education and academic career, as well as helping my mind analyse the world and understand socialist politics.
My mum got an MSc studying how the brain works and a PhD in theoretical physics, learning computer programming in the days when it was a real chore (putting Atlas Auto-Code programs on paper tape) while studying for it. She worked as a maths teacher (in a school), and a computer programmer and software expert specialising in databases (at universities and for the National Health Service). She is now retired.
I don’t have any sisters but have a brother, Sean, who followed in my footsteps to a large extent going into artificial intelligence (AI) research. He now works writing AI programs for the Survey of the English Language research group at University College London. I followed in his footsteps to an extent too, by getting involved in left-wing politics after him. I will say much more on this later in the book. Sean was born on Christmas Day 1967.
For the first four years of my life, my family lived in a terraced house in Withington, Manchester. I cannot really remember anything that happened during that time – my only clear memory of that house is eating on the floor after the furniture was removed when we were about to move away, and my mum has informed me that this happened two years later (after my parents let the flat out in an informal arrangement with friends of theirs).
I have however been reminded (with the aid of photographs) of my first friend – the child of Egyptian friends of my parents, Anat and Mohammed, called Mariam, who was about nine months older than me. I often played with her when we were babies and toddlers. Mohammed, who was a doctor, lived in Scotland at first after they got married, and Anat, who worked with Max, needed somewhere to stay and therefore lived upstairs in our house. Mariam had been fostered for about a year after she was born and the foster family wanted to adopt her, but Anat got her back while in our house. Mariam’s cot was placed in the same room as mine. Later on, before Sean was born, they moved elsewhere in Manchester with Mohammed moving down from Scotland.
We visited that family in Liverpool a couple of decades later and I shortly afterwards lived at the same student union hall of residence as Mariam (Wright Robinson Hall in Manchester, the only place I have lived in my life without disabled access, which is a vital factor in choosing where to live nowadays). We got on quite well there when we saw each other, but we didn’t have any mutual friends and we didn’t meet very often (partly because I was still very shy around women).
Shortly after my fourth birthday, we moved to Sweden for two years. We lived in a large block of flats in a town called Täby a short distance north of Stockholm where Max worked for a year. We stayed in Täby for another year, after a holiday in England and Norway, despite Max getting a job in Belgium. In Sweden, school was not compulsory until the age of seven so my mum educated me in English and maths at home. I learnt very few words of Swedish, because English was a priority due to my parents’ plans to return to the UK rather than settle in that country. I couldn’t cope with a Swedish playgroup because I realised that other children spoke a different language (unlike Sean who made up his own words that were a bit like Swedish) but my mum took me to an English-speaking playgroup a couple of mornings a week during the second year.
I think I have identified the main reason for the shyness I exhibited when growing up and that became less extreme but still considerable for many years afterwards – I didn’t really have any friends in Sweden. I had misremembered knowing Anders and Anja, the children of an Englishwoman called Jacky (a friend of my mum’s who she met when doing Swedish lessons) and her Swedish husband Björn, in Sweden but my mum has told me that they were not born until after we left that country and that I only knew them due to them visiting us in England. Perhaps I was confusing them with children of a different friend of my mum’s, who she found by advertising for somebody who spoke English. In any case, I didn’t see those children very often. There was also a Swedish boy who lived nearby, but he was roughly Sean’s age; Sean was much more outgoing than me as a child.
We moved back to England in 1972, when Max got a job at Oxford University. We lived in a large village (that became a small town at about the time we left) called Eynsham, about half way between Oxford and Witney. We lived in a rented house for about a year, before my parents bought a house next to Eynsham’s primary school. On that estate, there were a fair number of children about Sean’s age but none of mine; having a small number of friends as a result was probably another factor contributing to my shyness.
When Sean and I were both at school, my mum worked part time as a maths schoolteacher in Witney. However, she hadn’t received any teacher training and found it difficult despite knowing the subject well. She also found it time-consuming; it was only supposed to be part time but had to do a lot of preparation for lessons. She therefore quit after only doing it for one term. Later on, she got a job in the Biochemistry Department of Oxford University doing computer programming in the mathematical language Fortran. Her research group’s programs modelled the behaviour of anti-histamines and helped discover a cure for stomach ulcers. They even received some funding from an anti-vivisection group due to them pioneering techniques that didn’t involve experiments on animals.
Our primary school used experimental left-wing teaching methods which made life there much more enjoyable than it would have been at a traditional primary where pupils are kept in classes all the time. Although we were in class briefly at the start of every morning and afternoon (with children of different ages in the same class) and were sometimes given tasks to do in certain amounts of time, the rest of the time we were allowed to do what we wanted. By the time I started school, I was well educated for my age, and therefore had a lot of free time – most of which I used to write stories because that was what I most enjoyed doing. I found maths boring at the time but was good enough at it to complete tasks in that subject quickly.
When my mum was teaching me English and maths in Sweden, Sean insisted on learning as well. He was about a year and a half younger than me and his hands weren’t developed well enough to write, but he became very good at reading. When he started school in Eynsham, teachers expressed concern to my mum that he was spending a lot of time in the library, assuming that he was just looking at the pictures, and were astonished when my mum told them that he could read!
I lacked self-confidence around girls (particularly those who I was attracted to) while I was growing up – and for quite a while afterwards – but I had my admirers. There was a very attractive girl, who was quite a bit younger than me, at the primary school called Yvonne who once came up to talk to me and in that conversation she let me know that she fancied me. I was so shy that I think that was the only conversation we ever had! There was another considerably younger girl called Nicola Stallard, one of our neighbours in Eynsham, who also exhibited strong romantic inclinations towards me. I didn’t have particularly strong feelings towards Nicola, but I generally enjoyed her company. The high point of our (lack of a) relationship was playing the card game knockout whist in a tent in her back garden.
My best friend for most of my time in Eynsham was a Jewish boy of about my age called David Marsden. We spent quite a lot of time together, mainly playing games or watching TV. Most of the TV I watched was at David’s house since we didn’t have a TV at home (except in Sweden where I hardly watched it due to not knowing the language) until I was ten years old, just in time for the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Even then, I was initially restricted to watching it for no more than an hour a day. The main reason for this is that my parents did not want Sean or me to become indoctrinated by capitalist propaganda.
Whereas most children in the UK start secondary school at the age of eleven, and this was the case for those living in nearby villages who went to Eynsham’s Bartholomew Comprehensive School, Eynsham pupils started there at the age of nine. The first two years of more regimented teaching, always in classes, was probably necessary to ensure that we learnt enough to cope with secondary-age schooling. I found it much less enjoyable however.
Max once suggested that Sean and I should support Manchester football teams since that was the city where we were both born. I chose Manchester United because I liked the name, and Sean chose Manchester City. I don’t know what thoughts went through my subconscious mind when I picked United, but that word has connotations with unity of the working class, used for example in the slogans “The workers united will never be defeated!” and “Black and white, unite and fight!” In contrast, the word “city” reminds me of the City of London, the main bastion of big business in Britain. Additionally, the colours of Manchester United’s strip are socialist red and anti-racist black-and-white. The Manchester City strip is not a Tory dark blue but it is still blue. These factors influence football players (most of whom have working class backgrounds) in deciding what team they want to play for and fans in choosing a team to support. Consequently, Manchester United fans and players tend to be more left wing than those of Manchester City, despite United’s extreme wealth (at one time the richest club in the world but now saddled with enormous debts after the takeover by the US businessman Malcolm Glazer) and the fact that City’s ground was then in a solid working class area (Moss Side).
The first football match I watched was the FA Cup Final between Manchester United and Southampton in 1976, on TV at David’s house. David was a Leeds United supporter and was backing Southampton in that match. Southampton were extreme underdogs, being in the Second Division (now called “The Championship”) while United were in the First Division (now called “The Premiership”), but Southampton won 1-0. United weren’t doing particularly well in the league in those years but had a very good record in the FA Cup. They pulled off a shock 2-1 victory over Liverpool the following year and also reached the final in 1979. The latter match ended in a 3-2 victory for Arsenal, but I admired the way United came back from two goals down in the final five minutes only to lose to another Arsenal goal right at the end. Although I first chose to support United due to their name, it was also their exciting style of play, which they have kept through their much more successful times (particularly the 1990s) through to today, that kept me supporting them.
My favourite team now is FC United of Manchester, currently in the North West Counties League Division 1, formed by Manchester United fans opposed to Glazer’s takeover of the club, and I watched the top of the table clash against Winsford United last season, that they came from behind to win 2-1, at the ground they share with Bury Football Club. They scored many more goals in their first season than any other team in Division 2 of the league, but conceded quite a lot of goals too, largely (I think) due to them having many skinhead players in defence and as the goalkeeper; a terrible ‘mistake’ made by the keeper caused FC United to fall behind, which I think was deliberate because he was on the side of big business and undermining the overwhelmingly left-wing team. Despite the goalkeeper and defence, FC United won the league that season (2005-6) by a big margin, and had at least 2000 fans watching every game, even away from home.
David and his family moved to Israel while I was at Bartholomew School, and I chose a new best friend at that school: Darren Hammond. As with David, we played games and watched TV together. I particularly remember us doing competitions racing toy cars. I also remember playing some sports with Darren, including golf, football and probably tennis.
I wasn’t particularly sporting when I lived in Eynsham, except for middle distance and particularly cross-country running, for which I had a suitable physique (tall and slim). I regularly came in the first few places (and may have occasionally won races) on cross-country runs in the first couple of years at Bartholomew School, but there was a lot more competition after being joined by children from other villages. What completely lost my enthusiasm for cross-country, however, was losing to Sean in a race open to adults and children of different ages.
There was a girl I fancied in my class at that school, but the fact that I can’t remember whether her name was Sarah or Susan Corfe – as well as never having talked to her – implies that it wasn’t particularly serious.
One of the good things about Bartholomew School was the drama that I got involved in. I took part in three plays – The Little Prince, The Wizard of Oz (in which I played the Wizard) and one based on improvisation (which I didn’t particularly enjoy, probably due to not liking its war theme). When we performed The Wizard of Oz, one of the props failed to work, and I panicked and went behind the scenery to ask what to do; I was told to mime what was supposed to happen. It was quite an amusing incident, but it did dent my self-confidence at acting. My mum did some acting too with the local amateur dramatics society.
I joined the cub scouts (which I quite enjoyed) and later the scouts (which I generally didn’t) in Eynsham. I went with them on a camping trip, which was reasonably enjoyable. I can’t remember my attitude to having to swear allegiance to the Queen, and I’m not even sure that that aspect of the scouting movement was enforced (although I think it was). Looking back, I think that the most off-putting thing about the Scouts was the all-male atmosphere with some of the boys being pretty obnoxious teenagers!
In 1979, Max got a job at Cardiff University, where he collaborated with the Indian astrophysicist Chandra Wickramasinghe and the late Sir Fred Hoyle to a lesser extent. Max worked with them on the theory that life had spread through the galaxy via comets; they were ridiculed in 1971XXX when they had first put that theory but many scientists believe it today.
We therefore moved to a large town called Penarth about five miles away from Cardiff, in the summer half-term holidays (at Whitsun). My mum got a job at Cardiff University’s computing centre, particularly working on databases but also solving people’s problems with computers generally, soon after we moved.
I went to comprehensive schools (taking pupils of all abilities and run by the state) in both Eynsham and Penarth, but was fortunate in going to relatively good such schools. After I left, the school I went to in Penarth (Stanwell) “opted out” of local authority control, for which it received a large amount of extra money that was spent on many new buildings. It was a policy of the then Tory government to bribe schools that opted out, in order to lessen the power of local councils (many of which were Labour controlled).
There is a continual debate about whether classes at school should be mixed ability or whether there should be some sort of selection according to exam results. I’m strongly opposed to assessing pupils according to overall ability, assuming that those who are brighter in one subject are in every subject, whether used to decide what school somebody goes to (via the old “11 plus”) or for what “stream” somebody is in within the same school (as was used before my year at Stanwell). The term “streaming” is sometimes used to refer to placing people in “sets” (as we called them) according to ability in those subjects, and I tended to find subjects in which we were divided into sets better than those which weren’t – but if I was less able I may have found it more frustrating. Having said that, we usually had large class sizes and teachers didn’t generally go round talking to each of us in turn; perhaps this method, which is used much more nowadays, would have made mixed-ability classes better. The changeover from streaming to sets seemed to be beneficial – many more people in my year (about half) went on to do A-levels than the previous year. I suspect that the best solution is to break up into sets most of the time, but to occasionally have mixed ability classes in which the more advanced pupils help the teacher explain things they have learnt – helping their communication skills as well as the knowledge of the less advanced.
I was “lucky” enough to have exams before half term in Eynsham, and then further exams in Penarth after moving in that holiday. My Penarth geography teacher didn’t want to record my mark of about 50% but I was chuffed with doing so well despite a very different syllabus from that in Eynsham and I insisted on it being recorded. As a consequence, I was put in the second set in that subject while being in the top set in everything else for which setting was used. I did very well in the geography exam at the end of the first term and was moved up to the top set, but I had difficulty catching up with what I had missed and dropped the subject at the end of the year.
In my early years at school (in Eynsham), I was much more interested in English than in maths. However, I had some really bad English teachers at school in Penarth and I became much better at, and more interested in, subjects that involved problem solving – particularly maths and, later on, computing.
Max’s parents Ruth and Peter Wallis, who I called “Granny” and “Grandad”, were radicalised by the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) at that time. That war was a failed revolution, betrayed by “socialists”, “communists” and “anarchists” in that country uniting with capitalist “republicans” in a “popular front” against Franco’s fascists, and by the Communist Party in the USSR failing to send promised arms to the front (due to Stalin fearing a socialist revolution in Spain which could lead to a mass movement for democracy at home). The problem with popular fronts, which should be contrasted with “united fronts” of solely working class organisations (to use Marxist terminology), is that they result in lowest common denominator politics which fail to inspire some of the most downtrodden people in society. The popular front government in Spain failed to carry out redistribution or collectivisation of land (which could have won over the peasantry), or grant self-determination for Morocco (particularly important since that was Franco’s power base), in order to avoid alienating the small number of capitalists in the country at the time. A vaguely Trotskyist party known as the POUM, whose army a British communist joined by mistake in the excellent Ken Loach film Land and Freedom, was the best organisation in Spain, but they were too small to influence events sufficiently to defeat Franco.
Due to my grandparents’ influence, most of their children (including Max) also joined the CPGB and bought the Morning Star, a daily newspaper which supported that party. [I wasn’t totally cocooned away from capitalist influences; the family also bought the Sunday Times for a while in Eynsham and local newspapers in Penarth.] There have been a lot of splits in left-wing parties/organisations over the years and a split in the CPGB at one point while I was growing up spawned the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), which took the Morning Star with it. My grandparents and my uncle Hugh stayed with the CPGB whereas Max and my late aunt Sonia stayed with the CPGB (and hence stopped buying the Morning Star). After the fall of the Stalinist regimes in the USSR and Eastern Europe, the CPGB changed its name to Democratic Left. A very small organisation that was previously a faction of the CPGB and published a newspaper called The Leninist took advantage of the spare name and started calling itself the Provisional Central Committee (PCC) of the CPGB, usually omitting the PCC bit of the name. This organisation now publishes a newspaper called the Weekly Worker, which tends to be the most interesting paper on the left because it specialises in debates between and within left-wing organisations (particularly those in Britain); its archive on the web therefore gets a lot of hits. Although I strongly disagree with the CPGB’s positions on a lot of issues, particularly its extremely negative attitude towards the Scottish Socialist Party and its Marxist position of advocating hierarchies of committees based on workplaces, I have recently started contributing to that newspaper.
I have long suspected that regularly reading the Morning Star while I was growing up helped my subconscious mind come to conclusions about infiltration of left-wing parties by organisations on the side of big business including the official “security services” such as MI5, not just for spying purposes but to try to wreck such parties from within, although I didn’t come to such conclusions with my conscious mind until 1998. I’m not really sure whether I came to such conclusions due to the political positions put forward within that paper being pretty terrible for a paper of a supposedly revolutionary party, or merely due to me being exposed to left-wing politics in that paper. Nowadays I would point to its continued support for the now openly pro-big business Labour Party and an infamous editorial in which it called the overthrow of Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic by a mass movement primarily of and instigated by workers “a tragedy”.
If a daily newspaper like the Morning Star was democratically controlled by a political party, even one off-puttingly called “Communist”, then a big influx of working class people to transform it would be likely. However, it is actually controlled by the People’s Press Printing Society (PPPS), with influence dependent on ownership of shares. The PPPS is obviously infiltrated as well as the parties that the paper has supported.
Max stood as a local election candidate of the CPGB in Eynsham at one point and received very few votes (about ten). This certainly didn’t inspire me to become a communist! Instead I tended to support Labour left-wingers, particularly Tony Benn.
My involvement in politics while I was growing up was mainly limited to activities of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) – I attended a meeting in Eynsham and a large demo in London, and I also did a little door-to-door leafleting. It was the height of the cold war and CND’s proposal of unilateral nuclear disarmament, intended to encourage other countries to follow the British government’s lead and disarm too, seemed the best way of avoiding nuclear war. I remember being very frightened at the prospect of Ronald Reagan winning the US presidential election, which he did in 1980, because I thought he’d be trigger-happy.
A lot of rubbish has been said about Labour under Michael Foot at the 1983 general election being “unelectable” because the party was too left wing, by advocating unilateral nuclear disarmament in particular, but such commentators ignore the fact that Labour was ahead of the Tories in opinion polls until the outbreak of jingoism caused by the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands (called “the Malvinas” by them) in the South Atlantic and the subsequent war to recapture those remnants of the British Empire. It should also be pointed out that is not sufficient to merely adopt left-wing policies – you need to argue for them to shift public opinion to the left. Instead, the policies were actually undermined by people like former Prime Minister James Callaghan, at a public meeting in his and my constituency of Cardiff South and Penarth, arguing against Labour’s disarmament policy. Having said that, I think it is a good thing for politicians to speak their mind rather than simply parroting the party line.
Of course I also discussed politics with people, particularly my long-time best friend Julian Beard, who likes to be called “Jules” by his friends. I first met him at Penarth Chess Club, which we went to a lot and played for in the local league. He was in the year above me at school so I mainly saw him at one of our houses, usually playing games together, such as chess, various card or board games, Subbuteo cricket, imaginary football or cricket tournaments, computer games or table tennis on the table in our loft. We also played some sports in other places, such as tennis on public courts, golf on the pitch-and-putt course at the cliff top or badminton at the local sports centre.
Throughout my friendship with him, Julian was openly a Tory Party supporter. When I knew him in Penarth and for many years afterwards, including much of the time during which I was an active revolutionary socialist, I didn’t consider this a barrier to our friendship. Nowadays I recognise that anybody I know who is genuinely right wing would betray me if they got the opportunity, because they (like me) put the future of the world (and hence the interests of big business in their case) ahead of individual friendships. I know this from bitter experience of my friendship with Julian – in 1998 I came to the conclusion that Julian was a member of a conspiratorial organisation on the side of big business (which I then thought was MI5) for reasons that I’ll provide in chapter YYY.
I recognise that one of Julian’s roles has been to attempt to lower my self-confidence. One way in which he has done that is by persuading me to do something that I was determined not to do beforehand; he was particularly able to do this on the telephone because the absence of visual cues made it easier to manipulate me than when we were face-to-face. Throughout my childhood and for many years afterwards, I was very nervous on the phone, and I think that Julian’s influence was largely responsible for that.
However, Julian’s role was contradictory – in other ways he deliberately increased my self-confidence. For example, he introduced me to a lot of very nice friends of his; some of my early experiences with girls or women were with his female friends (including his first girlfriend Jackie Cook who had some slow dances with me in his presence). We went on several holidays together, sometimes just the two of us – including a month-long “InterRail” holiday staying in youth hostels in many European cities plus one in the Austrian countryside (he was very keen on the architecture of old buildings) – and sometimes with friends of his (some of whom I already knew too). On these holidays particularly, Julian encouraged me to talk to strangers, including chatting up women. However, I tended to have more success in that direction when he wasn’t around, probably largely because he tended to attract the women himself (being more outgoing than me although not particularly attractive). When I first knew him, Julian’s clothes were generally dull; when he later became more of an extrovert, he started wearing more outgoing clothes and he encouraged me in that direction too.
For a number of years, I looked back over our time together and guessed that Julian joined both the Tories and MI5 (or a similar conspiratorial organisation) at about the time that I went round Julian’s house in Penarth and two local Tories turned up at his invitation to try to recruit us to their party. However, looking back now, it is clear that he was acting alone as a genuine Tory Party supporter and real friend of mine throughout our childhood and for many years afterwards roughly until the point that he did admit to joining that party. I recognise now that he changed as a person then, becoming colder, more calculating and less contradictory (acting more consistently against me). At about that point, he mysteriously went out of contact with me for a few weeks, and I noticed when I spoke to him again that his telephone voice had considerably changed; I recognised later that he had been taught to speak hypnotically on the phone, perhaps at an MI5 institution.
One friend of Julian’s, who also became a good friend of mine, was Fraser James. [That is a pseudonym, since he does not want his name published in this book. Because I still get on very well with him, I am cooperating with that request of his.] He went to a private school until the sixth form, when he went to Stanwell to do his A-levels, where he was in Julian’s year. I didn’t know Fraser particularly well when I was still at school, and we never lived near each other at university or later, but we often met up to go away on holiday, or staying with each other, Julian or our own relatives in the Cardiff area.
Fraser is outwardly a Tory Party supporter like Julian, although I suspect he’s really more left-wing than he is prepared to admit, and he’s even more of a capitalist having made vast sums of money (and lost large but relatively small sums too) on the stock market. When the stock market was temporarily performing badly, he switched to investing in gold mining companies, since gold tends to perform in the opposite way to shares and mining shares reflect that about fivefold.
Both Julian and Fraser made huge sums of easy money that they didn’t need by opening many building society accounts with token amounts of money in them and then voting for them to convert into banks – an activity known as “carpetbagging”. Julian admitted to hypocrisy; he told me he would vote for the Nationwide to remain a building society (and hence being run for the benefit of savers and borrowers rather than shareholders) because that is where he had his savings! The Nationwide, with whom I have a mortgage and savings too, successfully protected itself against the carpetbaggers by temporarily preventing new savings accounts from being opened and then making new savers sign an agreement that would ensure that any proceeds from conversion into a bank would go to charity. After making a fortune from building societies, Julian and Fraser did the same thing with “mutual” insurance companies.
In contrast to Julian, Fraser’s main role in my life, apart from giving me insight into capitalist behaviour, has been to increase my self-confidence. The most important way in which he has done this is by getting me started at karaoke, on a holiday in Barbados. Singing has already played a very important role in my life and will continue to do so with my band (as described in later chapters).
Another way Fraser has helped my self-confidence (and I’ve helped his at the same time) is by encouraging me in the sport that I have the greatest ability at – skiing. I first went skiing when we were living in Sweden, but that was cross-country rather than downhill skiing and I consequently knew how to go straight down a hill and turn but not how to slow down or stop! On one snowy winter in Penarth, Sean and I got on our parents’ cross-country skis that they had kept since Sweden and skied around Penarth and down a hill in a nearby park (Cosmeston). That hill was so small and deserted that going full-pelt downwards was not a problem! These early experiences undoubtedly helped me when I went on proper skiing holidays, which I will talk about (including how my self-confidence at the sport helped my self-confidence around women) in chapter YYY.
The main recipient of my romantic inclinations in Penarth was Rhiannon Williams, who I think was in my class at school although I don’t recall us having many lessons together. She has played a significant role in my life so far, and may play a role in my future too, so the next chapter is about her. There was another girl in my class who I had a crush on during my first half term in Penarth, before I fell for Rhiannon, called Amanda Jewell. Amanda was nowhere near as good-looking as Rhiannon, but she had a nice smile. After Rhiannon left during the sixth form to take up nursing, I became interested in somebody else in my year called Jo Phillips. She was really a Rhiannon substitute who I was largely attracted to because she looked fairly similar – being short, having long straight dark hair and a pretty face (though not as stunning as Rhiannon). I was very shy with her too, never really making a move, although I think we smiled at each other a fair amount.
The other Rhiannon substitute was her sister Tania, who started hanging out with some people in my year despite being younger; she was at a few parties I went to in my final year at Stanwell. I came out of my shell a bit in that year, due to Julian being largely absent from my life having left home to study law at University College London. I’m unsure as to how much that was due to Julian lowering my self-confidence when he was around or simply because I was forced to make more friends to occupy my time. I had already made some friends in my own year, but I didn’t spend much time with them outside school. My first friend in Penarth was Bryn Warren, a boy in my class, but he wasn’t as academic as me and we drifted apart (I think he left school at 16 and I didn’t see him afterwards). In my final year, my best friend was Robert Ruiz (who liked to be called “Rob”); we spent a fair amount of time together mainly playing computer games – we regularly bunked off school on Friday afternoons, when theoretically we should have stayed there despite not having any lessons, to play such games around one of our houses. I also got to know Anthony Swinburne (who we called “Swin”), who lived near me on a road of posh houses dubbed “Millionaire’s Row”. They were both part of a group of mutual friends that included Tania and some other boys (including Huw Thomas who I also got on very well with). I have suspected that one reason Tania hung around with us was to keep track of me for Rhiannon’s benefit, but that was probably wishful thinking!
I took my maths A-level exam a year early, studying for it in one year rather than the usual two. I was one of three boys who took extra lessons in our first year of the sixth form, in addition to the standard A-level class, to cover the second half of the syllabus. We had completely separate maths lessons in the final year, to study for our separate pure and applied maths exams. Note that some exam boards provided exams in “further maths”, but the Welsh one provided them in separate pure and applied maths, the latter being a mixture of mechanics (which I struggled at) and statistics (which I was good at). The other two boys I did these lessons with were Philip Martin and Chris Dunscombe. I got on well with both of them, but didn’t know Chris that well. Philip lived on the same street as me (Westbourne Road) and I got to know him quite well outside school too, at one of our houses or playing badminton together. He was a bit of a loner, spending a lot of time making some very impressive toy aeroplanes and flying them in fields.
In my final year at school, I also got to know Fiona Strawbridge, who was really the first girl I knew who I could properly chat to. Julian liked to “take the mickey” out of Fraser’s and my taste in women/girls – although he had to admit that my taste in Rhiannon was very good when he finally found out who she was. I think this was one of the ways in which he tried to lower our self-confidence, although I’ll be charitable and concede that it was probably due to his subconscious. Fraser had a massive crush on Fiona, but never plucked up the courage to go up and talk to her. Julian repeatedly called her “a dog”, which was really unfair because she was quite pretty and had a very nice smile. I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I fancied her too, until I told Fraser many years later to try to help his self-confidence. I didn’t just fancy her because of her looks but also because of her mind. Fiona was close to joining our additional maths lessons, but for some reason decided against it.
I think that Julian’s criticisms of Fraser’s attraction towards Fiona were a large factor behind the unusual preferences in women he later adopted. Fraser went through a phase of particularly fancying women if they had buck teeth, a preference which Julian took the mickey out of even more. I don’t go along with the idea that such women are necessarily ugly, and personality is of course important as well as looks, but it is certainly a strange preference. Fraser later consciously adopted the attitude of only fancying relatively unattractive women, because he had become convinced that otherwise he would stand no chance of them being attracted towards him, and even finally gave up on relationships altogether. Fraser’s other unusual preference is only fancying women with very fair skin, which he insists is not racist because he never fancies white women who have a tan! This is one reason, as is Fraser being a Tory and active capitalist, and him visiting prostitutes in Amsterdam, why I cut off links with him completely for a few years fairly recently. Despite believing that he was more of a positive than negative influence on me, I felt that having a friend like Fraser could undermine me in the eyes of others. I now believe that Fraser is a mainly well-intentioned individual and a useful influence providing me with right-wing viewpoints on issues; we are good friends again.
Apart from the girls I’ve mentioned above, there were two in Penarth who showed strong signs of fancying me. One, whose name I think was Amanda (not Jewell), was somebody I met through Julian (she was a friend of one of his friends); she was quite a lot younger than me but I also came across her at school occasionally. The other was in my year at school and called Sonya Cole. She was quite attractive but always stank of smoke, which massively put me off her. She tried to kiss me on a number of occasions, and perhaps noticing how uncomfortable I was when she did that encouraged her even more!
A big problem I had with my self-esteem when growing up was that I often had the odd spot (mainly on my face). I wouldn’t say I ever really had acne, but it was only on rare occasions that I was completely free of the problem. You are told that it is just a temporary problem with hormones that will go away when you grow up, but for me it didn’t. I tried many different creams and lotions, mainly those on the normal shelves of a shop but also stronger ones that you need to ask for from behind the counter of a pharmacy, some natural remedies from a health food shop and I even got some tablets prescribed for me by a doctor. Some of these worked some of the time, but none worked completely. Eventually I saw a message on the internet by someone who had tried pretty much everything else without success but eventually cured her acne problem by eliminating a huge number of things from her diet. It didn’t seem practicable for me to do likewise, but I started paying more attention to what I was eating, having a healthier diet choosing organic and/or vegetarian options more often. I suspect that having a more varied diet, trying some things again that I had previously not liked, was more responsible for me overcoming the spot problem than boycotting particular foods. I have now realised that some food companies use chemical fertilisers and additives that have deliberate “side effects” of making spots more likely. For some people, avoiding occasional spots or acne requires a better model of the world in our minds, including an understanding to some degree of complexity of conspiracies involving food and drink as well as products we use on our skin or hair. Such conspiracies result from a deliberate strategy of big business to undermine the self-esteem of working class people in particular (since ruling class and middle class people find it easier to buy healthier food) and to make it harder for us to achieve a genuine rapport with others.
If somebody does not feel attracted to someone else, it is harder to genuinely care about him or her, perhaps even to the point of minding whether he or she lives or dies. Of course, attraction is not solely dependent on natural beauty – people can decide to make the best of their appearance, and smile often rather than looking glum. Also, having an interesting personality is important for attraction. Looking back, I realise that many people (male as well as female) have been attracted to me over the years, despite the skin problems I have sometimes had, because of my personality – specifically the vitally important role I am playing in the world (perhaps with them subconsciously sensing this role before I was aware of it or merely finding out that I was an interesting person). Indeed, since any genuine person puts the future of the world ahead of the personal happiness of themselves and people close to them, it is important that people find me attractive (perhaps even more so than people they are having a relationship with), and I have often flirted with people who I am not interested in having a relationship with (partly for this reason, but also for practice and just for fun). This also means, however, that girls or women have often turned down my romantic moves towards them, realising that having a relationship with me is not beneficial to the future of the world (in the interest of ordinary people against big business). The fact that I have only ever had four relationships, and none of them lasted particularly long, has actually been beneficial. If I had spent much longer periods of time in relationships, I would have had to devote a lot of time to my partners instead of doing something important (politically or work wise).
I have gone through phases of being a vegetarian, or strictly speaking a “pescatorian” since I also ate fish and seafood, but this has sometimes led to me having cravings for meat. I believe this has been because I need a more varied diet in order to build up a better model of the world in my mind than people on the side of big business who I need to outmanoeuvre. How can I understand BSE (“mad cow disease”) or bird flu if I avoid all beef or poultry? Me eating meet makes very little difference to the number of animals killed, but I still eat vegetarian food a lot (particularly at left-wing gatherings) and avoid wearing or carrying leather because I don’t want to be looked down upon by vegetarians and vegans. Similarly, I have needed to consume some food made with dodgy chemicals such as fertilisers or additives, rather than sticking to organic products, so that my subconscious can figure out how they work. Due to experimenting in this way, I occasionally still get the odd spot, but that is not a significant problem nowadays.
I am now a pescatrorian again, since I think my model of the world is good enough, I prefer not to give off the impression at all that I don’t care whether animals suffer and eating meat is a big compromise with my ethics that I would rather not make. Besides, the thought of animals suffering can make meat taste less nice. As I stated in the preface of this book, being pescatorian is a rational position due to fish and seafood being cold-blooded and therefore not having feelings or a struggle between GOOD and BAD forces going on in their minds in the same way as with warm-blooded creatures
I didn’t get on very well with Max when I was living with him. He only hit me once (not a very socialist act to put it mildly), but he was and still is a very cold person, both on the outside and on the inside. Sean often had shouting matches with Max, which I usually kept out of, while we were growing up. I have, at times, got to like Max much better after I left home, and after my mum left him, but I now dislike him because I realise that he is overall on the side of big business and that he is only pretending to be left wing. He still interferes in my life from time to time, and I have sometimes given him the benefit of the doubt, but I am now refusing to have anything to do with him because he is largely an enemy of ordinary people trying to overthrow the rule of big business and establish socialism. You don’t have to have any conspiratorial ideas to realise this (which I do have) – he freely admits that he has become disillusioned with socialism after the fall of what he calls “communist” countries (ones with Stalinist regimes).
I also hated Max because he was mentally cruel to my mum throughout their marriage (but she has forgiven him now and I think I am more understanding of Max’s position that he wasn’t deliberately being cruel). They rarely rowed and he never hit her, but he stifled her as a person. She is much happier now that she has left him and regained her independent thought, including the Christian views that she had before she met Max. When I’ve visited Penarth, I’ve stayed with my mum rather than Max, and even when I was in contact with him, I spoke to him on the telephone much less frequently than with my mum. The level of mental cruelty was so severe that it sent my mum into psychiatric hospital wards on several occasions – firstly after I was born, then after Sean was born, and a few more times when we were both approaching important exams or at university. My mum has told me that on the first two occasions she was deliriously happy – the opposite of post-natal depression, which I have deduced was due to gaining another member of the family as a counterweight to Max. She also told me that she only stayed with him for so long, and kept quiet about her feelings about him, for the sake of us kids. We would of course have been much happier without Max, but she feared a court deciding that she was unfit to look after us, due to her previous periods on psychiatric wards, if she left him before we had grown up.
I doubt that Max is a member of a secretive big business organisation – his actions are sometimes too fast and erratic – but I am 100% sure that he is mainly on their side, and that he is therefore cooperating with people who are in such organisations and competing with socialists such as myself.
I was a paperboy in Penarth for a couple of years or so, delivering newspapers six mornings a week. The pay wasn’t particularly good (£1 a day when I stopped doing it) but it was an interesting experience. The most useful aspect to the job was in reading some of the articles in the papers! Sean had a much worse deal, doing Sunday deliveries – a lot more time and effort for very little extra pay due to the weight of those newspapers; he had to return to the shop for more papers whereas I could take them all at once. We gave up after starting to make much more money from writing computer games – an activity I’ll describe in chapter 6.
Largely as a result of my computing experience at home, I was determined to study it at university. When I had to decide on five universities to apply to go to during my final year at school, I didn’t just use the “UCCA handbook” at school to make my choices (like most potential students) – I also asked my mum to enquire about the best place to study computer science at the Cardiff computing centre where she worked. I was advised to go to the University of Manchester. I visited that university on its “open day” and certainly was impressed by the ancient machines that had been built at the university, on display in the computing centre downstairs from the Department of Computer Science. However, I was not aware that those machines included the first real computer until many years later, as I’ll explain in chapter 7.
I received an offer from Manchester of two Bs, in computer science and physics having already got an A in maths, without having to attend an interview. The standard offer that year from that university was three Bs.
I also applied to Warwick University, mainly because its computer science degree looked the hardest to get admitted onto, based on typical grade offers the previous year. It was also an interesting contrast with big cities like Manchester and London (I applied to University College London where Julian was) having a campus in the countryside. My interview at Warwick remains the only formal interview I have ever had in my life, and I was chuffed to have impressed the interviewer so much by talking about my computing experience to be given an offer of two Ds (which also had to be in computer science and physics).
The main reason why high grades were usually required for Warwick’s computer science degree was that they didn’t accept many students (about 20 or 30). In contrast, Manchester went up from about 60 the previous year to about 180 in my year (including “joint honours” students who were studying computing with another subject such as maths). There were big increases in people studying computing at university at that time due to it only just being taught at school. The big increase in intake at Manchester later caused a crisis at that university’s computer science department – there was a vicious circle whereby offers were reduced to get enough students for the degrees, making them look less prestigious in the UCCA handbook so the ability of applicants declined, leading to offers needing to be reduced even further the following year.
Once I had got those two offers from the two universities that I was most keen on, there was no point in visiting any of my other three choices. You could only accept two offers, except for Oxford or Cambridge, and Manchester was my first choice with Warwick in reserve if I did badly at my A-levels. I didn’t seriously consider applying to Cambridge, despite it being the most prestigious for science subjects (Oxford was more orientated towards arts subjects) and my parents going there, because computing was only provided as an option of the maths degree. Besides, I was put off by the elitism.
I took my A-level mocks just before the Christmas holiday in 1983. I was very busy writing computer games when I should have been revising, and consequently I only got a C in physics (missing a B by 1%). This alarmed Max, because I needed a B in the real physics exam the following summer to go to Manchester, and he persuaded me to do the S-level exam in that subject, going to the extra lessons to study for it. “S” stood for “special” and those exams were considerably harder than A-levels (“A” stood for “advanced”). One reason I struggled in physics in the sixth form was that my teacher, Mr Brazel, who had been very good and enthusiastic in O-level classes, had big personal problems causing him to be rather unmotivated when teaching us for A- and S-level exams.
My O-levels, which I took at the age of 16 (now replaced with GCSEs which have an additional A* grade), yielded unremarkable results, because they relied on memory to a large extent and I found it hard remembering irrelevant facts: As in computer studies, maths, physics and French; Bs in chemistry, English language and English literature; a C in German. Quite a few girls in my year at school, and perhaps the odd boy, got straight As in their O-levels. However, I equalled the school record with my A-level results, at the age of 18 except for maths a year early: As in maths, computer science, physics and pure maths and a B in applied maths. I wasn’t as good at the S-level exams I did in my final year at school – I got “merits” (passes but not “distinctions” which were the top grade) in both computer science and physics. [Incidentally, John Redford, whose A-level record I equalled and who was in the year above me at school, got distinctions at his S-levels.] I found the physics S-level very tough – we were supposed to answer two questions out of several in the exam paper and there was only one that I had the faintest idea how to answer; I think I got full marks for that question and zero in the other because all I could do was write down the question!
I went to the University of Manchester in the autumn of 1984, which I will talk about in chapter 8.