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[and i]

My name's Tim Baverstock, middle name Owen. My father wanted to use the Welsh version of Owen, (which I learned as 'Yayan' /'yI-yn/, perhaps a misreading of 'Yvain' from 'Owain'), but my mother stopped him, something for which I should probably be eternally grateful - no disrespect to anyone called Owain or Yvain.

Things were fairly normal for the first eight years - forts made of chairs in the living room, pilfered biscuits, my brother and I kicking each other from below while 'sleeping' in bunk beds, shouting at the other for being 'on my side' when the bunk beds were placed side-by-side with a sheet of hardboard between them to section the room, stealing comics from each other, etc.

I'm reminded that I used to make my bed so that the sheets and blanket were tight enough that I had to ease in from the top - none of the 'turned down corner' stuff. I can remember curling up in the bottom half of the bed - presumably to make it look like I wasn't there - and being trapped when my brother sat just below the pillows. I presume I did the same to him. Now, of course, I have a duvet. Not nearly as much fun.

Things stopped being normal when I was eight and my dad collapsed one morning, vanished into an ambulance, and didn't come back.

I was getting dressed for school - normal happy, well-funded state primary and junior school - when there was a heavy thud. Mum called up to check everyone was OK. My brother and I chorused 'Yes' but Dad didn't reply. I got into the room after my mother and saw Dad groaning and trying to get up from the floor, using the bed to help. I thought he was messing around in some sort of joke, and admonished him in my severest 'Oh daddy' eight year old way, but we were shooed to our next door neighbours and when I came home after school that was it.

We all experience events as we go through life, but we all try to make sense of them - an impossibly complicated, nuanced, and error-prone process of trying to understand what the other person meant to say (when your understanding of some word might have a different meaning in their mouth) or how they meant you to interpret some action of theirs (if at all - they may have intended to snub you, or merely been delayed by a bus), and the impact of that (mis)understanding on your immediate feelings, your long-term behaviour, and so on. It seems that because children have less experience against which to compare the new things that happen to them, they're liable to misinterpret things and stick with those interpretations long beyond the point where they could reinterpret them as adults. As an example: young children often consider their parents to be perfect, so if their parents divorce the child can only assume the responsibility is their own (because they know they've upset their parents in at least some ways, as all children do.) Sometimes that self-recrimination might extend beyond blaming themselves for their parents' behaviour.

I didn't blame myself for my father's death (I blamed God, and stopped going to church in an attempt to punish Him, but that didn't seem to achieve much beyond being required to do the washing up after breakfast while my siblings accompanied Mum to church), nor for my mother's death about twelve years later. I don't think I blamed myself for my best friend at ten deciding to have a different best friend either, but someone suggested recently that the events I experienced conspired to make me tend to expect all relationships to be transitory (and I'll add to suspect events to be fundamentally unpredictable: very bad or average) - a form of self-reliance and expectations management which served as a coping strategy, but which seems to mean I put more confidence in places, organisations, and jobs (and maybe not to have bothered to learn to read situations properly). Perhaps reading so much sci-fi and speculative fiction was part of that - the escapism into worlds where bad things generally happened for a reason, and bullies and villains generally got their come-uppance. My teacher training course said that during the ages of 7-14, the father will introduce the child to the real world - maybe it would have been less disruptive on my development had my mother instead died when I was 8 and my father when I was 20.

It would be nice in many ways if the real world were black and white; clearly it isn't and can't be because opinions differ, deeds are done, deals are made, and mercy and practicality says there must be forgiveness and fudging and shades of grey... heck, the best sort of fiction is about those shades of grey. But there's a world of difference between someone wittingly or unwittingly going 5mph faster than they should on the motorway because the motorway has been designed in anticipation of traffic moving at 80 or 90mph, and the kind of shenanigans whoever the latest bogeymen happens to be just now get up to - currently the proponents of the Euro who failed to hold entrant countries to the specified entry conditions, the countries who falsified their accounts, the people who helped them do that, the politicans who mislead their electorates with promises of easy wealth; previously those high finance types who were too young to remember the last crash, but who were somehow given reign by the banks to package arcane financial instruments enticingly, the others who bought them without due diligence for fear of missing out, bringing the west's economy to its knees, syphon money from our pockets and our employers' pockets into the vaults of those banks, and we ourselves who want more money simply for having money or to buy things before we can afford them - interest being the main cause of inflation, numerical greed seemingly inextricably bound up with development. And that's just finance. And I'm in there too.

I remember my dad through an eight year old's eyes of course, and my aunt has since filled me in on some of the more amusing things he got up to, but my recollection is of a warm, loving man, only ever too happy to explain various aspects of science to my endless 'what if' questions. I'm sure that was a good part of my reason for doing so well in science subjects at school.

My brother and I used to hide behind him to 'watch' Dr Who - the Daleks were pretty frightning - and he smoked a weekly cigar: he usually made smokerings for us when we asked. I recall one afternoon in Epping Forest with my relations that dad was smoking a serious thick cigar, and I asked to try it. My aunt tells me I was almost sick; I only recall recalling coughing a lot, but I've never taken up smoking.

I distinctly recall Saturdays involving bathtime followed by tea in the lounge in pyjamas, with sponge cake, the whole family and Nana Rose with TV for Dukes of Hazard, I think, Family Fortunes, The Generation Game. Good times.

With my father's death, mum had to take care of all three of us. It was a good thing that she'd been pursuing her own career, because she had to take it full-time. I shudder when I realise that I'm now older than she was at that time, at what a loss and burden she bore. Most of my memories are of being told off, though, usually (it seems) for things which Simon did. I think I must just have given up trying to protest my innocence, and just said `sorry' for every incident.

That's not to say that I didn't do bad things. The most spectacular of these was probably taking mum's pinking shears (scissors which cut zig-zig instead of straight) and making a vertical fringe, cutting every inch or so along the bottom of the dining room curtains, to make them look pretty. Our next-door neighbour says mum virtually threw me down the garden for that one. Hardly surprising.

Mum, was pretty good to us. She let us draw on the flowery dining room wallpaper before it was stripped off, never let us go hungry (except as occasional punishment) or cold, let us play quite late in the evenings, didn't restrict our TV apart from sending us to bed (not that there was anything which would have needed restricting by today's standards), and worked pretty hard.

After dad died, mum had a couple of boyfriends, a Greek man called Tassos who I don't recall having had a problem with, but vaguely recall mum decided she was amused by/at (and encouraged us to be amused at him), then a carpenter from the hospital where she worked as a physiotherapist, called Dennis.

For some reason, I disliked Dennis from the start. I'm fairly sure both Simon and Helen also disliked him (I think Helen reconciled herself with him later), and I wish I'd made my dislike more apparent, earlier. By the time mum was seeing him regularly it was just too late, and my hatred was seen as a problem rather than a reason to consider someone else. (Which said, I'm not sure an earlier expression of dislike would've helped.)

Dennis too now being dead, I think I can hone my issue with him down to a single point: his insecurity. It wasn't that Dennis was `only' a carpenter, whereas my father was a Doctor of Chemistry, and it wasn't that Dennis had little formal education and that I was at a very good school. I honestly don't think I would have acquired or sustained the long-term resentment of him that I still have over matters like that.

From his own account, Dennis hasn't had a particularly good time of things. As an undiagnosed coeliac, he'd always been sickly, and I seem to recall that his father had died too, his mother having to cope with this ill boy and trying to earn a living (without, as I recall, a profession to turn to, like mum). I'm finding it very helpful to talk through things with psychotherapists; I wish he'd had that opportunity.

Dennis's insecurity meant that he was always trying to make out that he was better than he was. Perhaps this was a particularly bad sin in my eyes because I'm forever under-estimating myself, so the clash was exacerbated. The sad thing was that while he was certainly skilled in various things - photography, carpentry - one of the things he really wasn't good at, was pretending to be good at things he wasn't good at: he lied clumsily and was easy for even a teenager to trap. Sadly, this treatment didn't drive him off.

Other friends and family seem almost universally to have been suspicious of Dennis - Grandpa wishing he could have forbidden mum from marrying him, a neighbour recounting how he wouldn't leave mum alone for a moment, a relative finding many empty bottles after his stay. I attribute my mother's suicide directly to Dennis's behaviour, and I still wish they'd never met.

Since he's dead, forgiving him is something which could only benefit me, but I can't work out what forgiving him means. This irritates me.

Somewhere along the line, I got into a good secondary school - consistent with my having reached the level of reading the purple-spot books in Junior school, and being in the fast-track for maths - but while I did consistently well in the science curriculum and English Language, I always got poor marks for the humanities. I has occurred to me recently that someone might've spotted that pattern and looked for a reason. I know I didn't work out at the time that History and English Literature were about being able to research and marshall an argument - having that spelled out might've helped. I didn't do so well at Geography either... perhaps it was too 'soft' a science. I improved in French when I developed a crush on my French teacher. :)

Early on in my first or second year, one of the boys couldn't remember my name, and picked `Godfrey' at random. I'd associated this with a camp character in the TV show `Are You Being Served?', and made the dreadful mistake of camping it up in response. Needless to say this was a Bad Idea(tm), and it took three years before the class bully decided that it was funnier to pick on someone else. Strangely, Anora and I became fairly good friends after that.

Probably in an effort to avoid being picked on, I started frequenting the computer club at school. There was a telephone link to Cambridge university, and a Compukit UK 101 - a very early home computer that someone had soldered together (you can get an emulator for it these days - computers have changed so much!).

I was forever staying too late in the computer room, one memorable occasion until 9pm leaving mum frantic, and I was perpetually banned due to my poor humanities marks, but I think it's safe to say that I was obsessed. Mum kept telling me to find other interests, that it wasn't good to be so focussed, but I didn't understand why she was unhappy with it. Rather than try to prevent me from being on the computer so much, I think it wouldn't been better to have tried to interest me in other things, and hoped that drew me away from the computer. Singing lessons would probably have worked, or perhaps some instrument other than the cello, but I suspect the family finances were too tight.

I managed to achieve ABC at A level, sufficient to fulfil the points requirement for me to go to Warwick University, to study Computer Science. I got my degree, tried teacher training but decided I wasn't interested in teaching kids who weren't interested in learning, nor in the extraordinarily long hours teachers are required to put in - regardless of how long the holidays are. Of course computers are now sophisticated enough that they quite often decide they're not interested in doing what they should be either: perhaps I'd be better off with throwing bits of chalk at recalcitrant kids.

I'm still unsure whether I'm living up to the potential that so many of my teachers apparently saw in me. I know I seem to lack the sort of drive to pursue my hobbies in earnest, although those things which involve relying or being relied upon by other people seem to work out.

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This page last changed Tue Jun 5 23:31:51 2012