“I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”
CCiZ is not really a forum for book reviews, but to try and introduce myself without reference to my nom de guerre, the fictional John Galt, hero of Ayn Rand’s 1957 epic novel of libertarianism Atlas Shrugged is impossible.
I know that many readers of CCiZ have not read “Atlas Shrugged”, due to being put off by the sheer impenetrability of Ayn Rand’s prose, which is torturous at best and diabolical at worst. In fairness, I agree…but it beats Dan Brown any day.
Suffice to say that John Galt was a freedom fighter in a dystopian vision from half a century ago that increasingly resembles the world we live in today, especially the United States.
My family heritage is decidedly mixed (some would say psycopathically confused), mainly due to various family members fighting on both sides during the Irish War of Independence and once again during the Irish Civil War. This led to the dubious honour of having a great-uncle hung by the Black and Tans for alleged “Sedition” as well as my grandfather being the only Catholic civil servant in the Protestant government at Stormont after a distinguished service in the British Army during World War II.
Given the nature of sectarian division, such dubious loyalty caused continual problems for the family with accusations of treason from both sides, culminating in an arson attack on the family farm which led to the majority of the family leaving Ireland for the comparative safety of Port Erin,Isle of Man.*
Due to the islands main industries at the time being fishing and farming rather than the currently fashionable financial services, the family was forced to seek work “across the water” (as the Manx refer to the United Kingdom), which resulted in me being born in Halifax,West Yorkshire in 1967.
As a teenager, I managed to show my parents how to cheat on a national marketing competition for a big name brand of alcohol and to win £1,000. As my “cut”, they bought me a Sinclair ZX Spectrum.
I know I should feel remorse about this, but the truth is that £1,000 was a lot of money back in 1982 and we were dirt poor. If it hadn’t been for that event I’d probably be a shelf stacker at Tesco’s instead of an international consultant / freedom fighter / raconteur / puddle-jumper ***
That little box-of-tricks with its calculator keyboard, shitty graphics and crappier sound was like electronic heroin and from the first moment I was hooked, not just because you could play Manic Miner, Lords of Midnight or Doomdark’s Revenge on it, but because you could make it do stuff.
As a spotty teen with a charisma bypass and the social skills of a hibernating tortoise this was a powerful attraction and by the end of 1982 I knew that my only goal in life was to be a computer programmer, which for a working class kid from nowhere, whose family tree consisted of little more than sheep farmers, coal miners, coppers and nurses was a big step up. It was like saying to them “I want to be an astronaut” and meaning it.
My poor bloody parents didn’t know where to begin. Schools were as useless then as they are now and despite me be a “bright and challenging pupil” (educational cant for “rebellious smart-arsed, know-it-all who keeps putting fellow NUT union comrades on the spot“), teaching anything about computers was not part of my schools curriculum.
However, they did have the right to send 2-pupils a year to the Wednesday afternoon “Computer Studies” class at the local further education college. This was my schools equivalent of granting a Rhodes scholarship and certainly not something that a dreadful little working class oik from the wrong end of town was going to benefit from. So they used the usual tried and tested formula for keeping the proles in line that “Given my patchy academic performance, they didn’t feel I would benefit from such specialised education.”.
The utter bar-stewards! Ignoring the fact that my “patchy academic performance” was largely down to boredom with their poor teaching and incompetence, but they had taken my one and only dream and crushed it underfoot with the contempt only possible by the gauleiters of the educational collective.
I was bereft, quite literally in tears and if the seeds of “John Galt” began anywhere it was in the dark corridors of that grim Northern school in the bitter spring of ’83. However, I was not the sort to go home and hide my head in shame and tears under the pillow. Sorrow turned to despair, then to anger and finally thoughts of revenge.
But how can an ignorant, powerless, spotty teenager gain revenge upon such institutional callousness? This was Halifax, not Columbine or Virginia Tech (and the dark lustre of those events lay more than a decade into the future). Thus with malice aforethought, I wandered into the same local further education college from whose course I had been spitefully excluded and enrolled in their O-level computer studies evening class (primarily aimed at adults), which they were happy to do given my obvious enthusiasm for the subject.
Since I was still at school, the funding for my place was paid for out of the local education budget, so the college wrote to my school to confirm that I was formally enrolled on their register.
Talk about setting the cat among the pigeons! You’d think I’d drawn a pentagram on the football pitch and ritually sacrificed the school goat to Mephistopheles, while committing an act of pederasty on a first year!
I was dragged in front of the headteacher and asked to explain why I had treated the decision of this school with such gross contempt and ordering that I withdraw my application immediately or face expulsion.
Even now I’m amazed by my calm response, which was basically “…if you want to expel me then that is your decision, but I’m still doing that class.”. Talk about the arrogance of youth; I felt like The Lord of All Creation.
In the end they realised that their position was untenable and swallowed their bile with malevolent bad grace, but I learned that those bastions of the UK educational system are a sour mix of irrationality and incompetence, with ego’s to match Gefreiter Schicklgruber after a good putsch.
There have been other events over the years that have formed me, but that was the one event which transformed me, such that to this day any attempt to chain me down leads to a roaring in my brain and the rebellious roar of “I am not a slave, I am a free man“.
I AM John Galt!
- * Despite what most people think, the Isle of Man is NOT part of the UK**, It is a self-governing dependency of the British Crown and also NOT part of the European Union. The traditional description of “70,000 drunkards clinging to a rock” is quite apt. We’re also big into motorbike racing. I mean seriously big.
- *** This is not a form of airline pilot, but rather…err…oh FFS! just Google it!