Counting Cats in Zanzibar Rotating Header Image

Who is John Galt?

“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 WarThis 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.

Stormont Castle, Belfast - Dr. No's real home

Stormont Castle, Belfast – Dr. No’s real home

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.*

Port Erin Isle of Man

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.

My first true love, a "Speccy" with 48K RAM

My first true love, a “Speccy” with 48K RAM

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 MinerLords 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.

John Galt as a boy

John Galt before his dreams were crushed

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 understand the developers also built prisons...

I understand the developers also built prisons…

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.

Halifax College of Further Education

In hindsight, these buildings all look a bit soviet don’t they…?

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!

14 Comments

  1. Sam Duncan says:

    “…but it beats Dan Brown any day.”

    I’d never thought of it like that. Dammit, you’re right!

    “As my “cut”, they bought me a Sinclair ZX Spectrum.”

    Dude. Brother. You’re in, man. Former Kounter IanB and I “met” on a Spectrum forum, and Nick is one of the clan, too. The Speccy taught me the valuable lesson that I’ll never be a real programmer no matter how many classes I take. I often think of Tony Wilson’s line about not being a musician himself but enjoying their company. You can’t spend 30 years bumbling your way around a subject without learning something.

    Which is by way of saying, “Welcome to the Kitty Kounting Klub, John. Just try not to think about the acronym.”

  2. John Galt says:

    Thanks Sam.

    I was also friends with Mark Haigh-Hutchinson who wrote such classic games as Android One, Highway Encounter, Alien Highway, etc.

    Bizarrely, I got to know him as I was engaged (albeit somewhat briefly) to his sister. I remember him coming over for dinner with us when we lived in Headingley, Leeds driving a fully kitted out Astra GTE which was his present to himself after successfully suing his previous employers for breach of contract.

    It was a cut-throat world the Speccy games market.

    I was gutted when he died.

    :-(

  3. Julie near Chicago says:

    Well, JG, all I can say is this…

    –Not everyone can write interesting autobiography!–

    So thank you for giving us the pleasure of reading one who can. ;) ;)

    And many congratulations on your success.

    If the Isle of Man still looks like that photo, I am out of here. I want a nice quiet few acres beyond that ridge on the right (facing the photo), and I assume there will be no light pollution. :>)

    Speaking of photos, please don’t tell me that that architectural miracle that looks like a prison isn’t supposed to be some sort of Educational Establishment. *Snark*

    Also, despite your looking a bit downcast in your personal photo, I think you were definitely a cute kid. :>)))) So there!

  4. Julie near Chicago says:

    Moving on …

    Harrumph. However, Sir, I do hope you are not dissing A.R.’s A.S. prose. Which work I have read all the way through at least three times (admittedly I skipped The Speech the last time through), and into which I have dipped spottily off-and-on since.

    I always thought that The Fountainhead was a better novel qua novel, and We the Living (which I read after the other two) was an excellent first novel … but too depressing to re-read. :(

    But A.S. is a page-turner for sure. :)

    PS. I tried reading Dan Brown. (Namely, Digital Fortress–as I am constantly searching for great, reasonably realistic fiction involving computers, with lots of techie computer stuff in them). No dice. Then I tried the audiobook. Yawn….

    PPS. The best computer fiction I’ve ever read is Cliff Stoll’s The Cuckoo’s Egg.. Of course it isn’t fiction, but a true story. A minor detail.

    Second-best: Hackers, by Steven Levy. Sigh…it’s not fiction either. :>)!

  5. John Galt says:

    “Also, despite your looking a bit downcast in your personal photo, I think you were definitely a cute kid”

    Awww! shucks thanks Miss Julie. :-)

    Mind you Paul & Richard at school both thought so too. Fun times were had by all! :-)

    RAB has a more up to date photo of me from my visit a fortnight (Am Eng. “2 weeks”) ago. He might use that as blackmail at some point.

    At least it proves that I don’t have a creepy portrait hidden away in the attic mouldering. Just your average fat, balding 46-year old. :-(

  6. RAB says:

    Absolutely superb debute post John. Told you it would be fine didn’t I? ;-)

  7. John Galt says:

    Adding the photo’s was a good idea. I’d forgotten what cold, grim institutions they were. The brutality of the outside was certainly reflected within. I was surprised no-one burned it down, although the walls were full of so much asbestos that it probably wouldn’t have burnt down anyway.

    Thankfully the place was condemned and torn down as part of New Labour’s skoolz ‘n ozpitalz modernisation programme. At least Gordon Brown’s vast spunking away of the nations wealth resulted in the grim eyesore being demolished.

  8. Lynne says:

    I keep trying to post but my posts keep getting swallowed up!

    :0(

  9. Lynne says:

    Ah, that’s better!

    Welcome to the Kitty Counter Club, John. You are a first rate addition to the team.

    :D

  10. John Galt says:

    Thanks Lynne,

    Just a bit worried about finding my genuine “voice”. It’s easier said than done finding something new to say about the world we live in without being either repetitive or derivative.

  11. Philip Scott Thomas says:

    JG –

    Excellent maiden post. Glad to see you amongst the Enumerati.

  12. Daphne says:

    FFS, are children now given a full set a crayons at Counting Cats?

  13. John Galt says:

    Sorry Daphne, not sure what you mean?

  14. dcardno says:

    Julie (near Chi-Town):
    “I am constantly searching for great, reasonably realistic fiction involving computers, with lots of techie computer stuff in them”

    Look for Neal Stephenson – damn near anything, but start with Cryptonomicon.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: