Twenty-five years

It’s twenty-five years this month since I started at Downing College, Cambridge. I can scarcely believe it possible. The calendar used to be so friendly, and now it mocks me.

My route to Cambridge was unorthodox. I had my A-level results before I applied, and so my admissions interviews the previous winter covered slightly different ground than those of others, I suspect. I already had the grades they wanted: Downing had to decide whether to make an unconditional offer, or reject me.

I remember it as a dark, gloomy Friday in December, and I remember me as a bag of Tesco’s Finest nerves. I had three interviews that day: one with the senior tutor, one with the Director of Studies of the course I’d applied for (computer science), and one with a physics professor.

The latter might seem odd: after all, computer science is a few levels of abstraction away from physics. But Cambridge doesn’t like you to specialise on a science too early. In year one, should I be accepted, I’d be following a curriculum mixing computer science with both maths and physics.

I hadn’t twigged, naive hair-headed youngster in ill-fitting suit that I was, that the physics professor would ask me physics questions. I suppose I thought he was just a second or third opinion, since I’d already proved my knowledge in the subject under exam conditions a few months before (A-level grade A, S-level grade 2, if you’re counting). Thus, on entering his wood-panelled office and spotting what looked like a delicate windmill in a crystal ball on his desk beside a standard lamp, I began to worry.

The funny thing about subjects you don’t think you’re going to study again: as soon as you finish your final exam, all knowledge drains out of your brain.

We had the usual warm-up chat, with a few opportunities for me to burble away my nerves. All the while I was giving sideways glances to the ball and hoping it was decoration, a talking point, a physics professor’s equivalent of an Afghan rug on the wall.

It wasn’t. When the moment arrived I dredged up enough discarded theory to hum and haw my way towards the answers he wanted, and I remember leaving the interview distinctly more jelly-legged than I’d gone in. By then it was late, dark and cold, and I was glad it was my final interview of the day.

Earlier in the afternoon — after a college lunch, I think — I’d been to see my putative Director of Studies, Richard Stibbs. I sat outside his office with another candidate, who went in first. When my turn came, Mr Stibbs invited me in and asked me to take a seat.

Before me: a standard-issue wooden chair; a plush chair beside his desk, significantly more comfortable; and a small sofa, on which he sat with his notes and a copy of my application form.

Where would you sit?

I chose the chair beside his desk. I see it in exaggerated form even now in my mind’s eye: golden upholstery, inviting, empty. Begging me to sit on it.

I was supposed to take the boring wooden chair, of course, and Mr Stibbs said as much. I offered to move; he said it was fine.

I thought I’d made a tremendous faux pas. In retrospect I wonder if it helped — if it made me more memorable a candidate. Perhaps, although I reckon I was memorable enough as it is, applying post-A-levels. Having said that, when I arrived in October 1988 as an undergraduate, he did mention it to me. Ah, yes, you sat on my chair.

Sadly Richard died a few months ago, just short of retirement, after a career at Downing  and the University in various senior roles. At his death he was President of the College.

In 1988, he was younger than I am now. Damn calendar.

Jason Collins, the coming gold rush, and an interview

Since Disunited came out at the end of January we’ve now seen two male sports stars do the same — and a few female sports stars too, let’s not forget.

Jason Collins is the first NBA player to come out and continue playing. The second might be newsworthy too. The third? Meh. No longer a story — which is exactly how it should be. The first few male sportsmen to come out will have the pick of the sponsors. Those that follow will just feel secure in the knowledge that they’re doing nothing special — and nothing lucrative.

The gold rush starts now.

By a remarkable coincidence, just a day or so before Collins’ announcement I was interviewed about Disunited by the editor of Stonewall Times, the community magazine for LGBT players of Star Trek Online. A few of my lines now seem a little prescient:

Statistically it’s highly unlikely there are no gay players in the Premier League – or in the NFL, or NHL, or NBA, or any major sport.

And:

I’m still betting on a top player coming out this year, probably over the summer, and carrying on in the sport.

In the latter quote I was talking specifically about football, and post-Collins I’m even more convinced: in football and in other team sports, the time is right. Who will be next?

Read the full interview (reproduced with kind permission of the editor).

In the media

Review by So So Gay: The Pink and the Grey

Leading and fast-growing online LGBT lifestyle magazine So So Gay has reviewed The Pink and the Grey, awarding it four stars. I’m happy with that – who wouldn’t be happy with a review that starts “Undefinable and brilliant”?

Read the review

Interview for Stonewall Times

The internet-based role-playing game Star Trek Online has a large and active community of LGBT players, Stonewall Fleet, and there’s a community magazine called Stonewall Times. A few weeks ago its editor interviewed me about Till Undeath Do Us Part, and has kindly given me permission to reproduce the interview here.

Read the interview