Everybody gets their 5 minutes of fame don’t they? Well I’m no exception, although unfortunately it’s not the sort of fame you’d use as a chat-up line when attempting to court young women at a local pub. Well, not the sort of real-ale serving pubs I like to go to at least!
The sad fact though is that despite getting my photo in the local newspaper (they spelt it wrong as is the custom), despite being flown down to London for an awards ceremony, despite earning the respect of my peers, despite earning the kudos and admiration of the teachers at my school (there you go, I’m giving it a time-frame now) it seemed that my 5 minutes of fame was to disappear into oblivion. Googling for this momentous achievement – my crowning glory if you will – never returned anything relevant. There’s no Wikipedia page for it (speaking of which, where’s my Wikipedia page?!). Even my award certificate had vanished (assuming I’d ever been presented with one). No, all I had were my memories and I was going to have to bury them and recant the tale to my poor grandchildren in decades time starting with the line “Have I ever told you about my 5 minutes of fame…?”. Like a true grandparent I’ll ignore the moans of despair from them (as they’d heard it a hundred times before) and tell the story anyway. Of course by then I’ll wonder if it ever happened at all or if I’d just imagined it…
However my father is moving house soon and while clearing years of rubbish out he came across my hallowed award certificate. It proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have indeed had my 5 minutes of fame and yes, despite attempting to join the Royal Marines (and coming damn close), despite playing tough, physical sports like football, despite climbing many mountains and competing in several endurance events, despite having a crew cut for many years (although not at this particular time) – underneath it all I’m a complete geek. I’ve hidden it well but must finally hold up my hands and tell you the truth…
I (and some classmates) won THE TIMES TOURNAMENT OF THE MIND!
“The Times Tournament of the what?” I hear you ask? Well back when I was a kid at school the national newspaper (The Times) ran a competition set by brainiacs Mensa. My memory is vague but I believe that each week a set of questions would be printed and teams of schoolchildren around the country would try to solve them and by some iterative process one team would win outright and earn a prize for their school. If you’ve ever done an IQ test then you’ll know the sort of brainteaser questions they set. You’d get a set of shapes and have to work out what the next one was. Or some puzzle whereby two cars are moving towards each other accelerating by a certain amount to certain speeds and you have to work out where they pass. That sort of thing. They’d get more fiendish and tricky every week to the point where even the teachers (who weren’t supposed to help) would get stumped.
Fortunately myself, 9 of my classmates (who I’m sure were all much smarter than me) and our maths teacher – Ken Nisbet – managed in 1989 to get all the way through to the final and win it! It was quite an experience and considering we were competing against children much older than ourselves I think we did rather well. We won a computer for our school which was a big deal back then along with a trip to London (which seemed a million miles away from St. Andrews at the time).
And that, for the record, is my 5 minutes of fame. 🙂
As an aside, Ken Nisbet (who I believe still teaches at the school I went to – you can see him in that photo of the team above) was and no doubt still is quite a character. He had a real enthusiasm for maths and managed to make learning about triangles, calculus and all sorts of other aspects of maths actually seem interesting and entertaining. I really looked forward to his classes. The fact that I’ve managed to build a successful career as a software developer – which at its core is all about maths and problems solving – is thanks in no small part to the way he managed to capture my imagination. It’s easy to live your life and forget the people who actually got you where you are today – but to people like him I owe a great deal of gratitude. Thanks Ken, you’re a star!