September 1982 was littered with important moments in history, Debbie Maffet was crowned the 55th Miss America, the sitcom ‘Family Ties’ staring Michael J. Fox premiered, and Belgium experienced a one day strike by rail workers. Also in September of that year I first entered a school. Up until that point all of the learning I had done was all off my own back, devouring books at a rate of two a day. I knew so much, that Rome was named after the Romans that lived there, I knew that Hitler was bad, some turtles can breath out of their anus, butterflies use their feet to digest food, and that Barry Manilow did not write his hit ‘I Write The Songs’.
But despite all of the things I knew, and this will come as a surprise to you, when I started school I wasn’t sure if I actually was a genius or not. Sure I knew that the average woman used her height in lipstick every five years and insightful facts like that but when it came to things like basic mathematics I was lost.
So after one week of schooling I decided to leave.
You may think this was giving up but you would be wrong. I wanted to be a historian and the only thing you need as a historian is to know about things that happened a while ago. I didn’t need maths, if God had wanted us to learn maths then why did he invent accountants? Ah, got you!
So, instead of going to school everyday, I would make my way to the public library in Oxford and set about reading every single history book that they had. It felt wonderful to have lost the chains that had bound me in during that week at school and I was able to do what I wanted to do. I read books by all the great historians, Herodotus, Hume, Hegel and other historians whose surnames didn’t begin with the letter ‘H’ like Malcolm Howard.
During my many days at the library I began to become quit the fixture and was taken under the wing of some of the staff there, particularly one old lady, Elsie Roberts who would recommend certain books and authors to me and in doing so became a major influence on my life.
One day we sat and talked about some of the things I had been reading about recently. At the time I was heavily into the history of Austro-Hungarian Empire, formed in 1867 and I asked her which countries had made up said empire. She looked confused and muttered something about salmon paste at which point I realised that Elsie was actually as thick as shit.
One of the things I noticed about history books was that a huge amount of them covered the same topics, wars, empires, countries and politics. There were very few books written about topics that I wanted to know more about, such as who invented the penguin, in what year did someone first sneeze and who came up with the idea of walls, and which came first, the wall itself or the name? These are the thoughts only a genuis would have. All of these questions needed answering and so I had found what I thought at the time was my life’s work….