Celtic Illumination, part 242, Testing times.
Tony and myself were spending a lot of time together, in fact we were becoming very good friends. No matter what we were doing Tony was always very competitive, whether it was drinking, driving, flying, whatever, he had to always be one better. He wouldn’t want to beat you so that he could brag about it; he just needed to beat you. I think it may have been his own self-worth he was reinforcing. I actually admired Tony. As a student, when he was studying to become an optician, he had found himself in a situation where he suddenly had to provide for a wife and child, if you know what I mean. He desperately wanted to continue his studies and qualify so he drove a taxi in London at night and studied throughout the day to become a very successful optician.
He hadn’t had an easy life. His father was a painter and decorator and when retired, Tony and Mary would go around to their house, every Sunday evening, visiting them and having a meal. One Sunday evening he walked in to find both his parents dead, by the gas fire, which they think had gone out as they slept, and asphyxiated them. So Tony had my admiration, I thought he was quite like me, or I was like him, whichever. We were both switched on and hardworking and we were both determined, but Tony more so than me. I discovered this once during a game of squash when he refused to give up after I had defeated him. He insisted that we continue playing, which we did, for well over an hour, but he was unsuccessful. Then one day, in the pub, where else? The landlord approached us and showed us a small quiz in a newspaper. It was the MENSA quiz.
You know the sort of quiz I mean, ‘If a donkey has six carrots, how long will two donkeys take to dig a trench?’ That sort of thing. Both Tony and I agreed on the answer and the Landlord went away happy. We then began to discuss the test and wondered if it meant that we were now clever feckers, sorry, intelligent enough to join MENSA. A few days later I came across a similar advert but this time followed through and actually completed the puzzle, cut it out and posted it off, applying for membership. Now at this time both Tony and myself would have considered being in MENSA as something positive. We were unaware that many, especially in the media, consider MENSA members to be somewhere, on the anorak scale, between train spotters and chess players, more versatile than the former, less obsessive than the latter, the very models of self-obsessed, high-grade intellectual futility.
Had I been aware that members of MENSA were considered ‘freaks’ I may not have applied for membership. In fact some critics can actually be quite funny, one article I read called members of MENSA ‘Eggheads’ and claimed that they all had chips on their shoulders, which provided the gift of a title of ‘Eggheads and chips.’ For those of you who have seen the newspaper puzzles, completed one and deduced that you are a clever fecker, I’m sorry, it’s a bit of a con. You haven’t joined MENSA you have applied to do their assessment test. They had contacted me and asked if I would like to take their assessment test, at home, unsupervised. If I would send them a couple of quid they would supply me with the test. It came back, a small booklet with the instructions. I was supposed to stick to a certain time limit and not have any outside help. I photocopied the test and gave Tony a copy.
We sat at his dining room table and, supervising each other I suppose, completed the test in the prescribed time limit. We then exchanged booklets and worked our way through the test discussing various questions and the answers we had given. It was strange that we argued about so many answers but because we did I was convinced, or concerned, that I had got most of the questions wrong. I had to know, so I submitted my completed test paper. I had been successful and now was being invited to sit a supervised test the next time they were holding them in my area. Again it was only a couple of pounds and when the letter came I didn’t really think much about it, I just went along to a school in Bury Saint Edmunds, on a Saturday morning, and along with about twenty other people, took the supervised test.
When we finished, the guy in charge, who looked as if he had stepped out of an Open University televised lecture from the seventies, suggested that we all head to the pub and have a beer or three. I have to admit they were a strange bunch, but all very nice, in a geeky sort of way. Eventually my results came back and I had passed, I was invited to join MENSA. I did, and I promise you the only reason I did was so that I could place my membership card in front of Tony and challenge him to join. Tony calculated his chances from the discussion we had with our answers and could never find the time to take any of the tests.
So although most people in MENSA are embarrassed at being in MENSA, most pseudo intellectuals, who report and criticise on MENSA members, are not members. They usually say that are clever enough to join or have been invited to join, but they don’t want to be associated with a bunch of social inadequate freaks, all sounds a bit like jealousy to me. You may feel the same, that being in MENSA means nothing, but think about it, since the mid 1940’s in the United Kingdom at eleven years of age most people sat a test known as the eleven plus. This was an intelligence test that separated children into different educational streams and seriously affected their way of life. So for those of you, who think this sort of thing was not important, think again. Remember most journalists are failed solicitors.
MENSA has a magazine that is produced each month. It was a standard magazine type production, with articles, letters, adverts and a list of meetings. The four centre pages of the magazine were yellow in colour and contained a regional break down of meetings, where there were to be held, what they were about and any rules for attending. Some of it looked pretty weird, like ‘multilingual scrabble, non-smoking venue, bring your own bottle.’ Because they were yellow in colour they were known as the ‘Yellow Pages.’ British Telecom, who run the telephone system in the United Kingdom, called its business telephone directory, the Yellow Pages, probably because they too were yellow in colour. What no one expected was that British Telecom took MENSA to court and made them change the name of the section in the magazine.
I didn’t think much about it. I never attended any of the meetings, I sort of read the magazine and left it at that. The one thing I do remember from the magazine was one advert that ran every month; it said “If you’re so clever, why aren’t you rich?” and as this was the Thatcher years of greed, yuppies, Filofaxes, Porches and mobile bricks, it certainly struck home. But it was one day in Flight Planning something happened. I had taken the magazine to work with me, for something to read, and two baby pilots came in. They asked me for some charts and I left my desk to find them their charts. One of the baby pilots picked up the MENSA magazine. When I got back to them and gave them their charts, the one with the magazine asked who it belonged to. When I said that it was mine he began to laugh and stated that how could the MENSA magazine belong to me, I was Irish.
That is the exact moment that I decided to leave the air force. I had put up with a lot but you know that donkey, the one with the carrots digging a ditch, well this was the straw that gave it some very bad back problems. You probably think that I harboured thoughts of hatred at the giggling prat in front of me, but I didn’t. Well; I did, but my overriding thought was a line from the poem ‘An Irish airman foresees his death’ by W B Yeats. It reads, “I know that I shall meet my fate, Somewhere among the clouds above; Those that I fight I do not hate, Those that I guard I do not love.” Those final eight words resonated in my head, those that I guard I do not love. Unfortunately, for me anyway, the moment I made that decision I switched off to the air force. I had eighteen months left on my contract which I hoped would be enough time for me to figure out what I should do in civvie street.