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the humanity test

September 8 2018

The London Times has a regular feature, the Humanity Test, in which they ask allegedly interesting people a series of standard questions to which they respond wittily, intelligently and in an interesting way — or not, as the case might be. These would be my answers.


What is the most important decision you’ve ever made? To give up a well paying but unsatisfying and unethical job to do something meaningful with my life.

What is the biggest sacrifice you have ever made?
To give up a well paying job and live a life of financial insecurity.

What unexpected things give you pleasure?
The trajectory of life, its incredible twists and turns.

When are you frightened?
When the trajectory of life takes one of its incredible and unexpected twists or turns.

Who (or what) was your first love?

Her name was Bernadette. We must have been 10. Three of us boys in the class decided that we were each going to fall in love with someone, as a kind of game, and I chose her. We kept passing notes to each of our subjects saying I love you” and You are so beautiful!” etcetera. Problem was I actually did fall in love with her. After a relentless campaign lasting weeks or months Bernadette passed a note back to me with a love heart drawn on it. It was the happiest moment of my life. Unfortunately one of the boys, none of whom had enjoyed any success, snatched the note out of my hand and showed it to the whole class. Everyone jeered and laughed. Bernadette turned bright red and it instantly turned into the unhappiest moment of my life. I had never experienced such powerlessness. I felt like I had betrayed her even though it was not my fault. I never had a chance to explain how her token of love had been stolen from me and how I mourned its loss.

Half a century later I find her on the internet. It must be her. She is an artist. She looks about the right age in the photograph. I send her my (very belated) apologies via email with my best wishes.

To send it sends chills down my spine. I am currently waiting to see if, and how she will respond.

What are you most proud of?
I am not so much interested in pride but if I had to say something, and I suppose I have to, I would say my book — and the fact that I think I may have worked out what the fundamental problem of life and being human, is. Contact me for details :)

What time do you wake up and what is the first thing you do?
I wake up early, 5:30 or 6. The first thing I always do is make coffee, and it is best not to speak to me until half an hour after I’ve drunk it.

What will you always find time for?
Writing. A conversation about something that matters.

If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Houmos, freshly made, by someone who knows what they’re doing.

If you could choose only three people, who would be on your apocalypse team (not family)?
Friedrich Nietzsche, Karen Barad, and Anna Poletti.

What’s your fail-safe fancy-dress costume?
Kermit the Frog. Only kidding. Pass. I don’t do fancy dress.

What was the last thing you made with your hands?
Does writing count? If yes, then this humanity test. If not, umm… does putting a paper bag over the head of a Buddha in the garden of the Air B&B I am currently staying in count?

Are you tidy or messy, and is it a problem?
Messy and yes, oh yes. Oh dear.

Do you believe in the afterlife, and if so, what is it like?
This is a tough one. Can you wait until my book about death and dying comes out? It will be called Learning (not) to die. But no is the short answer.

What was your last big challenge?
After 44 years in Australia and the UK going back to live in The Netherlands with my partner of ten years and then breaking up with her two years later.

What three adjectives best describe you?
Oh dear. This is a tough one too. Funny, independent, irreverent?

What is the gap between how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you?
Well, some people don’t think I’m funny. Others misinterpret my irreverence as insolence or lack of respect. Yet others consider my insistence on independence as misanthropy.

Did you lie?
Not here, but I have been known to adjust the truth’ (such as it is), and/or to add or leave out details to make a better story — or a more palatable one.

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