Author - James Irvine
I live in North Yorkshire with my wife Helen and my 21 year-old son Stephen. I have retired from my post Lecturer in Physics and Electronics at Leeds City College.
I was born in Chester and brought up in Northwich in Cheshire. My own education was at Shrewsbury School in the 1970's.
I spent my university years at Edinburgh, coming out with an Upper Second Class Honours Degree in Biological Sciences.
During the 1980's I worked as a clinical cytogeneticist in Bristol, which paid for an elderly car, a small flat, and my membership of Bristol Ariel Rowing Club. I also coached a number of crews at Bristol University, a story in itself. By the way, the Olympic triple jumper Jonathan Edwards spent time as a cytogeneticist in Newcastle, before he spent his whole life, as he put it, "jumping into a sandpit" (which he did remarkably well).
At the same time as Jonathan started jumping into his sandpit, I started in a profession that involves banging one's head against a brick wall (which is not an Olympic sport). I retrained as a physics teacher at Sheffield. It was strange being a student again after work, but in those days I looked (and acted) a lot younger than my age, and fitted in quite well. As well as rowing I found I had something of an aptitude for fell-running, a lunatic sport where you go belting up and down hills. In Bristol I had been something of a runner, but the hills were nothing like those round Sheffield. I found that it was easier to go uphill than down.
I have been married for nearly twenty four years now. This takes some doing, as most people can put up with me for fifteen minutes. Helen was Domestic Bursar at an Oxford Theological College. She is an excellent cook and it shows on me; I have hit middle age in a head-on collision. I once had a fine head of hair. I started to get a bald patch when I started teaching. ("You've got a bald patch, sir." "Yes, it's where I tear my hair out when I mark your work.") .
Hobbies and Relaxation
For relaxation I do like to fly my virtual aeroplane. I have used Flight 2004 (FS9) to teach myself to fly. This software is about as realistic as you can get on a domestic PC. Many flying organisations use it for basic training, including some air forces. So it can't be all that bad. I would love to fly a real plane, but that costs real money.
I have tried FSX (FS 10), but was disappointed:
It is not compatible on my Windows 7 computer;
It would break on hitting 10 digital bluebottles.
I have X-plane 10, but it can take for ever and a day to load up on my quite fast PC.
I also play trains on the Open Rails train simulator which has brought the antediluvian MS-Train Simulator into the second decade of the twenty-first century.
I like to do photography. I still have my old Olympus Camera which I use for what I call chemical shots. I also have a digital camera which has more than paid for itself in the number of shots I have taken. If the shots are no good, it costs nothing to ditch them.
My favourite hidey-hole is my workshop in which I turn wood on a lathe and make furniture. Inspired by Gardeners' World, I have thirty day projects, which usually end up as thirty week projects. My workshop is a tip, a glory-hole of bits of wood, machine tools, bits that might come in useful one day, garden tools and noxious chemicals, all covered in a patina of fine oak dust. Here is some fruit of my lathe:
I have invented a number of contraptions to help me with my woodworking, including:
a dust and chip extraction system with cyclonic filters;
a thicknesser based on a portable power plane (it broke after a couple of years),
a shaper using a pillar drill;
a router table.
I support (from a distance) Northwich Victoria Football Club, once a stalwart of the top divisions of Non-League football. It was always a good football club, but not a very good business. After a series of seriously bad strategic decisions by various owners in the last decade, the club is now a bad football club and a bad business. It has now been thrown out of the Northern Premier, having been thrown out of the Conference two years ago. Frankly, it is finished.
Why did I write this site?
I wrote web-based notes for my Physics students, some of whom did not have access to text books, or for whom traditional text books were something of a turn-off. They were originally based on my teaching notes. I also included Electronics notes and ICT notes, because I taught those subjects at the time. I have continually been bowled over by the number of students who have found my notes helpful. Some have found them a life-line when they have lost teachers at their schools. Although I may sound naïf, my motivation for teaching has been to give for free the excellence for which my late father beggared himself. And this is what I want to continue to do with this site. And many students have been helped. I hope it will continue to do so.
My son, Stephen, was diagnosed with autism some years ago. I had always thought that Stephen's characteristics were just because he was a little version of me. Since I could identify with these characteristics with myself, and could understand my many character defects as a child, I concluded that I must have some kind of autistic spectrum disorder. I have always found it very difficult to look others in the eye, and can find social situations difficult. I put it down to being shy, and never thought that it was anything else. After a period of bad depression, which nearly broke me, it slowly occurred to me that I have Asperger's Syndrome, a high functioning autism. This view was supported by my doctor and teaching colleagues.
Asperger's shows itself in me by my finding it difficult to look people in the eye, my slow and ponderous manner of speech, and not reading body language well. I am shy and can be awkward in social situations. My late mother would often berate me ("I was appalled that you...") for some social gaffe of which I was (and still am) unaware. My mother would constantly tell me to stop looking gormless; it was a word which I knew from early childhood. The headmaster at my preparatory school (an independent middle school) described me as "eccentric by choice". I was often shouted at or physically punished for not fitting in. Mr Roe, my maths teacher, would throw the board rubber at me because I was looking gormless. I was obviously good at this, because he did this almost every lesson. And he was a good shot. I never dared try it myself - not only would I be sacked, but also I would hit the wrong student, or put the board rubber through the window. I am a hopeless shot at throwing things.
I was a misfit as a child and could be quite obnoxious and selfish - I am deeply ashamed of, and embarrassed by, my childhood. I want to apologise to everyone whom I have hurt, tried to pull a fast one, manipulated, was devious with, lied to, tried to score points off, thumped, or was otherwise obnoxious to.
My late father was disappointed (but did not show it) that I did not end up as a leader of men. Certainly my education was designed to prepare me for the privations of service to the British Empire. In another age, I would blindly obey the orders to lead the men over the top. If I were lucky, the bullet would have hit me between the eyes; if unlucky, it would have hit me in the intestines. Either way I would have been a name on a plaque. Mercifully I never had to make that choice of dying a "hero", or a coward at dawn. What I can say about boarding school was that it was, for me, an intimation of Hell.
In work as a cytogeneticist, I was a misfit. My boss sidled up to me on a number of occasions with the encouraging words, "...you have not lived up to our expectations. You are very immature, you know." Yes, Rod, I was immature. I admit that. Now I know why, although I make no excuses. In effect, I had blown a damned good job. There was an excellent article by Lynne Wallis in the Guardian about the difficulties of people with Asperger's at work (Loyal, Talented ...ignored, Saturday 07/04/2012).
Many times I have queried the wisdom of working as a teacher in schools, particularly as the soft skills are so important in defusing conflict. I have told my college students of my condition so that it does not prove to be a barrier to learning. I am glad to report that it has not.
As someone with Asperger's I am not a freak. I do not have any weird interests. I look relatively conventional. Although it might not come across well, I do actually care about the people with whom I have dealings, and a great deal at that. I genuinely want the best for everyone.
I want especially to thank my long-suffering wife, Helen, who has had to put up with a great deal. Although I am not always attentive, I genuinely appreciate what she has done for me.