Written by David Tebbutt, Mensa 02/88 - scanned

There I was, at nearly forty, with years of computer experience, Personal Computer World magazine and a newly-formed Caxton Software under my belt, when someone suggested I join Mensa. "Adam Osborne's a member, so is Clive Sinclair", said my friend. This supported what I'd heard about Mensa being a good grapevine for people in the computer industry, so I applied for the preliminary test.

Like many Mensa members I dropped out of the school system half way through my A-level course. I therefore didn't think I stood much of a chance but, when the preliminary result gave me a pass, that spurred me on to take the supervised test which produced an even better score.

I was chuffed to bits and dashed off at the first opportunity to the Captain's cabin for a 'new members' evening. " Where are the Mensa people?", I asked the barman. "you've got the wrong night", he replied. So much for being intelligent.

Shortly after this I found myself in San Fransisco where I called the local organiser who told me a party of Mensa folk were coming to the West Coast Computer Faire. As I was exhibiting there I gave the stand details and waited for the local intelligentsia to turn up.

To say I was disappointed when I saw them would be an understatement. Scruffy jeans and T-shirts bearing silly slogans seemed to be the order of the day. After a short while it became clear that we didn't have a great deal in common. I was invited to some sort of orgy deep in Silicon Valley but, while I might dream of such things, the appeal waned when actually faced with the opportunity.

I began to wonder what sort of society Mensa was: the contacts I had made to date weren't quite what I expected. On my return to England I bumped into Clive Sinclair at Personal Computer World's fifth birthday party. "I've joined your club", I told him. "What's that - the Sinclair User Group?", he replied. I felt such a twit. "No, Mensa". "Splendid", said Clive, " You must come to a Black Tie Dinner. There's one on next week".

"This dinner is going to be expensive. I hope I enjoy it", I thought to myself. The night arrived and I dressed up and walked extremely self-consciously to the National Liberal Club which, luckily, was quite near my office.

I walked in and the first person I met was Tony Buzan, a long time hero of mine. He wrote a book called Use Your Head which, quite literally, transformed my life in the mid-seventies. The technique he taught in the book is celled 'mind-mapping' and I have used it habitually from that day to this. In fact, I have sold some 4,000 copies of a computer program called BrainStorm which lets you map your mind into the computer and overcomes some of the frustrations of using two dimensional paper. Needless to say we had plenty to say to each other. At last, Mensa was coming up with the goods.


After a couple of these dinners Clive called me and asked if I'd mind running the International Journal while Mensa sought a permanent editor. Not wishing to let anyone down, I accepted. It was fun at first but then I began to realise that once you take on voluntary work like this there's no end to it.

The Black Tie Dinners continued and I also trotted along to several of Victor's Think-Ins. It was stimulating to hear the views of such a diverse group of people, and occasionally, test one's own ideas out. By now I was beginning to feel a little guilty at the shape my life was taking. Caxton was taking more and more of my time. The Journal was taking more than its fair share and, on top of that, I was writing columns and features for computer journals, not to mention giving up precious 'family time' to Victor's night out.

In the end something had to give. Unfortunately, it was my wife who suffered, not me. Out of the blue, she had a couple of severe grand mal epileptic seizures. I'd seen anything like it. I was convinced she was dying and, while waiting for her to recover or succumb, I took stock of our life to that time. I was sure that I'd have to bring the three children up alone. I realised that I'd not given the family enough attention and I resolved to make amends, whatever the outcome.

My wife regained consciousness after a few hours and, the next day, a series of tests began. Brain scans and other examinations followed and eventually the doctors said they couldn't find any physical cause for the seizures and prescribed Phenotoin capsules, to be taken for the rest of her life. The effect of the drug was to damp down the activity of her brain.

Only one thing mattered now, and for the next couple of years, and that was to restore Sylvie's health. I sold out my share of Caxton and resigned. I dropped the Mensa International Journal. I gave up the Black Tie Dinners and Think-Ins because I was afraid she might have a seizure while I was out. I widened my involvement in the magazine world and, of course, I had the BrainStorm royalties which enabled me to work from home.

Sylvie took a course of homoeopathic treatment, followed by cranial osteopathy to try and encourage a natural flow of the fluids in the brain and spine. As she felt better in herself we asked the specialist to give us a programme for reducing dependence on Phenytoin. He couldn't believe that we'd want the fits back. The truth is that both Sylvie and I preferred the fits to the sort of half life she was living under the drug. To cut a long story short, she stopped the drugs completely, carried on with the osteopathy, took a short course of hypnotherapy and, whatever the problem was, it disappeared.

More than three years have passed since my last Mensa meeting. Twice in recent months I've been tempted to go along to a Think-In. I haven't yet made it. Now Sylvie's been clear of problems for well over two years I'm confident that she's okay. My thoughts are once again turning towards running a business and BrainStorm looks as if it could form the nucleus of something exciting.

I will definitely get round to some Mensa meetings before long. I must admit, though, that I can't help wondering if they will still hold the same appeal as they did before our little scare. Whatever I do, I will make sure that I never again lose sight of the importance of the family unit.