When we were kids, Tom and I were known for our professorial pronouncements, our willingness to learn doctrines of literature, languages, records of sportsmanship and musicians. We were a little overwhelming with our facts. In the seventies, it was alright to laugh at nerds. It was alright to punch them. Our elder siblings to a lesser or greater extent, did so, and in doing so, I think did us an enormous favour.
We have been climbing a mountain every day for the past fortnight. We went to the Greek island of Santorini and stayed in the cheap part – Perissa. Behind the hotel was a mountain which took forty minutes to climb, it said in the guide book. At the top was the ancient city of Thira. Our first day, we took forty five minutes to climb up the first stretch, getting used to walking in thirty degree sunshine, and finding our feet on the rocky pathway. At the end of the fortnight, it took us thirty minutes. When we got to the top, we paid our four euros to clamber the 3rd century BC paving stones, and to marvel at the way the city was so perfectly perched, the small houses on top of one another, the amphitheatre with its three walkways which could seat 1,500 people, and the agora like a mini mall.
The fact is…our love for each other is never stronger than when we are physically pushing ourselves to get to a place where we can learn and marvel and imagine and delight in history and architecture. Being punched for being clever made us even cleverer. It also made us run faster and stay fitter.
After we had taken our morning up the mountain, we would head for the beach with our teenaged daughters, and lie on sun beds reading books, punctuated by long swims in the sea. We have read, between us, 15 books over the past fortinght – bliss. We ran out toward the end, and found that we had to hire a car and go see the island. In Oia, the picturesque part of Santorini, with the white buildings and blue domes, we walked listlessly through little corridors of jewellery shops and silk shops, until the fifteen year old cried out as if she had stumbled upon treasure: a bookshop. Atlantis Books, covered in quotes by worthy authors, and a hand-painted rail that says ‘The kindle won’t destroy books the way elevators didn’t destroy staircases’ on a stairway leading into its trove. A cave-like place no bigger than someone’s boxroom, lined with the juiciest, most delicious wares. Our hearts beat faster.
We enquired after books about the Ancients, and chatted with the owners about authors and people we knew in common, about our loves, our hates, our brushes with the famous. We looked at their first editions, and read an actual letter from T S Eliot in the back of a first edition of his Four Quartets. My, we had a ball. As we were leaving, the seventeen year old said – ‘on this whole trip, because of the way you brought us up, it is this – this place, that has given me the biggest adrenalin rush’.
Geeks are not born, they are made.I know this, because I bred four mini Factoiders. When we were children, Tom and I wore our geekiness like the tattered, raggedy coats of Victorian beggar children: always putting our bowls out for more, and scared of showing our true natures. When we found each other, we married those minds and that identity into something invincible and unshakeable, so that our children wear their knowledge and their love of knowledge like the arrogant cloaks of Princes. We’re back to work now, and climbing that mountain every day has made us understand our work better than we did before. Reading those books, too. Being with each other and our girls probably helped. Atlantis bookshop could have been on top of the mountain: it was as real as Ancient Thira to us, because of its architecture, its joy, but also because our trait is to imagine. Knowledge makes you walk faster, makes you understand the deeper world. Our geekdom is our fiefdom. We’re glad of it.