Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 06/83 item 02 - scanned
LAYING MY CARD ON THE TABLE (column)
Since the world and its grandmother will be writing about Clive Sinclair's knighthood, I thought I'd write about Mensa, the high-IQ society of which he is chairman. Of course I'm delighted about Clive's honour but if you want to know my innermost thoughts on the subject read Reflections on 10 February.
Mensa has all sorts of unfortunate connotations in the public mind. Certainly there was a time when it seemed to have a run of bad press. One poor fellow who became chairman confessed that he couldn't get a decent job. The press had a field day with that one. Another chairman committed suicide and it was with stories like these that the word spread that Mensa members were very bright but unable to put their intelligence to sensible use. During this unhappy period for Mensa, membership tumbled from 4000 in the UK to just 1300 people.
At this time, Clive Sinclair was travelling in the United States quite a bit and he found branches of Mensa over there extremely friendly and lively. They had clearly got their act together much better than the UK at that time. With a bit of persuasion from Mensa's president, Victor Serebriakoff, and with the support of John McNulty (remember Modular Technology?) and Madsen Pirie of the Adam Smith Institute, Clive started to take a more active part in Mensa. The aim, of course, was to try to pull the organisation out of the doldrums.
Thanks to their commitment and a lot of hard work by Mensa volunteers and staff, new members are joining at the rate of 4000 per annum. Within a year of becoming active, Clive became chairman. He brought a whole new style to the running of committee meetings. Decisions were arrived at rapidly. If there was less than consensus, Clive would offer to underwrite failed initiatives with his own cash. According to president Serebriakoff, he has only had to fork out once.
Now why, I hear you asking, is Tebbo telling us all this? The answer is that I'm sure that most of you are eligible for membership and I'm equally sure that some of you will derive real pleasure from joining Mensa. Of course, most people get a buzz simply by qualifying for membership (it means they're in the top 2% of the population intelligence-wise) but that's nothing compared with the deeper enjoyment derived from actually participating in Mensa activities.
I suppose that I ought to make a couple of confessions at this point. The first is that I joined Mensa six or seven months ago. The second is that I'm the sort of person that the press likes to pick on. For example, I turned up to my first meeting and the conversation went something like this - Me: "Hello, I'm a genius. Where are the others?" Barmaid: "You've come on the wrong night." Of course, I'm not a genius and I've got an excuse for getting the date wrong but such details spoil the story.
Most people whose company I enjoy belong to the computer industry. Our conversations bravely seek new frontiers but we always seem to end up talking shop. The great thing about Mensa is that you meet plenty of intelligent people, many of whom don't know a computer from the back end of a bus. Groups of people with wide-ranging experience and interests get together regularly for discussion and debate. Since the members come from a variety of backgrounds, it is an excellent opportunity to see new perspectives and understand different points of view.
Each month, Victor Serebriakoff hosts a President's dinner which comprises 15 to 20 people who turn up in evening dress in an attempt to "revive the wit, sallies and serious conversation of the Victorian dinner party". Themes are chosen for discussion and all sorts of ideas are put forward. Members seldom agree completely and it is fascinating to listen to and participate in such stimulating debates.
Think-ins are run regularly too. These are usually in the form of a presentation by someone followed by questions and answers on the chosen topic. Less serious perhaps are the mixed saunas, the Szechuan eating and the various parties and games meetings which occur frequently. The range of activities is almost endless. Local groups cover the country and specialist groups bring together people with common interests. Tying the whole lot together and keeping everyone informed is a lively monthly newsletter.
I know that Mensa wants to shake off what's left of its "incompetent egg-head" image and one way to do that is to get plenty of members who are actually out there, getting their hands dirty. I think we fit the bill. Interested? Mensa's phone number is 0902 26055 or you could write to Freepost, Wolverhampton.