by Anton Wills-Eve

<a href=””>Ballerina Fireman Astronaut Movie Star</a> what did I want to do in life aged 10 and did I?


                  THE POLYMATH MALGRE LUI

I wonder what the prompt setter meant by ‘the age of ten’? Did they mean at the age of nine years and 367 days or did they mean 10 years and 363 days? At that time in my life there was a huge difference.  Well think about it.  First I must leave aside my spiritual side for the moment, which was as loving and fulfilling at nine years as it has remained for another 64 years, to today. That side of my ambitions in life, ie wanting always to be in love with God, was very strong from the age of six or seven and has remained so despite all the various paths through life that I have considered. But how I wanted to spend my life, or at least hoped to spend it, changed several times depending on how I was able to see myself adapting my ambitions to fit in with the limitations of the awful mental ilness that has plagued me every day since I was approximately five and half years old. So why was ‘just ten’ so different to ‘not quite eleven’?

Well my main interest outside my family’s influence, such as Mum wanting me to be elected Pope or Dad’s ludicrous vision of me becoming prime minister or some similar absurdity, lay in three main fields. Music, sport and some branch of medicine.  These became firmly fixed in my mind just before I was eleven whereas a year earlier I really had no ambitions as such, just the enjoyment gained from indulging in sports and music. So I am going to start by outlining what I really wanted to do when I was fractionally short of my eleventh birthday. Firstly I was already by then very good at cricket, tennis and golf and basically loved competing in any sport that I could. Swimming and gymnastics would have been missing as I could possibly have won the world drowning championships and had absolutely no natural spring in any part of my body. But I was gifted at hitting, throwing or catching a ball in any game. So winning Wimbledon, the British Open Golf championship and playing test cricket for England or Australia – by birth I qualified for either and had dual nationality – were genuine goals of which I dreamed and over which I often fantasised. Not unreasonable at that age. But they were not careers, sport in those days was very much an amateur affair. So how did I envisage earning my living?

Well there was a lot of illness in our family and at exactly that time my mother was starting a terminal illness so I became fascinated in all things medical. I always imagined myself  reaching highly exagerated levels of success in all I attempted so I really did want to become a leading specialist in some branch of medicine. As the idea of cutting people open and fiddling around with their insides tended to turn me off, I imagined myself as some form of psychiatrist who would intuitively correctly diagnose all his patients and send them on their way cured of their demons and depressions for the rest of their lives. Very laudable in some respects but highly ambitious and over the top in reality. But where I would really have loved to make my mark and earn a good living  was playing the piano. I had been glued to the instrument since I was three and a half and by the age of ten really was exceptionally advanced as a classical pianist for my age. Also my mother’s genes may have had something to do with knowing I would get a thrill from the rapturous applause with which the audience would spontaneously acknowledge my outstanding genius. So which of these goals at that tender age did I actually achieve? Yes, of course you’ve guessed it. None! But why? Now that is a good story. Listen – or read if you prefer.

At the age of five and a half I first experienced the horrific irrational panic of an attack of agoraphobia that left me frozen to the spot unable to run or move in any direction, gradually losing control of my breathing and finally hyperventilating and passing out. Such fainting episodes left me unconscious for seconds only and often people would think I had just fallen over or tripped or something, but the gradually increasing apprehension that preceded these attacks, when I knew I was facing a situation where they could occur, made the fear of them possibily happening just as awful as the occasions when the panic actually took hold of me. So how on earth did I manage to play cricket and golf in the vast open spaces that both sports involved? Simple. All my close relatives, and I mean all over the age of twenty, and their friends drank like fish, so from a very young age I would ward off my mental demons with a good shot of something strong that could calm me for anything up to one or two hours. This started when I was about seven and escalated throughout my life until in my mid thirties I had to cut down and increase the tranquilisers I was on by then, or I would have killed myelf. But sadly it also meant that cricket and golf had to go when I was in my mid to late teens.

I was playing golf off scratch by the time I was sixteen but the strain was so bad I broke down on our local course one autumn day and just sat alone outside the clubhouse and wept inwardly for nearly an hour when I found I could no longer walk to the first tee without nearly a bottle of whisky or gin inside me. I just told my friends I was concentrating on my tennis and cricket as one of my three sports had to go. I was the best cricketer in our school by my last year there  and yet regularly had to play stupid shots to get out after just starting to hit the ball well. You see I could not stand, exposed, miles from anywhere. The boundary and pavilion got further and further away from me between the ages of 17 and 18 and our first team coach even gave me a really harsh ticking off after one game because he thought I was not trying and did not care if the school won or lost. How wrong he was, but how right as well. I had to stop. After the family moved to Paris in the summer of my last term at school I never played the game again. I did try to keep up my tennis, but good though I was it was impossible to get in enough practice with everything else I did, so my Wimbledon dream faded before it had really started.

My failure to become a doctor of global repute was actually much more interesting. At the age of thirteen and a half I had to decide whether to concentrate my studies on science subjects or languages and the humanities. After all one could not do everything. I was still quite keen to follow medicine as a career at that time but our senior science master had a long chat with me. He said it was the opinion of most of the staff that my maths would never be up to the standard needed to master university level physics and chemistry, which would have been necessary for a medical degree. I argued that I could quickly put that right with a lot more application  in order to master a subject that I found very hard. Unfortunately I missed a lot of school that year when I was struck down with poliomyelitis and had to agree, reluctantly, that I would never bridge that academic gap. So I never did any physics, chemistry or biology at all which naturally put paid to any thoughts of a career in medicine. I settled instead for taking advantage of my natural gift for languages and vocal mimicry and finally spent my time at university in France getting the equivalent of a Masters in history and French, Italian and Spanish. But I did become a doctor of sorts shortly afterwards with a PhD in ecclesiastical history and logic.

My love of sport was also rewarded when my father, European Editor in chief of a major news agency, found me plenty of freelance work between my studies covering a huge variety of major sporting events. The money was good and I went on to have a career in journalism, but always fighting my phobia as I still am now. But do I regret not attaining any of my very youthful goals? Yes, one. I would have loved to have played a concerto before a live audience, but alas my anxiety neurosis stopped me ever playing in public. But I still practise and play several hours a day and get more enjoyment out of this than anything else I do. I always have.