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|June 29, 2008|
Life Lines - Anthony Yeo
Marriage - an unsettling experience
In this fortnightly column on life issues, veteran psychotherapist Anthony Yeo talks about the pros and cons of saying 'I do'
People believe that June is a good month for marriage. Somehow this is the month for weddings, and with the recent series of activities in conjunction with enhancing family life in Singapore, marriage is certainly in the air.
Weddings are usually much celebrated events often attended by enthusiastic guests, including single or unattached adults.
Along with the carnival spirit infused into the celebration are those well-meaning married guests who inevitably accost singles with the inevitable 'So, when is your turn?' query.
Single adults know all too well what this means and often respond with polite responses such as 'You'll know when it comes' or 'I guess it's not time yet'.
Somehow we tend to believe that marriage is for everyone and, all too often, unattached adults are singled out as targets for prospective coupling in marriage.
There is also a commonly held notion that to get married is to 'settle down', in contrast to being unmarried suggesting that the latter is to be saddled with an 'unsettled' state of life.
Somehow there is a prevailing idea that this 'unsettled' state is synonymous with being uncertain, fickle-minded, frustrated or incomplete.
With all the earnest drive to promote marriage in Singapore, singles tend to be unsettled by the idea that fulfilment and happiness in life is to be experienced primarily in 'marital bliss'.
This prevailing idea seems to defy my observation of the many couples who have sought help for marital conflict.
Each time I encounter married people afflicted with marital woes, I am reminded of how marriage tends to be an unsettling experience.
I have also been left with the unsettled feeling, wondering why so many had chosen to be married when they could have had a less stressful life if they had stayed single.
Of course, the other unsettling feeling is the painful journey I traverse with those who have the courage to go their separate ways.
As I ponder over this issue, I sometimes wish that marriage was not held in such high regard, with less focus on the romantic ideals of a peak experience that marriage seems to promise.
Those who contemplate marriage would do well to confront the reality that marriage can be an unsettling experience rather than one where couples live happily ever after.
The way I see it, marriage promises to be unsettling as couples need to be prepared for a lot of adjustment to living with someone quite unfamiliar to oneself, learning to adapt to each other's idiosyncrasies, growing together as partners in life and coping with all the demands that marriage and family life brings.
It is also prudent to be aware that romance, if it is ever experienced, is not everlasting and may in fact fade months after the honeymoon is over.
Conflicts are inevitable and there will be many issues to be negotiated, such as relationships with the in-laws, work-home relationships and friendships with those outside of marriage.
The more I work with couples with marital conflict, the more I am concerned that marriage should not be entered into lightly. It is also fallacious to believe that life will be incomplete and unfulfilling if a person is not married.There is more to life than marriage and no one should be made to feel deprived of what life offers if the choice is to be single
Amore incongruous sight would be hard to imagine, particularly in 1951. There, at the heart of a vast catering empire devoted to tea and cakes, was a pulsing sci-fi monster with endless rows of tubes filled with half a ton of mercury. The monster's name was Leo. It was the world's first business computer and its master, David Caminer, who has died at the age of 93, was one of the great pioneers of commercial computing.
Sixty years ago, nobody would have seen anything like Leo. Official secrecy meant that the public knew nothing of the spectacular progress made by British scientists in developing the code-breaking digital computer, Colossus, which helped win the second world war. Civilian computers did not exist and nor did the software to run commercial applications. Caminer was the intrepid, determined person who invented the first business programmes.
What made his achievements as the world's first commercial systems analyst so extraordi-nary was that he started from scratch. At the time he was the systems manager for J. Lyons and Company, then Britain's biggest caterer. The Lyons board had heard about the development of "electronic brains" in the US but those were all being used for scientific or military purposes. Lyons, which prided itself on its efficiency, took the remarkable decision to develop its own digital computer to automate the running of its catering business.
Caminer was the key member of a team of bright young technologists responsible for bringing to life the vision of the Lyons board. Leo - Lyons Electronic Office - ran a programme for the first time in September 1951. Under Caminer's tutelage, the Lyons team developed systems and ways of working that were groundbreaking for the time and are still relevant today. Indeed, if the rules for systems development laid down by Caminer had been taken to heart by succeeding generations, fewer computing disasters would have tarnished the image of the industry.
Caminer programmed Leo to take over routine office tasks and do them in a fraction of the time taken by clerks. Where it had taken eight minutes to calculate an employee's pay - Lyons had 30,000 workers - Leo could do it in 1.5 seconds. Leo was programmed to handle the daily deliveries from Lyons bakery to 200 retail outlets, to organise restocking, to calculate the overnight production requirements, such as how many miles of Swiss roll had to be made, and even to work out delivery routes for vans. Later, Caminer ran programmes that could detect patterns in the till receipts and pinpoint when the company's restaurants were busiest and which of its chocolate cakes and iced fancies were selling best. Today, businesses analyse such information as a matter of course but in the 1950s this marked a retail revolution.
Soon other major companies such as Dunlop, Ford and Imperial Tobacco were coming to look at Leo and learn from it. Lyons set up a subsidiary to make computers and 80 Leos were sold all over the world.
Caminer, a charming individual with exquisite manners and a delightful sense of humour, had a short fuse where programming standards were concerned. More than one of his colleagues had work literally thrown back for failing to meet his expectations. Yet Caminer himself had had no training in computing - hardly surprising because the subject was so new that everybody involved in Leo learned on the job. What was unusual was that Caminer was not even a mathematician and had no formal academic qualifications.
Born David Tresman in 1915, he was the son of a Lithuanian immigrant. His father died fighting on the Marne when he was three. When his mother married again, he adopted his stepfather's name. Raised initially in London's East End, he later went to the Sloane School in Chelsea but by his own admission he was not a natural student. He was more engaged by unemployment and the rise of rightwing dic-tatorships in mainland Europe. He spent his youth pamphleteering and, as he put it, "generally fostering the revolution". He marched against Oswald Mosley, the anti-Semitic British fascist leader.
Having failed to get into Cambridge - he said later that "university seemed an irrelevance in the days of mass unemployment and hunger marches" - he became a management trainee at Lyons through a contact of his mother's. The catering group, which served millions of meals every year, was known for its tea shops and Corner House restaurants with waitresses known as "nippies".
On the outbreak of the second world war, Caminer joined up and served at El Alamein, where he recalled the "wondrous sight of a desert fox crossing the shimmering sands at first light on the morning of the battle". After being wounded in the western desert and losing a leg, he returned to Lyons, becoming manager of the company's systems research office. It was then that he became involved in its computer project - on a salary of £5.05 a week.
Leo eventually became part of what was then the British computer champion, International Computers - ICL - and Caminer was appointed head of market development. He was asked to take charge of software for ICL's New Range 2900 series, its flagship through the latter part of the last century. He specified the ICL operating system VME/B, a brilliant concept that was in some ways too advanced for the machines on which it was expected to run.
Caminer completed his career by implementing the European Union's computer and communications network in Luxembourg. He was awarded the OBE in 1980.
He always believed that small, close-knit teams of the sort that worked on Leo were the ideal: "These days the spirit has changed," he complained just before his death. "Computer staff have become nine to five workers. Teams are so large I'm surprised they ever get anything done."
He is survived by his wife, Jackie, whom he married in 1945, and by their three sons and two daughters.