In 1994 I heard that vast amounts of information could be stored on CD-ROMs, and I sent the following letter to the editor of the magazine CD-ROM User:


I have often thought that there should be some way that I could find out what has happened to people I knew long ago and have lost touch with, and to tell them what has happened to me. Obviously it would be impossible to publish a book giving the life histories of millions of people, but I wonder whether something of this sort could be achieved through CD-ROM, particularly if it is likely to become more and more popular in the future.

If the custom of recording one’s life history on CD-ROM should ever become universal then records of everyone’s lives would be left for the benefit of posterity.


The letter was never published, and I heard no more about it, but in 1996 I succeeded in connecting my computer to the internet. I looked up ‘WHO’s On-line’ because I thought that this might provide me with what I was looking for, but all I could find was the occupations and places of work of twelve people. I also had a look at the classified advertisements in the internet and found that they featured no more than three houses, a car and a camera. The only useful information I obtained was the time of a train. One thing did impress me, however: I searched for ‘Jesty’ in a series of 400,000 magazine articles and found a reference to someone of that name. I knew that it was very rarely that I came across my surname, and this demonstrated how extraordinarily fast the equipment could search. In December 1996 I gave up the internet because it was too expensive and too time-consuming.

In 2005 I was asked by my publishers to make arrangements so that I could correspond with them by email, and I found that doing this enabled me to start using the internet again. Fifteen months after I reconnected I discovered a button called ‘search’ that I hadn’t noticed before. I used it to search for ‘Chris Jesty’ and to my astonishment I found three references to myself. Three months later this had gone up to ten and eventually it reached four hundred. I noticed that the house next door to mine was up for sale, and by typing in the name of the estate agent I found details of the house. This suggested that most of the houses for sale were there somewhere and that the internet had expanded enormously in ten years.

I was only able to find references to myself because I have an uncommon surname. If I searched for people I used to know all I could usually get was vast amounts of information about people I didn’t know who happened to have the same name. My first success came when I looked up the South-West Essex Technical College and found references to Malcolm Bonner, with whom I took part in a hitch-hiking race from London to Gretna Green.

Then I found out how to search for an article that includes two phrases. For example by combining ‘Jack Chandler’ with ‘Walthamstow Stadium’ I found out that he had become the managing director. I thought that this was likely because his father and uncle were running the stadium when I was at college.

Some people I was able to find because they had unusual names, such as Ole Wiebkin, who illustrated the article I submitted to the Essex Countryside magazine in 1961, and Harley Crossley, who was my co-driver on the Scottish Rally in 1968. When I knew him he was an accomplished amateur artist. In 2009 I learned that he had been a professional artist for thirty years, and I was able to see 187 of his paintings. Every one of them was better than the sort of paintings that change hands for millions of pounds. In 2013 I found recent photographs of both Ole and Harley in the internet, and they looked exactly as I imagined they would.

I also found Chris Burgess-Lumsden, for whom I navigated on a number of rallies in 1963‑5 and who lived in a fairy-tale Scottish castle. In 2012 I read that he was still living in the castle, and a couple of years later I found a recent photograph of him. I was delighted to learn that the castle was completely unchanged.

I thought that women would be particularly difficult to locate, because they are inclined to change their surnames, but I found Duffy de France, whom I met at Bangor Youth Hostel in 1971, and read that she had recently met the vice-president of the United States. It was not until November 2014 that I thought of looking for Maureen Preen, who was the person I most admired when I was at the Ordnance Survey. I found a story of her life and a photograph taken not long after I met her, and I read that she, like me, has appeared on the television series Countryfile. I later found references to Gullan Agerbak, whom I admired when I was at university.

I also tried typing in some of my former addresses and found recent interior photographs. I was struck by how much the houses had changed over the years: I was only able to recognise my cottage in Dolgellau by the bent beam in the upstairs ceiling; and the family home in Sawbridgeworth was much more luxurious than I remembered it. I didn’t expect to find the Grange because I knew that it had been demolished in the early 1970s, but there was an excellent photograph of it taken in 1909. The pleasantest surprise of all came in 2015 when I found interior photographs of my very first home, Whistlefield.

Earlier on I had read in the internet that the current occupier of Whistlefield was a man named Christopher Goodlife. I couldn’t have made up a more suitable name: the Christian name was the same as my own, and the surname was the title of my favourite television series as well as a description of my life when I was living in the cottage.

In 2008 I looked up the South West Essex Technical College again in the internet. I learned that it was now part of the University of East London and that former SWETC students could join their Alumni Network. In 2013 I read that in their archives there were copies of college magazines dating from the time that I was there, so I offered to donate a computer disc containing 34 Bumff Board editorials and 13 contributions, and this was accepted.

Through the internet I discovered that there were a very small number of people with the same Christian name and surname as myself. One was in the Unison Football Club and another in the Thames Valley Harriers. These were merely mentioned, but there were two others, one in Britain and one in the United States, who were described in great detail. The most striking thing about both of them was they were as different from me as they could possibly be. By 2016 references to all these people had disappeared from the Internet except for the one in the United States. Then, in 2017 I discovered another living in England.

Before I knew that there were people with the same Christian name and surname as myself I would very occasionally come across people with just the same surname, and I found that I had much more in common with them. For example, Bill Jesty and I both appeared on the television series Countryfile, and Ron Jesty and I both drew maps of the village of Abbotsbury. His map was displayed in the village, and mine appeared in my West Dorset guide.

In 2011 I looked up Bedlar’s Green in the internet and found an aerial photograph of the area showing my childhood home. To my astonishment I discovered that by pressing buttons I could expand the area of the photograph step by step until it covered the whole world. I could then choose a particular part of the world and zoom in on it. One of the places I discovered in this way was the coast of Florida, where I was amazed by the quality of the photography and by the quality of the scenery. This gave a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘armchair travelling’.

The best video I found in the internet consisted of a series of beautiful scenes accompanied by the song Flower of Scotland; but my most remarkable experience came on 5th August, 2013  when I looked up ‘British cartographers’ in Wikipedia and found references to eight people. Only one of them was still living, and that one was me!

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