Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Growing up in Wolverton - Part VII

 David Marks writes about College Life.

My period of training as an electronic engineer with EMI was drawing to a close, National service was beginning to look a real possibility. I approached the training manager to se if they were prepared top sponsor me through a degree course.. they were not! I therefore made the decision to apply on y own initiative and seek a county grant to support me. I reckoned that through most of my time at EMI with living away from home and the diminishing grant I was unlikely to be worse off. Moreover if I was honest the idea of the student life as it was in those days appealed to me rather. So, after due consideration and bearing in ind that I had a higher National certificate but no A levels I thought that I would apply for a place at one of the newly created Colleges of Advanced Technology. Based on the experiences of another ex Wolverton boy, David Pollard who had already started at Battersea, which was one of the new colleges I decided to apply there for a place on the Diploma in Technology course. (David actually stayed on at Battersea and moved with it when it eventually became the University of Surrey at Guildford. He remained a lecturer there until his recent retirement.)

I was accepted for a place reading Electrical Engineering and started there in September of 1958 supported by a major county award from Middlesex. I qualified for this as my period in digs in Middlesex qualified me as a resident of that county and I qualified to have all fees paid and a subsistence grant towards the cost of living which was more than I had in spare cash in my final year at EMI.

Thus a new period in my life had stated, one which I would never forget although I have probably managed to forget most of the academic learning I acquired there !) Initially I stayed at the digs in Hanwell and travelled in daily from Brentford station whilst I considered where I wanted to live. First things first, I attended the “Freshers Fair at which a bewildering  array of clubs and societies touted for new members.

Whilst at the fair I met Tony Clarke and started a friendship which took us through college up to his later becoming my best man. I recall that we both decided to join the boat club . Neither of us had ever rowed and were not likely to get another chance. I must have been stark staring mad as I cannot swim a stroke and a shell eight is a notoriously unstable craft which sooner or later most crews managed to turn over. We duly attended the University boathouse at Chiswick the following Sunday morning and to our delight (and considerable surprise) we found ourselves in the college’s second eight. In case this sounds rather grand for a seven stone nerd I should perhaps point out that the total number of member in the club was 18, which, remembering that each boat required a cox gave us a pretty good chance of selection.. We had but one ambition and that was to take part in the annual “Head of the River” race which took place over the boat race course but in the opposite direction (i.e. Mortlake to Putney. Quite early on Tony and I had decided to try to get a bed sitter together and succeeded in getting one on the North side of Clapham common. Prior to this, whilst I still traveled in from Hanwell, Tony had shared with another Tony (whose surname eludes me) in a tiny bedsit just off Queenstown Road adjacent to some railway arches. The only thing I remember about it was the astonishing variety of “souvenirs it contained. One of the more mindless activities of University students in those days was to “acquire”  street signs, bus stops, red workmans lamps and pretty well anything else that wasn’t screwed down. I do remember that when they left the flat they had some difficulty in “losing” some of these acquisitions. The one which I recall causing particular problems was a cast iron name plate bearing the inscription Prince of Wales Drive SW11. In the end it was wrapped up in brown paper and abandoned somewhere on the Northern Line.

The house in which our “new” bed sitter was located was run by the retired matron from one of the London Hospitals and had an unexpected and unplanned advantage. It was about three doors from the Battersea College of Domestic science which had many connections with our college (both formal and informal. We soon found that by befriending the students and inviting selected one round for coffee and the behaving like gentlemen (which they were not expecting) they would take pity on the squalor in which we live and carry out the occasional tidy up. This didn’t carry on for very long I must confess as I suspect that they had rumbled us. Every Sunday during that first year we  headed for the University boathouse at Chiswick for our weekly practice row. Sometimes we would have a brief warm up in the practice tank. This was a tank full of water with a fixed set of eight seats down the centre. It wasn’t much fun, but at least it didn’t list badly to one side or the other every time we carried out a “strike” (lifted our blades clear of the water at an angle of about 30 degrees).

We were not exactly a striking example of how a good crew should look. It was not the thing to wear anything on top of ones singlet except a college or club scarf, since it was bloody cold on the Thames in the middle of winter with the wind whistling  round Chiswick Eyot, we all had extra long versions of the college scarf made  and wound ourselves up inside them. This, of course did nothing for our performance… Towards the end of our year in the club as we approached the forthcoming Head of the River race we reckoned we were getting quite good. One Sunday morning we were out as usual and feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. When the sound of the blade of another boat were to be heard, rapidly catching up with us. Naturally, a crack (yes, I did say crack) team like ours wasn’t about to allow ourselves to be overtaken by some raggle taggle crew so our trustee cox called for a ten. Now in rowing at  least in those days, “calling for a ten” meant that the cox would call out a much faster rate. i.e. one.. and two.. and three.. and…. so on. The crew would respond by giving it their all at this higher strike rate, thereby (it was hoped) burning off the opposition. Anyway we went for a ten to show this insolent mob what was what. Unfortunately the rhythmic chop of blades grew louder and this blasted boat came slicing past us as if we were standing still. What made it all the more difficult to come to terms with was that as we looked up to stare at what was obviously some team of superhuman strong men, we fond ourselves staring into the grinning faces of the Universities women’s ladies eight.

Rowing never seemed quite as attractive after that.

One of the great discoveries we made during this period was Chinese food. We had spotted a Chinese restaurant in a back street in nearby Putney one Sunday and feeling terribly brave we stepped inside. What one has to remember that in those days the common perception of Chinese food was that it entirely consisted of 100 year old eggs. Birds nests, sharks fins and other unmentionable stuff (not least dogs). A chinese restaurant outside London was virtually unheard of and there weren’t many there. So in we went and had the inevitable chop suey, sweet and sour pork and pancake rolls. Well, we thought we were in heaven. We had never tasted food like it. We explore all sorts of areas of London looking for other establishments. We had a favourite near South Kensington underground which was excellent. Then we discovered to our delight that there was one just along the road from Clapham Common Underground run by the indomitable Mrs Lam whom we grew to know quite well. They did some brilliant food, some of which I have never found since. The chef was her husband and a splendid sight he was too. He was an extremely large man (especially for a chinese and his uniform, which never changed was the regulation chef’s apron and Check trousers worn well up the calf to reveal a huge pair of army type boots. This magnificent sight was topped off, not by a chef’s hat but by a flat cap which would have looked more at home coming out of a north country cotton mill. We spent many happy hours (and quite a lot of our grant in that place.

In fact in a fruitless endeavour to cut costs we tried to cook some of the stuff ourselves. We had found a sort of asian delicatessen which sold canned bean sprouts (which for quite a long time we had mistakenly though were bamboo shoots) and tried to cook them. At that time there were no books available on Chinese cooking so we tried fry the things rater as one would bacon and to our dismay they completely shrivelled up into a soggy mess. We even tried boiling the damn thing but that was no better (it was quite a few year later that I learned the gentle art of stir frying !.

Our other great discovery was Indian food which was also very uncommon in those days. Most peoples idea of curry was based on some yellow stuff made by people like Cross and Blackwell which tasted nothing like tradition curries.

Anyway Putney came to our rescue again as we found an excellent Indian restaurant in another backstreet near the river. There we  were introduced to the joys of beef keema andimmediately became addicts. This time our DIY efforts met with more success. We had already noticed similarly delightful smells wafting down the stairs in or first floor bed sitter on North Side. We went up and introduced ourselves to the Indian students who were living there and they introduced us to the mysteries of Garam Masala. Haldi, Dhanya and chilli powder. Their recipe started a habit of making a curry on a Saturday night that has lasted all my life (The Keema they showed us is still one of our favourites).

Not being able to afford non stop Indian and Chinese food we sought other alternatives. Like most students at the time we could knock up a passable spaghetti Bolognese (even if we couldn’t spell it ! ) Once again we were greatly assisted by the kind hearted Emilio Scala the proprietor of Scala’s café underneath the rail bridge next to Battersea station. A good late night alternative which we discovered was Len’s pie stall just along from Clapham Common station. It was worth visit just to watch Len in action . He could have taught work study tp work study experts ! The menu comprised a huge range of different combination of egg, bacon, beefburger, sausage, saveloys and lord knows what else which Len would be knocking out for the milling throng which always seemed to be in attendance. He moved with lightning speed and with unbelievable memory handling dozens of orders at a time. Not only that, the food was bloody good. I have little doubt that some wretched health and safety beaurocracy would close him down instantly today, but he certainly never did us any harm that we were aware of !I cannot leave the subject of food without at least a brief mention of the Green Café which stood in Battersea Park Road just along from the college. The owner was an ever cheerful Cypriot lady who was known to all and sundry simply as Coz. One of her undoubted masterpieces was a delicious Mousaka. One glance at it however, told us that it was way too complicated for us to try and make so we stayed with the Keema and the Spag Bol!

During the first year at Battersea came the life changing event for me and probably most of the people (i.e. family) that will read this. The event was the annual “Head of the Lake” race in Battersea park boating pool. The lake had a number of rowing boats for hire during the summer (these were the days when the famous Battersea fun fair was still in full swing.) The boats were battered aluminium things which had already seen better days. The head of the lakes was a no holds barred rag event which involved bribing the park keepers to turn the other way and then removing the seats from all of the boats. A number of teams from within the college took part along with invited teams from other colleges which naturally included a number of training colleges.

One of those nearest to us at Battersea was the Streatham based Phillippa Fawcett College. Which I sorry to say was always known to students at most other colleges as Phillipa Foreskins. The race was basically a question of reaching a marker buoy at the opposite end of the lake by whatever means one chose. The normal means chosen being to sink anything or anybody that stood between you and victory. During the course of this shambles we (Tony Clarke, myself and another friend whose name at present escapes me) had rather ungallantly scuppered a ladies team from the aforementioned establishment, an event recorded for posterity (or used in evidence) by a watching cameraman.
To show the depth of our remorse at our outrageous (albeit totally predictable) behaviour we invited the muddied survivors of our attack over to our local hostelry, The Grove Tavern, for drinks. I was immediately attracted to one of them…. One Rosemary Adams and immediately invited her to partner me at the “Going Down “ Ball at the end of the summer term. To my amazement she accepted. Since we were still some weeks short of the end of term I decided that I couldn’t  wait that long and took my courage in both hands and rang to ask her out to the cinema. What was it we went to see I hear you cry ? The Hound of the Baskervilles (the only thing approaching a frightening film to be found for mile.. I do learn some lessons.  The going down ball proves to be a great night out. It was an all night affair with conventional dance band in one hall and a jazz band in another, there was also an all night continuous cartoon theatre running.
Towards the end of that first year I had been elected to the post of Arts Chairman on the executive of the students union. Those who know me will by now be reeling back in astonishment … ARTS !  Him !!

I can only say that Battersea was very much science and engineering biased with a bit of catering and health visiting thrown in, so I guess it was a case of the “one eyed man in the kingdom of the blind”.

Being on the Union executive automatically qualified me to bring a partner to the going down ball and attend the President’s Reception. It was customary to invite the presidents of all the other London Colleges for free drinks and nibbles at the beginning of the Ball so we were able to have a pretty good time, although Rosemary didn’t drink very much then (she has told me to say ) Things progressed steadily from there. I shall draw a veil over all the details dear reader, not, I hasten to add that there was anything to hide ! Sadly of course Rosemary was leaving at the end of term to Return to Nottingham to take up her first teaching appointment. We were therefore not able to see each other anything like as much as I wished. It meant that the remaining two years at Battersea were somewhat monastic to say the least, but at least I was not removed from beer and general rioting.

Actually the post of Arts Chairman mainly concerned supporting and encouraging the numerous clubs and societies which came under the general banner of arts, ranging from the debating society to country dancing and the International society. The International Society was something of a jewel in our crown. We had one of the most racially mixed group of students of any of the colleges of the University. To celebrate this each year saw the presentation of our International evening which consisted of a dance and an international cabaret which lasted a couple of hours or more. Every national group put on an act representing their culture. Invitations were sent out to the embassies of all of those taking part, almost all of whom sent their cultural attaché. There were polish dances, French Can Can’s (courtesy of one of the ballet schools), African tribal dances and usually something daft from the English contingent. Of course the realities of life used to mean political shenanegins between any nation who were currently at loggerheads. There was quite a row when the Indian Contingent threatened to put up a bigger fag than the Pakistani group. One of the big problems I had that year was curbing the natural enthusiasm of Emile Jussy, the Egyptian born chairman of the society for that year. Emile was determined that everything would be bigger and better than ever before. That was Ok but he was also very keen that his part of the world were better represented than any other and he tried (and eventually succeeded) to get the Ambassador to the United Arab Republic to attend in person whilst everyone else had to make do with mere cultural attaché.

His next big campaign was to try to get messages of good will from the three major world leaders of the day, namely Kennedy MacMillan and Kruschev, by writing to them and telling them of this great piece of international student cooperation !. We all thought he was mad ! Come the night, Emile in his capacity as chairman opened the proceedings and explained his actions in writing to the worlds leaders. You can imagine our surprise when he read a message of goodwill from the secretary of the PM’s office at 10 Downing Street. Still more admiring gasps when he read a note received the previous day from an administrative officer at the White House wishing us success on behalf of President Kennedy. But wily old Emile had kept his major coupe until last as he announced that only a couple of hors earlier the Exchange telegraph and the news agency Reuters had been in touch to say that a personal message had been received that morning from the Kremlin with a glowing full page of praise which had been personally signed by Nikita Sergei Kruschev Dear old Emile was on cloud nine for weeks – a personal communiqué from Krushchev.. we never heard the last of it.

One of the activities I greatly enjoyed throughout my time at Battersea was the soon to become notorious Battersea Band. A group of us who aspired to an assortment of musical instruments decide to deliberately play for laughs whilst collecting for various charities. It was triggered off by a request from the Mayor of Battersea for help from the students in raising money for World Refugee Year. We reckoned that by busking, deliberately badly (not that we found that too demanding ) and with some nice young ladies rattling collecting tins we could do quite well. We were certainly right there.

We found that we could average something like £60 to £70 per hour which was a lot of money back then. We had started out along Lavender Hill. We the graduated to the West End usually starting at Marble Arch, marching along Oxford Street and the down Regent Street to Piccadilly circus. We used to get way with it for about an hour, after which the Police usually appeared and threatened to lock us all up if we didn’t vanish  a bit smartish. We even tried Piccadilly Circus underground.. echoed wonderfully but failed to impress the London Transport Police.


We decided to give central London a rest and headed one Saturday morning for Brixton Market which we reckoned would be pretty crowded and good for a few quid. We were trudging along in the gutter wearing our trade mark top hats and playing as I recall “I do like to be beside the Seaside” when a policeman appeared on a bike and enquire what we were up to. We explained and he said “fine, just keep in the gutter and don’t cause an obstruction and you’ll be OK. Well , we carried on for another few hundred yards giving it some stick with Colonel Bogey when the policeman suddenly reappeared. The guvnor wants to see you he said. When we enquired why he pointed out that the large building which we had just passed in full cry was the headquarters of the South London Police and the Guvnor was in charge of it all. Well, in the circumstances it would have seemed churlish nor to have accepted his invitation. So we dutifully followed our friendly constable into the hallowed presence . We explained what we were doing and why. Then he expressed his admiration for our good works and added “but you don’t have a license do you ? When we confirmed that we didn’t he said “which is why if you blow one more note you are going to be nicked”. Rather put out by this we said that in that case we would return to Battersea and play in the market there. “ “No you won’t he said  “that’s all part of my patch too”. We played our trump card. “We are friends of the Mayor of Battersea and have his personal approval to play in his borough”  we said. In that case I shall no doubt have to nick the Mayor of Battersea as well he replied … and that was the end of that.


A couple of weeks later we had a splendid opportunity to march again. The college Rugby Club were playing Brighton Tech (now the University of Sussex) and some bright spark had also suggested a scooter race from London to Brighton (Children’s scooters not the sort with engines) The band were asked dif we would like to join in .   Would we ? I’ll say we would. We joined the Rugby Club on their coach and enjoyed a splendid journey to Brighton. It was such a beery trip with so many pub stops en route that I quite forgot to feel travel sick. When we arrive we set up and marched through the centre of Brighton and were doing quite well financially when the local police arrive and told us that if we played anywhere other than thefish market (a concrete slab sticking out onto the beach) we were going to get nicked.

We retired to a local hostelry to lick our wounds and have a few more tinctures and then headed for the fish market. Unfortunately our musical enthusiasm got the better of us about half a mile short of the market (well we were nearly there. An extremely large policeman with a motorcycle escort suddenly appeared from nowhere  and proceeded to advise us of the exact location of the fish market which, we assured him we thought we had already reached. We parted amicably and headed for the beach. We had a most enjoyable afternoon playing to a small crowd on the beach, both of whom appeared to enjoy us and the headed back into town in search of a hostelry.

We were very lucky to find one who was quite happy for us to set up in his back bar and blow to our hearts content. We had all bought tickets (at some considerable expense) for the end of match dance to be held at the Tech. At about 9 we wandered down, only to be told that it had been assumed that we were not coming and our tickets had been resold and no we couldn’t come in nor could we have our money back, in fact “clear off”.
Now it can be imagined that we were less than pleased at what we regarded as devious and dishonest behaviour,  Just what we expect from an outfit like Brighton Tech. I regret to say (although I certainly didn’t at the time), that we collected our instruments from our coach, reformed just up the road and then just marched straight in with a pretty impressive rendition of Colonel Bogey. They got the message and we stayed on in a peaceful state for the remainder of the dance. The journey home is just a blur. I remember a lot of Rugby songs being sung (and I’m told that I apologized to a female student who insisted on joining our bus, for what she was about to hear. Actually she knew more verses than most of us did!  From that time on quite a few college events enjoyed the doubtful privilege of the band’s attendance.

Those that know me will not be surprised to learn that I tended to take a greater interest in rag type activities than in my studies !  At that time there had been no official London University rag day for several years since the student community ad fallen out with the Metropolitan Police after a somewhat unruly  Guy Fawkes night several years earlier. During my first year it was decided that we would have an official London carnival week with numerous events at the various colleges of the University, a parade of floats in Regents Park and an official rag magazine.

An initial meeting was duly arranged  at the University Union (ULU) headquarters in Mallet Street which was attended by delegates from all of the London colleges. I attended this on behalf of Battersea. When the time came to discuss the production of the magazine the delegate from Imperial College, David Irvine, proved to be very well versed in the production of magazines since he informed us that he had been involve in a similar task before. He had a number of useful ideas and suggestions and he was consequently given a free hand to get on with it. Over the course of several meetings he fed back details of pretty satisfactory progress and we were all rather impressed with progress.

It was only when we received the first proof copies of the final product that we realized what we had let ourselves in for. It turned out that David Irvine was a devoted member of the young Fascist movement and the magazine was peppered with advertisements for various fascist activities which we had to have removed, leaving some rather untidy blank spaces. Irvine, of course went on to become notorious for his views on the Third Reich and the holocaust and ended up losing a substantial and widely publicized libel case after someone had attacked him on his views. That experience made me rather more cautious. When involved in any committee now I am never agreeable to allowing any individual to have complete freedom without any checks !

There was at that time great rivalry between us and the student from Northampton Engineering College (NEC) as to who could win the prize for the most ingenious mechanical float in the carnival and we made several concerted, but unsuccessful efforts to win. We built one contraption described as the Penny Gum Machine (can’t think why !) which contained large numbers of rotating wheels and other moving parts. The float, naturally, included the band, playing at full blast, fuelled by a barrel of beer which we had on board. When the time came for judging which was being carried out by Brian (now Lord) Rix the actor we were all pretty well incoherent and climbing down backwards off the lorry, I trod on him, which probably did nothing for our chances. Matters were not helped when the NEC float arrived. It was late and we had hoped somewhat ungallantly that they had got lost (something we were frequently advising them to do). However when they did put in an appearance (in the nick of time) the reason for their lateness became apparent. They had constructed a huge missile in the shape of a giant carrot (Their mascot was a large carrot). Even in a near horizontal position this thing was sufficiently high to ecessitate planning a route with no low bridges. When they stopped for the judging they started up an on board `Austin Seven engine which powered the hydraulics system which elevated this monstrous object ‘til it towered above the trees in Regents Park and carried away the prize. I recall that it carried a large notice claiming that it was the largest ever British built rocket, being several feet longer than the Blue Steel Rocket.

Our final attempt at winning took place in my final year (and nearly put paid to my finals) and involved constructing an extremely large robot made of angle iron covered in cardboard with articulated limbs. The limbs were driven by electric motors the power for which came from an old generator scrounged from the electrical engineering laboratory. This was in turn driven by an engine which had been removed from an old Vauxhall Six which was languishing in the students car park. Like NEC the previous year we had to plan our route to avoid low bridges and attracted more than a little attention as we progressed from Battersea to Regents Park.

We were pretty confident that this beast would bring the prize home to Battersea. Unfortunately we had badly underestimated the opposition. When we arrived in the Park they were already there with their huge model of Big Ben, built with a telescopic design which, using their tried and tested hydraulic system could be raised to a towering height, revealing a highly complex “clock mechanism” constructed mainly from bicycle wheels. So we never did win the damn prize !

Speaking of the NEC carrot reminds me of the endless attempts made by the various colleges of the university to kidnap each others mascots. The Battersea mascot had originally been an eagle called Oscar. By the time I arrived there it had disappeared during some kind of kidnap attempt whilst being filmed by the BBC. I gather that the Beeb had wanted to produce a brief documentary on student rags and had asked for the cooperation of Battersea and Chelsea colleges.

The idea had been to stage a flour fight on Chelsea Bridge. It had rather predictably gone wrong and the BBC crew lost their trousers and Battersea lost Oscar. All \of this had produced a certain determination to remove mascots from \other colleges. A number of us decided to \have a go and regrettably chose what we thought would be a “soft” taget, namely the previously mentioned Phillippa Fawcett training college for women at Streatham. Their mascot was a large wooden rocking horse named Phred which sported their college scarf fixed around its midriff. We had been given to understand that it had pride of position on the sage in their great hall. We also understood from espionage activities that the entire college all went for dinner at 7.00p.m each evening. We therefore got a volunteer with an old Ford 8 of the variety which had front opening doors and duly parked up outside their college at a few minutes before seven. Sure enough we could see them all streaming out of the building where the hall was and heading for their dining hall. As soon as there was no further sign of movement two of our number were sent in to get the horse whilst we remained in the street with the engine running and the door open ready to receive the trophy.

Our colleagues duly appeared carrying Phred and had just reached the car when a lone female emerged from the dining room earlier than anticipated (damn woman must have been on a diet or something) and spotted us. She was seen to sprint back into the dining room to raise the alarm, so we had no time to get the horse into the car (we couldn’t get it through the door). The only thing for it was to throw the horse into some large bushes in the dive of the large mansion next door a nd jump in after it a bit smartish. We weren’t a moment to soon. There was the most fearful howling sort of war cry and hundreds of females came pouring out of the gates looking for us. We hardly dared to breath in the relative safety of our bush but we got away with it and thinking that we had left the scene of the crime they all trooped back in. We dragged the horse out of the hedge and tried again to get it in the car.

This time we removed the front passenger seat and hid it in the bushes. I climbed in an crouched on the floor and one of our helpers (Tony Pinder as I recall) managed to jam the wretched horse about halfway in the door so that I could straddle it and brace myself against the door frame with the horse and part of me hanging out of the door. It was at this delicate stage in the proceeding that a loud shout was to be heard and a huge horde of women once again poured out of the college gates. This time it was all too apparent that they had seen us and were out for serious vengeance.  Acting with unusual speed the driver and I and the back seat passenger made a cowardly but prudent executive decision to get the hell out of it and we took off at speed.

So it was that an ancient Ford 8 with a wooden horse hanging out of it’s open front door was seen by the local population careering down Streatham High Street en route to Battersea. The last we saw of poor Tony he was running for his life (or at any rate his trousers). As soon as we arrived back at Battersea we dragged the horse down into the bowels of the college and secreted it in the boiler room. We then went upstairs for what we considered a well deserved rest. As we approached the great hall we noticed that the Film Society had an evening showing of some classic film or other and we strolled into the back of the hall to see what it was. We had only been there a few moments when the projector suddenly stopped, the house light went on a several Phillippa Fawcett females appeared on stage with their wretched horse and an even more wretch and trouserless Tony wound in one or two of their college scarves. We really had to give them best. Moreover we never tried on any more mascot raids after that !

The somewhat embarrassing punishment of trouser removal often featured in acts of retribution in those days. We had one student in our year whom I shall call Bloggs to protect the guilty (different Bloggs from the one of woodwork fame). He was an old Etonian and a thorough going pain. He was always trying rather too hard to be “one of the boys” his behaviour could often be embarrassingly stupid even by our somewhat juvenile actions. We were on one accession attending a lecture on law in the College’s  Putney annexe from Doctor Douglas. Doctor Douglas was an unusual and interesting character who had a doctorate in chemistry and was also a barrister at law who had once been married to\one of Winston Churchill’s daughters. He was an extremely witty and popular lecturer who always wore a black pinstripe three piece suit and addressed is audience whilst pacing about with his thumbs tucked in the sides of his waistcoat as if addressing a courtroom.

On this particular occasion Bloggs had been behaving in an irritating manner throughout the lecture and the whole group was showing very clear signs of being fed up with him , as was Dr Douglas. About ten minutes before the end of his lecture late on a winters afternoon he suddenly said, “  I think we will finish early today gentlemen, I imagine you have other things you will wish to do.”

This was the signal for the immediate seizure of Bloggs and the removal of his trousers which were promptly hoisted up the flagpole above the front door of the college. The timing couldn’t have been better as immediately opposite was a large queue of women from a local factory waiting for their bus. I think in the end  Bloggs managed to persuade a member of the caretakers staff to get them down for him.

He was however a slow learner, not long after this event we were having a lecture on Electrical distribution from one of the Polish lecturers, a burly and genial individual called Angerer. We didn’t know at the time, but someone who knew what Bloggs was like had said to him something along the lines of, ( If you want a bit of a laugh you should try to get Angerer on the subject of the Russians) This was obviously regarded by Bloggs as another chance tp be a bit of a star.  Sure enough his thin reedy voice was heard to pie up wit a questioning SIR?.  “Yes Mr Bloggs” replied Angerer. “Can you tell us if the Russians have the same voltage standard as us !” asked Bloggs.  I have rarely seen a mans demeanor change as fast as Angerers did that day. Looking like thunder he strode down the aisle of the lecture theatre` where the unfortunate Bloggs was sitting on an aisle seat. When he reached him he lifted him bodily out of his seat and stood nose to nose. “Mr Bloggs” he bellowed. “I spent several years of the war in a Russian prison camp as I am sure you realized when you asked your foolish question. It will no doubt come as a surprise to you learnt that the Russians were not in the habit of allowing us out to study the fucking electrical installations with which he released the wretched Bloggs to slump back in his seat.

I have mentioned the Putney annexe. This annexe was a converted swimming baths in aroad close to the river which had been the Polish University College. It had been set up at the end of the war to provide the opportunity for the many polish citizens who could nor readily return hom to continue the education which had been interrupted by the war. When the college had completed this task it was absorbed by the then Battersea Polytechnic and most of the lecturers had stayed on. They were a wonderful group of men and I was, like most of my colleagues very fond of them. There was Bilinski a tall short sighted man who wore thick pebble lend glasses and “Teddy Boy style thick Crepe soled shoes. His control of student was not too good and he was often played up rather and could be seen smiling, wagging his head and murmuring “Bad boys  -  bad boys !”
Kontowtt who I recall being told was an ex Spitfire Pilot lectured us in Material science and engineering drawing. His introductory talk to new student on the selection of appropriate equipment for engineering drawing was legendary. He would commence by demonstrating a magnificent tee square all beautifully inlaid with ebony and ivory, then he would show several alternatives to this masterpiece working his way down market and final saying “But for you gentlemen this will be sufficient” at which point he would produce an unimpressive looking object available from the college bookstore for six shillings and sixpence. He then proceeding to do the same for drawing instruments stating with a magnificent set of gleaming instruments that would have done justice to a surgeon and ended up with a cheap and nasty looking set from the college bookshop for about ten bob.

The most fascinating of all of the Polish lecturers, although none of us realized it at the time was Henryk Zygalski who was one of our mathematics tutors. He was to us of course Mr Zygalski, a short thick set figure with a thick mane of grey hair who alwys wore a brown suit with somewhat short trouser legs. He was a gentle and genial man and (unlike a lot of his English colleagues) a brilliant teacher. He was responsible for teaching us three dimensional coordinate geometry and matrix theory – and a very good job he did  too. It was not until about three years ago during a visit to Bletchley Park that I discovered that he had been one of the three poles (now quite famous around the world) who had first broken Enigma codes and at the outbreak of war had handed all of their work to the Allies.

It is now universally recognized that their contribution gave Bletchley Park an advantage, without which the war would have probably been prolonged by two years. Such was the secrecy maintained about what had been done at Bletchley Park that it was many years after his death that the enormous contribution made by this quiet and charming man was recognized. In fact the treatment of all three Poles was pretty disgraceful. When they escaped from France to this country they were virtually treated as a security risk and set to work on some pretty routine code work at Berkhamstead, and action which was later described by one of the leading code breakers at Bletchley (I believe it was Gordon Welchman) as using race horses to pull carts. The record is gradually being put right and recently commemorative stamps for the three men have been produced in Poland and a small memorial erected at Bletchley Park. As I read of his activities it is still difficult to reconcile them with that quiet, smiling figure.
Although it might be difficult to believe we did not actually spend the whole time eating drinking and generally behaving badly. We actually had quite a lot of work to get through. The major gripe of all those students who were reading for Engineering degrees was the v vast amount of laboratory reports which we had to write. Some of the experiments were quite complex and it was extremely difficult. We had a particular problem with an experiment in thermodynamics which required us to carry out extensive tests on an old steam engine in order to determine its efficiency. Inevitably we did what students had been doing over the years and scrounged a report from a second year student whose measurements appeared to make sense (Ours had provided dreadful efficiency figures). I recall the lecturer when he handed back our reports after marking them making the comment. “ It really is amazing you know gentlemen how this engine which should be thoroughly worn out continues to produce almost unbelievably high efficiency figures year after year !” They didn’t actually miss very much, our lecturers !

Whilst I was in my first year I heard from my mother that Dad, who had been for a hernia operation earlier in the year had been diagnosed with bowel cancer. Poor dad really suffered, pain control was rather less effective in those days and visits home, which had become less frequent could be quite distressing. Sadly we had never really been a close family and I had never got to know Dad really well as an adult, so although it was, of course very sad, it was not as traumatic to me as it would be to many people. He died later in that year just as Rosemary was traveling down from Nottingham so she had only met him on that first visit. By that time he sat very quietly in his chair, obviously in some pain and pretty heavily sedated, so she never knew the rather jolly, jokey man that he could be. I have to say that Middlesex County Council who paid my grant were very understanding. The manager at McCorquodales where dad had worked all his life up to his illness wrote to them earlier that year explaining that Dad was unlikely to survive and would certainly be unable to return to work. They had immediately increased my grant to the maximum without any further query. I thought that was pretty good of them. I can just imagine the beaurocratic hoops one would have to jump through today to achieve the same result.

We were of course pretty lucky in those days with all of our fees paid and quite reasonable maintenance grants. I suppose it was inevitable with just about every town in England havin a University and practically the entire output of our schools leaving home to study horse riding, Media Studies, Tourism and God knows what else. I always think it’s a bit of a shame as I am sure that many students capable of successful results on proper degree course will not be able to afford to go (Just pop my soap box away now !)
As the second year dawned I was on my own again, romantically speaking, as Rosemary was now in her first teaching appointment in Nottingham. Since I have never been able to “two time” anyone I never sought female company other than on a platonic basis (I do not claim this as a virtue, it’s just the way I am). This meant that, coupled with my role as Arts Chairman I was often invited to the hall of residence l of the Women’s Domestic Science College which was associated with our college to chair debates. I got to know many of them quite well and when they discovered that I was “harmless” and without ulterior motive I was frequently invite to parties and other social activities. It did the power of good for my reputation amongst my fellow students who were always trying to wangle their way into the pace for less gallant reasons and largely without much success!

Their hall of residence was located in Cadogan Court, not far from Sloan Square underground and I remember one excellent party there which had been arranged by one of the girls. She had been given a new room at the start of term which had an en suite bathroom (the only room in the entire student accommodation which did !) and had as a consequence decide to hold a “bath warming party. Invitations had been sent to a number of us requesting our attendance in “suitable attire”. This resulted in a number of us traveling from Battersea to Kensington on a 137 bus clad in bathrobes and carrying loofahs and sponge bags. The 137 bus must have seen some odd sights during the years` that the college was in Battersea Park Road. I do know that on the occasion of one of the International evening which I described earlier the Bantu students had decided to do a ceremonial war dance and about ten of them who were living somewhere in South Kensington had boarded the 137 in grass skirts with full war paint, carrying some nasty looking spears and knives and emitting fierce war cries.

We had by now moved on from our North side bed sit and acquired accommodation in Larkhall Rise, Clapham. This was a large house not far from Clapham Common underground which was let out to a constantly changing assortment of people. We had one of the  rooms in the basement (there were two) which we shared with a stove of some kind. The room next door to us when we first move in was home to an interesting character called Johnny Vasher. He was a rough diamond who worked, so he told us, as a ticket inspector at Clapham Junction station. Often he would come to borrow a few bob “Until pay day on Friday” he always paid us back. On one occasion we met up with him at Len’s pie stall late at night. He was with one of the dodgiest looking characters I have ever met. He was a thin man wearing a long drape coat (teddy boy style) with thick crepe soled shoes and a thick mane of longish hair with heavy sideburns.

When we had finished our feast we walked back to Larkhall Rise together and this character walked part way with us. When he left us Johnny told us that he was an old school mate that he had kept in touch with. “He’s a bit of a wrong ‘un “,he told us,  “He’s really a Peter man (Safebreaker) but he’s just done a stretch on the Moor (Dartmoor) for armed robbery”. He assured us however that this chap was a loyal friend who “looked after his mates”. We would now be safe in that area Johnny explained. “ Now he knows you’re mates of mine he’ll look after you if you have any trouble with the local Teds (Teddy Boys). They give you any grief he’ll put a stripe (scar) on ‘em. He always carries a chiv (cut throat razor). That wasn’t exactly the type of support and friendship we were looking for and we hoped fervently that we wouldn’t meet him again (we never did !).
Johnny was always at great pains to explain that although he had dodgy mates he didn’t reckon there was any future in their activities. He had always been “straight" he told us.

At the beginning of the following term we signed up for another session at 97 (Larkhall Rise). The landlady was a German who had married a British soldier at the end of the war and they had settled in this house in Clapham with their teenage daughter Crysta. We noticed immediately that Johnny’s room was empty and we enquired as to his whereabouts. This provoked an immediate and fierce outburst from Frau Malleson who said she would aso very much like to know where he was. She had apparently gone for a holiday and left Crysta in charge. During her absence Johnny had evidently legged it owing a large amount of rent arrears and taking all his goods and chattels and some of hers with him. To add insult to injury she had received a visit from the local constabulary who were also interested in his whereabouts since, apparently he was wanted for desertion, housebreaking and living on immoral earnings. We never saw him again !

I remained at 97 for the remainder of my time at Battersea, although my final year was spent alone as Tony left to follow a different academic course. He had, as they say, a difference of opinion with the examiners. It was a great pity really as he stayed involved rather more than I did in engineering and I am sure was a better engineer than ever I was. When I say I was alone I actually ended up sharing with an interesting variety of passing guests, often German student on holiday and for a time an interesting Norwegian who was opening a branch of a Norwegian glass and china shop in Regent Street. He had a rather pleasant habit of pouring a large nip of brandy for each of us before we retired at night. “Our hot water bottle” as he called it.

Notwithstanding my generous grant, like most students we used to constantly run out of money. The usual trick was to get down to the bank towards the end of summer term just before the account went into debit and draw a reasonably (but , hopefully not suspiciously) large amount out to keep us going. When this ran out we had to seek some form of employment. One that was quite successful was in Battersea funfair. We had heard (I can’t for the life of me remember where) that there was an opportunity to make and sell popcorn, American style which was about to be introduced into the country.

We went for an interview in Oxford Street with the chap who was importing the electric popcorn machines and who wanted someone to man one in the funfair in Battersea Park. ( The Battersea funfair was an extremely large and famous attraction which had been built for the 1951 Festival of Britain and was retained for some years after that.) This type of popcorn (as distinct from the toffee covered variety) attracted quite a bit of attention and was one of the better casual jobs available in the funfair.

I did briefly try an alternative which was operating a rifle range which used compressed air to fire pellets at tin cans.  The owner of this stall would appear unexpectedly at intervals during the day, lurking behind a nearby roundabout (also manned by one of our number) to ensure that I was being an effective barker (In other words` that I was constantly shouting myself hoarse with the roll up roll up stuff to attract the punters).
I had soon had enough of that and went back to the popcorn. We were quite well regarded as we ran the stall effectively and were honest (which is more than can be said for most of the casual labour at the funfair who were busily fiddling their employers).
Because of this I was invited to spend the Easter bank holiday running his stall on the promenade at Southend from which he had just sacked the previous incumbent for stealing. This involved the additional reponsibility for selling Neilson’s Ice Cream. I had one assistant to work with over the bank holiday weekend, a friendly Singhalese whose name escapes me. We had a great time running the stall, flogging ice cream and popcorn to holidaymakers and listening to the dubious activities of the mock auctioneer immediately behind us who was separating the more stupid holidaymakers from their cash (he was good at it too !). The only problem I had was a serious weakness (which I still have) for ice cream wafers. This resulted in us running out of wafers and necessitating me persuading a rival concern to sell us a box.

The most interesting of the vacation jobs came in the first year when Tony and I successfully applied to Butlins Holiday camp at Skegness for casual work. We arrived one Sunday evening early that summer  to take up our position (I think we were employed as assistant cooks or, more likely, kitchen porters) We carried out an immediate recce of the camp with a few other new arrival whom we met at reception. After we had dumped our stuff in our staff chalet we went out of the camp and walked around it on the seaward side. What surprised us was the high , barbed wire topped , chain link fence which surrounded the place. As one of our number remarked “They don’t intend to let anyone out of here until they have enjoyed themselves”. It was a hell of a walk round the camp and it was getting late so we found a quiet spot where we unzipped a piece of fence at the base and broke back into the camp. Not the most law abiding start to our six or eight weeks at he camp !

Our main job was in the kitchen of “The glorious house of Gloucester” where our main task was to plate up the meals prior to the arrival of the happy campers for their meals. The dining rooms were huge each holding many hundreds (it may even have been thousands) of happy campers at a time. The meals were prepared on a sort of production line with a pile of hot plates at one end and a row of five or six of us. The first would wack  a portion of meat on the plate and each of the others would b in charge of potatoes or other vegetables, gravy etc. At the other end of the line they would be stacked five or six high and place in “Jacksons” which were large steam heated containers on wheels which could be trundled into the dining room when the hungry hordes arrived.

The aim was to have all the food prepared, plated up and into the Jacksons before the happy campers were allowed in. When we had finished we would come out of the back door of the kitchen and wander around the front past the huge queue which was forming outside the dining room door. One of our favourite tricks was to stroll around there on says when something like Kate 7 sidney pudding was on the menu when the three servers who had been at the pie end of the line would, due to speed of work and carelessness be absolutely covered in Gravy. We would stroll happily past the boggling queue of happy campers say “Kate &Sidney today and enjoying the looks on their faces at the ghastly spectacle parading past them. On one occasion whilst coming out of the kitchen at the end of a shift I got a hell\of a shock when passing the dustbins (which were full of surplus bread) when this huge grey object swung around the corner and grabbed several loaves. It was the camp elephant ! Uncle Boko who was in charge of it used to bring it round the kitchen to supplement its diet. It was an elderly and somewhat moth eaten looking elephant which was destined to make the headlines the following year when it was found dead in the swimming pool. Apparently no one was exactly sure whether it had had a heart attack and fallen in, of fallen in and had a heart attack as a consequence. Whatever had happened it was extremely dead and occupying a lot of swimming pool. I gather that they had erected suitable screens so as not to upset the children and hoisted it out with a crane.

Working in the kitchens meant that we did not have to eat in the staff canteen (for which we used our staff passes) as we could help ourselves to anything we fancied. This came in quite handy when one of our colleagues moved his girlfriend into his chalet for the season and gave her has staff pass so that she could have free meals in the staff canteen.

It was also quite convenient if we set up impromptu parties when we would smuggle chicken and steak etc. out of the kitchen in our folded aprons or balance on our heads inside the chef type of hats which we had conned out of the clothing store (they were more socially acceptable than the official pancake” hats).

It was possible to supplement the basis earnings by signing up fro evening jobs. These include bar waiting, glass collecting and chalet patrols. I, rather foolishly signed on for an evenings chalet patrol since it was the most highly paid at fifteen shillings per night. .
They obviously saw me coming and I was signed up for the Friday night patrol from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. at the Ingoldmells end of the camp. Behind these basic fact lie a reality unrecognized by me at he time. First of all the Ingoldmells end of the camp was known to the staff (particularly the chalet patrols) as “the jungle” due to the fact that it was the area where any groups of single young men were always placed. Secondly the 10 ‘til two shift was the one when the late night parties , drinking and generally disruptive behaviour took place. Thirdly and worse of all I had got Friday night when the leaving parties would be under way and there was very little use threatening to send people home as they would be going in the morning anyway.

Anyway I had signed up so on Friday night just before ten I reported to reception and was introduced to Dave, my partner for the night (So we operated in pairs .. that was a sign of things to come !) Dave was a  pretty powerfully built character who was a member of the full time security force and wore a smart blue uniform with peaked cap. I, on the other hand had been kitted out with a long white coat, several sizes too large with blue and gold epaulets and a blue peaked cap which rested on my ears. I looked like something between a refugee from Gaumont cinemas and Spike Milligan on a bad night.
I asked what the form was and Dave explained that we would just stroll around the area for a bit, up and down the chalet lines and advise any individuals or groups making a lot of noise that we would overlook it until midnight when we would expecting silence and would be returning to ensure that we got it. The usual response to this was a somewhat menacing “Oh yeah” said in a way leaving us in no doubt that they would stop when they felt like it and not before , and that was unlikely to be before twelve.
When I asked Dave how we were expected to deal with this situation he simply responded with “Oh, don’t worry about that, we’ll have the reinforcements by then”. When I asked what he meant, he just smiled and said “You’ll see !”

As midnight approached with no sign of the festivities slowing down we headed back to reception to meet the “reinforcements”.  As soon as they appeared I felt at peace with the world (perhaps not the best choice of words on reflection). They comprised Pete, Dave and Trevor. Pete and Dave were both professional wrestlers. They had cropped fair hair, broken noses, cauliflower ears and appeared to have no necks. This had the effect of making them look like twins and not the sort of twins you would ever want to upset. They were actuall a great pair of characters whom I grew to like. They were frightened of no one and were both immensely strong. The third member of this murderous looking trio was Trevor. Trevor stood about 6feet two and was broad with it. He had a heavily pock marked face and a large scar disfiguring one side of his face. This gave him a sinister appearance which turned out to be entirely justified.  It became very clear that his hobby was hurting people and that this was the job that enabled him to do it.

We headed back towards he festivities with yours truly feeling a great deal more positive about the outcome. With good reason as it turned out, once the revelers caught sight of this lot approaching them, once they had stopped laughing at the sight of me and taken a good look at my companions they tended to evaporate PDQ.
One hapless youth staggered up to us enquiring “Have you come to put me to bed chalet patrol ?”  “Certainly” replied Trevor. He escorted him back into his chalet pushed him onto his bed and thumped him, - poor chap went out like a light. We had absolutely no trouble at all, the mere sight of his lot subdued any trouble almost instantly. Nevertheless I decided not to push my luck and I never did another chalet patrol !
I did on several occasions work in the Pig & Whistle, a huge bar which could hold several hundred customers. Most times it was collecting glasses. Bar waiting was more difficult to get as it offered opportunities for tips and there was often a waiting list, but I did manage to get it on one or two occasions. On one of those occasions there was a spot of trouble developing in the centre of the Pig & Whistle. A group of three or four lads were pretty drunk and becoming aggressive. This was something that was likely to upset family groups and could not be tolerated. Acting on instructions issued to all waiters I spoke to the head barman who rang security. “That should do the trick”  he said when he had finished speaking to them. “They’re sending Pete, Dave and Trevor, have you ever met them? When I told him that I had done a chalet patrol with them he said “Well you’ll know we’re in for a treat then !”. I went to the door to greet my former chalet patrol colleague. “Hello David, got a little job for us then said Trevor” I explained the situation and led them to the offending table which was by now getting very noisy and then stood back at a discreet distance to watch the outcome. It was all impressively fast. The security men spaced themselves around the table and Trevor addressed the lads “Looking for trouble are we then lads “he said in an extremely aggressive manner. “What if we are” said one of them trying not to lose face in front of the girls they were with. “Good, well you’ve found it “ replied Trevor – “Outside. Now” Before they knew what was happening the lads were hustled outside - almost like sheep being rounded up by dogs. I followed at a respectful distance to see what happened. They took the lads outside and into an alley between the Pig & Whistle and the next building. Pete and Dave stood on either side of them and Trevor faced them. “Right, I’ll take the biggest” said Trevor. He just lifted this lad (who was not small ) bodily of the ground then let him go , hitting him between the eyes as he fell. The remaining lads took off as if their life depended upon it. That was the end of that, no more trouble and a quick “Thanks for the fun” from Trevor and that was that. So if you ever wondered what the secret of maintaining behaviour at Butlin’s was you now know ! It certainly worked pretty effectively.

Life in the kitchens was not without its moments as we were a very motley crew indeed. The chef whose name escapes me was a quiet, gentle elderly man (actually almost certainly a lot younger than I am now !) The head cook on the other hand was a petty tyrant called Tommy who was extremely fond of throwing his weight around and was rumoured to be a public toilet attendant in London in the off season. The only thing that prevented him from being ducked in the soup vat (a potential fate that was seriously discussed on several  occasions by his mutinous staff) waqs the fact that a large proportion of our diminutive wages were held back until we were about to leave (I think it was officially described as a good behaviour bonus). There was a fairly quiet veg chef who kept himself to himself and three cooks. The three cooks were rather more interesting. Two of them were large, muscle bound men who were apparently navies with Nottingham County Council during the winter. The largest of the two had a mop of long greasy hair and a habit of working stripped to the waist with a small row of cucumber and tomato slices along each shoulder like military epaulettes. He would then march up and down the serving benches shouting “I’m in charge” (The catchphrase of Bruce Forsyth at the time).

The third member of the trio was Roman, a very unpredictable Ukrainian with a violent temper. On one occasion someone inadvertently bumped into him and caused him to drop a tray of eggs. His practically reflex action was to grab a huge chefs chopping knife and lunge at the offender. It took several people to hold him down until he became calm. It was our lucky day when a female Ukrainian student joined us and was able to chat with him in his own language which made him generally much calmer and well behaved.
All in all it was a fascinating experience which was relived when the BBC screened “Hi de Hi” which was a remarkably accurate portrayal in many ways of life in a 50’s holiday camp. Tony, in fact went back the following year (I believe he was there when the elephant died !). I decided that enough was enough and so that I could see Rosi had in fact managed to get a job at Bendix Ericsson in the Basford area of Nottingham. The rest of my student days passed fairly uneventfully and I even managed to do enough work (despite the robot building) to collect a second at the end of it all.

No comments: