This chapter will cover my nefarious activities from age about 17 to 27. So the major subjects covered will be work, further education, motor-biking, leaving home and moving to Hertfordshire, my father's death, courting and getting married, first cars, new friends.
So I left school with a reasonable set of exam results but no idea of what I was going to do with my life. I had a general interest in science but no idea of how you made a living out of it. I looked in the local papers and found nothing that seemed to fit. I had an interview with a chap in the Employment Exchange - he took all my details but wasn't very helpful and didn't offer any advice. He told me that I couldn't get any unemployment money as I was too young and hadn't made any National Insurance contributions.
My first job interview was with the National Smelting Company at Avonmouth. This is still there, but is part of the Rio Tinto group. It is your typical heavy chemical plant, making a range of products from pure Zinc (which they purify by distilling - often causing spectacular and dangerous fires), Fluorine and Hydrofluoric Acid (also highly dangerous) and a range of new organic compounds that they called Freons (now known to the world as CFCs and banned almost everywhere as they destroy our Ozone layer). It was an all-day process with interviews, IQ- and aptitude tests. Two weeks later I learned that I was "not high enough on the list of acceptable candidates".
A friend of my mum's told her of a job opportunity in a laboratory at Spillers, also based at Avonmouth. This company makes flour and animal food. The interview was on a Wednesday afternoon so off I went again on the trip that involved a bus down to The Centre and another one to Avonmouth. When I got to the centre I realised that I had left my comb behind and, as it was rather windy, my hair was even more untidy than usual. No big deal (I hear you say) - just buy another one. You are forgetting that it was a Wednesday afternoon - half day closing! All the shops used to close at lunchtime on a Wednesday to make up for opening on a Saturday. This practice, of course, collapsed as soon as one shop defied the unions and stayed open - the rest had to follow. Boots the Chemists was open but the man would only sell prescription medicine - I thought about pinching one of the combs but decided against it.
Anyway, I got to the interview wet and dishevelled (it had also started raining).
I can't remember a thing about the interview except that I got the job.
Spillers factory was inside the dock area at Avonmouth. There was a flour mill, an animal feed mill, and a dry petfood factory. Ships would pull up alongside the factory and the grain and other strange ingredients would be sucked up into giant silos. The factories were quit tall, being on about eight levels, and almost everything inside except the machinery was made of wood. If you didn't want to climb all those stairs there were "man lifts" attached to a continuously moving belt. You had to jump on and off at the right moment before the little platform disappeared through the ceiling or the floor. There was also high speed unprotected belts and a spiral sack chute that I was too frightened to slide down - a very dangerous place but also very interesting with some real characters working in it.
I was to be a laboratory assistant in the Quality Control lab. All the incoming ingredients got analysed so that the precise quantities to be mixed could be adjusted. All the finished products were then analysed to make sure that all the various parameters were within acceptable bounds. Some of the routine analyses were as follows . . .
|Pretending to be a scientist|
One day I analysed a batch of broiler pellets and found twice as much salt as there should be. I filled out a rejection slip and took it down to the Production Manager. He said that that batch had already been shipped out to a dozen different farms and it would cost too much to get it back so he just signed it off. I never really bothered to be too accurate after that and, if I ruined a batch, I would just invent some numbers instead of starting again.
Spillers also insisted on two other things. Your pay had to be paid into a branch of Barclays Bank (and I've never bothered to change), and you had to go to college to gain chemistry qualifications. Well my grammar school had never even told me that the Day-Release system even existed. Your employer allowed you one day off per week for you to attend the local Technical College and even paid your fees provided that you worked to the best of your ability and, preferably, passed a few exams. I attended Bristol Technical College (now The University of the West of England) and studied for my O.N.C. (Ordinary National Certificate) in Chemistry. Teaching was much more formal than at school and there was real practical work to do. I found it quite difficult and actually failed the exam on the first attempt.
Of course, other skills were learnt in passing. Principally the art of playing three card Brag - a sort of cut-down Poker. Another chap from Spillers (I've forgotten his name, but he was Welsh) was the supreme champion but one day he wouldn't believe that I could beat his prile of Queens (three Queens) and kept raising the stakes - I had a prile of Kings and made quite a lot of money that lunch time (he probably got it all back later).
I'll return to this subject later.
Well the journey to Avonmouth was really a drag. Bus down to Coronation Road, Bedminster - walk across a bridge - ferry across the docks - bus to Avonmouth. My boss Colston John Smith (a Methodist lay preacher - I wonder what happened to him) wanted to get rid of his motor bike and get a car (as he had just started a family) and so I bought it. It was a BSA Bantam 175 - a two-stroke horror. My mum was not very pleased, but she didn't actually stop me. She insisted that I wear my sister's old helmet, and I bought some second-hand leathers.
My dad had a little moped (that's like a bicycle with a little engine - it's got pedals for going up steep hills) and, before I was allowed out by myself, we both rode out to Avonmouth. My dad had a bit of a struggle keeping up even though I went as slow as I could. At Avonmouth we went into a little cafe and dad had a cup of tea and I had a coke - I think that was probably the last thing that we ever did together.
Anyway, Dad was reasonably satisfied with my riding ability and so I was allowed to continue. Driving along the Portway (from Hotwells to Avonmouth) was really exhilarating - I probably got up to almost 50 mph! At weekends I went off biking, mostly around North Somerset. I probably visited the birth places of many of my ancestors, but this was over thirty years before I started researching my family tree and never thought of them.
The Bantam was not at all reliable. Having a two-stroke engine, it takes a mixture of petrol and oil and tends to get clogged up. Many a time it would die on me and I would be sadly pushing it along the road until a kindly biker would stop and fix it for me (I haven't got a clue about things mechanical, but bikers are a great lot and I always found them most friendly and helpful). My mum would always worry if I was five minutes late in getting home from work - but this was always because of bike problems or because the swing-bridge at Cumberland Basin was open for ships. I only ever had one accident (that my mum doesn't know about) - it was icy and I went round a corner too fast and spun off (luckily there was no other traffic on that road and I was just a little shaken up). I never did get rid of my "L-plates" - I took the driving test but failed on several points (well, I had never had any lessons).
Well, I was getting a little restless. The work at Spillers was rather undemanding after a while and I was getting a little bored at home. I didn't have a girl friend as there was no one suitable at work or at college and I didn't really get out much on my own. Time to move on. I had just finished my second attempt at the ONC exams, and was reading a copy of Nature in the college library and this job advert caught my eye. It was for research assistants with Unilever at a new laboratory in Hertfordshire. The pay was about three times the pittance I was getting at Spillers. I filled in the application form that they sent me and had a medical examination. Then I was asked to attend an interview. I had to get the train to Paddington station in London, the tube to Kings Cross, and another train to Welwyn Garden City, taxi to The Frythe near Welwyn village. The several interviews went better than I had expected and I was offered the job with the proviso that I had to pass my ONC. The next few weeks dragged by but eventually the letter arrived on the doormat - I had passed reasonably well. That very day I handed in my notice. I don't think that I ever actually asked my parents if I could move, and I'm sure that they were rather upset but they didn't raise any real objections.
So, the summer of 1963 I left home and went to work in darkest Hertfordshire. There were quite a few of us newcomers, and the company booked us all in to various hotels in Welwyn Garden City - I was in the Homestead Court. I had never known such luxury though, looking back, I think it had seen better days. Breakfast and laundry was included but nothing else - so, of course, we made the most of breakfast. A coach was provided to transport us to the Frythe. This was an imposing ex-country house in acres of ground. There were odd buildings and little huts scattered around the grounds - everything was very strange. We only got a half hour for lunch but the mid-day meal was free and really very good. There were two very grand dining rooms where you sat at tables for four and had waitress service and a choice of food, some of it "foreign" and very fancy.
Most of the people were rather more middle class than I was, but I soon made some good friends.
|Edmunds, Me, Scurfield|
|I have recently learnt of John Scurfield's death. From chemistry at ICI in Runcorn, he moved into mathematics and computing, lecturing at several colleges. He died 12 Jan 1990 at Leigh College, Lancashire, leaving his wife Corrinne and three sons John, David and Philip from a previous marriage.|
Well, we weren't allowed to stay in a hotel for ever. I found digs (lodgings) with Mrs Thomas at 33 Brockswood Lane on the good side of Welwyn Garden City (like US towns, there is a wrong side of the tracks in WGC). This included breakfast and an evening meal which was sometimes a little strange but I'm sure that she did her best.
Once again, the company insisted that we go on Day Release, this time at Hatfield College of Technology (now Hatfield University) studying for our HNC. Travel to Hatfield by bus was a bit of a drag especially getting home late at night, but sometimes you could get a lift. The canteen food was not as good as at Bristol and not a patch on the food at work - mostly greasy chips.
I won't bore you too much with talk of the work which was certainly a lot more varied than I was used to. You had an alarming amount of freedom and, especially at first, little supervision. If you had problems then it was up to you to find help from wherever you could get it. The management was rather weak, but the research scientists were all clever guys (even if they did have some strange habits).
|John Edmunds cooking up some trouble|
|(The lab is in a wartime SOE hut)|
Unilever is an Anglo-Dutch multi-national company that makes all sorts of food products and also detergents. My first little project was to figure out how often you could cook chips in a batch of oil before it "went off", and develop a suitable test. I can't remember how well I did. I then did a lot of research on the mechanics of cake making - figuring out what was actually happening (physically and chemically) during each of the stages of making a cake. This mixture of pure and applied science with no clear boundaries between the various fields of expertise was unusual for its day.
One strange problem I had was concerned with Spanish peasants. Apparently, at breakfast, they liked to stir their coffee with the knife used to butter their bread - this would act like cream. However, if they had used our margarine instead of butter all they got was a horrible gloppy film on the top of their coffee. I never did fix that one!
One little adventure that still stands out in my memory is a weekend in a rowing boat on the River Thames.
|Me with First Beard|
Well, I got my H.N.C. Chemistry in 1965 with no real problems, and then went on to study for the qualifications of the Royal Institute of Chemistry. After 3 more years study I got my L.R.I.C. (Licentiate of the Royal Institute of Chemistry). At work, the two Johns had both left (Edmunds to bum around the world, and Scurfield to get a job with ICI in Runcorn) and I had been transferred to the organic chemistry department. My boss was Dr Rajindra Aneja who was from India, but had got his doctorate at Athens, Georgia. He was very clever, but wasn't the easiest person to work for (when they heard of my transfer, people would come up to me and say "Tough luck, Jeff"). We mostly did pure and applied research into lipids (they are the principal constituents of fats). This being Unilever, you also had to do work that was directly useful to the company. One project was to develop a "natural" colouring for strawberry ice-cream. We isolated a deep red pigment from blue-green algae that were grown in great open air tanks in some of the old greenhouses. This pigment was a carotenoid (like the pigments of carrots and peppers) but we never did crack its structure (I think that it was a carotenoid glycoside).
Here are the details of my professional publications . .
I shall describe my final days at the Frythe in the next decade.
You might be interested in a Short History of the Frythe.
Anyway, back to 1963. One evening in late October or early November, we (the two Johns and I) went to the birthday party of one of the girls who worked at the Frythe. The party took place in the rather large kitchen (mostly) of a house in Welwyn village. I struck up a conversation with a girl who didn't seem to be with anyone. I think that my opening gambit was "What would you like to drink?" - the answer was "a glass of cider please". Now I wasn't a great beer drinker then (as now) so replied "Ah, a girl after my own heart." - and went to get a couple of glasses of the stuff. I can't remember what we talked about after that but we stayed together for the rest of the evening dancing and smooching. Her name was Maureen and she lived with her parents and a younger brother (John) in Stevenage (just up the road). When the party broke up someone gave us a lift back to Maureen's house. I don't think that I met her parents then - it was just a goodnight kiss and bye-bye. I hitch-hiked back to Welwyn Garden City (for the first, but by no means the last, time).
A few days later we had our first "date" - I met her at a bus stop in Welwyn village and we walked up the drive to the Frythe where there was a Guy Fawkes party at the Frythe - bonfire, fireworks and barbeque (another new experience).
|For Non-UK readers, Guy Fawkes was what we now call a terrorist - along with some fellow Catholic conspirators, he smuggled a few dozen barrels of gunpowder into a cellar under the old Houses of Parliament with the intention of blowing up the King and all the big wigs. He was found out when one of the conspirators sent a warning letter to a friend - we celebrate his subsequent torture and execution every November 5th. Perhaps, one day, we will celebrate Bin Laden day.|
Anyway, Maureen and I got along pretty well and continued to "go out" together fairly regularly - mostly to the pictures (at the Astonia in Stevenage - now a snooker hall), various social occasions at the Frythe, or for evenings at a local hostelry (normally the White Hart in Welwyn). Just before Christmas, there was a party at The Waterend Barn in St Albans - Here is John Edmunds (and his foreign bird) with Me and Maureen (I wonder why I'm not wearing my glasses?).
I was soon introduced to her parents Ronald Crampton (a Post Office clerk) and his wife Mavis (who worked part time as a cleaner at a local school). They were perfectly normal people and we got along fine. I think that Maureen's mum thought that I needed feeding up a bit and, after a while, I regularly went there for Sunday dinner (a roast with all the trimmings).
Did I mention that I didn't get along too well with my landlady? I was always doing something that she didn't approve of. Then, on the 10th January 1964, as I returned late at night from a date, she called me into the living room before I could escape upstairs. "What have I done now?" I thought. She was there with her daughter (a tall thing that lived in London) and asked me to sit down. Then she told me that my sister Pat had phoned - my father had had a heart attack and died.
Well, I didn't know what to do or think - nothing very serious had ever happened to me before. I didn't get much sleep that night. In the morning I wrote a quick letter to my boss and asked my landlady to get a message to Maureen. I started off on the long journey back to Bristol with much trepidation and arrived home in the early afternoon. Mum was crying and so was Pat and my Aunt Mary. My father had come home from work as usual and they had had their evening meal. Dad had sat down and had his usual cigarette when he complained of severe chest pains. My mum must have been worried as she went and fetched the doctor. He diagnosed a mild heart attack and advised rest and, I don't think, anything else. My father was then feeling a little better - he went to the toilet and then came back downstairs and lay down on the sofa - mum gave him a Polo mint. It was just a little later that he had a second attack and died. The next few days are a bit of a blur. Some men from the Co-op funeral service came and removed dad's body, various relatives came and went, dad's boss came and gave mum his wages and said that he would be missed and would be difficult to replace.
|I hadn't told you that dad's shoe factory (Hutchin's) had closed down and that he had found a nice little job with a small firm making surgical shoes for people with damaged or deformed feet - each shoe individually made by hand. This was ideal work for my dad, and the wages were higher than in his old firm - my parents had a little money to spend for the first time in their lives.|
Then came more bad news - my mum would have been 50 years old in just four months time but those four months made all the difference between getting a widow's pension from the state and having to go out to work. My mum had been a housewife since she married and had no industrial or clerical skills. All she could get was simple manual jobs such as cleaning or packing - first at Fry's chocolate factory out towards Bath, and later at one of the Wills tobacco factories in Bristol. She worked for Wills until she was 60 and, although the pay wasn't great, made many lasting friends. Wills gave her a small pension that has proved more trouble than it is worth as it has to be removed from any state benefit that she gets - more paperwork. Another complication was that, although Dad had never made a will, he had a tiny insurance policy and so mum had to go to the Probate court to get the money (the Probate Administration valued my father's estate at £549 - I don't know how they calculated that).
My mum didn't go to the funeral. There was a short service at the Co-op's chapel of rest in St Lawrence Road, and then dad was buried with his mum in Greenbank Cemetery. That was my first funeral and, to this day, I have never been back there - I don't even think that my dad's name is on the headstone.
I returned to work and life slowly got back to normal.
7th December 1964 was my 21st birthday. We decided to have a bit of a knees-up at the Frythe. I booked the bar for a Friday night, and John Scurfield and I went to the off-licence in Welwyn village and bought a reasonable stock of booze. I invited all my mates and their friends and we all had a pretty good time - though somebody was sick in one of the loos and I had to clear it up the next day. Maureen bought me a signet ring that I still wear as a wedding ring.
Mrs Thomas (my landlady) and I eventually got on each other's nerves and I started to look around for somewhere else to stay. Eventually John Scurfield, some other chap from the Frythe, and myself took digs together at the Station Hotel in Knebworth. This is a pub just outside the railway station in the village of Knebworth between Welwyn and Stevenage. We had a big bedroom with three single beds and we all got along fine - the Landlord, Mr Smith, was a bit gruff but his wife was OK. Later John moved in with his girl friend and the other guy left so I moved into a single bedroom (right above the jukebox, and with the squeaky pub sign just outside the window (not to mention the trains)). Life there was very reasonable - breakfast was provided every day (often quite late on a Sunday morning) and I sent my washing out to the local laundry. The local bus took me to work (and to tech) and I could easily walk the three or four miles to Stevenage to see Maureen. I stayed there until June of 1968 - see later.
I haven't actually told you very much about Maureen, have I? She is just a couple of months younger that I am and, although she was born in Welwyn Garden City, is a proper Londoner. The family moved out from the East End to Stevenage in the 50s. Maureen's dad was a Post Office counter clerk and it was easy for him to transfer to Stevenage which was growing fast. She left the Girls Grammar School in Stevenage with 'A' levels and got a job at the Warren Spring Laboratory (a government research lab). At first she was put in the pilot plant, but was quickly moved to an analytical job. She played netball for WSL, being a shooter - of course, I only ever watched netball as a sport, not to watch young girls in short skirts and frilly knickers jumping about, you understand.
Eventually, in one of my not too frequent letters home (ordinary people didn't have phones then) I told mum about Maureen. Then, some time in the summer, I took Maureen home to meet mum. The same long trip of train, underground, train and bus brought us to windy Withywood. Mum and Maureen seemed to get on reasonably well, and I showed Maureen the various sites of Bristol and some of my old haunts. It was the first time that I had walked around the centre of Bristol for some time and much was changing and none of it for the better. New offices were springing up and old buildings were being demolished to make way for new roads. The "gentrification" of the docks was just beginning - a process that would lead to the removal of all shipping, with all the warehouses being converted into high cost flats, cinemas and art galleries. Anyway it still only cost thruppence (3d) to climb up the tight spiral staircase of Cabot Tower and look out over the entire city. We would return to Bristol several times every year until the present day - and we hardly ever have time to look around or try out the many fashionable restaurants that have sprung up.
Meanwhile, you may remember that my sister Pat had married Raymond Cooper. They had moved into a house near Parson Street station - a nice house with a long garden down to the River Malago (an offshoot of the Avon? that is mostly hidden in a culvert as it flows sluggishly through Bedminster). My niece Christine Anne Cooper was born (in hospital) 17th December 1960 - my mum still remembers this as her worse Christmas ever. Raymond was working right up to Christmas so Mum had to help out. She had arranged to take some beds (for my parents and me) to Pats, but the man with the car had got drunk and couldn't drive.
|Dave, Maureen, Christine|
On the 6th March 1962 my nephew David Cooper was born, but I can't remember the circumstances.
They are both grown up now; Christine worked for one of the many insurance companies in Bristol, married Andrew Cotton and has three sons of her own. David works for a glass company and spends his free time pursuing his passion for civil aircraft. Raymond eventually retired in 2005, and died in February 2006.
Walking to and from Stevenage was getting to be a bit of a drag, as was bussing to Hatfield. I had had the odd rise, so money wasn't quite as short as it used to be. The Frythe Club had an arrangement with a few almost-local car dealers whereby employees could buy new cars at a small discount. So, after having a few lessons from the local driving instructor, Mauren, Peter Bartlett and I caught the train to New Barnett and picked up a pale blue Hillman Imp. This was a very small car (about the same size as a Mini); it had the boot and a fuel tank in front, and an aluminium alloy engine at the back. These days they are a collector's item - one of my neighbours renovates them as a hobby. I drove cautiously back to Knebworth with Peter telling me what to do and Maureen in the back seat with her eyes shut. As I hadn't passed my driving test yet, I could only drive if accompanied by a qualified driver - but sometimes I would remove the "L-plates" and go out for a practice. After a few more lessons in the Imp, I took my test and passed first time.
The very next weekend I drove, by myself, to Bristol to show off to my mum. I drove across country and it took an age. I took mum for a drive, and we visited Pat and Raymond - everybody was quite impressed. On my way back, I decided to try the new M4 motorway. These days it links London to South Wales via the Severn Bridge. But in those days it hadn't been completed and, I think, only went as far west as Swindon. Somewhere around Bath, I picked up a hitch-hiker (have I mentioned my own hitch-hiking days?) and soon joined the motorway. It was autumn and getting quite foggy around the Thames valley. I was driving far too fast for the circumstances and didn't see the line of traffic in front until too late. Frantic braking nearly brought the little car to a rest - but not quite. I hit the back of a red Mini. Nobody was hurt, but the car contained a newly married couple with their wedding presents in the back (I don't know if I broke anything). We exchanged names, addresses and insurance details and I drove the rest of the way with my headlights pointing up into the night sky. The local garage fixed it like new and I never told my mum about it (she is a worrier). That same winter I skidded on the ice and hit a bus a glancing blow - just a paint job this time.
Early in its life it was washed and polished quite frequently (I even polished the chrome) - at just under £500, it was by far the most expensive thing that I had ever bought. But I soon found better things to do with my time, and it became just a normal part of my life. I don't think that it ever gave me much trouble; I can only remember some starting problems in the cold, and having to replace the exhaust pipe and silencer. It wasn't until 1969 that it got replaced by something bigger, a Hillman Hunter.
Not having very much money, we didn't go out much, and we both went to Tech so had homework to do. Most evenings together were spent just watching the telly or playing cards or other games. We went out to the pub fairly often, and also the pictures. Both the Frythe and WSL had a reasonable social life - with parties and sporting events (The Frythe put on a good Christmas do each year for free). We also went to the Film Club at the Frythe (mostly less "commercial" films) and we even went to the odd chemistry lecture in Cambridge.
The next year or two were mostly boring and uneventful. All I can remember is a holiday with Mum and Maureen at Perranporth in Cornwall. My mum had booked a small caravan, but when we arrived we found it to be rather dirty with cockroaches crawling out of the frying pan. My mum managed to change it for something better. I have some slides of the holiday that I shall have to convert to prints before scanning - what a drag. We had a similar holiday at Bigbury Bay in south Devon, but I can't remember much about it.
So, time passed and, eventually, on Friday 17th February 1967, I "popped the question". Maureen said yes (probably thinking that I would never ask), and we started making plans. First, we invited my Mum to come and meet Maureen's parents, to mark our official engagement (25th March). I met mum off the train at Paddington and drove her to Stevenage. When we arrived, Maureen was on the sofa with Mitty-Mu the family cat curled up on a towel - it had run out through the back door as it was closing and had chopped of several inches of tail. Maureen's dad had annoyed everybody by saying it would probably die - typical! Anyway, they all got on OK though my mum is always a bit reserved with strangers. I can't remember what engagement presents we bought each other, but Maureen has a rather nice ring with sapphires and a diamond. We named the day as Saturday 22nd June 1968 - don't ask me how it was chosen.
Then we started to think about where we were going to live. Maureen's family lived in a rented Council house and we assumed that, as the child of a tenant, we would be eligible for one as well. The problem was that I wasn't the child of a tenant and I didn't live or work in Stevenage. We were eventually put on the waiting list, but so far down that it was likely to be some years before we could get a house. At one point we even contemplated emigrating to Canada. Then we found out about some flats being built in nearby Hitchin by the Omnium Housing Association - a sort of non-profit organisation. We applied for one and were accepted, but they wouldn't be ready until a few months after our marriage. So we accepted that we were just going to have to live with Maureen's parents for a while. One day we went to Luton and bought Maureen's wedding ring (18 guineas) - Maureen had bought me a signet ring for my 21st and I use that as a wedding ring. Originally I think the plan was for a friend of a neighbour to make the dress but, in the end, Maureen and her mum went up to London to buy it (also the bridesmaids?).
Mum, Pat, Raymond, Christine and David were coming from Bristol - I booked them into a little bed-and-breakfast guest house for a couple of nights. Raymond was to be my best-man, and Christine was to be one of the bridesmaids - the other being Lindy, Maureen's best friend since schooldays. On the Friday I met Raymond's car at the motorway exit and navigated him to the guest house via Maureen's. Christine wasn't smiling - the day before, she had been swinging on the garden gate and fallen off, knocking out several teeth. She isn't smiling on any of the wedding photos.
The big day arrived and it was a rainy one. I had packed up all my few belongings from the Station Hotel and previously taken them to Maureen's. Raymond came to meet me and we drove back to Stevenage. The wedding was at the tiny church of St Mary, Shephall (one of the villages submerged into Stevenage new town), and we popped next door to the Red Lion for a drink. When it was time, we took our places in the front row and waited for the bride. She was only a couple of minutes late and looked radiant. The service went off very well and I signed the register rather shakily. There were no video cameras in those days (thank goodness) and our photos are mostly black and white. We came out of the church in heavy rain, everybody holding umbrellas.
|About to be given away||The Happy Couple||Wedding Group|
|The Ring!||With Pat and John||The Cake!|
The hotel porter woke us early with breakfast in our room - very runny boiled eggs! We checked out and drove to Luton Airport for our flight to Jersey (another new experience). For those interested in such things, the aircraft was a Vickers Viscount turboprop. We quite enjoyed the flight and didn't feel at all sick. In St Helier, we booked into our little guest house overlooking the harbour. The landlady showed us into a tiny room with twin beds - then came back five minutes later saying it was a shame for a young couple, and moved us into a large airy room with a double bed and a view over the potato warehouse.
Jersey is a good place for a first overseas holiday - everybody speaks English and most of the place-names are in French so it seems foreign. We did the usual mixture of touristy things - lazing on the beaches on sunny days, visiting the sights on others - and trying out all the cheap drinks in the many pubs. But our married life was very nearly cut short. We had visited Elizabeth Castle, which you get to over a long causeway that gets submerged at high tide. The tide was coming in and I didn't want to pay for a tractor ride back so I said that we would go for it. The tide came in rather faster than I had anticipated and the sea was well over our knees before we got back - I am not allowed to forget it. The fortnight flew by, and we flew home to get on with the rest of our lives.
For the first couple of months we had to live with Maureen's parents - occupying Maureen's single bedroom. We had bought a few pieces of furniture and put them into storage. Then, good news - the flat was ready and we could move in. Shepherds Mead was a short cul-de-sac on the edge of Hitchin. There was a block of flats each side of the road and another one at the end. On the ground floor were one bedroom flats and the next two floors were maisonettes entered by stairs round the back. The one bedroom flats were miniscule. As you walked in there was a small hall/passage, straight on was the bathroom, and on the left were the bedroom and the living room / kitchen. The living room and kitchen was really all one room separated by a "breakfast bar" and cupboards. There was underfloor heating, which was quite pleasant, and a small electric fire built into the wall (only used for a fast warm-up).
We moved in some time in September 1968 - married life had begun for real. There wasn't room for too much furniture. In the bedroom was the bed, a dressing table and matching chest-of-drawers, and a self-assembly wardrobe with a mirror on one door. We actually managed to put the wardrobe together without drawing any blood. In the living room was a small sofa and two chairs. I bought a coffee table from the Co-op and a bright red television set (black and white in those days). Maureen had a fit when she saw the red telly but soon got used to it (it was the 60s after all). A small bookcase and a simple record player completed our furnishings and, on the living room side of the kitchen cupboards were tacked photos of the Fab Four as decoration. We also had to buy a cooker and a small fridge, but there was no room for a washing machine. Maureen was used to doing some of the cooking at home, but I had never cooked a thing in my life and wasn't used to housework either. We soon established a domestic routine that has remained almost unchanged to this day - cooking is shared pretty evenly, I do the washing-up and make early morning tea, Maureen dusts and I vacuum. These days, Maureen does the washing and ironing (otherwise it wouldn't get done) but back then we spent a jolly evening each week at the laundrette.
Our first Christmas is memorable in that we both went down with the 'flu, and I think we had a bowl of soup for our Christmas dinner.
After the two Johns left the Frythe we tended to see more people from Warren Spring Laboratory, although we continued to go to both Frythe and WSL social events. Shortly after our marriage we became friendly with Bernard and Pamela Bushby. They were just a little younger than us, and had married a year or two before us. Bernard worked at WSL and Pamela had an office job at an electrical engineering firm in Stevenage. I didn't mention our flat warming party, did I? (Well, I'm not really a party animal) Anyway, it was Pamela who did most of the washing-up. We went out together often over the following years, mostly to rock concerts or to meals out on birthdays and so on (details to follow). After WSL closed down (see the 90s) Bernard and Pamela moved away, but we still keep in touch and see each other about once a year.
In the winter of 68/69 I took the last series of exams for my G.R.I.C. - three three-hour theory exams in organic, inorganic and physical chemistry, and three six-hour practicals in the same subjects. These exams are tough. In those days there was no set syllabus - they just asked you whatever questions they liked, even including the results of recently published research. You were meant to be up-to-date in your reading! In each of the organic and inorganic practicals there was a qualitative analysis (what is this substance?), a quantitative analysis (how much something is in this sample?) and a synthesis (make this substance from these other substances). You had to get a pass mark in each section of each exam.
In the March of 1969 I was sent on a short course on how to use a new instrument (a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer) and, when I got home, the result was waiting for me - I had passed. Thank goodness - I wouldn't have liked to do a resit, and I would have caught hell from work.
For our holiday, that year, we decided on a tour of the north. I have forgotten all the details, but we began by driving up the A1 to Yorkshire. We stayed for a night in a pub in Northallerton and had a hearty breakfast the next morning. I can remember driving past the early warning radar domes on Fylingdales Moor and visiting Whitby. When we checked into a hotel in Whitby the manager asked us if we were local. I gave him a strange look and told him I was from Bristol. He told me that Knaggs was a local surname - I was a bit bemused as I had assumed I was the only person in the world with the name. I would get more interested in that sort of thing much much later.
We had an evening stroll around the harbour, but wouldn't explore the place until the next century. Next, I can remember driving through Snake Pass over the Pennines into Lancashire on our way to the Lakes. One night we stayed in a nice hotel on Windermere and took some hair-raising drives on steep and winding lanes over the fells, past sparkling lakes, ending up near Barrow-in-Furness. The weather then deteriorated and we cut the holiday short, and had a few days at home.
(and I have colour slides of the wedding, and of some holidays, that I really must get converted to prints so that I can scan them)