Sunday, June 09, 2024

Oxford Life - Glossary

Oxford in the early ‘70s was very different from what I imagine it is now. This is the tale of my time in this august institution.

Table of Contents:

Glossary.

Oxford has many strange jargon words. Below are some either used in the blog or others I remember from my time there.

Me punting circa 1976 standing at the "wrong end".

Buttery
Where undergraduates purchased their meal tickets. Run by the College Butler who is responsible amongst other items for managing the College’s collection of historic silverware and managing the college wine cellars.
Cantab.
Short for Cantabrigiensis, the Latin for Cambridge.
Catz
Colloquial name for Saint Catherine‘s College.
Commoner
A normal student who does not have a scholarship or exhibition (see also Exhibitioner and Scholar).
Exhibitioner
A student who did well enough in exams to be awarded an Exhibition - a small monetary grant (see also Commoner and Scholar).
Fresher
A first year undergraduate. As far as I know there are no special terms for the second and third year students, unlike the US terms Sophomore and Senior.
Finals
Exams taken at the end of your third year.
Hilary
The second term of the academic year in the New Year.
Magdalen
A college whose name in Oxford is pronounced Maudlin as in "self-pityingly or tearfully sentimental".
Matriculation
An admission ceremony ceremony at which new students are entered into the register of the university, at which point they become members of the university, see Matriculation:United_Kingdom.
Michaelmas
The first term of the academic year, before Christmas.
Milk round
The series of visits made at a particular time of the year by large companies to colleges and universities to discuss giving jobs to students after they have finished their education.
Mods
Honour Moderations are a set of examinations at the end of the first part of some degree courses (e.g., Greats or Literae Humaniores).
Norrington Table
An annual ranking of the colleges, see [Wikipedia:Norrington Table].
Oxbridge
A portmanteau word for Ox[ford] and [Cam]bridge.
Oxon.
Short for the Latin "Universitas Oxoniensis" used as a post nominal e.g. Mark McLellan M.A. (Oxon).
Prelims
Preliminary examinations, taken at the end of the first year, see [Wikipedia:Prelim:University_of_Oxford].
Punt
A flat bottomed boat propelled by a person standing at the back using a long pole. In Cambridge the punter stands on a flat platform, in Oxford the boat is turned round with the flat portion at the front and the punter stands on the sloping slats. Both Universities agree that the other is standing at the "wrong end".
RLAHA
Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art where I did my fourth year, Part II, research project. See [RLAHA].
Scholar
A student who did well enough in exams to be awarded a scholarship - a more sizeable monetary grant (see also Commoner and Exhibitioner).
Schools
aka Finals. Exams at the end of your third year.
Sconcing
A curious habit found when dining in some colleges. See [Oxford Life - 04 Food].
Scout
Housekeeper and, in our case, part-time barmaid (see picture below).
Sporting your oak
A closed outer, oak door indicated that either you were away or you were in and not to be disturbed because you were studying hard or you had a guest. See [Oxford Life - 03 Accommodation].
Tanner Scheme
A scheme whereby Hertford would offer places to pupils based on an interview, recommendation from the school and predicted grades. See: [Tanner Scheme].
Subfusc
Academic garb required to be worn on formal occasions, see [Wikipedia:Academic dress of the University of Oxford].
Teddy Hall
Colloquial name for [St. Edmund Hall].
The Broad
Local term for Broad Street.
The High
Local term for High Street.
Trinity
The third year term of the academic year.

Our scout and part time barmaid whose name eludes me.

tbc... 

Friday, June 07, 2024

Oxford Life - 07 Epilogue

Oxford in the early ‘70s was very different from what I imagine it is now. This is the tale of my time in this august institution.

Table of Contents:

Episode 07 - Epilogue.

Graduation.

This is me in the full regalia required to attend the graduation ceremony. 

I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated. I am envious of people who always knew what career they wanted to pursue. The university did provide career advice, so I had a meeting with an advisor. All I knew was that I wanted something that combined theory and practice like chemistry, or architecture like my father. The best I could come up with was that had this been in the middle ages I would have signed up with one of the guilds of master craftsman. The advisor had no suggestions.

No one had explained to me about the milk round. 

Milk round: "The series of visits made at a particular time of the year by large companies to colleges and universities to discuss giving jobs to students after they have finished their education."

By the time I learned of its existence it was all over, not that it would have done me much good without a clear goal.

My first job.

I quite liked the idea of becoming a studio potter. This was partly inspired by an old family friend, Mick Casson, who was a respected and charismatic figure. When revising for my O-Levels, I spent a week with his family following my revision plan in the morning, throwing pots with him in the afternoon, and the evenings with his family.

I signed up for pottery evening classes to test if that was possible vocation for me. However I still liked to eat so I signed on the dole and started applying for Lab Technician type jobs. One of them was as a computer operator for Oxfordshire County Council.  The job involved changing magnetic tapes, loading printers with continuous stationary and various other tasks. 

When I went for the interview they, spotting that I was over qualified, said that they were also recruiting for computer programmers and would I like to take the aptitude test. Unsurprisingly I did pretty well so they offered me a job as a trainee programmer. I accepted, went off to London for a two week basic COBOL course, staying with my Uncle Ralph and then came back to start life as a coder. 

My starting salary was £1,999 per annum - yes, you read that right - two thousand pounds per year - it was 1976! After a couple of years the lure of the big city lights and a 50% salary hike took me to London to work for Sainsbury’s. It had never occurred to me that one could make a living as a programmer and I took it like a duck to water, thus began my life-long career in IT.

Since then no one has ever asked for evidence that I actually have a degree from Oxford and certainly never asked what class of degree it was!


Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Oxford Life - 06 Academia

Oxford in the early ‘70s was very different from what I imagine it is now. This is the tale of my time in this august institution.

Table of Contents:

Episode 06 - Academia.

Introduction.

There are a number of peculiarities about the Oxford education system and the Chemistry degree in particular:

  • For historical reasons, all first degree courses in Oxford lead to a B.A. degree, even if they are in a science subject: nobody gets a B.Sc. at Oxford. 
  • The three terms are named Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity and are only eight weeks, making for long holidays.
  • Seven years after matriculation you also get awarded an M.A. basically for not falling under a bus, sending in a cheque for a modest sum and attending a ceremony. See: Master of Arts (Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin). So technically I am entitled to Mark McLellan M.A. (Oxon).
  • Chemistry is a four year course. A normal Part I three year course followed by a Part II project, normally in one of the three main labs (Organic, Inorganic, Physical). Because of my interest in archaeology I opted for an outlier, the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art.

Year one.

The first formal event was Matriculation where we were inducted into the university. This required us to dress up in academic garb called subfusc and attend a ceremony in the Sheldonian Theatre (designed by a young Sir Christopher Wren) conducted in Latin (of course).

The education consisted of 10 hours of lectures: two hours each day Monday to Friday, 9 o’clock and 10 o’clock. Then one day a week spent in a laboratory doing actual experiments. There was one tutorial a week lasting an hour for which you had to prepare an essay. The essay was basically transcribing chunks from one of the three substantial textbooks and then presenting them to the tutor who went through them and corrected any mistakes. 

There was no correlation between the lectures and the tutorials. You might have a lecture on a topic in the autumn term and a tutorial on that same topic in the following spring, or vice versa.

The tutors themselves were academics who may well have been experts in their fields but lacked the skills required to engage with students. Possibly in arts subjects there might be intellectual discussion and banter but for a science that just does not apply. This was a rubbish way to impart knowledge!

Being a studious youth, I worked hard and at the end of first year exams, known as Prelims for which we also had to wear subfusc), I got a decent grade and according to my tutor was capable of getting a very good degree. 

"I am sure that you are capable of getting a very good degree indeed and that reading now will repay you well". Verbally, he said I was on track for a First.

Year two.

In the second year, this dreadful educational system continued to grind away at my enthusiasm for chemistry. At school I had an inspirational teacher, Mr Annable, and I loved the subject with its mixture of theory and practice. The Oxford approach was disappointing to say the least. 

Apologists for the system claim that you are no longer spoon fed like you are at school and have to be self directed. I would argue that in fact it was more like "sink or swim" with no guidance, support or coaching delivered by people with dubious presentation skills and shakey didactic abilities. A very poor approach to imparting knowledge, understanding and enthusiasm.

I read widely in other areas such as psychology, anthropology, child development, sociology, and at the end of my second year asked if I could change subject. The answer was “No” since I was already two years into my course and funding from the local educational authority would not be forthcoming. So I gritted my teeth and stuck it out with no great enthusiasm.

There were no exams at the end of the second year, which which meant a certain degree of freedom to enjoy other aspects of life. Many of the colleges had Amateur Dramatic groups and in the summer term I was going to two or three productions every single week. 

Going back through my old programs I discovered that I had not seen anyone who later became famous apart from Oz Clarke (now better known as a wine presenter) but I did see a fellow pupil from my school, Jane Broughton, who came up to Oxford the year after me and appeared in “Saksoon” at St Edward’s.

Year three.

By the third year, I was so disillusioned with the teaching that I stopped going to lectures completely! Instead, I spent my time reading large numbers of science fiction books purchased from various secondhand bookshops. 

Interestingly, no one enquired how I was getting on or noticed that I wasn’t attending lectures. The indifference and lack of interest shown by the college and my primary tutor, now that I look back on it, was frankly appalling.

As a consequence my marks in Schools (aka Finals) were poor, on the border between second and third class honours. 

"Your performance in Schools was a little disappointing I am afraid and you will need a good Part II to ensure that you get the 2nd of which you are capable. [...] I hope you will make a real effort for it would be a nonsense for a man of your intelligence not to get a Second." 

It would all hang on how I did in my Part II, fourth year project. 

Year four.

The project had a decent remit to test the the effects that burial might have on pottery and the possible impact on dating techniques.

The project went well enough but was not helped by losing my lab notebook on the bus whilst visiting London. I had a last minute, final term panic re-creation of the experiments. The viva didn't go particularly well and unfortunately the thesis was not good enough to push my marks over the boundary into Second so I scraped through with a Third Class Honours.

It was, however, good enough to get a paper published the following year:

Hedges, R.E.M., and McLellan, M. “Cation exchange capacity of fired clays and its effect on the chemical and radiometric analysis of pottery.”

Abstract

Measurements of the exchange capacity of several clay types for firing temperatures up to 1000/sup 0/C are presented. Consideration of these, together with measurements on archaeological material, shows the possibility for significant alteration of the trace element composition for pottery. The implications of this for provenance determination and thermoluminescent radiometry are considered.

Archaeometry; (United Kingdom); Journal Volume: 18:2. [More…].

So Oxford turned a keen, hard working pupil capable of getting a First into an unhappy, disillusioned student who scraped a Third. 


All this for a piece of paper that has sat in an envelope for 50 years. No one has ever asked for it or even for proof that it exists.

Am I bitter? Too f***ing right I am.

Monday, June 03, 2024

Oxford Life - 05 Money

Oxford in the early '70s was very different from what I imagine it is now. This is the tale of my time in this august institution.

Table of Contents:

Episode 05 - Money.

Introduction.

The way we manage our money now is so very different to when I was at college: no student loans, frugal spending habits and primitive banking technology. Back then there were no credit cards, no ATMs, no internet banking, cheques took three days to clear. Shopping was cash or a cheque with a cheque guarantee card. Only part way through college did credit cards arrive to join the party and ATMs appeared after I’d left.

Student Grant.

Way back in the ‘70s only 4% of pupils went on to university. These days it is approaching 40%. There was no need for student loans because the public purse could afford to pay for our education. I received a grant from the local education authority that covered tuition, accommodation and living expenses. 

It was means tested, so parents were expected to make a contribution and the grant was reduced accordingly. My father earned a modest salary working as an architect for Coventry City Council and had a wife and three offspring to support. Consequently, he was not able to make his contribution even though small.

As a result, I was on a tight budget and had to manage my money very carefully. I kept a journal in which I recorded my cash in hand or, more literally, in pocket. 

Looking back it gives some insight into the cost of every day items.

  • A cashed cheque for £6.50 was enough to cover my expenses for a week. 
  • A pint of milk was 4p
  • A pint of lager and lime was 14p
  • A packet of chocolate digestives was 11½p. 
  • Looking through all the pages it seems that I lived on chocolates and biscuits but in the first year food was already paid for as part of my college accommodation. 
  • Powdered milk was for coffee in my room as there was no fridge.
  • There was no payphone in the college so "Telephone" was going out into Catte Street to the iconic K6 red telephone box opposite and feeding it coins to speak to my parents or girlfriend. 
  • I went to the laundrette once a fortnight. I owned 15 pairs of identical brown socks so that matching them up was never a problem - just grab the first two that came to hand out of the drawer. The 15th pair was, of course, to wear at the laundrette while I washed the other 14 pairs.
  • A platform ticket “allowed non-passengers to enter the paid area of the station, for example to walk with their friends, associates and loved ones all the way to the passenger car at stations where the general public is not admitted to platforms.” [Wikipedia]
  • CADAS was the Coventry and District Archaeological Society.

What doesn't appear in this cash book is the almost weekly cheque written in favour of Virgin Records in Little Clarendon Street where my vinyl collection was augmented on a regular basis.

In my third year, my brother went to King’s College, Cambridge and the parental contribution was then divided between the two of us, meaning a smaller deduction from my grant cheque which helped with my living expenses.

Bank account. 

We had only just made the conversion from pounds, shillings and pence to decimal currency in the spring of my first year [Monday 15 February 1971] so by the time I came to open a bank account the UK was fully decimal.

I opened my first ever bank account in my home town of Kenilworth, but then immediately transferred it to Oxford because you needed to physically go into a branch to withdraw money. There was no ATM from which you could withdraw cash. ATMs had only been introduced into the UK two years previously and were not at all widespread until after I finished college. You went into the bank, wrote a cheque made out to “Cash”, handed it over to the teller and got your money in return.

I once read that people were more likely to change their spouse than their bank account. Not sure if that is still true. I kept my Lloyds Bank account open for many years even after Mary and I were married and had opened joint NatWest bank accounts. Eventually I closed it realising that I was pointlessly paying fees on a dormant account.  

Cheque guarantee cards. 

If you wanted to buy something in a shop you wrote a cheque. The cheque guarantee card promised the shopkeeper that the bank would honour the cheque provided they made a note of the card number on the back of the cheque. Banks were wary of giving them to students. When you received your cheque guarantee card you had to sign a piece of paper saying you would not run amok (I paraphrase). Finally withdrawn in 2011

Credit cards. 

Back then credit cards were almost unknown. Very few people had them. Barclaycard was the first, introduced in 1966. In the early ‘70s the banks decided to start issuing credit cards. You didn’t even need to apply. They just mass mailed them out. Initial credit limits were really low but it seemed like every three or four months they would up the credit limit and then up it again so the imprudent could rack up huge debts very rapidly. 

There was no electronic capturing of data. The shopkeeper inserted a multipart paper slip into a device, inserted the card and pushed the handle across to take an impression of the card. You got one copy, the shopkeeper retained one and the other went off in the post to be processed by the card issuer. Seems very primitive by today's electronic standards.


Having had to manage my money carefully back then installed frugal habits I retain to this day. That is, apart from Hi-Fi (see My Life in … Hi-Fi)!

Saturday, June 01, 2024

Oxford Life - 04 Food

Oxford in the early '70s was very different from what I imagine it is now. This is the tale of my time in this august institution. 

Table of Contents:

Episode 04 - Food. 

Years one and two.

As part of the accommodation we were required to dine in hall for a set number of meals. You bought a book of buttery tickets, somewhat like a book of cloakroom tickets, which could be exchanged for meals. The dining hall looked like a small version of Hogwarts with dark oak panels and oil paintings of previous Principals of the college but without the floating candles.

There were long refectory tables with bench seating along both walls and down the centre of the hall. Across the top of the room on a dias was, literally, high table where the dons dined. 

There were no gaps so if you wanted to sit on the wall side you had to walk over the table with your tray of food: you’d say “excuse me” which would cause people to budge up and move their food and condiments out of the way, you’d then step onto the outer bench, up onto the table and across to the other side avoiding treading on people’s dinners and step down to the wall side bench. After a short while you got used to people walking across where you were eating.

Weekdays there were two sittings, the second sitting was more formal and you had to wear your academic gown, bow tie optional. On Sunday there was only a formal sitting where there was a curious custom called sconcing. 

“A person would be ‘sconced’ at a formal dinner if they broke table etiquette – for example by talking about women, religion, politics or work; by referring to the portraits hung in the hall; or by pronouncing the Latin grace wrong. All very serious stuff. The tradition then evolved from being a monetary fine to the penalty of having to drink a tankard of ale which the sconced student could share with his fellows, thus making amends to those who suffered his breach of etiquette. Only the master or senior scholar at the table was able to impose a ‘sconce’: if other people at the table felt that a sconce was necessary, they had to make their request to their senior in Latin or Ancient Greek.” [The Art of Sconcing :: Cherwell].

I only remember witnessing it a couple of times. The guilty party had to pay for a beer to fill the sconcing cup which held about three pints. They would drink as much as they could, then the cup would be passed to the person on their left. Obviously the accuser would typically be on the offender’s right thus getting a free drink before passing it along the table.

The other nights when not dining in college we had to dine out. Having no kitchen facilities in our accommodations, our usual repast was pasty and beans in the The Chequers or a Chinese takeaway: sweet and sour pork balls in fluorescent wallpaper paste with chips that had been cooked too quickly - crisp on the outside, almost raw in the middle.

Breakfast was included in our fees and consisted of bread rolls and marmalade. It is amazing how much marmalade you can squeeze into a modest sized sized roll. 

Years three and four.

Moving into Stratford Street with a kitchen opened up new options. Instead of pasty and beans I could cook at home starting off with Vesta Chow Mein ready meal. I read that they used to subtly tweak the formulation periodically so that people’s palate would not get bored and then not buy as frequently. 

The first Christmas in Stratford street I was given a cookbook by my sister’s then German boyfriend. It was full of traditional English recipes and was my first foray into real cooking at the age of 22, see My Life In … Recipes

We held a party where drinks included a container of scrumpy that Vince had brought up from Somerset. Not all was drunk and it started to grow cloudy in the weeks following. The cookbook included a recipe for rabbit in cider so we thought we’d give it a go. Off the the covered market where the butcher sold us a rabbit in its entirety. We did get him to gut, skin and behead it but we still had to joint it for the pot. Never having done such a thing we resorted to Pete’s scalpel set to dissect the beast. The resulting stew was delicious.

My first ever dinner party came out of the same cookbook. I decided to invite my tutor to dinner along with the rest of the usual suspects. I cannot remember what we served for starter, but the main course was Coq au Vin. I had also discovered a recipe for Hertford pudding - an appropriately named dessert. It basically consisted of whipped cream into which was stirred sweetened chestnut purée. It seemed to go down well.

After college my culinary skills continued to develop thanks to the Reader's Digest classic cookbook “The Cookery Year”.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Oxford Life - 03 Accommodation

Oxford in the early '70s was very different from what I imagine it is now. This is the tale of my time in this august institution.

Table of Contents:

Episode 03 - Accommodation.

Year one.

It's not all "Dreaming Spires" or "Brideshead Revisited" even though Evelyn Waugh attended Hertford College and the first section of the book is set in a college remarkably similar. The college is very photogenic, especially with its Bridge of Sighs, but the interiors of the student rooms were much more prosaic. 


On a recent visit to Oxford with friends, as an alumni I was able to get a back stage pass to show them around the interior even though the college was closed to visitors.

In the first year everybody got to stay in hall as there were enough rooms for all the freshers. This is the quad known as the Old Buildings. The entrance from Catte Street is through the lodge on the left of the picture, the spiral staircase goes up to the dining room, above the lodge, and to the MCR (Middle Common Room).

In the corner of this quad is another staircase that led up to my room on the top floor, to the right of the spiral staircase, but on the street side. My room was clearly one half of what had once been a suite comprising a bedroom and living room but no way to tell which was which. My room was the one on the right of this photo:

There would have originally been an outer front door to the rooms, where you can see the opening. This would have been made of oak and gives rise to the phrase “sporting your oak”. A closed outer door indicated that either you were away or you were in and not to be disturbed because you were studying hard or you had a guest. My oak must have been removed when the rooms were divided, but there are still plenty of others along the rest of the corridor.

The room was fairly basic. Bed, table, chair, electric fire. There might have been other chairs but I do not recall. The wall was adorned with posters - Blu-Tack was allowed. The window was on the Catte Street side, and looked out over the Sheldonian, where graduation ceremonies are held.

There was a shared bathroom for our floor but no kitchen anywhere. In my room I had a kettle and a few mugs, a jar of Nescafé and a tin of powdered milk for entertaining, as did everyone else.

My friend Mike lived on a staircase in the New Buildings which lacked running water so every morning the scout (as the housekeepers are termed) would bring up a jug of hot water for his morning ablutions so that he did not have to trek all the way downstairs to the communal bathroom. Looking back that seems a little bizarre.

Hertford College locked their gates at midnight, although to be fair, they left open a basement window into the laundry room and did provide a ladder, so if you were out after midnight you could climb down and crawl in through the window. As my friends lived in the other quad we often traversed that iconic bridge between the two quads.

Year Two.

At the end of first year exams, those who did particularly well, known as scholars, were granted the privilege of a second year in hall. My friend Mike was bright and did well enough to get his second year in hall whilst the rest of us had to seek alternative accommodation. 

For the Michaelmas (autumn) term I found a landlady in Denmark Street who provided bed and breakfast for students. It was pretty dire. I had a bedroom and she provided breakfast which consisted of some fairly cheap bacon with a little white bony bits in. I was not allowed visitors so had to go out in order to meet up with my friends. She had a son who was learning to play keyboards, practising on an electronic organ with the vibrato set to maximum, pretty awful. It was pretty obvious I was again going to have to find alternative accommodation.

Vince and Pete were able to get rooms in a pair of Victorian terraced houses owned by Hertford College at 134 and 136 Walton Street which is where we spent much of our time. There was an unoccupied bedroom, used by the cleaners as a storeroom, which seemed a bit wasteful and I negotiated with the college to relocate their mops and buckets out into the cupboard under the stairs and I moved in after Christmas. One of the first things I did was paint the walls orange. That was my accommodation for the rest of the second year. It was all very sordid with a strong “The Young Ones” vibe about it.

Year three.

Over the summer, the parents of a fellow student bought a house in Stratford Street not too far from the town centre. The fellow student, also called Mark, had the use of the huge through lounge at the front of the house as his bedroom / living room. Mike and I moved in each with our own bedroom and use of the communal breakfast room and kitchen. So much nicer than Walton Street. 

Year four.

I continued to live in Stratford Street. Since it was the only house with shared space Vince and Pete were often round there as we sat around the kitchen table. It was just like living in a normal house not a picturesque college nor a squalid student shared house. It was there I learned to cook and where we held our first dinner party.

Afterwards.

I stayed on in Oxford after university and became the lodger with friends who lived in West Street, Osney.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Oxford Life - 02 Social

Oxford in the early '70s was very different from what I imagine it is now. This is the tale of my time in this august institution.

Table of Contents:

Episode 02 - Social.

For many people going to university meant freedom, a liberation, escaping the restrictions of home life and meeting all manner of new people. For me it was, in fact, the reverse. My parents were very easy-going and by the time I had reached 18 I could come and go as I pleased. All they asked was that if I was going to be out late that I would phone home and let them know what was happening, when I might be home.

I arrived in Oxford, where the colleges were single sex. The ratio of men to women was around 7:1. The only time you saw women was in the lecture theatres. I had grown up with a brother and sister. All my life schools have been mixed boys and girls. I had friends, I went to the pub and recently started dating Lesley, the head girl. The all male environment was a shock.

I was thrust into an environment where I knew no-one. I was the only person from my school ever to have gone to Oxford. So there were no fellow pupils from years above to act as an intro. Early on I formed a social group with similar, fish-out-of-water state school pupils. We circled the wagons and it was hard to break out and extend our circle of friends. I lacked the social skills and confidence needed to network and meet new people. 

Dramatis personae (L to R):
Back Row: Pete Miller, Mike ?, Vince Russett.
Front row: Mike Gover, Alan Bunker.

That is me on the right holding the album cover in front of me.

Alan Bunker, Vince Russett, Mike Gover (seated),
Mike ? (standing), Mark McLellan (me).

The colleges acted as social silos. You lived in hall, dined in hall, went to the JCR (Junior Common Room) to watch telly, mostly with fellow freshers. Most universities have a union bar and canteen where people would congregate. You could drink cheap beer and get introduced to friends of friends and gradually expand your social circle. Not so in Oxford.

There is an Oxford Union but it is not a union bar in the usual sense despite the name, it is, in fact, a posh boys debating society where would be politicians honed their oratorical skills. It had nothing to do with socialising at all. Hertford did have a college bar in a dingy, poorly lit basement where you might find half a dozen people gathering on the evenings that it was staffed by one of the cleaners.

My girlfriend went to Southampton University to study medicine and the relationship did not survive the distance. We split up at Easter and then followed three celibate years. No fun at all.

I went to two parties in three years.  I cannot even remember the first one and the second was one we organised ourselves in our third year when we were living in Stratford Street. 

All this had a detrimental effect of my cheerfulness, what nowadays would be termed mental health. By the third year I was not in a good place. There was no obvious pastoral care provided by the university, so I went to the doctor to explain the depth of my unhappiness. They asked a few questions: Do you get on okay with your parents. Yes. Are you managing okay with your studies. Yes. Do you have a girlfriend? No. Do you have a boyfriend? No! The outcome: “Nothing really to worry about. Off you go”. Thanks a bunch pal (sarcasm)! These days I am sure I would receive a more sympathetic hearing.

In my fourth year (1974) Hertford was part of the first group of all-male Oxford colleges to admit women by which time it was a bit late to have any impact on my life.

I am glad to report that in my fourth year I did a project in RLAHA (Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art) where I met new people, acquired a girlfriend, started socialising with a different crowd and things improved considerably.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Oxford Life - 01 Application

Oxford in the early ‘70s was very different to what I imagine it is now. This is the tale of my time in this august institution.

Table of Contents:

Episode 01 - Application.

My headmaster, R.N.Mitchell, BA (Cantab.), asked me if I would consider applying to Oxbridge. I had never heard the term and had to have it explained to me that this was a portmanteau word for Oxford and Cambridge. I also didn’t realise that his degree was not from Canterbury, but in fact Cantabrigiensis, the Latin for Cambridge. This explains his keenness for somebody from Kenilworth Grammar School to go to one of these hallowed institutions.

At this point, I need to digress to explain the English education system as it was in the 1960s in Warwickshire.

You attended junior school from the ages of 5 to 11. In your final year you sat the 11+ exam and this academic triage affected the rest of your life. If you were less academically gifted you went to a secondary modern school where the syllabus was more vocational. If you were brighter you went to the local grammar school for a broader education. If you were one of the very brightest you went to the local public school. The thought that the whole of your future life could be determined by one single test on one day at age 11 was a terrible idea. This system turned out to be a bad idea for people who were late developers and for many other reasons. 

For non UK readers I need to explain that a public school is exactly the opposite of what its name suggests. It is a fee paying school predominantly populated by the children of the upper classes and the wealthy. A few of the brightest state pupils had their places paid for as a result of the 11+.

At your senior school, you studied from 11 to 16, and sat your O-level exams (O = Ordinary), normally eight subjects. Some left school after O-levels, others went onto the sixth form typically to study three A-levels (A = Advanced). These took two years. In the second year sixth (aka Upper 6th) you would apply to multiple universities and get offered places conditional upon achieving certain grades in your A-levels. These required grades were determined by a combination of supply and demand and the rigour of the degree e.g. mining engineering only required two passes at E grade; medical school typically required two A’s and a B.

Entrance to Oxford and Cambridge, however, was achieved by sitting their own unique entrance exam which was taken in the spring following your A-levels. This meant staying on for a third year sixth form which is something that only public schools could afford. Grammar school pupils had already headed off to university. As a result, the Oxford and Cambridge student intake was drawn predominantly from the offspring of the upper and moneyed classes.

The Oxford colleges published an annual Norrington table, which ranked the 30 or so colleges based on their degree results.  Some of the colleges in the lower echelons of this league table realised that they were missing out on potentially very capable students from other schools because of the selection process described above. Therefore Hertford introduced the Tanner scheme whereby they would offer places to pupils based on an interview, recommendation from the school and predicted grades.

I was a beneficiary of this scheme. I had an interview with Professor Keith McLauchlan, and was offered a place conditional on getting “Use of English” and, bizarrely, just two A-levels of unspecified pass grade, because this was the minimum to be eligible for a grant from the local educational authority. As it turned out I was, as the Americans say, a straight A student and achieved three A grades in my A-levels.

Text of letter: 

FROM THE PRINCIPAL
HERTFORD COLLEGE
OXFORD 0X1 3BW
TEL. OXFORD 41434
16 December 1970 

Dear Mr. McLellan, 

I am pleased to be able to offer you a place as a Commoner in this College, subject to your satisfying Matriculation requirements*, for Michaelmas Term 1971, to read Chemistry.

Will you please let me know by return, if possible, that you wish to accept this offer, and complete and return to the Admissions Office the enclosed slip so that the UCCA machinery can be made to work. 

Information about reading before you come up can be obtained from Dr. McLauchlan. and you will be informed of administrative arrangements by the College Secretary later on. 

Yours sincerely,
(Sir Lindor Brown) 

*to qualify for Matriculation you need to gain the following G.C.E. passes: Use of English; 2 A levels. 

Mr. M.S. McLellan.

Two other pupils from my year also were successful in their applications to Cambridge and, it being a slow week, us three star pupils warranted an item in the local newspaper, the Kenilworth Weekly News.

Text of article:

Knowledge is rewarded

Three pupils of Kenilworth Grammar School, all in the Second Year Sixth, have been successful in gaining entrance to Oxford and Cambridge colleges. Mark McLellan (at the back), of 7 Barford Road, Kenilworth, is to read chemistry at Hertford College, Oxford. Daphne Kane, 14 Lancaster Place, Kenilworth, will be going to Girton College, Cambridge next October to read modern and mediaeval languages (French and Latin). Churchill College, Cambridge, in October 1972, is where Nigel Bull, of Eastern Green is due to read modern languages (German and Russian) after under taking a year's voluntary service.

Bizarre that they would publish our home addresses but those were more innocent times.

No gap year for me, it was next stop Oxford...

Saturday, May 25, 2024

UK Road Trip, May 2024

All over the place, UK. May-2024.

Well actually more of a rail trip. Mary booked tickets for Average White Band in Edinburgh almost a year ago so we always had planned a flying visit back from Italy especially for this concert followed by John Bishop in Newcastle. The original plan was a couple of days in Penrith then off to Milan for the start of a 6 day walking holiday. 

Sadly we had to cancel that holiday but, by a series of lucky coincidences, this turned a very short visit into a 11 day road trip back to the UK taking in the AWB concert, John Bishop show, a 70th birthday party, and a visit to my second cousin. 

We only had three days in Penrith which meant we had to cram lots into a short time window.

Friday 10: Edinburgh: a very long day. Our taxi picked us up at 9:30 in Cisternino to drive us to Bari airport. We flew to Gatwick and then caught the train all the way up to Edinburgh arriving at 21:30 (22:30 Italian time). A total of 13 hours travelling but we decided it was better that way because the direct flights from Brindisi to Edinburgh didn’t land till almost midnight.

Saturday 11: Edinburgh: Saturday morning was, of course, #parkrunday. Our choice was a bus ride across town to Oriam to give us an “O” towards our second parkrun alphabet. Mary's sister Sandra drove over from Glasgow to join us. That evening we went to see Average White Band at Usher Hall as part of their farewell "Funk Finale Tour".

Sunday 12: Newcastle: Before leaving Edinburgh we had a morning to spare so we walked down to Leith looking at old buildings. 

The 'Pilrig Muddle' These two large cable-winding wheels were constructed between 1898 and 1900 and were discovered nearby during the construction of the Trams to Newhaven Project in August 2021. Located at the junction of Leith Walk and Pilrig Street they formed part of the underground cable system for the Edinburgh and District Tramways Company's cable-trams.
Although Edinburgh and Leith had been connected by horse-drawn trams since the 1870's, Leith Burgh Council decided not to join Edinburgh's cable-tram system. Instead in 1905 Leith pioneered electric traction under the Leith Corporation Tramways.
However the use of two different tram systems meant that passengers travelling between Leith and Edinburgh would have to change tramcars at the Leith Walk / Pilrig Street junction, the boundary between the two Burghs. Known as the "Pilrig Muddle', this lasted until 1922 when the route became fully electric allowing passengers to travel without having to change.

Lamb's House: The present house is an example of early-17th-century architecture typical of harbour towns around the North Sea. The site was originally owned by Edinburgh merchant and shipowner Andrew Lamb. The Lamb family were reputed to have entertained Mary, Queen of Scots, somewhere nearby on her return from France in 1561. [wikipedia].

The signal tower, built by Robert Mylne in 1686, was originally a windmill for pressing rape-seed oil. It was converted c.1805. It stands on the shore where ships entering Leith landed their goods before the development of the modern docks in the 19th century.

On the way back into town, we passed an antique shop with two Parker Knoll chairs in the window which Mary could not resist. We then had the challenge of how to get them back to Penrith.

We had a lovely brunch at Brunswick Café and caught the train down to Newcastle to see John Bishop at the O2 City Hall that evening.

Monday 13: Penrith: After getting outrageous man-and-van quotes online for transporting the armchairs from Edinburgh we narrowed our options to a one day self-drive van hire or see if my car, a Kia Sportage, could accommodate two armchairs. We tested our existing Parker Knoll and it was a case of "Cinders, you shall go to the ball!" - two chairs would fit so that was my Wednesday morning decided.

Then I took my car into the garage for its MOT which had expired the previous day! You are allowed to drive with an expired MOT only provided that you are on your way to the garage to have the car tested. Even though it was only three minutes drive I found it anxiety inducing.

Tuesday 14: Penrith: Lunch with our friend Nigel in the GreenWheat cafe next door while we waited for a mattress to be delivered.

Wednesday 14: Penrith: Up bright and early to drive a 5-hour round trip all the way to Edinburgh and back to pick up the two armchairs. Meanwhile Mary waited in for a sofa to be delivered from John Lewis. A chunk of the afternoon was spent at the dentists, first hygienist then a review of a dodgy implant. After that I was chauffeur taking Mary to meet up with friends for a wild swim in Ullswater.

Thursday 16: Penrith: This day it was the turn of Mary‘s car to get its first ever MOT. Having dropped the Mazda MX5 off at the garage and returned Mary home, I went out with Eden runners for their regular Thursday social run through some very delightful Bluebell woods. In the afternoon our new living room curtains were delivered and hung. As expected the MX5 sailed through its MOT with no issues.

Friday 17: Ringwood: Leaving Penrith first thing, we took the cross country train all the way down to Southampton Airport Parkway where we picked up a hire car to drive to Ringwood. We stayed at the Star Inn in the Market Square in Ringwood and had a tasty Thai meal with Bob and Lynn.

Saturday 18: Ringwood: our chosen parkrun for the day was over the border in Dorset at Upton house giving us "U" towards our second alphabet. Back to the Star Inn for the usual post-run shower and change ready to stroll round to Bob and Lynn’s for Bob’s 70th party - an all afternoon and evening affair. It was great to catch up with friends we hadn't seen for ages. Then it was a late night stagger back to the Star Inn. 

Sunday 19: Ringwood: We went for a very pleasant walk around Breamore House near Fordingbridge with Bob and Lynn and that evening helped them finish off the leftovers from the night before. 

The walk included the Breamore Miz Maze:

The Miz-Maze is a quartered circular labyrinth about 84 feet in diameter, thought to have been cut in to the turf in the Middle Ages, possibly during the 12th or 13th Centuries. The design is Christian and similar designs can be seen on the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France and on a stone in Lucca Cathedral in Italy.

The Miz-Maze has been designated a Scheduled Monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 in order to protect this unique and fragile site. It is one of only eight surviving English turf mazes and the raised grass sections form the path which unfortunately is prone to erosion if used. The Miz-Maze on St. Catherine's Hill at Winchester is of similar design but the path is cut out in to the chalk.

Monday 20: Bournemouth: an opportunity to catch up with my second cousin, Effie, who is an amazing live wire for someone in her mid-80s. We went down to the town centre sea front for a superb seafood meal catching the bus there and back.

Tuesday 21: Cisternino: we returned the hire car to the airport caught the train up to Clapham Junction, had a nice lunch at The Banana Tree, and completed the rail trip down to Gatwick. An uneventful flight and a pick up from Brindisi airport where our local taxi man got us back home ready for bed.

An action packed road trip with a mixture of fun and useful stuff done.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

My Life in ... Theatre Programmes: The School Years

The seventeenth in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office"

Recap: “Over the years, I have kept just about every theatre programme for every play, dance, performance. The bankers’ box full of programs has grown over the years into two boxes and travelled with me from home to home. The vinyl collection mostly went as part of the downsize, the theatre programs were next on the list. I looked at selling them on eBay, as many other people have done, but the effort involved and the prices they would fetch meant it just was not worth the effort. So what I did was scan them, mostly just cover page and cast list . Then off they went to the recycling bin. Exceptions were programs where I knew one of the performers or they were particularly significant productions.

Scanning old theatre programmes is like watching your life flash before your eyes but v-e-r-y slowly.

I have seen things you people wouldn't believe...”

The School Years.

As a child / teenager my theatre and concert going was very much down to the beneficence of my parents, Dad specifically as the sole breadwinner growing up. I received a modest amount of pocket money just sufficient to buy myself some treats down at the sweetshop, a jamboree bag or sherbet dab. Once I reached 16 I started earning money over the summer as an archaeological digger which expanded my options.

Looking back my dad was a pretty cool dad. 

Toad of Toad Hall at the Belgrade Theatre (1961, age 9). The very first ever performance I went to as a child, age 9, was Toad of Toad Hall at the newly built Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, which made an impression on a young child not least because of the vertiginous aisles. What I did not know until many years later, when we went to see an evening with Ian McKellen was that I had seen him right at the start of his career in his role as chief weasel

Startime at The London Palladium (1964, age 11). I also discovered a programme from a visit to London where I saw Tommy Cooper and Cilla Black at the London Palladium in 1964. As I was 11 that must have been thanks to my dad and a trip to the big city. I remembered nothing of that trip so this programme came as a complete surprise! 

Maybe that is why I am now a big fan of Tommy Copper. 'Spoon, Jar, Jar, Spoon'.

Cilla would have been in the charts with "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and headliner Frankie Vaughan with "Hello Dolly".

The Great Siege of Kenilworth - 700th anniversary (1966, age 13). I was keen on archaeology and history in my teens. I was a regular visitor to the castle as local residents got in for free. The 700 year anniversary celebrations were right up my street. I had the original souvenir programme and recently unearthed a forgotten set of photos

Caesar And Cleopatra at the Belgrade Theatre (1967, age 14). My first ever Bernard Shaw play but certainly not the last. 

Mother Courage and Her Children at the Belgrade Theatre (1967, age 15). My first ever Bertolt Brecht play and not one I'd care to repeat. I remember it as tediously long and boring but then I was only 15 and probably failed to appreciate it fully.

Roy Liechtenstein at the Tate (1968, age 15). This was another trip to London to see an extensive retrospective of one of the greats of Pop Art. It made a big impression on me.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, age 15). Not theatre or music but a memorable outing nonetheless. Dad took the whole family down to London, from Kenilworth, in order to see 2001 in CinemaScope in Leicester Square. It was the IMAX of its day, with full stereophonic surround sound. I still remember the sound of the apes behind me as they ran off and the unsettling effect on the inner ear as the stewardess walked upside down.

The Magistrate at The Chichester Theatre / Moon Landing (1969, age 16). This was part of a father and son weekend away, just me and dad. We stayed in a B&B near Chichester the weekend of the first moon landing. During the day we went to see Fishbourne Roman Palace and that night stayed up late to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing live. Looking back I realise it must have been as thrilling for my dad as he was a lifelong reader of science fiction and this was history in the making. The next day we went to The Chichester Theatre to see this production starring, amongst others, Tamara Ustinov (Peter's daughter) and Alastair Sim.

Midsummer Night’s Dream at RSC Stratford (1970, age 17). Peter Brook’s production of The Dream was simply magical: the white stage set, the primary colours of the costumes, the eerie whistling noise made by the fairies whirling wind pipes.

Now we enter the zone where I had money from my summer job as an archaeological labourer and could buy my own tickets.

Isle of Wight Festival (1970, age 17). I saw some of the most famous and influential bands and acts in musical history including Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, The Doors, Miles Davis, the list goes on. Sadly I remember very little. I think much of this was due to my musical illiteracy at 17. If they hadn't appeared on Top of the Pops I wouldn't know who they were and so did not appreciate who I was listening to. Full blog post: Isle of Wight Festival 1970.

Tyrannosaurus Rex at "Castle Rock" (Saturday, June 5th 1970, age 17). My first ever T.Rex gig. Full write up at Castle Rock feat. Tyrannosaurus Rex. At least I think it was my first ever Tyrannosaurus Rex concert. There was an earlier gig at Birmingham Town Hall but I have no ticket stub nor diary entry so I may have imagined being there.

Tyrannosaurus Rex at Birmingham Town Hall (Wednesday, 14th October 1970, age 18). The tickets were a very modest 10/- (ten shillings or 50p in decimal).

Incredible String Band at Birmingham Town Hall (1970?, age 18). I have no record of the exact date but it featured Licorice Mckecknie on bass. The internet suggests several possible dates but Saturday, 31 Oct 1970 is the most plausible.

Lancaster Polytechnic Arts Festival (January 1971, age 18). Curved Air featuring the lovely Sonia Christina followed by Monty Python live. A full write-up in this post: Lanchester Arts Festival 1971.

T.Rex at Birmingham Town Hall (Tuesday, 16th February 1971, age 18). I was in the orchestra gallery, unreserved seats behind the stage, so really close to the band. Also pretty close to the speakers so it was really loud.

Edgar Broughton Band, Pink Fairies, et al at Warwick University Arts Festival (March 1971, age 18). I went to the performance of Stravinsky's Mass followed by some drummer who did a 25 minute long drum solo. Later the same evening it was the turn of local group the Edgar Broughton Band featuring their hit single Out Demons Out. On the Sunday I went to see the Pink Fairies. There was no seating so the audience sat on the floor. The music was painfully loud, so much so that I had to lie flat on the floor to get some shielding from the people in front of me. 

Image courtesy of Trev Teasdel.

Then I went up to college and a whole new chapter began.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Great Siege of Kenilworth - 700th anniversary photos

Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire. Saturday 11-June-1966.

"The siege of Kenilworth (21 June - December 1266), also known as the great siege of 1266, was a six-month siege of Kenilworth Castle and a battle of the Second Barons' War. The siege was a part of an English civil war fought from 1264 to 1267 by the forces of Simon de Montfort against the Royalist forces led by Prince Edward (later Edward I of England). The siege was one of few castle attacks to take place during the war." [Wikipedia].

The Urban District Council of Kenilworth decided to celebrate the 700th anniversary with an all day event. A while back I blogged the programme from The Great Siege of Kenilworth - 700th anniversary celebrations. I recently unearthed some photos I took on the day, so without further ado, here they are with quotes from the programme.

Programme

Saturday 11th June 1966, Kenilworth Castle

Multi-method Minor Peal of Bells from St. Nicholas Church

2:00 Unveiling of Plaque by Lord Kenilworth
2:15 Tour of Medieval Fayre by official party
3:30 A Medieval Entertainment presented jointly by the Priory Theatre and the Talisman Theatre
4:00 Fencing
4:30 Short-Bow Archery
5:15 Cannon Fire

Draw for Programme Lucky Number

In the Echo Meadow
5:20 Tug-of-War
5:45 Long-Bow Archery
6:15 Demonstration of Cannon Firing
6:20 Musketry

A Medieval Entertainment presented jointly by the Priory Theatre and the Talisman Theatre

1266 AND ALL THAT

A tale of Robin Hood
Presented by The Priory and Talisman Theatre Companies.

  • Thrill to the throbbing drama as Maid Marion is abducted by the Dastardly Sheriff! 
  • Enjoy the jocular jokes of the jolly jesters! 
  • Marvel at the mirth and music as the Merry Men dance round the Maypole! 
  • See the amazing action-packed duel between the Sheriff and Robin Hood - ten great hits.

Tug of war in the Echo Meadow (1/3).

Tug of war in the Echo Meadow (2/3).

Tug of war in the Echo Meadow (3/3).

Fencing. 

A sport with ancient origins, fencing has been developed over the years into its modern form. It requires a high degree of skill and co-ordination of mind, hand and body. 

Today's fencer has the choice of three weapons - the foil, originally a practice weapon, the sabre which is a lighter version of the cavalry sword, and the epée, derived from the 18th century French court sword. All three are demonstrated today. 

The fencers' special clothing gives them the maximum protection consistent with freedom of movement and the position they adopt when 'on guard' enables them to defend themselves or launch an attack with equal facility. 

As they advance and retire, testing each other's reaction, seeking an opportunity for attack, the action flows from side to side until a hit is scored.

Demonstration of Cannon Firing.

The two Cannon in use today belong to Robin Wigington of Stratford-upon-Avon, an antique dealer who specialises in firearms.

The larger of the two Cannon is a bronze seven pounder. The barrel is a fine example of its type and the carriage has been reconstructed to its original pattern in oak and teak.

Known as a 'galloper' it was a mobile field gun in Napoleonic times and could be moved rapidly about the battlefield to support the infantry. It mostly fired solid shot, but when in action at short range - repelling a cavalry charge for example - it fired canister shot.

Although a 'light' gun the barrel weighs several hundredweight, and the complete gun around 15 - 16 cwt.

The smaller weapon is an iron barrelled three pounder of the early 19th century. This is its first outing since its reconstruction.

A mountain battery gun, it is easily dismantled and was designed to pack away on three mules. It was mainly used by infantry in difficult areas such as the North West Frontier of India, and the mountains of Africa, where normal artillery could not operate. .

Peasant in the stocks (1/3).

Peasant in the stocks (2/3).

Peasant in the stocks (3/3).

I remember it as a fun day out and was pleased to discover these forgotten photos in my archive.