Year 1 at Uni: 1966 and all that

1966: England won the World Cup and I went ‘up’ to Cambridge. I’d had the best part of a year out, nowadays it’s called a gap year, and I was going to be back in full time education again. It was a major discontinuity in my life. I wouldn’t say that I was well prepared but some how I got though this first year successfully.

During my year off I’d worked for Shell in its research labs, earned enough money to buy a car, taken a three week holiday with three friends in the South of France and, since I’d been 18 for most of it, got used to the idea of drinking beer as a part of my social life. I thought that as a result I was pretty mature but very quickly I met others who’d done as much and more. Many had ‘benefited’ from a public school education, some had lived outside the UK, some dressed like the hippies I’d only seen on the TV and some had smoked stuff alien to me. In terms of maturity I still had a long way to go.

I arrived at Churchill College early October and moved into my rooms, I was to share a set, that’s a living room/study with a separate bedroom, with Robin Prentice. Robin was from Gravesend in Kent and was to study mathematics. Sadly I think he’s already died.

My first full day must have been Sunday, 2 Oct 66, and that was a day to simply find my way around the college. Other freshers were immediately apparent looking lost and anyway there were few other students yet in residence except for post grads.

Early on I met up with Martin Horne from Wrexham whom I’d met at interview. Others I met then included Julian Filochowski (later CEO of Cafod, the catholic charity) and Ed Libbey both of whom I’ve remained in touch with over the 50 plus years since.

Lectures wouldn’t start until the Thursday and in between we had college stuff to be getting on with including the obligatory photo (as above), meeting our tutors (mine was David Barrass, a historian) who were responsible for our physical and mental well-being, and getting numbers painted on the rear mudguards of our bikes. My immediate impressions on looking at the photograph are how young I looked and how many of us were wearing ties. We also spent some time working out how the university operated, how we should register for lectures and where we should go for them

I was a Natural Scientist with an enthusiasm for chemistry and otherwise a bias towards physics and maths. That took care of three of the subjects which I should study. Many of my new friends were also doing crystallography but I opted for geology because I thought it would be ‘useful in the oil industry’. One of my fellows also doing geology was John Hazelden who now lives in Impington.

We all had Directors of Studies assigned to us who were responsible for making sure we attended the right lectures and practicals and put us in touch with Supervisors who gave us specific support (and set us our homework). My Director of Studies was an Australian, Don Cameron who I remember lived in a modest semi somewhere down Chery Hinton Road. He subsequently returned to his homeland and became a Professor at the University of Melbourne.

Of course I had a life outside of my studies. I played rugby, invariably on the wing although I did play a couple of games at wing forward, I helped edit a fledgling student newsletter, I attended meetings, including lunches at St Columba’s (now the united Reform) Church, of the Presbyterian and Congregational Society (ProngSoc), and in the summer term I coxed the rugby boat in the May Bumps. I remember several from that boat including Ed Libbey, Mike Moles (with whom Ed and I shared a house as post grads; Mike has sadly died), Andrew Unwin (whom I bumped into  in the departure lounge at Jakarta airport in the late 70s) and Geoff Butlin (who now lives in Oakington).

My academic year was a bit of a journey. I started it of course after my year out and despite the support from my Supervisors et al I quickly found that it was very different from being at school. Although I went through the motions in the first term I was a bit lost. However I did recognise this and spent the long Xmas break revisiting all the work I’d done during the term. This put me in much better shape and I approached the second term with a ‘more rational’ confidence.

Term 3 of course was the exam term and I worked very hard. I’d always been used to working hard for exams and done well and reckoned that these exams would be no different. I planned my revision and gave myself a fair amount of social and leisure time. At one stage I felt that I’d ‘peaked’ too early but I carried on and by and large the exams went OK until the last one. That was geology and I’m managed to oversleep. I got to the exam maybe half an hour or an hour late and did my best. It was my weakest subject anyway but I needed the marks!

The term ended on a high as our boat won its oars. This was despite one of our crew catching a crab on day two. We got our fourth bump just before the Plough so it was a quick two strokes in and then pints all round!

Then it was home for the summer and wait for the exam results which came in a matter of days. Somehow or another I’d garnered enough marks to merit a first and that delivered the bonus of a scholarship for my second year and retrospectively for year one. At £60 each that was a lot of money plus it entitled me to my own room in college for the next year. I could relax and enjoy the summer.

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