Monday, September 03, 2007
Ordinary Life 6
apologies for it being a bit long for a blog post......
The films of Jaques Yves Cousteau, his voyages with The Calypso, had led me up to this point, to firmly believe that I was going to be a marine biologist. Thus it came as a minor disappointment to me to find that once again careers advice was steering me towards engineering courses in university. Coming to the end of my sixth form time I resolved that whatever course I did wind up in, I would have to live by the sea. Thus I looked at places like Aberdeen, Bangor, Brighton, and Plymouth, finally reaching Swansea in the alphabet and realising that it was the cheapest train journey from Bristol.
Swansea offered a course in Civil Engineering and Oceanography and this seemed to fit in at least partly with my ambition for the sea. So I went and stood on Swansea bay in a borrowed suit. Took off my shoes and rubbed the sand between my toes. Signed up pending results and the next three years were spent in Swansea.
I took with me the skateboard that I left my old school on and spent freshers week racing it from the hall to the refectory. I don’t know to this day whether she was impressed, or if it was just pitying amazement but it was as this ‘Skater Boy’ that I met my first wife, The Graduates Mother. School friend of a rugby fan who shared the corridor I was on, it was just three floors down to her room. By the end of the week, we were an item for the next nine years.
It turned out that the course I had signed up for wasn’t popular enough to be staffed or funded. Unfortunately I hadn’t been told. I was still a very naïve eighteen year old. In partial excuse I think its fair to add that my background was bound to lack the experiences needed to prepare me for university. No one in my family had ever been away to university. I was on my own, quite a long way from home short on advice. Rather than go back to Bristol and start again, which on reflection might have made more sense, I was swept up and emptied into a plain civil engineering course.
To give you an idea of how little I knew, I was unaware until results day that you could get different classes of degree. I had to ask my tutor to explain what my qualification meant. I think it shook him a bit. Maybe I should have read the small print.
There were pleasures along the way of course. I was particularly keen, a recurring theme, on a series of lectures put on by the maths staff. These were imaginatively entitled ‘Mathematics For Engineering Students’ but at the end of them there was an invite to attend some extra sessions that coincided with our free time and I was enthusiastic about these. Geology opened my eyes as well, and later served me well both in career and as an interest. Fluid mechanics and finite element analysis, both requiring lots of number crunching with a PDP11 computer. Indeed for many of us who were disenchanted with code 114 (theory and practical advice on reinforced concrete) or the British Steel Section catalogue (from which I once selected all the material for a large warehouse except a door), the computer lab became the drug of choice. Due to my earlier experience I had a reputation as someone who could actually make computers work. Provided I could be prised away from the Colossal Cave or Startrek of course. In these late 1970s the most sophisticated toy on the market was a pingpong game that you could plug in to you television.
I also learned to dive with air bottles and became, to my amazement, the captain of a University Sports team. My ability, still retained, to hold my breath for three minutes meant that was an Octopush goal scoring machine.
I stumbled through some of the courses, breezed the numerical ones, and at the end of three years left clutching a degree that I didn’t understand, and for quite a while couldn’t use either. It was that bloody woman again you see. Margaret Thathcer. First she took away the milk and then she shut down civil engineering. I graduated just in time for the political belt tightening that stopped local authorities and government agencies from building or in many cases repairing. This left quite a glut of engineering students with similar qualifications to mine.
In answer to the obvious question I guess, the buxom blond facing the camera is my little sister Melissa.