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.

15 comments:

headless chicken said...

Always wonder whether I should comment on such a post as my comments are neither clever or interesting especially compared to your writing but comment I shall....Another fascinating, beautifully written post and as for the photo of you.....Phwoaaaar!!!:)
Btw-I always envy people with a good mathematical ability....I struggle to add up using my fingers!

headless chicken said...

Oh yes, I forgot to mention.....I had that ping-pong game and thought it was really modern and space-age!!!
TV.in the seventies was the best! My fave was Daktari.:)

meredic said...

Hey I struggle to add up with my fingers as well.
Thanks for the phwoaaar!
She Of The Townhouse said something similar. I never knew what I had until it was too late.
Now I just have to make the best of whats left....
Wasn't Daktari a sixties program?

headless chicken said...

If Daktari was a sixties program I must have seen the repeats..I was born in 1967 but clearly remember Clarence the cross-eyed lion!
Did you ever read the email I sent to you after your visit to the Forest Of Dean?

Fi said...

Oooh you look like my fantasy pilot.

Civil engineers are good. My dad is one. I hope your next post tells us all the wonderful things you did with your degree, just like me and my 2 ;)

buffalodickdy said...

Funny how so many of us ended up with degrees in subjects that are useful to our careers, but weren't the career we work in today...

startare said...

Hé, beau gosse, you look really dashing on the photo. Can't wait for the next installment of your life story.

sablonneuse said...

I love the bit "I was swept up and emptied into a plain civil engineering course".
And, by the way, no wonder you were spoken for promptly. I'll second Headless Chicken - phwoaaar!

Lori said...

Great photo! It's interesting the paths we take and how we end up where we are, often by chance. I always love to hear people's stories about how they started out in life.

Sally Lomax said...

Great photo and brilliantly written post of course! Have you ever considered writing for a career?!
If I were your little sister though, I'm not sure I would want to be called buxom!!! Perhaps glamorous would be a better word -as she is.

headless chicken said...

Oh yes....I forgot to say re; your reply to my comment...it's NEVER too late!!!;)

meredic said...

fi - a fantasy pilot... oooer missus....
Yes but it was a long time ago.

buffalodickdy - I remember that no one put a hand up for teaching when future employment was talked about and yet I seem to have been one for 24 years.

startare - beau gosse indeed! It's the scandal dished up in the book that you will want to read I am sure ;-)

sablonneuse - you too! Madam please, whoever the bloke in the photo is he has put on a lot of weight since it was taken.

lori - thanks for maintaining the decorum. Yes its peculiar isn't it. I am careful to label this ordinary life but it seems to have become a bit of a favourite, and I enjoy making it all up as well....

sally - thank you for the kind compliment. If you can advise me how to make some money out of writing I would jump at the chance!
As for my sister, glamorous? This is the woman who bursts in to the pub and proclaims 'guess what I just followed in here?' at the same time as thrusting her breasts at the barman....

headless chicken - quite right, never say never.

I am getting to the stage, with this particular posts, at which I might have to compromise the narrative to spare others feelings. But if Sally can tell me how to get a book deal I shall of course 'fess all.

spangly_goth said...

I agree with the "phwoaaaarr" that's going around =]
And Maths? Ha. I'm useless >.<

Jayne said...

Great pic.

Great post to.

I'm awful at maths, so I have to be impressed by default. Or something like that anyway. :0)

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