I returned from Birmingham to go to school in Chingford and I still remember my first day and the need to ask for help fixing the top press-stud in my overcoat. I was just getting around to paying it a visit in the early 90's to lay some ghosts, when it burnt down. How it survived so long is a mystery since it too was made largely of wood and I can still bring to mind the smell of creosote. The highlight of the year was "May Revels" usually in late June! The Head Girl for the following year was crowned Queen by the intended Head Boy and everyone else danced and sang. The new school, to my delight has an imaginative website.
I want to pay tribute to that school and particularly to the three members of staff recognised by memorial funds. Three very different characters, but all engaged not just in teaching their subject, though they did that very well, but also engaged in education. They encouraged us to think about and question things we were told and even to dream. One encouraged us to question whether Persil really did "wash whiter". The second took us to the Old Vic to see Shakespeare, rather than just read it and the third persuaded my parents, to whom no such idea had occurred, to allow me to stay on into the Sixth Form. An obvious ambition to Middle Class parents, but certainly not to Council Estate dwellers who had no aspirations to own a telephone never mind a car. Who would they call? where would they go? In those days we could play in the street requiring to move only for the Milk Float. The same streets today are of course lined with cars on both sides .
During my first five years in Grammar School I would say Electrical Engineer to people who asked what do you want to be........? Then one day in the Library I discovered it was possible to gain employment as a Physicist. Wow what delight, I had already started to study Einstein in my spare time. I applied to two Universities, one of them took me to study Mathematical-Physics and I returned to Birmingham. The course was frankly poorly organised falling as it did between the Maths and Physics departments whose two graduate courses we followed in parallel. There was no proper tutoring system and we were left to make our own progress. Student life was wonderful, freed from the strictures of an unimaginative headmaster, bent on turning out gentlemen, and also freed from the responsibilities of home. Carnival week which was then in October was a real eye opener and I remember taking part in a wheel barrow race along New Street after a band of accomplices stopped the traffic. Of course the University has a website. In my day there Computer Programming was a career that degree failures took up. I was not quite a failure but I was later to take up Programming in a big way.
Not having obtained a first, which was next to impossible in my subject anyway, I had to go into the Nuclear Industry to avoid National Service (I wanted to get married). I didn't want to spend my working life making Bombs so I applied to APC and GEC. The former rather sniffily only took 2A's and above, but fortunately the latter had more modest requirements. As a new scientist replete with Relativity and Quantum Theory, I naturally supposed that calculations on Nuclear Reactors would be at the forefront of using modern physics. Not so, Neutron flux was calculated using crude diffusion theory and in those days very crude. And basic reactivity was calculated using a much annotated paper based on some rather crude correlations with measurements. Working through it by hand, using a mechanical calculator and six figure Bessel Function tables took me a fortnight. So I was much impressed when shown how to do it on the Mercury Computer which took some ten seconds. It was not so good at RZ flux calculations. The program, known as "Hassit" after its author, was put on for an hour or two and results printed. It was allowed to continue its iterations for another hour before results were printed again. If the two sets were considered close enough to each other the calculation was deemed to be converged. "Putting a program on" involved actually going to it, placing a paper tape into the reader and pressing a button. Output was on paper tape too, yellow, which was printed through a teleprinter.
I always seem to come back to my hobby horse which is the desire to get people to think, imagine and dream, rather stay in chains. That is what my site is about and I hope, dear reader you find something interesting.