Biography: Bristol

Ah! Most of us probably remember our undergraduate student days with a bit more pleasure than secondary school. I certainly do. But I existed rather in a parallel univese of my own even then.

I went to the university to do physics. The head physics teacher at Wimbledon — a very tall bespectacled man who was very methodical and who meant well by those of us keen on the subject already, but not at all inspiring, compared to whom indeed Mr Ruddy was for me positively charismatic — had persuaded me that science was a better subject for getting jobs (apart from teaching which at that time I did not want to do). I applied to Bristol because it was considered academically best outside of Oxford and Cambridge; and, although Wimbledon College had quite a strong track record of sending boys to Oxbridge (as those two were, and are still, collectively called), particularly (I remember) to Caius College, Cambridge, Oxbridge required students to sit an entrance exam the winter after leaving school and thus to “kill time’ for a the best part of a year before beginning their studies. Some of the other universities to which I applied were new ones built in the Harold Wilson Labour government higher education boom of the mid 1960s, so they were only two or three years old in some cases. I visited most of them: Warwick, East Anglia, Essex, and Nottingham. But I got into, and began as an undergraduate at, the University of Bristol in October 1968. The Physics department lived (and still does) in the H.H. Wills memorial building almost next to the university Senate House. The labs sat in their own grounds up the hill and behind the other Wills memorial building that house arts and humanities faculties, which has its cathedral-like stone gothic main door at thetop of Park Street just across the road from the main university bookshop, called George’s, which was on the left as you climbed the hill on a corner just at the top of Park Street, which rises straight and steeply from in front of the Cathedral, which is south west of the circulatory traffic system next to the old Bristol docks key. Bristol was probably the nearest city with a university to Oxford in terms of its general look, with the golden stone; and I was pretty happy there a lot of the time.

When I arrived in Bristol, it was my first time living away from home — as it is for most British college students who do move away, resisting the temptation to postpone that part of growing up, and pick a college where they can live with their parents while studying. Once I was there, I hardly went back home except to visit. I never actually lived in Leatherhead again; I only stayed with them on very temporary visits. Still, my first year began in “digs’, lodgings in a private house, an end terrace place with an elderly lady (well I think she was just 64 but she was an old-fashioned countrywoman, with a broad local accent, and she had owned a farm which (now that she was a widow) her son ran with her help.

To be continued ...