Chapter 7 – College
When I started going to college I was reunited with most of the people I had admired in my past life. There were Simon Seward and Michael Dyke from Harlow College, Jackie Chandler from Daiglen, Richard Conway from Buckhurst Hill County High School and Ken Baker from the Scouts. One of the people I met at college was Pat Man, and before I knew her name I thought how similar she looked to a boy called Man whom I knew at Daiglen. This is the only time in my life that I have come across siblings, apart from identical twins, who look more alike than unrelated people.
I soon discovered that there was an organisation in the college called the Students’ Union, which was exactly what I hoped that the Bus Club would become. There were meetings and speeches, clubs and committees, and branches in other colleges. I found that I was treated better by the lecturers at college than I was by the teachers at school. Even my fellow students treated me better. In short, college was everything that I thought that school should be.
When I had been at college for about a month I went to the Common Room for a meeting about how to retrieve three mascots from Enfield Technical College. There was a four-foot bear, an eagle and a two-foot concrete robot in bright colours. When we arrived in Enfield we played a sort of rugby, with over 40 a side, but without any conversions, scrums, lineouts or rules. Every so often everyone rushed onto the ball and made a mound about ten feet wide and four feet high from which the last people usually didn’t manage to stagger away before the next pile-up. I tried to arrange things so that I was on the outside and didn’t get dirty. Whenever the crowd moved I simply lifted my feet off the ground and went with it. After the game a shout was given and we rushed the mascots into a waiting van. We didn’t get the bear, but we got the other two. There were other similar raids, and on one of these I actually acquired a bowler hat that I was able to present to the Union Executive Committee when I got back. There was a tremendous feeling of exhilaration associated with these events, a feeling that was lacking from a similar event at university that had been planned in advance.
The life and soul of the college were the students’ debates, and the greatest exponent of this medium was Sidney Alford. I watched him on television in 2005, and I found that he still had the same interesting way of talking that he had in 1959.
The subjects I studied were physics, chemistry, botany and zoology, but I found it very difficult absorbing facts, especially in chemistry. It is possible that there are people who have sat Advanced Level chemistry knowing as little chemistry as I did, but I do not believe that anyone has ever sat the exam knowing as little as I did and passed. I did this by concentrating on those questions that did not require a knowledge of chemistry. The result showed merely was that I passed by a very small margin. It did not record how well I must have performed on the few questions I attempted. It occurred to me that if ever I sat for an exam that was exactly suited to me I might be capable of getting a phenomenal result. I thought that this was unlikely to happen, but it did. In an end-of-term geology exam at Aberdeen University I got the highest mark out of the 262 students who sat the exam. In fact it was the highest mark in any subject in the university. Nevertheless I managed to fail all my exams at the end of the year.
I was an active member of the college caving club and went on two expeditions to the Yorkshire Dales, two to the Derbyshire Dales, two to the Mendips and one to South Wales. The last was to the Yorkshire Dales, when I went down Rowten Pot, which was featured in Walks in Limestone Country, and Swinsto Hole, which I mentioned in my introduction to that book.
On 4th October, 1961 I became the editor of the Bumff Board, a notice board on which were pinned articles submitted by the students accompanied by weekly editorials. This was my pride and joy, and the nearest thing we had to a college magazine. The following day I was appointed WUS Secretary, which meant that I was a member of the Students Union Executive Committee. The word ‘WUS’ (which rhymes with ‘puss’) is an acronym for the ‘World University Service’. I was the Editor of the London Area News-sheet, which consisted of the back page of WUS News. I organised the college WUS Week and the college carol-singing and the college entry in the London-to-Leicester Pram Race. I stood for President of the Union, but was defeated by 196 votes to 72. I like to remember, not that I lost, but that 72 people wanted me to be president. Shortly before I left I became Vice-President, and in this capacity I brought the college scrapbook up to date. I was also the Secretary of the Rag Committee, and on one occasion I chaired a Students Union debate. The only words that were not written down in front of me were ‘carried’ or ‘defeated’, and I was so nervous I managed to choose the wrong word: I would not have made a good president.
It was when I was at college that I started going out with girls. The first was Sandra Earwaker (pronounced Erica), whom I knew as Sandy. One Friday in 1961 I took her home in my father’s car and it was such a nice evening we decided to go for a walk. We set off from Aimes Green near Waltham Abbey and walked through Galleyhill Wood to Claverhambury. The next day we got a train to Ongar and walked to Shelley, Fyfield, Norton Mandeville and High Ongar. Eventually I decided that I would have to stop doing this sort of thing if I wanted to pass my exams. When I finished my exams she was going out with someone else.
I also went for a walk in Epping Forest with Susan Powell, and we saw Cinerama and the film Young at Heart with Doris Day and Frank Sinatra. I even had the privilege of going out with Jennifer Holloman. Surely there is nothing more one can aspire to than that. We saw the film Gigi and we went for a ride in the car. The song that I always associate with her is ‘Missouri Waltz’, which has the same subtle beauty. There is a scene in the film ‘On the Town’ in which Vera-Ellen dances with Gene Kelly while he sings about his home town: this scene captures the whole essence of Jennifer and her enthusiasm for life. This does not mean that she looked like Vera-Ellen: she looked more like Emma Cooper, who sang ‘There is Love’ on the television series Highway.
I admired Jennifer more than anyone else I have met in my life, but it was not for her that I had the deepest feelings: that distinction goes to Androulla Azas, whom I met on my second day at college, and whom I knew as Andy. All through the dreary weekends I longed for the Monday when I knew that I would see her again. Twelve years were to pass before I would experience anything like that again. I could never persuade Andy to go out with me. The nearest I got to it was to go home with her on the bus. She lived in the opposite direction from me, but that didn’t stop me. The song that I most associate with Andy is ‘Coma Prima’.
There was also Teresa Ford, whom I knew as Terry. (It is remarkable how many of my girl-friends had male-sounding names.) I met her on a field course at Juniper Hall near Dorking. She lived in Bournemouth, and we walked along the Purbeck Hills from Old Harry to Corfe Castle and along the shore from Osmington Mills to Bowleaze Cove. I later met her at a conference of the World University Service and discovered that she was higher up in WUS than I was: she was on the National Committee, and I was only on the London Area Committee. There were others whom I didn’t like so much.
In the summer of 1959 I went on an Outward Bound course at Eskdale Green in the Lake District. I thought that it would be a rock-climbing course, but it turned out that that was only a small part of it. There were also initiative tests and canoeing in the tarn and camping in the mountains.
At the end of the course we had to undergo a series of tests. The one I thought I would be best at was the map test, but I spent so much time on the first question I didn’t have time to finish it. The other one I thought I would be good at was the intelligence test, and here I was sure that I did well, but after the test was completed I was told that I wouldn’t get any credit for this and that marks would be subtracted from my other results because it was thought that people who were good at intelligence tests had an unfair advantage over the others. In the end I was awarded Merit, but this was not something to be proud of because nearly everyone got Merit; those who did particularly well were awarded Honours.
On 12th April, 1959 I navigated on a rally for the first time in the family car. On 28th June I won a rally for the first time, and they said ‘At last we’ve found something that Christopher can do.’ By the end of 1963 I had won fourteen. One of the rallies we went on was organised in 1960 by the Institute of Advanced Motorists, of which my brother was a member. On this event our mileages were recorded at the start and finish, and the greater the distance we covered the more we were penalised. We tried to save three miles by taking the unmetalled road to Parvills Farm near Epping Upland, but we couldn’t get through, and ended up adding four miles. On the 1962 edition of the one-inch map the unmetalled road is shown as a bridleway: it’s no wonder that we couldn’t get through. Despite this, we came first out of the 39 starters, and won a picnicking set.
One event I was particularly looking forward to was the Bloodhound Rally on 6th December, 1959, because it was the first one that the college had promoted since I started going there, but when we arrived at the start there was nobody there. Then we checked the date, and found that it was December 5th! The organiser had appealed for someone to organise the next rally and I volunteered. Shortly afterwards the college car club, the Octane Club, was re-inaugurated and I was appointed the Rally Secretary. In this capacity I organised the Romer Rally in April 1960, the Octane Rally in December 1960 and the Pathfinder Rally in March 1962. All these events depended on navigation using Ordnance Survey maps on the scale of an inch to a mile, and competitors had to answer questions about places on the route.
This took its name from a piece of equipment that was used to plot grid references on Ordnance Survey maps. Navigation was mostly straightforward, but on one section competitors had to cross a stretch of electricity transmission line by every road that was coloured yellow on the map by the shortest route without travelling along any section of road more than once. There were 17 starters and 13 finishers, and the rally was won by Pat Collinson, the club president.
On this event the navigation was more complicated. On one section the competitors had to find the shortest route between two points that did not enter certain parishes or pass alongside any woodland shown on the map. On another section the route had to be worked out from five map tracings, which were not aligned with the map, or in the right order. On another they had to reach a point at the foot of Ivinghoe Beacon by the shortest route that did not cross any stream or enter certain grid squares. On the next section they had to find the shortest route between two points that crossed the 500-foot contour once by each road shown on the map to be metalled. This meant that they were constantly ascending and descending the Chiltern escarpment. The rally was won by Mr Overy, who organised the two Chingford Charter Rallies that we won. Chris Youlden and Ken Pestell (my predecessor as Editor of the Bumff Board) came second, and Pat Collinson, who won the Romer Rally, came third. Altogether there were 62 starters.
The Pathfinder Rally went more smoothly than any other rally I have organised. 44 cars started and 42 finished. On one section competitors were given descriptions of four signposts with certain destinations and distances omitted. They had to work out where the signposts were situated and supply all the missing information. On another section they had to cross the River Rib by every ford shown on the map between Standon and Wadesmill. Later they were directed along roads that were not on the map and they had to give the grid reference of the place where they ended up. Many got it wrong.
On the regularity sections the navigation was easy, but an average speed of 25 m.p.h. had to be maintained between controls. The position of the controls was not disclosed in advance. These sections took the competitors through many of the places I knew from my childhood in the Bishop’s Stortford area.
The result was decisive: the winners had 51 penalty points, and the next scores were 134, 143 and 156. This was quite different from some of the rallies I went on in the Aberdeen area, when the navigation was so easy there were many clean sheets and George Stroud was pronounced the winner for no better reason than that his car had the smallest engine.
On 28th September, 1959 I received a periodical from Fords with a photograph of myself crossing onto the island in the tarn at the Outward Bound Mountain School. On 11th November 1960 I received a copy of the Ford Bulletin with a remarkably similar photograph of my brother and I climbing out of a Ford car in a ford on a rally in East Anglia.
I revisited the college in 1979 and found that all the atmosphere I associated with it had gone. I expect that the same thing has happened all over the country. The wonderful films of the thirties, forties and fifties can still be seen on television, but I am afraid that the experience of being a student at the end of the 1950s will be lost forever.
On my return from Wareham I rejoined the 17th Ilford Scout Group, and in February 1959 I went on a Scout night hike from Loughton to North Weald via Loughton Camp, Upshire and Ongar Park Wood. We were given map references, bearings and clues like ‘Green stacks’ for Ivychimneys, and were asked questions like ‘How many taps on the drinking fountain?’ This was before I went on a car rally for the first time.
In May 1960 I went on my Scout First Class Hike with Ron Whitaker. We had to investigate the historical associations of certain places, starting with Ongar Castle, Paslow Hall and Torrells Hall. The Farm Manager at Paslow Hall had the appropriate name of MacDonald, and the Farm Manager at Torrells Hall had the equally appropriate name of Archer. It was in the vicinity of Torrells Hall that we set up camp. The following morning we set off in an easterly direction, but the road from Duke’s Farm to Miller’s Green turned out to be a river, spreading literally from bank to bank, with a road somewhere beneath it. One thing that struck me throughout the hike was that very few of the paths shown on the Ordnance Survey map actually existed. There was an excellent path from Cross Lees to Bundish Hall, but it was shown on the map as an unmetalled road. It was experiences like this inspired me to produce (and revise) maps for people who go walking in the countryside.
In February, 1960 I was appointed Scribe to the Ilford District Senior Scout Executive Committee, and in July of that year I organised the Wallbury Foot Rally between teams of senior scouts from the Ilford and Epping Forest Districts. It was like a car rally without cars and took place in the Hatfield Forest area. I wrote an article about it that was published in the Scouter magazine.
In September, 1961 I submitted an article about a country walk to the Essex Countryside magazine, but it was turned down. I would never have dreamed that thirty years later I would receive a letter asking me to write articles about country walks for a national magazine and offering to pay me £120 or more per article. (I knew someone who contributed regularly to the Essex Countryside in about 1960, and he was paid £1 per article.)
On 25th June, 1962 I applied for seven jobs advertised in the Vacation Work Bulletin, and eight days later I started work as a relief shift tester at Sudbrook Pulp Mill in Monmouthshire. This was in England in 1962, but now it is in Wales. I used to enjoy the smell of the factory and the view down the Severn Estuary to Exmoor. I associate this view with a song that begins ‘Far away, far away …’ and that was popular at about this time. In the opposite direction I could see the Severn Bridge, which was then under construction.
On 27th July I was told that my results weren’t good enough, and I was sent to work in the wood-yard. At first I lived in lodgings, but from 21st August onwards, to save money, I lived in a tent at the side of a field by arrangement with the local farmer. I also got a job in a market garden to supplement my income. When I started I thought that I would be able to save £70; I ended up saving £140.