Wednesday, December 7, 2016


THE WAY IT ALL WORKS                 December 2016

This is an attempt to suggest a basic mechanism that underpins the workings of the Universe. It is by no means a coherent theory, and offers no mathematical basis. It is simply an exploration of an idea that came to me in the early hours of the morning a while ago.

The idea partly has its origins in something I wrote a long time ago called ‘Backtracking’ This describes a mechanism for ‘exploring’ a domain to find a ‘target’, and using this information to gain an end result.

I was reminded of this in a recent program on BBC Click, which described how Alibaba (?) were attempting to deliver products before they were ordered, by using big data analytics to predict where they were needed.

This mechanism is prevalent in many areas, such as decision making, geographical exploration, and optimization. The underlying process is the utilization of a number of concurrent test trials and a selection from them. In some ways this is similar to evolution. It does not have inherited characteristics, but there is a process of trials in an environment, and a selection from those trials.

Now to the Universe, with all that we know about it:

General relativity, Quantum theory, basic attributes of mass, charge and spin.
Bosons and Fermions et al.
Quantum foam, wormholes, black holes, zero point energy and virtual particles.
Oh, and dark energy and dark matter.

What this is all telling us is that the Universe is somehow globally connected as well as locally. The shape of the space anywhere depends on the matter in the rest of the Universe, and a particle at one end can somehow be ‘coupled’ with one at the other end.

It seems reasonable to think of the Universe as a collection of events which are transactions between one part of it and another. If there are no events, the Universe is static, boring, and possibly impossible. Transactions involve transferring attributes of one part to another.

The mechanism I envisage of all these events is a selection process where different outcomes are ‘tried’ concurrently, and one is selected. The trial potentially involves the rest of the environment (i.e. the Universe). This gives us a picture of global connectivity and the distributed nature of quantum transactions (where a particle can seem to be in more places than one).

Quantum theory seems to be telling us that at bottom everything is discrete; you cannot divide the Universe into infinitely small parts. So this mechanism must be discrete itself, taking place on a connected network of event nodes.

Now you may well ask ‘how is this happening all over the Universe’. Well, good question, but remember that gravitational and electrical fields extend all over the Universe. They are just another way of looking at things that we are used to.

So every event is a kind of selection process, the Universe is fundamentally a kind of evolutionary system. This is why Feynman’s ‘Sum over Histories’ works. Each event really is a kind of composite of all possible ones.

Well, that’s about it. I thought this was going to be a lot longer. I may add to it in future, but my brain is beginning to get tired. And hopefully, I have explained the basic idea.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

My Remiscences Part 4. Bad flights, Munich, Japan, Raytheon, Trinity master's lodge and Buck palace

Bad flights: Boston, Seattle, San Antonio, Kansas
There was a period when I was travelling for work when there were a lot of airline strikes, especially BA as I recall. One time I had to fly to Boston there were flights being cancelled daily, and I checked before leaving that my flight was OK. Just as I walked into departures, someone was adding my flight to a list of cancelled flights on a whiteboard (no digital displays in those days). So I had to wait a few hours then take a flight to New York, then catch the shuttle to Boston. In those simple times there was a shuttle from New York to Boston, and another to Washington, that ran once per hour. You didn't have to book, just turn up and they guaranteed a seat, if needed they laid on another plane. Even so, I had to wait a while before flying to Boston, then picked up a hire car. For some reason Racal had booked me into the Boxboro Sheraton. This was a very nice hotel with a huge reception area, ceiling about 50 feet high supported on massive tree like pillars, with coffee shop, restaurant and heated swimming pool all inside the area. But it was about a 40-50 mile drive from Logan airport out on the Mass Pike, then around the 495 outer ring road. By the time I checked in, it was around 9 PM, so 2 AM UK time. I had a light snack, then headed for bed. At some ungodly hour in the night (or so it seemed to me) the phone rang. It was security telling me they had seen someone trying to break into my car - did I want to check it, they might have broken the lock. They seemed slightly surprised when I muttered 'It's a hire car, no I don't want to check it', and sank groggily back to sleep.

Another time I was flying with Dave Ellis back from Seattle, having been at Boeing for a while. Instead of a direct flight, we had a connection at Chicago (not a good idea). O'Hare is always busy, and we had to stack for ages; as we circled for the nth time, I saw a BOAC 747 taking off below us. 'That's our plane' I said to Dave, and sure enough we had missed our connection. So we had to take a later flight to New York, where we had a hotel room for a few hours before getting a flight to London. By this time, we didn't really know what the local time was, so when they gave us a voucher for breakfast we decided to eat it before going to bed. We had to get up at 5 AM local time, so only a few hours sleep. Then they detected a warning light on one of the engines, so we had to sit on the runway at New York for a few hours before finally taking off for Heathrow. The whole journey took about 24 hours, and when we got there we couldn't pick up our luggage as it had travelled without us. I was somewhat cross. It had to be delivered to us a few days later.

Another interesting flight, though not that bad, was when I visited a company in San Antonio, Texas (South West Technical Products as it happens). I had been in Boston, and had also visited HP in Cupertino in Silicon Valley. I remember watching humming birds outside the window when I had lunch in HP’s very smart staff restaurant. There was no direct flight to San Antone (as named by Johnny Cash), so I had to change at New Orleans. As we descended into the airport there was a huge thunderstorm going on; at one point there was a flash and the planes lights went out, then came back on. The pilot came on the PA and said we had been hit by ‘an electrical discharge’. Blimey Charlie I said (or words to that effect), we were hit by lightning. Of course, as any student of electromagnetism knows, this isn’t actually dangerous because the electricity stays on the outside skin of the plane. But it was a wee bit scary. I enjoyed my time in Texas, and sampled some good Tex Mex food, though when I took a drive outside the city I went for about 50 miles and saw nothing but tumbleweed.

The last of my gruesome flight tales relates to a journey to Kansas City in February 1987 (not a good time to chose) when I was at Dellfield, to visit a company called North Supply. They occupied a huge somewhat green building, which was known locally as 'The Emerald City', because we were, after all, in Kansas. There wasn't a direct flight to KC (incidentally, KC is only half in Kansas, the other half is in Missouri), so I had to connect at Houston. Having a few hours there, I decided to kill the time by having a decent meal. The flight to KC was only a few hours, but half way there the pilot announced that we had an engine warning light, probably nothing, but we had to return to Houston. The funny thing was the American guy next to me was asleep during the announcement. Shortly after he woke up and spent some time staring out of the window at the sun.  'We're flying the wrong way' he said. I explained about the engine trouble, but he simply refused to believe me (I've noticed this problem before with Americans), and had to seek out a flight attendant to confirm my story. Once back at Houston I had to wait for another flight, and eventually got to KC about midnight local time. It was dark and snowing heavily. I then found out the hotel I was booked into was near North Supply, but about 40 miles from the airport. I had intended to get a hire car at the airport, but did not fancy driving 40 miles at night in thick snow after such a long journey, so took a taxi, which absorbed almost all the dollars I had with me. As I arrived at the Holiday Inn at about 1-2 AM, the receptionist greeted me with a cheery good morning. 'No it isn't' I grumped. Next day however dawned bright and sunny, and the snow was quite pretty, for Kansas. I was amused to notice that the hotel had a heated outdoor swimming pool that was gently steaming surrounded by deep snow.

A long time ago, around the mid 70s, Racal Redac opened an office in Munich. We were doing a lot of business with Siemens, BBC (Brown Boveri) and others. I was involved in setting up the computers, so went there quite a lot, including six times in one summer. I enjoyed Munich, especially the food and drink. Quite fortuitously I went once during Octoberfest (not actually in October, just like May week in Cambridge is actually in June). Other times we spent  happy hours drinking in the famous Hofbrauhaus, where you sit at long tables and benches drinking Lowenbrau or Paulaner from litre sized handled glasses - a Mass. Waitresses built like Panzer tanks march round at speed with four of these hefty measures in each hand, if you get in their way you are likely to be flattened.

 One time I flew to Munich to set up a new DEC computer, only to discover that it had not actually arrived. I was told to catch the next flight back to the UK, so I returned by the evening in time, as I recall, to go to a party in Cheltenham. I flew out again a couple of days later when the machine had been delivered and stayed a night. So that made twice in one week.

White water rafting
During one trip to DEC I met up with Dave Ellis, who was living there full time, for a Sunday trip white water rafting. We started early, and stopped for the obligatory breakfast, then drove for miles through western Massachusetts to the Green river. I had never done this kind of canoeing before, so Dave took the stern paddle for steering, while I sat in the front and tried to avoid the rocks. It was good fun, and the river was so warm I swam in it when we stopped for beer and sandwiches.

In November 1974 we were installing a complex system for Sony at Atsugi, a suburb of Tokyo. Dave Ellis had been there a while when I was sent out to help him. I knew about this some time in advance, so I planned to use my full price ticket to do some travelling on the way back. I spent three weeks there, which was an interesting experience. I found it to be the most alien country I had ever visited, with a completely different culture. One thing was the food, with ‘Ramen’ shops selling a variety of noodle soups often containing lumps of fishy tasting rubbery stuff. Then there were the sea urchin eggs, lots of raw fish, and fish skeletons. Some of it was nice, the Sony canteen did a nice Miso soup, and I liked Teppanyaki, Shabu Shabu and Tempura. The Yakitori we had in a local bar were OK, and the grilled Sakana (fish) was, except they never gutted it. Opposite our hotel was an open space between shops with a pile of large smooth boulders. We never found out what this was, because when we asked our agent if it was a boulder shop, he simply smiled and said ‘aha, yes, boulder shop, aha’. You could never tell what they really meant, and of course they cannot say ‘no’.

I had shown an interest in a national park, so on the first weekend they drove us out of Tokyo to their traditional Japanese house out in the sticks. It was only about 100 miles away, but it took us 4 hours, 2 just to get out of Tokyo. Then they drove us further into the mountains to the national park, with lovely scenery. Up high it started snowing and they had to put chains on the tyres.

After we had been there a while, and travelled around on the underground, we got more adventurous and decided we wanted to hire a car for the weekend. Our agents were very reluctant; I think they felt they had to look after us. Anyway we persuaded them, and drove to Mount Fuji, where you can get near the top.

Before we left, we stayed in the hotel Okura in Tokyo, very posh. Dave wanted to come with me on the trip I had planned on the way back, so we spent about 2 hours in the JAL office in the hotel. The young woman there had to leaf through several huge timetable books – no computerised systems -  and write out tickets by hand which overflowed onto another ticket book. We flew via Bangkok, Colombo (Ceylon as it was then), Bombay, Tehran, and Beirut. We had to spend a day in Bombay, where Air France put us up in the famous Taj Mahal hotel (don’t think you would get that these days). We also had to connect via Rome. Seven flights in all, and I was glad to get back at the end, but it was quite an adventure.

Bangkok was, as usual, boiling hot; we took a boat trip to see Wat Arun and the Golden Buddha amongst other things. We ate in a little local restaurant and discovered the delights of Thai food, loaded with lethal bird’s eye chillis. Then we flew another 6 or 7 hours to Colombo where it was also hot, but not quite so ferocious. We stayed in a colonial B&B in Colombo, with enormous bedrooms and bathrooms, and a ‘boy’ – about 70 probably, who carried our cases. Being young, I tried to protest at him carrying them, but the landlady told us that he would feel aggrieved if we did not let him. We then took a rickety train up to Kandy where we stayed in a government place with white gloved waiters and took breakfast on the veranda with boiled eggs and bananas, and an ancient hand written receipt. Kandy was lovely, and we went twice to the wonderful botanic gardens there where we saw trees full of fruit bats. We also saw fireflies on our evening stroll, which I found enchanting. Finally we took a coastal train down to the south west, running along the beach with fishermen employing their nets. I believe this was the train which was wrecked later in the tsunami. We were in the edge of the monsoon season, and every day at around 5PM it rained with tropical heaviness for a short while. We bought local umbrellas which I kept for many years as a souvenir. We took local buses in Colombo, and they were so cheap we had difficulty in finding small enough coins to pay, probably about a farthing.

Onwards then to Tehran, with the day in the Bombay Taj Mahal, where we ate a splendid Indian buffet for lunch, accompanied by a Palm Court orchestra. The front of the hotel was magnificent, with marble reception and splendidly dressed staff. Looking out at the back from our hotel rooms gave a totally different picture of total squalor. We walked around Bombay a bit, but were too tired to take up the offer of a taxi driver who promised to show us all that life had to offer.

Further to Tehran, which was totally different, much colder, with street sellers displaying braziers of baked beetroot. It was cold enough to need heating at night, with a very primitive oil heater in our room. I bought an ‘Afghan’ style wool hat to keep my head warm. We were befriended by a local Doctor who took us around the city, and showed us where to eat Chelo Kebab – delicious grilled lamb with raw onion, rice, pickle and yoghourt. We swapped addresses with him, and he sent me a post card later, but that was all. We went inside lovely mosques, and saw where the women washed the locally made carpets and dried them on the river banks. We had to get up at about 4 AM to catch our next flight, this was getting a bit tiring.

From Tehran we flew to Beirut where we were met by my uncle Mitri. For the first and only time in my life I was called for to go directly through customs. Mitri used to work as a customs officer, and so knew the customs people at the airport. Made me feel like a VIP. I stayed with Dave at aunt Najla and Mitri’s place in Rue El Hamra, central Beirut. While there we took a coach trip to the grottos; we were supposed to also go to a costal town, but the traffic was so bad we had to give up. Aunt Salwa and her doctor husband invited us to a slap up feast with various other relatives, including Suheil, who I remembered from my previous stay in Beirut. Before I left another uncle came to see me; he spoke no English at all, but was very affectionate. He had seen me as a small child, and wanted to see how I was then; he brought a tin of very delicious Lebanese cakes that I took back to England.

Raytheon at Wayland
One of my trips to the States was to Raytheon in Wayland, MA. The guy there in charge of their CAD efforts was Gene Marsh, who later ran Redac’s office in Massachusetts. We had sold them a complex system with numerous old and new programs mashed together to form a big system. Several people went out there to install and debug it. I was due to go out and help, but discovered the night before the flight that my US visa had expired. The company driver (Don Reggate) drove me to the US embassy, and I queued up to get it renewed, but it couldn’t be done that day because I was born in the Lebanon. So Don drove me back and Dave Ellis went out instead. He was still having problems with several programs, so a bit later I was sent out as the last resort. Dave was staying on, but I was there a bit over a week. I worked really hard and got all programs going, and Dave and I had a good time together, eating Maine lobster and drinking Jack Daniels. I learned a bit more American speak when Gene called one of the guys working for him ‘slow as molasses’. He also like to talk about someone ‘getting tangled up in their underwear’, a US version of ‘getting their knickers in a twist’.

One device I had trouble with was a Xynetics plotter, state of the art and costing about $100,000. It was made in Los Angeles, and when I rang the tech guy there on a Friday afternoon, he asked if I could get a magnetic tape shipped out to him. I asked Bill Mcmanus, the head of department, if we could do this. Sure, he said. Someone got a shipping package for the tape, I wrote the mag tape, someone else got an airway bill number from the shipping department, and Bill volunteered to drop it into the shipping terminal at Logan on his way home. The next morning (Saturday), I was phoned by the guy in LA who had driven to LAX, picked up the parcel, and had a look at the mag tape. Over 2500 miles from Friday night to Saturday morning; no way could anything like that happen anywhere else in the world.

The Master's Lodge at Trinity College
When Michael was ‘installed’ as master at Trinity in 1990, we went for the day with Tom and Dan and stayed the night. Being installed was a long process, with him knocking at the gate and giving the porter ‘letters from the Queen’ which had to be inspected before he was allowed in. Then formal process with speeches, followed by a feast in hall. I sat on the high table, with Julian Huxley next to me, and Ben Okri opposite. I didn’t know much about Huxley (except he was Aldous’ brother), so I asked him what he had done, and he explained about discovering the signalling method along nerve fibres: ‘that is what we got the Nobel prize for’. I knew Ben Okri had written ‘The Famished Road’ which won the Booker prize, but I chatted to him about evolution, which I was very keen on at the time (still am), and I told Huxley to read Lovelock’s ‘Gaia’. The master’s lodge is huge, like a stately home, with three living rooms, the largest can hold 350 people at sherry parties. There are three staircases and a lift. We stayed in ‘The west wing’, which had seven bedrooms. Michael was master for seven years, so I stayed there a few times, on my own and with Bev. The last time was when Michael was 80, and the college put on a feast for him. They do this for fellows who reach 80, and then for ‘each ten years thereafter’. Michael was no longer master; the new one was Martin Rees, but he was not using the lodge as he had a house in town. We were met by the new housekeeper, now a butler, resplendent in grey morning suite, who had previously butlered for the Queen. He told us he would make porridge, just like he used to for the hunting parties at Sandringham. At dinner I sat next to (Sir) Alec Broers, who was then master of Churchill, my old college. We stayed in the Judges servant’s room, pretty grand even for the servant. Trinity had the privilege of providing lodging for the travelling judge.

Buckingham Palace twice
I have twice been to Buck Palace, the first time was in about 1980. Racal Redac had won the Queen’s award for industry; actually we won it twice, once for export, and once for technology. I was invited to go as a company representative, along with the MD Eric Wolfendale, and one of the ‘hardware’ guys, Bob Rackstraw. We were driven up in Eric’s Jag by the company driver; there was a complex procedure at the palace. We were dropped off, and then the Jag was driven off to park in the Mall; it was called back when it was time for us to leave. We were treated to drinks and nibbles (whiskey and cashews), and then lined up to shake hands with the Queen and Prince Charles. It was a long line, we were near the end, so I said to Charles ‘not long to go now’, and he guffawed as he does. We then mingled and chatted with various bigwigs, the Duke of Kent, Keith Joseph, and, not least, Margaret Thatcher. She was surrounded by a wary circle of men, pontificating on the economy and the state of the pound. I joined in and unwisely said that the Germans didn’t seem to worry about a strong currency, she stared at me with penetrating black eyes that seemed to go right though me; ‘Oh, but they do, they do’ she said. I shut up after that. Scary woman. After we left, Eric took us to a fancy expensive restaurant in a boat on the Thames. I don’t know how much the wine cost, but it wasn’t cheap.

The second time was when I had been a mentor for the Prince’s Trust; I entered a draw for a ticket, and to my surprise won. So Bev and I took a train to London and went to the Palace for tea (along with a few thousand other people). We were lucky in that it was a lovely summer’s day, so we walked through the parks from Paddington to the Palace. Numerous big names were there: Martin Clunes, Susan Hampshire, Brian May, and lots of others. I must say that the food was good, all from the Royal supplies (Duchy estates etc.), and a selection of class teas (of course). It was a most enjoyable occasion, and we went back on the train very content.

My Reminiscences part 3. Making films, work travels and celebrities

Lewes guy Fawkes, Bob Whittle
One time when we visited Brian and Geraldine in London, they drove us down to Lewes to see our Churchill College friend Bob Whittle. It was around November the fifth, and Bob took us to see the famous firework night celebrations in Lewes. Various different groups in the town had built elaborate floats which were paraded round the town and then set on fire. This is a very old tradition, and there were shouts of 'No Popery' and similar epithets, dating back to older times.

ICL film and DEC video
In the early days at Racal in Tewkesbury we were some of the first people in the world to use interactive graphics. ICL wanted to make a film showing this, and I was chosen to be the 'star', they told me I was a 'natural' - still not sure what that means. I demonstrated our PCB (printed circuit board) layout system, and gave a bit of commentary. We showed the film at a conference on CAD in Holland, and the main speaker (Andries Van Damn) borrowed it to show at his talk. When I went to the states (see later), the guys from Lockheed all recognized me from the film, they said I was known up and down the west coast. They may have been exaggerating, and I never got an Oscar.

Later on, I made a video at DEC - only black and white in those days - which they used to train their sales teams. I had no script, and just ad libbed for about half an hour, giving a more or less standard demo. I was somewhat surprised when the film maker said he was going to use it without editing. In those days this involved cutting and splicing, no video editing software.

Delft University
In my early days at Redac, the MD Eric Wolfendale asked me to give a talk in his place at a conference on computer graphics that he had been invited to. I flew to Amsterdam, and picked up a car and drove to Delft through the neat flat Dutch countryside. I had been booked into a nice hotel by the University, and when I arrived there was a large coffee table book about Rembrandt in my room, a gift from the University. Actually, I’m not a huge fan, and I ended up giving it to an artist friend of ours, Judy White. The young students at the University treated me as a visiting celebrity, and took me out to sample the local bars. The hotel had two restaurants, one very smart and expensive, and one more like a coffee shop. I was careful with the company’s cash, and so I ate in the cheaper one. At the end of my 3 day stay, I asked for the bill, and was told that it had been paid by the University. Damn, I could have eaten in the posh one at their expense.

First Trip to the U.S. Feb 1971
My first trip to the U.S. was quite eventful. I had always wanted to go to California, so when Nigel Pearce (then my boss) asked me if I wanted to go, I didn’t hesitate. I was told I was going to Anaheim. I couldn’t find out exactly where that was, it did not figure in my Times world atlas, and of course we didn’t have Google maps in those days. Anyway I was soon flying off to Los Angeles with Ken Wyatt (our Sales and Marketing director) in a ‘stretched’ Boeing 707 which was so full of fuel it took ages to lumber into the air. Eleven hours later we arrived and were met by ‘Jack’, our U.S. salesman at the time – he did not last long. He drove us to the Marriott at Anaheim, which was the biggest hotel (motel) I had ever seen, it seemed to stretch for hundreds of yards in all directions.

 After we checked in, Jack suggested a drink at the bar, so Ken and I started walking to the front of the hotel. Jack asked us where we were going, and said ‘this is Los Angeles, you don’t walk, you drive’, so he drove us all of a couple of hundred yards to the bar. We had a snack at the restaurant and I discovered the American way of having about ten salad dressings to choose from, I plumped for Green Goddess as it sounded exotic. Next day I started work in the Anaheim conference centre where we were demonstrating our software. DEC had delivered a PDP 15, and I checked it out.

 The next day there was not much for me to do, so Ken said I could go to Disneyland. This was right ‘across the street’ from the convention centre, so I walked to it. This involved crossing a huge car park then a six lane road, then the Disney entrance with is massive car parks, so maybe a mile or so.
Nobody walks into Disney, it is designed for cars. I suspect I may be the only person to have ever walked into it. I loved Disneyland, and have been back many times.

Jack was not impressed with the Marriott, so we moved into the Anaheim Grand, on the sixth floor of a ten story building. Next morning, at exactly 6.01 AM, I was woken by a loud rumbling sound, and the room shaking from side to side, with the lights swinging, and the door chain banging. Yup, it was an earthquake, one of the big ten year events that LA suffers from, about 6.5 on the Richter scale. The epicentre was around 40 miles away in the San Fernando Valley, but it was scary enough where we were.

When we had finished at Anaheim we spent one night at a plush hotel in Marina Del Rey (not sure why), then I flew up to San Francisco. I was determined to make the most of my first U.S. trip, so I had booked some day’s holiday while I was there. I didn’t have much money, and no credit card, so I stayed in a fairly cheap hotel in Union square for 3 or 4 days. I walked all over the area and took cable cars, Coit tower, Fishermans wharf, Washington square, Haight Ashbury, Golden Gate Park. I also took a short coach trip over the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir woods with lovely huge redwoods

After SF, I flew across to Newark where Michael picked me up at drove to his house in Princeton; at this time he was resident fellow at the Institute for advanced studies. Next day he drove me on the New Jersey turnpike to New York, and we spent the day there doing the usual tourist things – Empire State, Rockefeller Centre, Greenwich Village. The last day we drove around the area, into Princeton University and to the border with Connecticut.

Finally I flew to Boston to visit DEC at Maynard. New York had been cold after the west coast, but Boston was colder, around 0 F. I had been booked into the (old) Boston Sheraton, which was overheated and had windows that would not open. Not having a credit card, I had to pay using my dwindling supply of dollars. This somewhat surprised the check out guy, even in those days credit cards were the norm for any business expenses. He had to hunt around to find an ancient cash register. I had been told I could get a train to Concorde, near Maynard, but had great difficulty getting the hotel receptionist to deal with my query. I had to spell out ‘Concorde’ before she understood me – ‘Oh you wanna go to KahnKard’ she said. Anyway I took the train, met the guys at Dec, (Fred Katz, Dave Saari) and they took me to their local car hire agent, who gave me a Plymouth Fury to drive to the airport. This was about 17 feet long with a 6 litre engine, automatic (natch), power brakes, power steering, none of which I had ever used before. I also had to navigate my way to Logan airport, and although this was fairly straightforward, it involved crossing several lanes of solid traffic as the Mass Pike turned into a tunnel to Logan. I kept hitting the brakes too hard and coming to a squealing halt, much to my embarrassment. I was greatly relieved to finally get to Logan and fly home.

DEC & 4 months in the US
Not long after my first visit to the U.S. I was asked by Redac to go there for 3 months (turned out to be 4) to support sales at DEC in the old mill buildings at Maynard. First I stayed in some rooms rented out by the week, then I shared a flat in West Concorde with a DEC field service engineer called Art Newberry. He was always flying off somewhere in the states to fix a computer, and I was also travelling a great deal, so we often did not see each other for a week or so. While there I flew to Knoxville Tennessee, Washington DC (several times), Rochester NY, Cedar Rapids Iowa, Omaha Nebraska, Los Angeles (more than once) and Seattle (twice).

DEC’s place at Maynard was in a jumble of huge old mill buildings, on different levels, with both internal and external walkways between buildings. So building 5 level 3 was connected to building 3 level 5 and so on. I discovered that there were two PDP15s in these buildings that I could use, so sometimes I was using both at once, running like crazy between buildings. Then I found another in building 11, which made life really interesting. I think the Americans just thought I was a crazy Brit. There was just such a massive difference in scale of operation between Redac in Tewkesbury, where we had only one computer, and Maynard where there were dozens.

When we flew to Rochester to visit Kodak, we left very early from Rolph Hubert’s place to Logan, but it was fog bound, so the flight was delayed. We decided to use the time to have a good breakfast. When we came out of the coffee shop, we found that the fog had cleared, and our flight had left. Still, there was another not long after. In those days there was no security, getting a local plane was like getting a bus. In Rochester we picked up a car and drove to Buffalo, then Niagara to see the falls.

In Knoxville it was coming up to a week end, so I took a few days holiday and drove around the Smoky Mountain National Park, staying in Gatlinburg (we went there recently and its now tacky). I flew back via Washington, then got a call from Tony Chapman asking where I had got to, and to fly back to Washington straight away. I spent a lot of time going back and forward to Logan airport.

While in Maynard I made friends with a couple of Brits and a Canadian who were there on a DEC training course. On weekends we sometimes used to walk around Walden Pond nearby, made famous by David Thoreau. We also went rowing in the river, trailing cans of Budweiser behind us to keep them cool.

At the end of my time I was in Seattle visiting Boeing, so I took about a week’s holiday, and drove from Seattle to Denver, over the Snoqualmie pass into eastern Washington, going from green and temperate Pacific Northwest to hot dry desert conditions in Spokane and further. I got to Spokane about 6 PM, and the temperature was still 90 F. Then I went through northern Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Yellowstone, down to Utah and Salt Lake City, and finally east to Denver, where I flew back to the UK.

 Neil Diamond
The first time I went to Seattle to visit Boeing I was staying in the SeaTac Thunderbird motel about 20 miles north of Seattle, between Seattle and Tacoma, hence the name. I had been in Boston about three days before flying out west, so was still somewhat jet lagged. When I explored downtown Seattle, I discovered that Neil Diamond was performing in the Kingdome (since demolished). I was quite keen on him at the time, so booked a ticket for that evening. Then I drove back to the motel, had some food and drove back into downtown. By the end of the show, I was virtually falling asleep, and still had to drive another 20 miles back to the motel. Seems crazy, but I was a lot younger then, and had plenty of energy.

Boeing Contract and Seattle
When we first tried selling a system to Boeing (actually Boeing computer services), they flew to DEC's plant in Maynard, outside Boston. I flew to Boston to meet them at DEC and demonstrate the system, which took about three days - they were very thorough. I then flew back to the UK and went back to work in Tewkesbury. Our MD Eric Wolfendale was out of the office for a few days, so I was a bit surprised to get a phone call from Ernie Harrison, the head honcho of the whole Racal group of companies. Apparently Boeing had asked for me to go back again as they hadn't made up their mind yet, and Tony Chapman (Racal's guy in the US) had called Ernie, so he called me and told me to get the next flight back to Boston. So I did - the next day which was Friday. I went straight to work in Maynard  and worked through the week end, then flew back again on Monday.
 It was all arranged last minute, and DEC couldn't find me a room at our normal HoJo, so for the first night I shared a room with one of the Boeing guys in a cheap motel  6. They worked on a fixed allowance per day, so saved money on the motel. I was a bit tired throughout the trip, but we got the contract from Boeing.

I ended up going to Seattle several times, mostly on my own, but once with Dave Ellis. We were there for a while, so we got to know the guys quite well, and we invited two of them out for a meal with their wives at Ivar’s Salmon House. We had eaten there before, and found it to be a really good place to indulge in Pacific salmon, cooked in the open area in the restaurant over a fire of alder wood. We arranged to meet in the bar, and had a drink with the first couple to arrive while we waited for the others. We waited, and waited, then someone pointed out that there were two Ivar’s in Seattle; the other couple had been waiting at the second one. All was well in the end and we enjoyed a good evening.

One time that I was there alone over a weekend, I drove to Mount Rainier (14000 feet), about 90 miles away.  On a clear day, from one point on a road around the outskirts of Seattle, you can see the snow covered peak of Mt. Rainier across the plain. When you drive round the bend and see it for the first time it is a breathtaking sight. You can drive up almost to the peak of the mountain (where there is naturally a souvenir shop complex). It was early season and they had just cleared the road of snow, so I was driving through snow banked on either side up to a height of about six feet.

I saw a fair bit of Tony Chapman later, when I spent 4 months in the US. He had been in the states for 20 years, but still had an upper class English accent. When I asked the secretary for a 'regular' coffee (cream and sugar), he had never heard the expression, and couldn't understand how I had picked it up after being there a few days, and he hadn't after 20 years. He tried to persuade Tewkesbury to ship me out to the states permanently, but that never came about.

Another time when I flew to Boston with Bill Hillier, we spent some time there with DEC, and then flew to Chicago to visit a potential customer. We were then due to fly back to the UK, having been in the States for a while. Bill phoned the Tewkesbury office from O’ Hare airport, and told me I my flight had been changed, and I had to fly on to Los Angeles to visit another customer (Lockheed probably). Normally I would be keen to go to California, but this time I’d had enough and wanted to go home, so was somewhat aggrieved.

Kongsberg in Norway
When we started actually selling our PCB design system at Redac, I ended up doing the installation in the early days. Later on, we had grown into different departments for development and production; but back then I got involved in all aspects: development, production, testing, installation, training. So when we sold a system to Kongsberg Vapenfabrik in Norway, I flew out to Oslo and spent a few days there installing and demonstrating the software. Their site was outside Oslo, but not too far as I recall. I was due to fly with Ken Wyatt, our S&M director, but when we got to check in, he discovered he had brought his wife’s passport. So I flew on my own, and Ken got the company driver to bring his passport and he joined me later. I was met at the airport and driven to Kongsberg. The site was adjacent to the old silver mines, and the English guy who ran their CAD department, who I dealt with, told me that they had company parties that involved people wandering about in the mines after consuming large quantities of alcohol.

ASEA in Sweden and Linkoping
A bit later I installed another system at ASEA in Sweden, in Stockholm. I was not that impressed with Stockholm at the time (though I have been back and seen its better side). I was suffering from a nasty sore throat which did not help, but I recall walking round the city at night and finding it almost deserted. Maybe it was Sunday.  But I have to say this impression was reinforced when I later went with Martin Oakes to a conference in Linnkoping at the University. The conference was fun as there was a good mix from different European countries, with the Swedes and Norwegians making jokes about each other. We arrived quite late on a Sunday (obviously not a good idea), and when I had driven to our hotel from Stockholm airport, we expected to get a good meal. They seemed quite surprised at such an outrageous request, and we had to settle for some sandwiches at the bar.

Shirley Maclaine

Round about 1975, give or take a few years, I went to a DEC users group (DECUS) meeting in Copenhagen, along with Kevin Foster. It wasn't very memorable except for one thing. On the second or third night we went along to the Tivoli gardens, which was not far from our hotel.  While there we decided to have meal in a rather nice restaurant, we chose a typical Danish meal involving ham, potatoes and apples, and some very good Danish lager to go with it. While eating my meal I became rather entranced by a woman sitting nearby, and after a while I realised it was Shirley Maclaine. Now there was a time when she was my favourite female film star, so I decided to go over and have a chat with her. I think I was somewhat incoherent, owing to a combination of strong lager and being a bit star struck. But she was very patient and smiled sweetly at me as I burbled along. I suspect her male companion was slightly less impressed, but I didn't care; he was probably just some film director. 

My Reminiscences Part Two. The Cambridge days

The Birds and Tony in the flat
I have already mentioned that my mum let out the shed in the garden as a flat. Later on she converted the end four rooms (plus a bathroom) in the bungalow into a self contained flat, with its own entrance at the far end of the house. There was a door in the corridor separating us from the flat, and I moved into a bedroom created next to the kitchen, though it was separated from it by a sort of mini corridor that had another door to the outside. We had several sets of tenants staying there, apart from the Birds. Once there were a couple of teachers. One was quite normal, but rather quiet and hence not very interesting to me. The other was a bit bonkers, called ‘Doc’. He was very proud of his record player (a Pye black box), quite upmarket for the time. He used to play Khachaturian’s ‘Sabre Dance’ at full volume in the room next to my bedroom, which I could hear very wall as our walls were basically two lots of asbestos sheeting. He was also a bit of a fitness fanatic, and ate things like slippery elm food.  I quite liked him because he was so different. He was Welsh I might add. So also was Tony, who I became very friendly with. He was a schoolteacher, built like a Welsh rugby player (but not as big as his younger brother), and loved singing and motorbikes. He was also very proud of his HiFi setup, made by Leek, he could not afford the best (Quad) he told me, but settled for the Leek, maybe because he was Welsh (just joking). When he later moved out to a house he had several motorbikes in his garage in various states of renovation, a Matchless, I recall among them. His wife was expecting, and had moved out of the flat to their folks in Merthyr Tydfil. One weekend he said ‘I’m going to Wales, want to come’. Naturally I said yes. It was winter, and he told me to put on several layers of clothes. Boy, I was frozen on the back of his Francis Barnet 250, but I enjoyed the stay with him, his folks were very welcoming. I also bought his previous bike, a Francis Barnet 125. This was a very low powered machine, 40 mph downhill, but OK for a beginner. I heard from Patrick and Christine that he later got divorced, and became a full time opera singer.

After the Fanny Barnet broke down in Italy, Tony found me a clapped out BSA 350 for £5, which we towed home (don’t try this). I found another couple of derelict ‘Beezers’ and spent many happy hours putting the best bits together. Had a few problems, like when I discovered the clutch from one didn’t fit the one I had just spent hours transferring it to. Eventually I had a working bike, but it didn’t go very well, then discovered it needed a re-bore. So with new cylinder head and piston it eventually performed OK. At the end of my third year at Cambridge I drove the bike to Oxford, to stay with Patrick & Christine for a while. It was foggy and cold, the bike’s headlights were dim, it took me 4 hours and I have never been so cold in my life. I sat on a radiator for about an hour when I got there, and my thumbs started hurting when the blood was flowing into them again.

Homemade Fireworks
When I was about 13 or 14 I started making fireworks. I had got an old book, probably from my brothers, which was called something like ‘every day things for lively youngsters’. It had all sorts of wondrous things to do, like making invisible ink, and it also had a section on fireworks, both indoor and outdoor. It explained how to use magnesium ribbon, iron filings, powdered aluminium, sodium nitrate, sulphur etc. to make sparks, bangs, whizzes and ‘showers’. It also told of strontium for red, sodium for yellow, cobalt for green/blue. I already had a chemistry set with some of the ingredients, but not the more exotic ones. So I went to the local chemist and ordered a bunch of stuff. What I didn’t realise is that they would come in industrial quantities, so I ended up with a reel of magnesium ribbon about six inches in diameter. I made quite a lot of different fireworks, putting mixtures in cardboard tubes, and using homemade touchpaper.

I also discovered that mixing sodium nitrate weedkiller with sugar produced a mixture that burned with gratifying ferocity, and could also cause loud explosions if ignited in a piece of iron tubing. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. Actually that is difficult now, because the spoilsports at H&S have banned the sale of said weedkiller. But I shudder to think of what risks I took in those days. I also used potassium permanganate and glycerine, which spontaneously ignited on mixing. But again, when I bought a new bottle of glycerine, it didn’t work, obviously tampered with for safety reasons. Because I had a surplus of magnesium ribbon, I developed a side line of selling it at school for a penny an inch. Demand was so high that I later doubled the price. Sadly I never developed this entrepreneurial activity, because I was destined for University and a proper job.

Six five special
When I was about 14 I was a big Lonnie Donegan fan (along with Elvis, Buddy Holly, Everly bothers etc.). I actually joined the fan club a bit later. When he was going to appear on 'Six Five Special' (the Beebs pop program), I got some tickets through my Dad (he had contacts at the Beeb), and went with my friend Rodney and another school friend. I wore my school blazer as I had very few clothes that were even approximately smart. Anyway, we got to see the show, but I was a bit miffed to discover that there was no amplified sound - they couldn't cope with that then, so we heard the backing group, but not much of Lonnie.

Riverside studios and Little Richard
A bit later I got tickets for an ITV show (can't remember its name) at the Riverside studio. This was a more traditional show, with a stage and seated audience. At least it had speakers so we could hear the performers. Lonnie Donegan was one, and memorably, Little Richard was another. He thumped away on the piano to 'Good Golly, Miss Molly, and then jumped up on the piano stool and played standing up. Good fun.

Poll Winners Concert
Another memorable event was Dad getting tickets for the New Musical Express Poll Winners concert at the Albert Hall. I'm not sure if he used his BBC contacts, or the Iraq embassy (where he worked for a while). At one event we ended up getting two pairs of tickets because he tried both avenues. Anyway we were ensconced in a box at the hall, what luxury. Apart from the usual homage to Lonnie Donegan, I recall seeing Alma Cogan, resplendent in a very impressive dress.

Cycling round Scotland
When I was in the sixth form, one of the boys organised a cycling holiday round the youth hostels of Scotland. It must have been just after A level exams, when I was coming up for seventeen. I remember this because we were doing some cycling training when a somewhat dozy girl pushed her bike out in front of use from a driveway, and we cycled straight into her – I was in front with another boy, and I went straight over the handle bars into the road, breaking my collar bone in the process. When I went into school, the second head (the renowned Rigby Hardaker) almost had a fit when he saw my arm in a sling. Luckily it was my left arm, so I could still write OK for the exams. I must have recovered OK for the cycling trip, because I don’t recall it being a problem. We caught the train to Carlisle (about 10 or 12 of us) and started from there. We took three weeks cycling round, sometimes only 20-25 miles in a day, sometimes 50 or 60. We went up the west coast, then crossed to Inverness and came down the east, through Glasgow back to Carlisle. I remember Corgarff, where the hostel was very remote and had no running water. Also we went over the devil’s elbow (part of the A93). In Glasgow we went to the indoor swimming pool, and revelled in the hot showers, something we hadn’t had in the hostels.

Cycling round Loire Valley
One summer when I was about 18 I cycled round the Loire valley with my friend Walt Revans, staying in youth hostels which I had researched. We flew from Lydd to Le Touquet (the shortest distance between England and France) with our bikes in a very small propeller driven plane. We then took a train to Rennes, and started cycling from there.  I recall staying in Lorient, Brest, Nantes, Angers  and Tours, then we made our way to Paris. On the last day it was hot and sunny and we cycled 108 miles from Paris to Dieppe, where we met some sailors in a bar. I was miffed when they cadged some beers from us, as I was still at school and had very little money.
The youth hostels were quite an experience, many were nothing like the ones in England. At Lorient we had to pick up the key to a huge rambling chateau like building and let ourselves in. One other person turned up while we were there, but we mostly had the place to ourselves.  The one in Brest was busy and well organised, and one outside Tours was another huge building, with Moroccan lads helping to run it. A large meal was served, with wine, but afterwards in the middle of the night I woke up knowing I was about to be sick. The dorm was up a large staircase, and the showers and toilets were in a basement. I hurtled down the stairs, but didn’t make it in time. The lads running the place were very nice about it, and mopped up after me.

When I was waiting to go to Cambridge, I had a long time with nothing to do, so I got a temporary job at Kenwoods, in Old Woking – about a mile or so from home. They made food mixers with various add on options. When P&C found out I could buy stuff at a discount, I got them a couple of gadgets like a potato peeler. I was a bit scornful of Christine for needing one until she pointed out that with 4 teenage boys (including Simon) she peeled huge quantities almost every day. I was paid the princely sum of £6 a week, which actually seemed quite a lot as my mum let me keep all of it, and of course I paid no tax. I sometimes spent the whole wage on one item, a transistor radio, or a shortie ‘car coat’ – don’t see them around any more. I used to cycle to work each day, which was ok unless it was raining. Once when it was wet I slipped over turning into the work entrance and took a large patch of skin off my hip.

Around this time I used to go into Woking on Saturday nights and meet up in the Railway pub with Walt and a bunch of school friends. We had some beer, ate meat pies and played bar billiards. Often we would find out if there was a party going on somewhere, and all decamp to the venue. Once we ended up driving down a track to a large barn in a dormobile. On the way the driver mistook a field gate for the track and turned the dormobile over on its side, but no one was hurt. We just got out and pushed it back upright.

The phone box
I have often told this episode to people, some of whom found it hard to believe. At the time we had a lodger in our flat at Send called (lets say, cos I can't remember) Dave Brown. I was walking from our house on a bright sunny morning full of the joys of youth and springtime, when I passed the red phone box nearing Mays Corner (a cross roads). Just as I passed it, the phone started ringing. There was no one in the phone box, so I went in and answered it. The guy asked if Dave Brown was there. I explained that this was  a phone box, and he must have the wrong number. Then I paused and said   ' did you say Dave Brown'. I also looked at the number in the phone box;  it was Ripley 2220X. Now our house phone number was 2220, so obviously something had gone wrong and connected him with the phone box instead of our house. I was just explaining this to the rather puzzled caller when I saw Dave Brown driving slowly past in his Jaguar (this is the bit people don't believe). So I jumped out of the box and flagged down Dave and said he was wanted on the phone. He was baffled, but went into the phone box and took the call. I left him talking to his friend and felt I had done my good deed for the day.

Motorbike to Italy
After I had got used to the Francis Barnet motorbike (all 125 cc of it), I decided somewhat unwisely to travel to Italy on it, along with Walt as a passenger. My dad was on a touring trip to Italy in a hired Austin Healy sports car (Italians called it 'Innocenti'), and I planned to meet up with him at a very posh hotel  in Santa Margarita, Liguri. On the way we stayed at Italian youth hostels. The hotel was great, with terraces accessed by a private bridge over the road, a swimming pool and its own private sea access. The food was good too. When we first arrived on the motorbike, with our bike gear on,  bearded, dirty, the hotel was very reluctant to let us in. They only relented when my dad turned up a bit later. But sadly on the way back the Fanny Barnet's rear suspension broke. We failed to get it fixed, but I had insurance so we arranged for the bike to be shipped home, and travelled back by train, crossing the French border at Briancon, and sleeping at the Gare du Nord in Paris - very uncomfortable.

For my first term at Cambridge I cycled up from Send to my digs. The Churchill college buildings were behind schedule, and so I had to stay in a bed sitter for the first year. Cycling was a bit hard going, not only because it was about 90 miles – that wasn’t too bad – but around London I had to use the north circular, and then the A1 towards Cambridge, alongside heavy lorries. Of course the traffic was not as bad as these days. I only had a few clothes that I could fit into my cycle bag, the rest were sent on in a large trunk that my dad had bought in a second hand shop. It was a splendid affair, with a domed lid, and old pictures of Paris pasted inside.
Shortly after arriving we had to pose for a college photo, but I didn’t have a jacket with me as my trunk had not arrived yet, so I borrowed one from my school friend ‘Gus’ Copplestone. It was a bit too large for me (those were the days), as can be seen in the photo.
Sadly, Gus committed suicide in the second year. It was a great shame as he was a good friend and a very bright guy, he won a scholarship to Trinity, and I always competed with him at school for the top of the class position, until the sixth form when I went into the science 6th, and he went into the arts. I used to visit him quite often in his rooms at Trinity, which were quite posh as he had the superior scholar’s rooms. There was one other boy, John Nicholas, who had been at school with me, in Cambridge, at Pembroke College. The three of us spent quite a bit of time together in the first year, as I had not made many friends at Churchill, being out in digs.

In the second year I moved into a room in college, which was much better. Paul Barton and Pete Came were on the same staircase as I was (11C), and Brian Merrony was in the one next to us. We had a great time together, there was often a party on Saturday night – we gave one or two ourselves. Being a new college, the staff were feeling their way a bit, and we got away with quite a lot of things that probably would not be allowed in the older colleges. We were in the height of luxury for a Cambridge college, posh rooms with polished wooden floors, Scandinavian furniture, and best of all, central heating. This was so warm to start with that the rooms used to reach about 80 F. The college had to rapidly install mini fridges in the kitchens as milk went off in the rooms.

I got myself elected captain of the second football team, and treasurer of the football club (as said, not much competition). Getting a team together was quite hard sometimes as there were only about 70 in our year, and a similar number in the next. Once I was two players short, and had to run round and ask just about anyone, rugby players, hockey players. We were a bit out of town, but our playing fields were on site. Other colleges had theirs scattered around town, so we had to cycle to wherever the ground was. Once we had a guy called Alan Lorenz playing for us; he was normally a first team player, but for some reason he was with us that week (actually a very good goal scorer, but not very popular with the team). He was one of the posh lot, ex public school, and turned up to the ground in a taxi, we all thought that hilarious. On one occasion, we played a team from Queens College (their 6th team I think). We were absolutely thrashed 11-1; they were big, strong, fit and ran round like maniacs. It turned out that this was 11 players from their first rugby squad having a bit of fun; one of them was a guy called Frankcom, who played for England.

Marianne Faithful
One of the lads in our year at Churchill was John Dunbar. His father was a film director (or something). I remember Geraldine telling him he was an awful name dropper when he told us that the last person to cut his hair was Jane Asher. I was in the college bar with a few friends when John turned up with a rather attractive blond female. Apparently she had just made a record, and there were some reviews in the tabloids. I started reading aloud from one of them in a rather sarcastic manner (stuff about her being educated by nuns I think), at which she was highly embarrassed, and begged me to stop. This was Marianne Faithful in her innocent days. Later on I was employed at the May Ball running the raffle (a good deal, as I got the food and champers later on, and I couldn't afford the ticket). One of the three groups was the 'Temperance Seven', quite famous at the time. John turned up with Marianne, and she asked me to look after her handbag at my raffle stand.

The Rolling Stones
When I was in the sixth form (aged 15-16), I extended my music tastes to Blues and Jazz (trad and modern). All my friends were into similar stuff, especially Robin Gosden who went on to run 'Flyright' records. We liked Snooks Eaglin, John Lee Hooker, Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddly, Howling Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Chris Barber, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Dave Brubeck, MJQ, Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan and many others.

One day Robin said that he had found a local group that were quite good, so I went along with him to the Wooden Bridge pub near Guildford. There was a big crowd outside waiting for the pub to open, then we all packed into a room with about 200 other youngsters. The group was called the Rolling Stones, and they had just made their first record "Come on". I went again a bit later with Brian Merrony, and we had to fight our way in. After that they became too popular to fit into the pub, but I saw them again at an old abandoned hotel on Eel Pie Island (I believe it burnt down soon after). And I never paid a penny to watch them.

Brian at Cambridge,  Arthur Alexander,  Soho, Send..
I was very friendly with Brian Merrony even after Cambridge. He was working in London at Ove Arup before he went into HE at Kingston (then polytech). Apart from the Stones we went to see Arthur Alexander and Long John Baldry, at the Marquee (I think). We used to meet up sometimes in Soho where we had lunch at a little Greek kebab place in Queen Charlotte Street, and another time at an Indian restaurant Brian had found. I also once drove Brian and Geraldine right across London from Barnet to a pub in the east end called the Iron Bridge. This was a famous, large pub frequented by the locals, and on a Saturday night they all came dressed up in smart suits and ties. Probably the Krays were there (who knows). Brian also called on me in the long vac at Send before I started work, where I had a few parties while I was living on my own.

Geoff:  Paul Oliver, Little Walter
I was also friends with Geoff Kilby, brother to my first wife Helen. Geoff was a very bright guy, full of life and interests, but also sadly bipolar, and he ended up killing himself. He was one of the three others who shared a house with me (St. Barnabas Rd) in my fourth year at Cambridge, along with Paul Barton and Brian Merrony. Geoff was always organising things, and once he persuaded a well known blues writer and collector (Paul Oliver) to visit the college and give a talk. Afterwards we put him up at our house; I gave up my bed for him and slept on the couch in the lounge.
When I was working at Elliotts in Borehamwood, Geoff persuaded me to drive him miles away to some little pub at the edge of north London to hear 'Little Walter', a fairly famous American blues singer. I recall that he was not too impressed by his local backing group, and spent some time showing them how to play the guitar.

My little blue van
In my last year at Cambridge, my parents both died within weeks of each other. My mother’s house had been sold, and my father had been living with Elise Henden, so I had no home, and no money. My father had left me the contents of his bank account, which was about £200 – quite a bit in those days. I decided (on Patrick’s advice) to buy myself a vehicle so I at least had somewhere to transport my few possessions; in the 4th year at Cambridge you were allowed to have a car. The cash had not come through yet, so Michael lent me the money (actually he kindly refused to take it when I tried to pay him back later). I bought about the cheapest vehicle that wasn’t a wreck – a blue A35 van.

This was primitive to say the least. The heater was a very feeble little electric fan under the dashboard that barely raised the temperature above freezing in the winter. Indicators were the old flip up yellow arrow type; they kept freezing up in cold weather and groaned slowly upwards. I installed a screen washer and rear screen heater myself as they were obviously not included. Later on I had rear windows fitted (non opening) so you could at least see out of the back. But I absolutely loved it; it was a huge luxury being able to drive around after a motorbike, especially in cold or wet weather. At the end of my last year, I planned to travel around Europe for 6 weeks with Helen, later my first wife. I needed to work for a few weeks so I could actually afford to go; my budget for the 6 weeks was about £60. Patrick and Christine came to my rescue and put me up in Oxford where they had a college house. Poor Julian had to move out of his bedroom to make way for me, and Christine bravely put up with me as well as four teenage boys and various pets. I had been told by a garage that the van had a cracked exhaust valve. I couldn’t afford to pay them to do it, so I fixed it myself. This involved taking off the cylinder head, a new head gasket, new valve springs, and grinding in a new valve. Christine seemed somewhat miffed when I spread out the components on her kitchen table. I explained that it was OK because I had put down newspaper first. Well, I was young. Patrick was dubious that the engine would ever run again, but I was pleased that it started first time after reassembly.

Driving to Bulgaria
When I was 20 (1964) I drove to Bulgaria with my girl friend Jody Jordanoff. She came from Perth, WA, but her parents were Bulgarian, and she had relatives there in Varna on the black sea. We drove, along with Sue Benet her cousin, in an old Morris Minor convertible. Looking back on it, this was probably not a good plan, but we were young. We had a few problems along the way (the exhaust broke in Munich), but we got there and back. This of course was in the communist days of the Iron Curtain, very different from now. First day we drove 700 miles to Prague via Brussels and Munich, sleeping a while in a field somewhere on route. We met some young guys in Prague who spent most of the time trying to buy our jeans. If I'd known I could have made a killing on a case full. The hotel in Prague was a typical communist bloc monstrosity, with corridor lights so dim you could hardly see. It smelt vaguely of insecticide. Then we travelled through Brno, Austria (Vienna), Hungary (Budapest), Rumania  (Ploesti, Bucharest), spent some time in Constanca on the black sea, then ending up in Varna where we had a couple of weeks with Jody's folks.

 Driving through towns in the evening proved very difficult, as the streets became full of pedestrians slowly strolling along.  At one town there was a grandly signposted by pass, which was great for the first half, then they obviously had run out of money because it became a dark, pot holed dirt road. We had dinner at a place on the road in Hungary where they spoke no English, and we couldn't understand a single word on the menu. We chose dishes at random, and they turned out very nice. The tourist hotel in Constanca was modern, but not well built, and we had to eat next door in a kind of communal canteen. The weather was hot and sunny in Varna, and we spent a lot of time on the beach eating green peppers stuffed with cheese, and watermelons we could buy on the beach for a pittance. Jody had a male cousin a bit older than me, who spoke excellent English, complained bitterly about communism, thought the US was paradise, and tried to persuade me to like Ornette Coleman (a modern jazz player ). Of course they could not travel outside of the country. On the way back we retraced our steps, with Sue being replaced by her brother Christo, who worked as a broker in the city.

Elliotts interview with Iann Barron
When I left Cambridge, I applied for jobs with IBM, ICL, Elliotts and English Electric. I got offers from Elliotts, ICL and EE, but not IBM (their loss). At Elliotts (computing research lab) I was interviewed by Iann Barron ( who later founded Computer Technology, and then Inmos. He was a bit under the weather with a cold, and was somewhat sluggish. He asked me a question about pulses down a track which I didn't really know the answer to. Luckily there was then a phone call he had to take. While he was on the phone, I picked up from the desk and read a short paper on the problem he had been asking me about. When he finished the phone call, I was able to answer fluently. Then I told him I had read the paper. I heard someone in the office (Sue Arrow I think) sniggering, and he said something about it showed initiative. Anyway, I got offered a job and took it.

New Rochelle

In the early days at Elliotts I went to Manchester University for a conference, along with Neil Gammage, one of my colleagues. We started chatting to some people in the lift and ended up going to a party for a group of post grads and visitors. We were talking to a guy from the States, and being keen on accents (and showing off a bit), I said I would try and guess where he came from in the US. I said ‘east coast, but not New York’, then ‘a bit further down the coast, somewhere like New Rochelle’. Now I have never been to New Rochelle, and the only reason I chose it was because it featured in the ‘Mary Tyler Moore’ show, with Dick Van Dyke. The guy went quiet and said ‘why did you chose that’, I muttered something, and then he said ‘that’s where I live’. Neil and I laughed and I said it was a good guess, and we wandered off to talk to others. Later on in the evening he came over to me and said’ OK, who are you’. I was a bit puzzled, and he said ’are you watching me’. He was really worried that I was from one of the secret services, and had him tagged. I should point out that there were some folk from GCHQ and CIA there, so perhaps he wasn’t being as paranoid as it seems, but it was kind of funny. I also showed off my accent from the US deep south to some other Americans, and was chuffed when one of them said I sounded just like their uncle.

My Reminiscences - Part One, the early years

REMINISCENCES                    March 2016-03-06

At the grand old age of 72, I have decided to sit down and try and write some memories of my life. This is in no way meant to be an autobiography, but just a collection of episodes that I can remember. I am also going to include some things about the family that I was told by my parents.

In Sudan during the war
My Dad was working for the Sudan government as a liaison officer between the Brits and the Sudanese. There was no radio service there in those days. So Dad scrounged a transmitter from the military (I think) and gave primitive news broadcasts on the state of the war. I remember that he told me that he allowed Michael to read the news when the British forces entered El Alamein, he was about twelve at the time.

It was also around this time that Michael got Meningitis and nearly died. He was at school in Egypt at Alexandria College, and there was a flu epidemic. He was in bed in the sick bay along with other boys when it became apparent that something was seriously wrong as he was barely conscious. There was a new drug from May and Baker called just ‘M and B’ which had been effective against pneumonia, and (so my memory of the story goes) Dad arranged for some to be flown in from England in an RAF plane. Anyway, Michael survived, luckily for him and the world of mathematics.

At home with Mum
When I was about 3 or 4, I can remember sitting with my mum in the kitchen and eating cream crackers with cheese for lunch. To make it more interesting, we used to add salt and pepper to them, and cocoa to drink. Selma of course would be having lunch at school. I used to share a bedroom with Selma until I got too old for that. The room was at the far end of our bungalow, next to the room that Mum and Dad shared. If we wanted to attract Mum’s attention after we had gone to bed, we used to shout out in unison, because it was quite a long way to the kitchen or living room.

Later on Selma and I had a bedroom each, and the room that we had shared was used for visitors, or lodgers. We had a series of lodgers staying with us from Kuwait, Sudan and Iraq. I think this was arranged via some kind of service for foreign students that Dad was connected with.  I remember one from Kuwait who was very quiet, and studied art. We had one or two of his paintings hanging up. Another from Iraq was called Ishaq, and studied child development or something. He gave us some advice when Julian (I guess) was being fussy with his food.

When I was very young (about 4 I think), I came in from the garden trailing something I had found as a ‘tail’, I was high stepping, and trod on the lead from the kettle which was long and dangling down. It had only just boiled, and emptied a stream of very hot water down my back. I ended up spending several days in bed, lying on my stomach, with dressings on my back. Selma used to come and feed me soup or something easy to eat.

Primary School
I went to primary school when I was four. I trotted along with Selma, down Bush Lane (where our house was), up the hill towards Send church, then along the appropriately name Sandy Lane to school.  I was friendly with a girl called Sheila Burns, who lived on the road towards Guildford. We sometimes played in the field opposite her house. I was somewhat miffed that she could run faster than me. One of my other friends was Richard Denyer, who lived in the first house of the council estate up Send hill. His mother used to come to our house and do my mum’s hair. My mother also had a cleaning lady called Mrs. Mussel who had several kids, including Sylvia who had ginger hair and freckles (didn’t fancy her though). Her husband Ken used to work at Unwins the printer’s toward Woking. She had a son also called Kenny who was blind in one eye, and this led to his being killed in a motorbike accident near Send Church, where Christine lived.

I can’t remember a lot about school lessons, though I do remember helping other kids learn to read. I also remember getting a multiplication wrong, and the maths teacher Mr. Donaldson was so surprised that he thought I was having a joke.

Visit of Sayed El Mahdi
One sunny day we had a visit from Sir Sayed Abdul Rahman El Mahdi (a descendent of the Mahdi), along with his entourage. He was dressed in Arab clothes.  We had tea on the lawn (cucumber sandwiches), and he beckoned me to sit on his lap, and gave me a crisp new pound note – a whole pound! That was a lot of money then for a small child – I was well under ten years. My parents later took me to a toy shop in Woking to spend it. At first I picked a large shiny red wooden train, but when I realised that was going to take almost all the money, I opted for something cheaper.

The Peanut King
We used to get various interesting visitors from the middle east who my Dad had worked with. One time he introduced me to someone from Egypt or the Sudan who he called the ‘Peanut King’. He was apparently very big in peanuts, so we gave him some that we had in the house, and he pronounced them as very good.

Real cotton at school
At primary school we were studying how cotton was grown, and at the time my Dad was in the Sudan, so he sent me a box containing some real cotton plants, complete with balls of cotton in them. This caused some excitement at school when I took them into the class, as none of us had ever seen anything like it.

The De Selincourts
My parents had some friends who lived not far from us in Send called Michael and Peggy De Selincourt (actually I’m not sure they were married). They were a very unorthodox bohemian couple, well educated and Oxford English. Michael had worked at NPL (National Physical Laboratory), but, as far as I could gather, been retired early because of his Communist leanings. They lived about a couple of miles away near Ripley in a rambling, home built bungalow (a bit like ours), which was referred to as ‘Hangover’. I’m not sure this was the official address, but it was what I always knew it as. The clue to its name may be illustrated by Michael showing us his private still, hidden away in an outside cupboard, and made no doubt with bits of equipment from NPL. When I first learnt to ride a bike I was so excited by my new freedom to roam (as I saw it) that I rode over to their house. They were somewhat surprised when I turned up out of the blue (I was about nine I guess). I remember a party that I was invited to, full of Oxford educated physicists, and for the first time in my life tasting homemade mayonnaise (after my mum explained what it was). Pretty exotic for the time.
They had a son, Malcolm, who was about the same age as Michael and Patrick, and I remember when he turned up in a three wheeled Bond mini car, and demonstrated why it didn’t need a reverse gear by spinning it round in circles in our drive.

Lyon’s corner house
I can still recall being taken, when I was quite young, by my Mum to Lyon’s Corner House in London. This was considered a big deal – I very rarely ate out until many years later. The various food offerings were presented in little boxes fronted by plastic lift up panels, so you chose what you wanted and self served. I was so excited; I spilled some of the bowl of tomato soup that I clutched at. This was a whole new experience you understand.

Xmas with Uncle Frank
My mum's brother Frank, who was very tall, had a first wife called Vrairose, she was Austrian I think. She was very short, as was his second wife Marie, who was Scandinavian. After Vrairose died Frank visited us at Christmas a couple of times. I remember those as especially enjoyable. He was a very nice man, and brought me presents of the 'Buffalo Bill Annual'. I remember he told my mum that he didn't know what to buy a boy of my age, but he chose just the right thing. I absolutely loved them, they were bright, colourful, and full of exciting stories and articles - useful things like how to chop logs and ride horses.

West Wittering  and Littlehampton
We didn't travel a lot in those days, but sometimes we would take a trip to the south coast. The nearest places were West Wittering  and Littlehampton. Chiefly I recall those visits as excuses to sit on the beach and drink Tizer. Exciting times. I think a donkey ride was involved once. When I was really young my Dad didn't have a car, but a bit later some money must have come in from somewhere because a new shiny green Ford Prefect arrived amid much excitement. Registration TPA 441, it was one of the cheapest cars on the market, but it was amazing to us and enabled trips like those to the south coast to be possible.

The garden shed
Our house had originally been a couple of rough buildings used for working in by the previous owners. My dad and friends joined them up with a veranda in between, so it was a pretty long bungalow – a good 50 feet or so. Behind, towards the rear hedge and between the orchard and the ‘rough’ lawn (as opposed to the smart one with rose borders) was a large shed – I guess also built by the previous owners? This had various uses over the years, as we had quite a large workshop with adjacent garage built at the front of the house. There was also a mini shed at the back of the large shed where the lawn mower was kept. So the big shed was used as a studio flat, with a bed settee, a sink and small cooker, and an inside/outside toilet in a mini porch. Patrick and Christine lived in it for a while when they were first married, and later my mum let it out to a couple called the Birds. I was quite friendly with Fred Bird; he introduced me to some jazz artists like Stan Kenton and Ella Fitzgerald. He also helped me with my model aircraft, and flew my first powered control line plane. It crashed on landing and broke into several pieces, but I quite happily repaired it. It was never quite the same though. The Birds later moved into the flat at the end of our house that my mum had converted after my Dad departed – to provide a bit of income.  When I was about 15 my mum let me use the shed for myself, and at one time I turned it into a chemistry lab full of equipment.

The Lebanon
When I was coming up for 9 years old we went to the Lebanon for about 3 months in the summer. My dad was involved in something there for a while, and I went out with my mum. I can’t remember Selma being with us. We travelled by train to Paris, then caught an overnight train to Venice – no sleeper, just in a compartment. Then we went by boat for 5 days to Beirut. It was an Italian ship, a bit like a modern cruise. The food was good, and I really enjoyed the journey. I made friends with another boy and we spent time together, went to watch a film in the on board cinema, but as it was in French or Italian, we didn’t understand it. We stopped in Brindisi I think, and Alexandria, where we watched ‘gully gully’ men doing magic tricks on the quay below us. We threw a few coins down to them. We went on shore there to meet some friends of my parents, and went to a famous ice cream parlour where I had the best ice cream I had ever tasted.

In Beirut it was hot. When we arrived aunt Najla and her mother were cooking ‘mashei’ – stuffed vegetables. The day after we arrived I was woken early and taken on a scout’s camping trip by ‘Micho’, my elder cousin for a few nights. I recall walking in the mountains with the smell of wild herbs. Because I was missing school, I was put in a girl’s school where they taught in English. The girls were 2 or 3 years older than me, so I was a bit overwhelmed, but got on OK.

After a while, we went up to a house in the mountains, where it was cooler. Outside the house was a mulberry tree, and I used to climb up it to pick the mulberries.

On our return to England we made the same journey, but this time we had a sleeper compartment on the train from Venice.

Boarding School
When I came back from the Lebanon at nine years of age, my Mum and Dad were finding me a bit hard going, so I was packed off to boarding school for two years – at Dane Court, near Pyrford. The original plan was for me to stay longer, but Dad ran out of funds after a couple of years, so I was shifted to Woking Grammar when I was eleven. He had some thoughts of putting me in for a scholarship to Winchester, but I wasn’t that keen on moving again, especially after we visited Winchester and I discovered that it was fairly primitive – they ate from wooden plates! (probably quite trendy now). Also, I don’t think I worked hard enough – everything at school was too easy.
Going to Dane Court was quite a process – we had to go to Harrods in London to buy my school clothes, which included a brown corduroy outfit for winter (shorts and blouson), and red blazer and grey shorts for summer. Also a specified collection of socks, underwear etc. We also had to get the famous tuck box which later led life as my toolbox, and now Bev has tried to resurrect it as a bit of furniture. At school it was used, quite properly, for tuck – sweets and biscuits and a few nick nacks. It was lockable so no other pesky kid could snaffle the tuck. In addition, there was full sports kit including a hockey stick. We played sports every afternoon, and I used to travel to other prep schools to play soccer and cricket for the school (there were only about 70 pupils, so competition wasn’t strong). This was also the height of my athletics career, when I won the under eleven and a half cup (don’t ask me why it was that age). It was touch and go, because I won the sprints, but wasn’t good at high jump. I quite enjoyed prep school, as I made good friends and quite liked sleeping in a dormitory. The worst thing was the food, as we had to eat everything on the plate before we could leave. I have bad memories of sitting alone in the dining hall faced with a plate of congealing fish in white sauce which I hated. Eventually a dinner lady took pity on me and removed it. Although I enjoyed the terms, I did miss home, and was always glad the end of term.

One day I was told to go with another class to listen to the radio
I was very surprised when I found out I was to listen to a broadcast by my Dad about life in the Sudan. I guess my parents must have told the school that it was on, I had no inkling about it.
I was even more surprised when my Dad told an exciting story about having to shoot a troublesome crocodile. Apparently his bearer had packed a shotgun instead of a rifle, so he blasted it with that into its mouth. Well, all the boys were very envious at having such a glamorous exciting father. You have to realise that my main impression of my Dad (who was about 40 when I was born) was sitting in his armchair smoking a pipe, or typing on his typewriter. I didn’t think he knew one end of a gun from the other.

The Sand Pits and our Trolley
Our drive led up to Bush Lane, and if you carried straight on, you were going down a steep path into the sand pits. These had originally been quarried for sand (where Send got its name), but were now disused and populated by trees and bushes among the sand slopes. I used to play there with my friends, and would often meet new friends there; it was a kind of common play area. Rodney and I made ourselves a trolley from some old pram wheels and a plank of wood, and used to race down the slope in it, sometimes alone, sometimes two up. I would often crouch face down, with my knees on the front plank, my hands steering the front wheels, and my face close to the ground. We would often come off at the bottom of the slope, sometimes ending up in stinging nettles, but it never stopped us. We also used to run around the estate where Rodney lived, using the trolley as a form of transport. Health and safety? Whats that? No brakes of course, except by dragging your feet on the ground. We used to climb trees a lot; Rodney was even more of a climber than I was. Once he was bouncing up and down on a branch when it broke off. He crashed down to the ground still on the branch, but wasn’t hurt a bit.

Woking Grammar School
After two years at Dane Court, my Dad ran out of money – he didn’t have a job, and writing and broadcasting were only sporadic, so I was sent to start at Woking grammar (having passed the eleven plus at Dane Court). My Dad still had ideas of putting me in for a Winchester scholarship, so he asked the school if I could skip a year, having done some French and Latin at prep school. So at the end of the first term they gave me some exams to do in French, Maths and so on. I had to sit on my own along the balcony above the assembly hall and do these exams after school, which I was not best pleased at. The only one I can remember was the maths exam, because there was a question using graphs (a quadratic actually). You were supposed to draw the graph and read off some values of y for a given x. I didn’t know what graphs were, but I found a method of computing y using what I later realised to be the method of differences (more or less). So I got fairly accurate answers. The master who marked the paper came and asked me how I got them, and I explained, but I don’t think he understood. He said ‘I see’ and walked away with a puzzled expression.
Anyway, I was moved up at half term to the second year, but in the ‘B’ stream, so I was now in 2B. Most of the boys were nearly 2 years older than me, because, being August born; I was the second youngest in my year anyway. Looking back on it, it seems a bit hard, but I coped OK after a while. It didn’t do much for my sporting activities though as I was so much smaller and younger. And I was decidedly not popular when I came top of the class after my first term in 2B. Happily I was then moved up into the A stream next year, where I settled in quite well.

The Cross Country Run
Every year the school organised a cross country run, split into junior and senior events, which everyone had to take part in. I actually got quite good at one stage. In my first year in the sixth form, when I was 15, I came 21st (out of over 200). But what sticks in my memory was the first time I ran it. At one point there was a stream we had to jump over. Being somewhat small, I didn't make it, and slipped into the stream. Problem was, when I got out one of my plimsolls (no trainers then) had slipped off. I fished around in the muddy stream for a while, but couldn't find it, so I ran the rest of the way with one plimsoll and one sock. My mum was not too pleased, as she had to buy me another pair. One of the teachers said (at the end of the race), that he could have given me a lift in his car. Pity he didn't say that sooner.

The Thin Line and Borehamwood studios
When I was quite young, about 8 maybe, my Dad sold the film rights of ‘The Thin Line’ (his only really successful book) to Associated British Pictures (aka ABP). As part of the deal he had to go to Elstree studios to work on the film script. He met several film starts there, including (I believe), Diana Dors. At one point he was quite friendly with a film director, and we were all invited to go to dinner at his house. I still recall that I ate Gnocchi for the first time in my life (obviously food was already becoming an important feature in my life).

 ABP were soon taken over by Warner Brothers, and they canned the film.  But, as I was to find out much later, the film did get made, both in Japan and France. We saw the French film ‘Juste Avant La Nuit’, directed by Claude Chabrol, many years later, with Bev and Patrick and family, when he was prof at Warwick University. I have a copy of the DVD which was released some time later. Then, a few years ago, Patrick was contacted by an American film director (not well known) who had made a film for channel 4 based on the characters in ‘Fargo’. He was interested in making a similar film based on ‘The Thin Line’ (nothing has come of it so far). He told me that the book had been filmed in Japan years ago (1966) called ‘The Stranger Within a Woman’, or  ‘Onna no naka ni iru tan’ as we like to say in Japan. But wait, there is more, it was remade in Japan in 2004 as ‘Onno no naka no futatsu no kao’. And also, into a Japanese TV film, see for more info. The reason behind all this shenanigans is the strange world of copyright brokers. The film rights had been sold to a Japanese company (I guess because they wanted to film it), and was then hawked around until Claude Chabrol came across it. We actually got a bit of money each because the holding company wanted to extend the copyright.

Rodney Laking

I used to make strong friends with a few boys over the years. For a long time my best friend was Rodney Laking, who lived on the old council estate up Send hill with his mum and dad and two younger sisters. Rodney went to St. Bedes, the comprehensive school at the end of our road (Bush Lane). He wasn’t the brightest of lads, but for some reason we got on well and spent a lot of time together. He was very into aircraft, and we used to go and watch the planes taking off and flying around at Fair Oaks, a local small private aerodrome. We would take sandwiches on a nice sunny day and sit for ages just watching the planes and enjoying the sun. We were also both into making model planes. I made lots, some of which were hanging up from my bedroom ceiling, a Hurricane, DH110, ME109. And I also made ones just for flying, mainly gliders and rubber band powered. One flew very well, and I took it to the local ‘rec’ (recreation ground). It ended up in a tree, and got broken in our attempts to bring it down by throwing things at it. I even followed Rodney in the ATC (air training corps), but I soon decided that it wasn’t for me. After a few years, Rodney’s father moved to a job with a house some distance away, and I lost touch after that. My mum and I bumped into him working at the W.H. Smiths on Waterloo station, he seemed quite grown up, but I never saw him again.