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Friday, 11 October 2013

The Boat That Rocked



Last Sunday was a lovely day.  London had a midsummer feel about it.

So there was  I heading for London's South Bank anticipating a glorious afternoon in the warmth and glow of a basking capital.

The occasion was the launch of a new Chemistry and Physics alumni group at King's, my alma mater. The idea of forming this group had been bubbling away on the old retort stand for quite some time: over the past two years since the re-establishment of Chemistry department at King's.

Unbelievably, that department was closed in 2002 as an economy measure. King's is one of the top redbrick colleges in the UK. It has brilliant physics and maths departments, as well as a world renowned medical school and theology faculty. Slowly it became apparent to the powers that be that without a Chemistry department,  King's was missing out. After much effort, lobbying and a good bit of common sense the new department welcomed its first undergraduates in 2012.

The launch of the new ChemPhy alumni club took place on one of the many pleasure boat that punt their way up and down the Thames. At 3 pm the "Viscountess" pushed off from the Festival Pier and headed down stream with 20 or 30 odd assorted aged alumni and the academic staff of the two departments.

We were greeted with a glass of bubbly and massed on the upper deck as we headed down stream past the Tate Modern. Most of us alumni were of a certain age: our labels indicating our discipline and year of graduation. I did however find myself chatting to guy in his mid forties who's gained a PhD in Astronomical Imaging.....fascinating.

 He was now working at Rolls Royce re-writing the software for one of their engine's control system....fascinating. 

I mentioned extoplanets and Melvyn Bragg and he moved into overdrive. Apparently his expertise in imaging is just the thing needed to sort through the mass of  data collected when you're trying to find a planet circling a star half way across the galaxy...  really fascinating. At that point a light afternoon tea was served and I excused myself explaining I have an appointment with a thinly sliced cucumber sandwich and a cream cake.

I next fell in with one of the three young female lecturers and her partner. They'd moved from Dublin and were living in Finsbury Park, North London. A lovely couple, as was her colleague and husband. I don't have grandchildren but I imagine that was the sort of conversation I'd have had  if I had any.....fascinating.

We went as far as the Thames Barrier past the thousands of expensive executive flats that have done so much to ease London's millionaire housing shortage.

My degree was in Maths and Physics, so  I felt a bit of a fraud, having only a half of the qualifying credentials. Amazingly, there was another Maths and Physics graduate. She had graduated in 1952. I warmed to her immediately since she said that I did look old enough to have graduated over 40 years ago. Age does bring with it wisdom.

We talked about the old place, rationing, black market nylons and the price of a pint of mild. She lived in the sunny up lands of Crystal Palace, and had worked with computers. I asked if she'd known Babbage. Apparently not.....fascinating.

My last conversation, before he had to go off and look for his missing wife, was with a retired IBM executive. He'd graduated in Chemistry in 1966, and now plays golf in Spain...fascinating. He once met the co-founder of Microsoft at a wedding...

After a thinly disguised plea for financial support  from one of the big wigs of the Alumni Association we disembarked, promising to meet up again to renew our memories of King's.

Such a pleasant trip and such a delightful way of keeping the elderly occupied and not one bingo card in sight....fascinating.

3 comments:

Steve said...

No bingo. Great. Another stereotype utterly ruined.

Marginalia said...

However, we all smelled faintly of moth balls and lavender.

cheryoncake said...

Did no one talk about the latest goings on in EastEnders?