The Mens' Kick Line

Table of contents :
Some notes about how this saga is organized
Table of Contents
Early experiences
Help for Mum
Marjorie’s death; closeness with Dad
Mum's hard life
Secret reading
Shopping and local travel
Chores at the shops
Mum's friends
Mum's cooking
The pressure of family vacations
The magic of camping
Lessons from Dad
Swimming lessons
The unwilling banker
Surrogate grandparents
Cousin Arthur’s munificence
Rejection at the dance
Give us that old-time religion
Like father . . .
The Crusaders
The great break
Nudism and sex
The problems of naïveté
Sexual ignorance
A shotgun marriage
Scots tutor
Sex education out in the cold
Interesting propositions
The maintenance man
Nigerian slide-show
Brother John
World War II
The campaign for a wedding present: the men’s kick line in Nottingham
Parental decrees
Biking in wartime
Fast trip to Wales
The Blitz
Southern discomfort
Welcoming Scotland
Bitten alive
Something of a break
A short love affair with motor-cycling
Morris Oxford burns its corks
The Carnegie library
The bicycle rival - dissecting engines
Climbing lessons
More tear-downs
The wonder of cone couplings
Wilsons of the world, unite!
A generous gesture from Dad and a hellish journey
A surfeit of cones
Mabel’s end
The University of Birmingham
Cambridge – or Birmingham?
The lack of electricity in electrical engineering
No homework; no quizzes
Summer jobs, and battles with authority
The end of a promising career.
Let the battles commence!
Convex rations
The revolt at Met-Vicks
Ascent to heaven
Stupidity followed by the fall
Instruction in mechanical engineering
Cast overboard by the Royal Navy: is there life after Varsity?
Momentous decisions
Misplaced stoicism
At last some studying
Hiking in Snowdonia
Falling in love, showing off, and falling off
The end of the beginning
Americans close to home
A brush with Brush
The Belle of New York
Knee surgery
The chairmanship
The turning point
An after-dinner speech
A non-dancing jig
The foreman's conversion
The Brush Research Fellowship
Ian Goodlet
A Derwent V on reheat
Research at the University of Nottingham
Americans in London
The S.S. Corinaldo
The search for another fellowship
The cooling-fan caper
The order to lie
The Commonwealth Fund and freedom
A Latin adventure
Am I ever fed up with – me!
The farm laborer
On the (romantic) road again
The Austrian Alpine Club
How to compliment your hostess
Snow blindness
Wine goes to your head, and elsewhere
Chapter 7 AMERICA!
The Commonwealth Fund and freedom, 1955 - 57
Harvard and M.I.T
The ways of Friends
The summer of ’56: Go forth and travel
Down home in Decatur, IL
Keep going west, young man
The Grand, and hot, Canyon
Rescue by barmaid
The Dunn deal
The Purple Onion
The gay boatmen and heat transfer
Alcoholic farewell
The casual worker in Lovelock Nevada
LDS missionary work
Bee farmers
Newsworthy planning
Baton Rouge politics
A high from hiking
Mountain rescue
Rusting at Rustons
Why else did I go?
The job search
The fate of “Old Garth”
Nigerian notebook
The trip out
First light
My first college visitor: Isaac “The Magnanimous Man”
Isaac’s married life
The Sokoto road
The police let me off
The attentive guide
Beautiful children
The past is prologue
College spring water
The missionary position
The mystery of the classes
The mechanical-engineering faculty
Some social life
Some students
Engineering practice
(Very) educational movies
Cops and robbers
American week
The Tempest
Another tempest
The VW Microbus and the CIA
Visits with Mallam Dogo
The Institute chauffeur
Sex and the ex-pats
A male and the night visitor
Naked and unashamed
Schools near Zaria and a subsequent campaign
Malaria and Man O’ War Bay
Snakes and rockets
Return to health and to offers of jobs
A dirty trick
Delightful development
How I (nearly) saved the Peace Corps
Love’s labors lost
How to impress big shots
Meeting the boss
Mum in London
Saved by Jack Rizika and Dr. Milner
A promotion
Environmental control
Multiple sponsorship
Tornado alley
An international education
Recommendations bore fruit - twice
A recording of note
Contributing to the design of the Boeing SST
A naval engine
Working as an engineer
The decorum policeman
Farewell to Northern Research
Nigeria to London
London to Cambridge Massachusetts
A US landlord, Fred Earnest
The Intercollegiate Girls’ Club of Greater Boston
Meeting and marriage
Missiles and insults
Transformation after a block party
A cure for free parking
House remodeling
An alarm clock for the painter
Cypress siding
Not the gardens of Versailles
The new house
The dog tunnel
Persis Toppan
The mugging
Alarms and violence
Neighborhood bulletins
The Dwight Harkens
Ralph Nader, Fred Lang and the DuPont caper
A pipeline problem
Du Pont detectives
Deep Throat at the ASME
An introduction to Ralph Nader
A victory for the public good
Why should a mechanical engineer be advocating policy?
The double-cross
Mentoring young faculty
Automated transportation, PAT
Blackouts in thermodynamics
Head of the Gas-Turbine Lab?
Big lies
An urban fellow
Commission technology advisor – or dogsbody
Clarity on the problems of the MBTA
The final press conference
Selfishness over public interest
The MIT trash man
Summer study on solid wastes
How to get bottles and cans recycled
Ups and downs
A definite lift from Kenneth Boulding
Senator Proxmire’s Joint Economic Committee
Rules for presentations to RBSs
The energy "crisis" and TPR
The parable of the shared lunch
An appeal to leading economists
Another appeal – to Congress
The academic free-for-all
A restatement of the modern version of the policy
A postscript to this table
Regulations: bad examples
The polluter-pay principle has some good incentives
Guidelines for legislation
The Great and General Court of Massachusetts
The divine right of kings
Common Cause (CC)
An act for accountable politics
Clean elections and the Supreme Judicial Court
An immune speaker
Unfaithful Fidelity
The legacy of MASH
Resigned to reality2F
Chapter 13 MASH
A summons from on high
Patterns of culture and the weirdnesses of human behavior
The smoking hypothesis
The physicians’ rounds
Cures in Canada?
Smoke gets in my eyes
The start of MASH
Nonsmokers’ rights at MIT, 1972 - 1985
The Cambridge campaign
Anger and hostility
Trial by fire
The end of the beginning
Ready-for-framing certificates
Nonsmoking stinks!
Air battles
A declaration of victory
Chapter 14 THE MEN’S KICK-LINE AT MIT, 1994 - ?
The Grinnell case
Student suicide
Complaints to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)
Nastiness over drawings
Grinnell asks for help
Lies and perjury
The Wilson case
Summary of Dave Wilson’s difficulties at MIT
Return to gas-turbine studies.
An offer from Britain
Why the treatment?
Possible reasons for the apparent vilification of my reputation.
Closing comments on my problems at MIT
A compassionate and honorable dean
Some bicycle technicalities
How to become a guru
Frank Rowland Whitt
Recumbent enthusiasm
An MIT news conference
The joys of publishing
Publishing complexity increases with length
Some negative economics in publishing
The bicycle cavalcade from The MIT Press
Better brakes on bicycles: wet-weather braking
The Positech brake
The world HPV land speed record
The Avatar 2000 recumbent bicycle
The birth and rapid growth of the IHPVA
Britain conquered again
Fomac’s fast-fading fortune
Tackling the bicycle-theft problem
The shots heard around the world
A highly successful lock
A depressing bike rack
Notes on bicycle failures
Delights and dangers on the bicycle
Bicyclists get no respect.
Lassoed on Mass Avenue
Respect for a TV person
Biking in Britain
End-to-end in Britain on a triple tandem: one-thousand miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats
Land’s End launch
The tail-wind tale
Promotion to “B” roads, then to “A”
John O’Groats
Human power on water, in the air, and for tool use
Human water power: the TOW boats
Shell production and sales
Sticking it to Harvard
The Harvard challenge
Air power, human
Human-powered tools
Lawn mowers
Snow removers
Big bangs: explosions!
The bomb-maker
Undeserved punishment in the hills of Britain
A period of general explosions
Bombing in Victoria Square, Birmingham?
Another exploding fan!
The post-explosion cleanup
Explosion and near-explosions on the Hurricane Ride
The Holbrook explosion: professional rivalry
Collapse and settlement
Expert witness
An injured pedestrian
The star expert witness
Arguments from another attorney
Good shot!
Gatherings, and the pornographic violinist
Groups social dynamics
Fill in the blanks
Premarital socks
The Sophia Loren effect.
South American adventures: a rearguard action in Caracas
Caracas again: a keynote speech
A Colombian demonstration of the virtue of TV advertisements
Notes on back pain
How to skin sharks
The second virial coefficient
Treatment of old people: the Inuit and others
Some hiking yarns
A caring hike leader
Too old to join in
Acts of sacrifice and concern
Highs and lows in Norway’s Jotunheimen
The breaking of the language barrier
Animal magic
Appendix: Dates and some background of my immediate family
Other dates that seem significant to me
Table of Illustrations

Citation preview


THE MENS' KICK LINE Memoirs by David Gordon Wilson

Caption, cover photo of book: My friends in the photo have given me their permissions to use the photo in this way, but I will not name them here. They deserve and have my great appreciation. I am the beauty at the center of the back row. We are from the stage crew of the Winton Club show to support Winchester hospital.



William (Willie) Wilson, my father, in around 1940 and my mother, Florence Ida (Boulton) Wilson at about the same time

This, as with the memoirs of many others, was started because I didn’t heed the advice of my paternal grandfather, William Wilson. He used to tell us wonderful yarns about seafarers and adventurers, and sometimes he would write them out in a beautiful copperplate script. And just occasionally he would say something about his boyhood in Britain and Malta and his life in New Zealand. He seemed to be a permanent fixture, but he died in 1946 at 94, leaving very little tangible information. I was still young, and didn’t feel the loss until later. My father, also named William Wilson, died not too many years afterward (1952), leaving much more in the way of papers, books and photographs but very little personal information that could give the reasons for some of the big choices he made. I began to realize that we


were losing our family’s heritage, and every time I visited my mother I would ask her if she would spend an hour with me telling me about her childhood. And she would say “Not today, my boy, I’m tired. Next time!” She died before “next time” materialized. I decided that I was going to be more forthcoming. I soon found that my family did not seem to be any more interested in my life than I was in my parents’ and grandparents’ lives, and thought “All right then! I’ll go public with it!” The result is before you. The title of this book is, of course, a metaphor. Our town, Winchester, Massachusetts, has a women’s auxiliary that raises money for Winchester Hospital, principally by an annual musical extravaganza called the Winton Club Cabaret in the town hall. The husbands of the women are the stage crew, helping to make scenery. One year the women decided that the men should be on stage in drag, and we had a kick line. Some of my colleagues were gracious enough to give me permission to include them along with me in the cover photo. Thanks, chaps! The title also covers some campaigns in which I have become involved, almost all involving other men. Throughout my college days I wanted to be in industry, but my professor for my PhD research told me quite firmly that I was destined to be a professor in a university. I denied this vigorously. Moreover my friends told me that conflicts are more likely to occur in academia than elsewhere. However, one of my first battles was in fact in industry in Britain. I was asked by my boss to falsify some test results so that a large turbine generator would be accepted for export to Brisbane, Australia. I refused. Then my boss’s boss, a famous turbine engineer whom I greatly respected, sent for me and ordered me to do the deed. Again I refused. At that point I was required to see the technical director of the whole enterprise, who was among other qualifications a


Methodist minister at weekends. After he preached fire and brimstone at me and I consequently did the awful deed, I wandered in the wilderness of the plant, and eventually decided to blow the whistle to the Brisbane inspector. What happened then was a significant part of the reason that I left Britain for the US, twice. (Read all about it in chapter 5.) The second time that I went to the US (1961) I joined a small consulting-engineering company (NREC) in Cambridge MA; I had previously been teaching at a university in Nigeria from 1958-60. After a few enjoyable years at NREC I was offered an associate professorship at MIT. I thought that I had gone to heaven. However, I was brought sharply to earth. MIT is an amazing place, full of brilliant people working very hard to improve the world (and, frequently, their place in it). It also had a few people with the capacity to lie repeatedly to advance their own careers or to harm those of others. Moreover, they seemed to be untouchable. I found myself and my uncertain career at the mercy of some of these blackguards. I also seemed to become a magnet for people who had become victims of similar people and who wanted me to help them. Chapters 11 and 14 are devoted to serious conflicts at MIT. Along the way I've had a frightening brush with the Mafia (chapter 11); a very stimulating encounter with some other merchants of death, the US tobacco industry (chapter 13); a doomed-to-failure battle with the Pentagon; a moralistic dispute with the U.S. Department of Energy; an engagement or two with Metro-Vickers (chapter 4) and with General Electric; an out-ofbalance contest with the Great and General Court, Massachusetts (chapter 12); a fascinating encounter with a massive Manchester (UK) landlady (chapter 4); the inevitable tussle with my father (chapter 1); and a strike against a class-ridden Bible group (also in chapter 1), among others. As part of an attempt to help a


tyrannized junior MIT colleague, I was threatened with four months’ imprisonment by Judge Hiller Zobel in Middlesex Superior Court (Massachusetts), possibly my proudest moment (chapter 14).

George, David, Marjorie and Tom in about 1929


David with Grandpa Wilson, 1941 approx.

Being president of the US gives one a "bully pulpit" from which one can pronounce on any aspect of life. A professor at MIT also has a pretty large bully pulpit. I indulge here in comments on various aspects of life, including engineering, that I wish that I had known from the start of my adult life. You will recognize early on that professors at MIT or elsewhere should not necessarily be trusted on any topic, but you have this book in your hands, and you can pick and choose among the wisdoms and idiocies being preached.


Some notes about how this saga is organized After I decided for reasons stated above to produce some sort of autobiography, I began writing about what, for me, were the most exciting moments. Many of these times were also turning points: as a result of those events my life could have gone one way or another. It seemed to be a good idea to grab the reader’s attention from the start with a description of some dramatic situation. But as I began to amass more and more “turning-point events” I found that I had to spend more and more time explaining the relationships among them. What seemed clean became more messy. It was a good point to start finding out what others had done. I have always liked reading biographies and autobiographies, but previously I had read them for education and pleasure. Now I read and looked for models and guidance. I read Peggy Noonan’s, David Brinkley’s, and Katherine Graham’s with great enjoyment. In general they told the stories of their lives chronologically. The clear message was that I should do the same. However, there was a major difference between their autobiographies and anything that I might write. They were famous. They interacted with national and international leaders. They took part in significant occasions about which we all want to know the inside stories. It was fascinating to learn about their rise to positions of prominence from, in two cases, humble beginnings. It was gripping to read about the obstacles put in the way of women and of someone who was part-Jewish. Readers would have none of this fascination with my story: I’m not famous, and I haven’t taken part in major national events in any way that would make readers yearn for the inside angles. I’m a white male of fairly humble origin and on my way to a fairly humble ending (unless, of course, this book lifts me to fame).


My life has, however, been adventurous - not wildly uninhibited, but sufficiently out of the ordinary to have, I hope, some interest. I have been involved in one campaign after another, some successful, mostly not, and I have had unhappy battles with some organizations and individuals and supremely happy relationships with others. I have learned lessons about what to do and what not to do in different circumstances that, being a teacher, I would like to pass along to anyone who wants to study them to see if they fit her/his situation. That being so, the telling of my story as a gradually unfolding sequence of events would not keep you, dear reader, glued to the pages waiting for the occasional nugget (if I am given the inspiration to deliver some). I feel that I must follow the guidance I give students making presentation in engineering: give us the answers first! Don’t tell us a mystery story! (This is very important in engineering, and usually in science. Every paper and article starts with a title that defines the topic, usually about a problem or proposal or design or some research &/or development, and is followed by an abstract or summary that states whether or not the problem was solved, the design functioned, the R&D bore fruit, or the proposed action has been found to be worthwhile. Anyone who tries to tell the story of how a problem was solved while keeping the listeners or readers in the dark about whether or not it was actually solved invites strident questioning and criticism on every aspect of the work reported. No listener or reader wants to be among those that didn’t foresee some failure in procedure or analysis that the author might possibly be about to reveal.) The application of this precept to an autobiography is difficult but not, I hope, impracticable. This is how I plan to accomplish the task. I’ll give in the appendix a bare-bones chronology:


birth, family, upbringing, education, positions, and major events. It will be similar to a resume with personal details added. (Some personal details will be omitted when they involve people still alive whom I don’t want to hurt). Then I will list events, activities, adventures, disasters, campaigns, designs, and, particularly, turning points (including many of the preceding) that resulted in major changes in my life. Thus we will combine a summary with a table of contents and an index. After that I will feel that I can tell my story any way that seems easiest. Anyone who wants to skip everything but one particular topic of interest can go straight to it and can ignore everything else. A friend who was generous enough to read an earlier version found the sequence sometimes unclear, and recommended Mark Twain’s “random but annotated” autobiography as a model. I have tried to improve my notes on how each chapter fits into other.


Table of Contents FOREWORD






1 2 4 5 6 8 9 12 13 14 15 27 30 31 33 36 40 41 45 48 76 81 88 89 100 101 103 103 106 108 111 113


114 116


125 125 147 149




150 154 176 180 185


197 198 199 202 203




209 214




240 246 283 307 319 323 326



330 331 331 333 333 334


335 337 338 340 344 346 347 348 349 350 354 354 355 355 359 361 371 382 382 387 389 398 406 407 409 413 417 436 437 437 440 440 441 452



452 454 461 474


476 483


497 497 497 500 502 505 511 517 524 529 530 530 536 546 546 551 554 562 562 586


590 590 594 596 597 604 606 609 614 617




Chapter 1 GROWING UP IN THE THIRTIES AND FORTIES As I confessed in the foreword, I am writing this mainly because at some time I believe that younger members of my family will appreciate it. Several other members of our wider family are trying to find details of the lives of their forebears. Is there something intrinsically human about this research? In the traditions of most so-called "indigenous" peoples knowledge of ancestors ranks very high. International and national history is important because we learn from our triumphs and our mistakes. Family history must be of equal importance to us as individuals. I am also writing this because I enjoy doing it as an exercise in recollection, and because I love reading about the lives of others, even if they are unremarkable except for having lived some time ago. I grew up before and during the Second World War. I would like to describe some details of family life in one middleclass household in a suburb of Birmingham, England, in the nineteen-thirties.

The family in about 1935: Mum ( Flo), David, Tom, George, John, Dad (Willie Wilson)


Ellen's concept of the awful deed

Early experiences I was born on February 11, 1928 at 330 Boldmere Road, Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire, UK. (My two brothers, Tom and George, were born not far away at our parents’ former home, The Norlands, 578 Chester Road, Erdington). My sister Marjorie and my younger brother John, were also born at 330 Boldmere Road. I remember the house being taken over for John’s birth by an eagle-eyed martinet named Nurse Horner (Mabel Horner). She knew exactly what had to be done for the safety and comfort of mother and child. I remember what seemed to be a fierce argument between Nurse Horner and Dad when he found, after John's delivery, that she had wrapped the (incandescent) light bulbs in tissue paper. He said she wanted to set the house on fire; she said that she was saving the baby's sight. She was one of the few I knew of who would stand up to my father.


George, David, Marjorie and Tom in about 1929,

Marjorie and David, also in about 1929, about two years before Marjorie died


Help for Mum After Nurse Horner departed, Mum had the help of a live-in maid, Beatrice. I can't remember where she slept: it was out-ofbounds for me. The house didn't seem large enough to have beds for everyone. And the maid era must have ended by the time I was four. I once heard Tom and George talking about the naughty things they had learned from conversations with Beatrice. (I had no idea what they were talking about.) Mum later had the weekly help of a succession of "cleaning women". I remember particularly Mrs. Jex, a short rotund woman having a strange, acrid smell and a great deal of wisdom. I used to enjoy talking and walking home from school with Mrs. Jex. She could walk the whole length of Boldmere Road, over a mile, with her head in the air and without stepping on a joint between the paving slabs. She also told us that she would like to go out into the pastures on a fresh dewy morning with a teaspoon and a cup so that she could collect the liquid in the depression in the "meadow muffins" left by the cows as they munched. She said that this liquid was a sought-after drink. I wondered whether it could have had any connection with Mrs. Jex's aroma.

Mrs. Jex collecting valuable liquid from cow droppings.


Marjorie’s death; closeness with Dad

Dad and David doing “physical jerks”

When I was very young, maybe two or three, I had a morning ritual that meant a lot to me. I would go into my parents' bed as soon as I heard the alarm go, climb in on Dad's side, and "snuggle". This included rubbing noses, a Maori tradition that Mum and Dad brought from New Zealand, and rubbing feet together, which required me to dive under the covers. Then I would go into the bathroom with Dad and do "physical jerks" or "Swedish exercises" with him until he had his shower. Dad was very sweet to me on these occasions, but at only one other occasion that I can recall (see chapter 3). This period was just after my close pal and sister Marjorie died. My earliest firm memory is of Dr. Clayton Morris examining my throat one evening when I was three (in the measles epidemic of 1931), and my mother exploding to him “Dr. Morris: it’s not David who is ill: it’s Marjorie!” But Dr. Morris waved her off and took little interest in Marjorie, who was dead by 7 am next morning. My


mother said later that she and Dad were worried about my grieving over her. I have no recollection of the time that followed. The effects of Dad's closeness had to be wholly good. Some psychologists maintain that giving a child security in these early years is absolutely vital to a healthy mental balance later. I have always felt very stable despite some hard experiences, and I hope that I can thank Dad for that. I also had some other wonderful adult friends (see later) who buoyed me up at all times.

Marjorie and David on a family camp

Mum's hard life Mum would have to get up during my snuggles with Dad. Despite the help from Beatrice and Mrs. Jex, Mum's life seemed hard. At about 6.30 a.m. she would clean out the ashes in the open fireplace and start a new fire with newspaper, kindling


wood axed from grocery boxes, and coal. (This became my job when I was old enough). She would make the porridge (oatmeal) on the old gas stove in a double-boiler saucepan "so that it won't get burnt", and then cook the bacon and fried bread in a large steel frying pan. We had milk and brown sugar on the porridge, and after the bacon and fried bread (a half slice for everyone) we would have toast and marmalade and lots of tea. Mum made the marmalade, and it was pretty good. At around 8 a.m. Dad would get on his bike to go the 4.5 miles to work, and the others would go to school. I started at Mrs. Lilly's (St. Michael's Preparatory School) on January 11, 1933, about five-eighths of a mile away. At that time Tom and George were biking to Bishop Vesey's Grammar School, about 2.5 miles away in Sutton Coldfield. At about 12.30 p.m., the whole family reassembled at home for the main meal of the day, called "dinner". Mum would have ready a hot dish of meat, potato and vegetable, usually over-boiled cabbage, plus a baked rice pudding or apple pie. School started again at around 1.45 p.m. and went on until 4.15 p.m. Dad would get home at about 5 p.m., and we would all have our evening meal, called "tea" This was mainly bread, butter and jam, occasionally scones, and cake, accompanied, of course, by tea. I was usually allowed to listen from 5 to 6 PM to the BBC “Children’s Hour” with Uncle Mac and Commander Stephen King-Hall, who always ended his talks with “Now remember, girls and boys, be good, but not so very very good that adults will ask “Now what mischief have you been up to?” The principal BBC radio news (usually read by Stuart Hibberd) was at 6 p.m.. Dad used to make mealtimes more trying than usual by listening to the BBC news on a crystal set with headphones. It had a huge moving coil that he would slide back and forth inside a stationary coil as he fiddled in irritation with the "cat's whisker" to find a conducting spot on the crystal. Dad had to have absolute silence, even when the crystal set was replaced by a "valve" (tube) "wireless". Our mealtimes were not, in general, jolly affairs. "Supper" was a snack of biscuits (cookies) and milk taken just


before bedtime at, eventually, 10 p.m., after homework had been done.

Dad listening to news on crystal set, to the family's unhappiness

Secret reading

Undercover reading

I loved reading in bed under the bedclothes. An American benefactor (Andrew Carnegie and his foundation) had given the town a spanking new library. We were allowed to borrow one fiction book and one non-fiction for two weeks at a time. I used the library to the limit. I loved sea stories by Percy F. Westerman, with titles like "The cruise of the Golden Hind". And


I took out books on radio, bicycles, popular science, how to make devices, and the like. I seemed to be always living a Walter Mitty life on some square-rigged sailing vessel. At one period in my life I kept a small stash of supplies rolled up in a large handkerchief ready for me to run away to sea. It seemed to be a wise precaution. I was not always happy at home.

Shopping and local travel The family schedule was tough on Mum because, in the days before refrigeration and microwave cooking (Dad, who was head of the Development Laboratory of the General Electric Company (GEC), demonstrated to us kitchen delights such as an induction furnace from his lab many years before they were on the market), one had to shop for food every day or at least every two days. We were less than a hundred yards from "the shops" at the junction of Boldmere Road with the old Roman way called Chester Road. The greengrocer and the butcher were like old friends. For more specialised supplies Mum used a grocer called George Mason in Erdington High Street two miles away. An order man would come by bike on Tuesdays and sit by the dining-room table with a grubby pad and a blunt pencil. Mum would hum and haw about what she wanted to order this week. It seemed to take a half hour, even though this week was very like last week as far as groceries were concerned. Then a delivery boy would appear on Wednesdays with the order in his front-carrier bicycle.

Groceries delivery


The milkman delivered milk once a day, coming with his horse and cart and his well-polished leather gaiters, dipping the milk out of a large churn into the jugs Mum provided and greeting me as if I were an old friend. And the baker, Mr. Bird, would come with his horse and cart every two days. Painted on the sides were representations of the medals which his bread had won in various contests. We usually bought two-pound loaves, which were four-pence ha'penny. The one-pound loaves were seen as uneconomical, at two pence (tuppence)-three-farthings. In the old days when we didn't know better we always had white bread, but it was crusty and smelled magical. On two occasions well before the war Mr. Bird mistakenly left out the salt. The neighborhood was paralyzed: the bread was inedible. Poor Mr. Bird had to bake and deliver a completely fresh batch. To buy Mr. Bird's delicious cakes we usually went down to his shop fiveminutes' walk away. Soon after the war (WW II) started white bread was no longer allowed, and we all had something approaching whole-wheat bread. Most of us grew healthier. However, “sweets” (candies) were rationed, and while earlier I never wasted my precious pennies on sweets, now that the government prescribed a ration for us, I felt that I ought to start eating them. About once a week Mum would go further afield to shop in Erdington, about a mile away. Occasionally we would walk the whole way, but more usually we would walk up to the "terminus" where the no. 2 tram (double-decked streetcar) left on the Birmingham road. I loved to sit upstairs so that I could look down into the gardens we passed, and enjoyed being thrown around as it lurched along. Not too long ago I went on trams of the same vintage in Hong Kong, and I marveled, just as I did earlier, even though I am now presumably a fully fledged mechanical engineer, that they could stay upright on the rails. In Erdington Mum could visit shoe stores and Woolworths and go to a small "farmers’" market. Every month or so she would


need supplies that could not be found in Erdington, and we would go further on the tram to Birmingham. We weren't confined to the tram. A half-mile before the tram terminus we passed the small Chester Road station of the London, Midland and Scottish railway. There were frequent steam trains into New Street station in the center of Birmingham. I loved the smell and the romance of steam trains. I was fiercely loyal to the LMS. If we wanted to go a little further to another station we could take a competing train on the GWR, the Great Western Railway, to Snow Hill station. I regarded the GWR as the enemy. Nowadays, the GWR is associated for me with the engineering feats of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and I have very different feelings for the old railway. We could also go to Erdington or Birmingham by the Midland Red bus, a private bus line which I used while I was at the Rev. J. J. Keyes school in Sutton between the ages of 7 and 9 (1935 -37). My parents had a rule that no one should bicycle until s/he was 9, and I chafed during the long wait for the magic age to arrive. But in the meantime I walked the mile down Boldmere Road, past St. Michael's Preparatory School, and took the 107 Midland Red bus along Jockey Road. I felt rather grown up. I also felt loyal to Midland Red. Later I would find that my loyalty was justified. This rather minor bus company in the scheme of overall travel in the 1930s designed and built its own buses and even its engines, taking such innovative steps that its employees sometimes wrote papers on them for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. The thought of any Massachusetts bus company designing its own engines seems totally absurd. Yet another choice was to travel to Erdington or Birmingham by the yellow Birmingham Corporation buses. I don't know how I could have become so right-wing at so early an age, but I regarded these subsidized buses as unfair competition and rather socialist. I don't remember ever using one.


I have detailed this apparently amazing range of choices for us to move around our environment because now we have almost no choices in local transportation. We have subsidized motorvehicles so extravagantly that all other alternatives have either gone out of business or have been taken over by government. People often say, foolishly, "We have to have cars. How else could we get around?" Before cars took over we had true competition and innovation and very fine service. It could come back.

Chores at the shops But I must return to Mum's typical day. She would have hardly finished washing the breakfast dishes before she would have to go down to the shops to buy meat and vegetables and fruit and start cooking "dinner" (which we in the US would call lunch). I was keenly aware of this schedule because, during my school holidays (vacations), she would send me down to the shops almost every morning, just when I was hoping to meet my friends to go playing in Sutton Park, or to bike the ten miles to Tamworth Castle to swim in the big pool in the grounds. I resented it some because I never remember hearing my older brothers being told to undertake similar chores. The discipline was probably good for me. Mum would have a little more time during the afternoon, so long as it wasn't Monday, universally wash day. Then she had to get up at 6 a.m. to light the fire under the "copper" (a large built-in metal tub) in the scullery (a rather scruffy room beyond thekitchen), and boil and pound successive lots of clothes with a large wooden "dolly". I believe that she put the hot clothes through the "mangle" rollers to squeeze out as much of the soapy water as possible for return to the copper, before rinsing and re-mangling them and hanging on the line. If it was raining, everything was hung up on “drying racks”, sets of four long horizontal wooden slats that could be hauled up and down with ropes and pulleys in the high-ceilinged scullery and in the “kitchen” (living room). She would try to do the ironing,


which when I was a toddler was done with an iron heated on the gas stove, in the afternoon and evening. After all the clothes had dried Mum had to darn the socks, which in those days developed holes at an amazing rate, and mend the clothes, and she was usually knitting something huge in addition. I still have a pair of socks and a pullover that Mum knitted for me. I use them hiking, because the socks will go over two pairs of bulky walking socks and likewise the huge shapeless pullover can provide an additional outside layer in extreme cold.

Mum's friends Mum's only relaxation, as far as I can remember, was going to church on Sunday and to the associated Mothers' Union on some other day, and visiting with a regular circle of friends. She and they would walk what seem now to be astonishing distances to have a chat at one of their homes or to have tea and biscuits at a strategically located tea-room. Although when I first remember Mum she must have been only 40 or so, she had by then varicose veins and huge swollen ankles and lower legs, which spoiled her beauty and made walking no fun for her. She was prescribed canvas-like elastic stockings, which probably relaxed whatever tone Mum had left in her legs. (Much later, after Dad died, she spent a year in New Zealand. She broke her arm and was ordered by the NZ doctor to lose 50 or 75 pounds. When she arrived back in the UK her legs, and she herself, were slim. But she soon gained everything back). The whole family thus had plenty of exercise in their daily lives. I look back with some astonishment at the thought of three of us bicycling several miles home for lunch. Dad had a car, but used it only for appropriate occasions. Dad was a workaholic, but he missed the midday meal at home only when he was traveling or addressing some meeting of his electrical-engineering institution, in which he was a big shot. It was a pretty healthful way of life.


Mum's cooking Mum's cooking gave me an enormous advantage in life. She made excellent marmalade, pies and puddings, and pretty good cakes. In other respects she must have been close to being the world's worst cook. Once or twice she asked me to scrape the maggots off the bacon before she cooked it. I thought that throwing up one's food every few days was normal. I once vomited over the geography master after a particularly smelly midday meal of old fish. I remember eating in a restaurant only twice, both times at Lyons Corner House in London (almost the equivalent of McDonalds in Paris). I had baked beans on toast, which I thought was the most magical food invented. Wherever I went in later life I would praise the food in the work's canteen, or the ship's galley, or the hiking camp, when others were rudely rejecting everything. Having a bad cook for a mother is a start in life that I can heartily recommend, so long as you survive.

David scraping maggots off bacon that Mum is cooking

On a two-week visit to Britain in the early 1970s I took my wife Anne to Mum’s home early in the visit. Mum proudly brought out her large iron pot in which, she said, she had some delicious


stew. We ate it. Anne pulled a wry face. The pot went back under the kitchen sink. Ten days later I called on Mum to take her out to lunch and to say goodbye. "Oh no, my boy!" she exclaimed, "I wouldn't think of going out to lunch. Here, I have some delicious stew" and she reached under the sink where the venerable concoction was still in its iron pot. We managed to persuade her to go in another direction.

The pressure of family vacations The load on Mum was never greater than when we went on vacation (or “holiday” as it is called in Britain). At that time in Britain we had three- or four-day weekends at Easter and Whitsun (the name used in the UK for Pentecost, the fourth Sunday after Easter) and a couple of weeks in August. Dad would try to get out camping in Wales for Easter and in Devon or Cornwall in August. The earliest camping I can remember was in an old Army bell-tent, gloomy, heavy and a horrible effort to erect.

Mum cooking by the bell tent

Later Dad made a folding "caravan" of his own design, but modelled after the then-popular Rice caravans. Dad was an excellent craftsman in wood, and one of my earliest memories


was being given the task of putting putty in the countersunk holes over the screws that Dad had put neatly around the body. On the day of departure for vacation Dad would leave for work having done nothing that any of us could see was any preparation for a long trip. He would come home at 5.30 p.m. expecting to find that Mum had packed the car and trailer for a trip of two weeks and had four children ready and quiet. Dad would always explode over something, and we knew that Mum couldn't win. On the first use of the folding caravan Mum had most of the packing done, but it required the combined strength of Dad, Tom and George to get the bunks folded in and latched. Mum was thrusting pots and pans through the closing gap as the bunks came together. Then there was the enormous effort of connecting the caravan to the car on a sloping driveway. Eventually it was done, and Dad backed out on to the road. There was a snap, and the two bunks unfolded in front of a passing car, spewing out pots and pans and all kinds of stuff. It was really very funny, and this time Dad couldn't get mad at anyone else. He put on much stronger hardware for latching.

George, John, Mum, Tom and David in front of the Rice-copy "caravan" and Morris Oxford


We would move off at about 6.30 p.m., Dad having refused to eat. There were nothing in Britain in the 1930s like highways, just two-lane roads, usually clogged with nose-to-tail traffic for much of the way. Dad would want to get beyond Bristol before stopping for the night, and he was so wound up that no one was allowed to talk. I remember in about 1932 crying out with wonder at the lights of Bristol down in the valley at about 10.30 p.m. and being told to shut up. I was four, George ten and Tom 12. (Marjorie had died in 1931.) We reached our night's camp site at around midnight; while the "men" struggled with the bell tent, Mum tried to light the Primus (kerosene) stove, because this was when Dad wanted his evening meal.

The morning queue at camp


The magic of camping

George, Tom, Marjorie, David and Mum, outside the old bell tent, probably summer 1929

We would arrive at the final camp site in Devon or Cornwall some time next day, and from then on everything was magical. Dad calmed down and became human; Mum was able to relax a bit, although she now had to produce three meals a day on a Primus stove; and for the boys it was almost all play. The day started with queuing at the farmer's house (with the other campers - Dad belonged to the Camping Club, and there was always a friendly crowd) for milk and cream and maybe vegetables. On vacations we had cream on our porridge, and it transformed it into a feast. On the first day we would have to dig the hole for the latrine, for which we had brought a special latrine tent and a collapsible seat. Then we would go off to the beach or the river or the mountains. I have supremely happy memories of camping holidays. Mum was a friendly soul despite her hard life, and she would usually find some compatible companions who didn't want to exercise too much. Because there was a reasonable number of campers we were visited by local tradespeople in their horse-drawn or motorized vans, so that shopping was easier than at home. When I was about five one of them in a motorized van picked me up on to his lap and


told me to steer as he drove. I was so excited I steered it straight at a farm wall.

The caravan that Mum bought with a bequest from her dad, about 115 GBP

Lessons from Dad The magic of the camp would be broken if Dad decided that we should climb a mountain or that he should give me a swimming lesson. When Dad climbed a steep slope we all had to keep up with him and not rest until he cried out "Spell!" I remember it as a form of torture, and sometimes I thought that my heart was pushing into my windpipe and would stop me breathing. When he took us up Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales, it was hailing or snowing at the top and I had no warm clothing, especially no warm gloves. So I, at the age of six or seven, was crying with cold. I don't know if Dad was a particularly fast hiker - he seemed to be fast to me - but twelve years later I myself had become quite fast. I remember going to the family physician, Dr. Violet Parkes, because a well-meaning member of a hiking party had told me with considerable concern that if I went up hills as fast as I was doing I would give myself a heart-attack. Dr. Parkes was a hearty woman, someone who, I imagine, would be good in field hockey, and she laughed loudly. "Impossible!" she cried. "There's no way you could give yourself


a heart attack". She was often very comforting, as when one is lost at sea and hears a fog horn. The swimming lessons were no less of a torment. Dad was heavily into inner-tube technology. His trailer and caravan had springs made of coiled inner tubes between the wooden body and the old car axles he bought at a car wrecker. They had ideal combined springing and damping. He took one or two inner tubes to use as floats in the sea. I was told that he narrowly saved George from a watery grave when George was about three or four. Dad had sat him across the inner tube, put him in the sea by the shore, and then got down to something else. When Mum asked him "Where's George?" he had disappeared. Then Dad spotted something occasionally bobbing into view on the horizon, and set off swimming. It was a near thing. The wind was taking George out at almost the top speed Dad could swim. And if George had slipped out of the tube in the tossing waves he could not have swum. But Dad reached him OK

Another example of Dad's tire-tube technology


Dad spots George being blown out to sea

I couldn't swim either, so Dad decided to teach me. He gave me no instructions in strokes of any kind. He just towed me out beyond my depth, plucked me out of the inner-tube and dropped me in the water. I have what circus weight-guessers (whom I always confound) call "heavy bones", and I sank to the bottom rather fast. I remember giving the bottom a huge kick, and breaking out at the surface long enough to give out a yell for help before I disappeared again. This had the desired effect of causing enough interest by others of humanitarian persuasions to force Dad to put a temporary halt to his inhuman procedures. (He never succeeded in teaching me to swim. Read below about a delightful friend who came into the family later, taught me beautifully, and presented me with a certificate "signed" by the “Prince of Wales” over an old stamp). Swimming lessons My older brothers Tom and George were never close with each other, although they were only two years apart. George was five years older than I, Tom two years older than George, and


that to a child is a whole generation. I had been a very close playmate with Marjorie, who came between George and me. After she died I must have been lonely for a while. I observed the goings-on of my "big" brothers, but in general I did not participate. Except in one case. That was in connection with the Midland Dairy. This occupied a big multi-story building off the Birmingham Road three or four miles from our house. It was enterprising and innovative in its advertising, considering that radio with loudspeakers had only just begun to spread across the area. The Midland Dairy hired a prominent and charismatic local author, David Scott Daniel (DSD), to produce a children's show on radio. An important part of the show was the "Happy Health-Hunters' Club". Kids could join by sending in a completed questionnaire on their healthful habits. They had to answer questions such as "How many times a day do you brush your teeth?" and "How many inches do you leave your bedroom window open at night?" The really important question was, of course, "How many glasses of milk do you drink every day?" At the time (1936) I was about eight, George thirteen and Tom fifteen. Tom and George were allowed to use bicycles, and they picked up the questionnaires and answered the questions. Alas, dear reader, you must prepare for shock and dismay. Dirty tricks did not start with Nixon. Tom and his buddies, in a sneak attack, "borrowed" George's questionnaire, made a few creative adjustments, and returned it. Mum innocently mailed both Tom's and George's questionnaires to the radio show. The telephone had only recently graced Wilsons' Castle, and that is maybe how the initial reaction from the Happy HealthHunters' Club reached us. I do remember the great man himself, David Scott-Daniel, calling on us in his "Bean" convertible, a venerable make that has long since folded. He was a handsome, slim, debonair chap in his twenties (very difficult to judge from


the vantage point of my youth) who smoked Players' cigarettes. The tobacco smelled delicious, and he gave me the current cigarette cards. The series that time was of sports cars. I should still have them somewhere. DSD was doing some audience research. He wanted to meet George. George had won fame at the station for his apparent claims that every day he brushed his teeth ten times, ran 10,000 yards, had his window open 800 inches, and downed 200 glasses of milk, among a host of similar superlative achievements. A family conference was rapidly called. Tom owned up, grinning broadly, to having added a few zeroes to George’s numbers; George was exonerated; and David Scott-Daniel took an instant liking to the family. I had no idea how lucky I was as a kid. DSD came into my life at a time when Dad's morning cuddles had ceased and he had retreated into what seemed like a perpetually grumpy shell that occasionally exploded as would a dangerous boiler. Mum was harassed by the strain of life with Dad and sad with the loss of Marjorie. Tom and George were in the dizzy realm of the Grammar School and had lordly friends far too grown up to recognize the existence of an eight-year-old. And suddenly this shining star burst into our skies, touching our lives, or at least my life, with magic. For DSD did not make a single visit and disappear as a comet recedes into the distance. He returned, again and again. "Would you like a little run in the old Bean?" he would ask. It must have been the summer holidays. It always seemed to be sunny and warm, though how that could have been so in Britain is hard to fathom. We were, or at least I was, always keen on anything he suggested. Sometimes I sat in his lap as he drove - I seem to remember that the throttle and mixture controls were in the center of the steering wheel, but I may be wrong. He was far from being an engineer, but he loved to take the car to the


garage near the tram terminus to have it serviced, making jokes of its components and characteristics. The "bonnet" flaps were held down by a leather strap, the fastening of which had parted somewhere. "The old Bean thinks that it is a crow" he told the mechanic. "It's flapping its wings and trying to take off." He would take us to have ice-cream, and "pop". I loved Corona sarsparilla soda. And especially he took us to Sutton Park to swim in Keepers pool.

Alldays map of Sutton Park. Keepers pool is lower center, the smallest of the five pools.

I, of course, could not swim. Dad's dunkings had produced the reverse of the desired effect. I was now afraid of the water. DSD patiently gave me lessons, always gentle and always fun. Eventually I progressed to the point that he said we would have


to go to Erdington public baths where I could swim a “width” and the Prince of Wales would present me with a certificate. I was a little mystified by all this. On the appointed day we gathered at the Erdington indoor swimming pool. DSD announced gravely that the PoW had had to send his regrets owing to the pressure of royal business, but that he had sent the signed certificate that DSD was authorized to present to me upon completion of the traverse of the pool under my own power. I started the breast stroke manfully, got to the other side, and was embraced by DSD and presented with an imposing typed document, written in legalese, with an illegible signature starting with "HRH" over a stamp bearing the Prince of Wales' head. I was very proud. I showed the certificate to all who were rash enough to come within range.

David Scott-Daniel presenting the Prince of Wales' certificate

On an earlier occasion when he had taken us swimming at Keepers pool, DSD came into the boys' changing room before I had finished drying off. He took me on his knee, and when the others emerged with their clothes on he cupped one of his hands


over my tiny genitals. Even at eight I was rather embarrassed. He might have felt that he was saving me from exposure. He conducted a longish discussion with everyone on some amusing topic or other, remaining with his hand on my equipment. I remember a short discussion of this at home later initiated perhaps by Tom. I can't believe that Tom knew anything at that time about pedophiles, and Mum and Dad's lack of guidance on similar matters later showed a lack of awareness of these things. But looking back I don't think that DSD had any leanings in that direction. He was a bachelor writing books and participating in a weekly radio show that didn't involve a great deal of time. He had to take breaks from writing, and he seemed to like us. Perhaps we also gave him good material for future books. Later he met a lovely young woman, they married, moved to a moredistant place, and had a happy healthy family - we paid them a couple of visits. And then he died young, from, I believe, lung cancer. Few people saw any connection between smoking and health in those days. Cigarettes were advertised by doctors as being good for your throat. I was sad. He was a lovely man.

DSD with his wife and child


The unwilling banker The concept and virtues of saving one's money were drilled into us from a very early age. I can't remember when my weekly "pocket money" started, but I believe that it must have been when I was four. I was started at two pennies ("tuppence") a week. Mum told me that that was very generous, because my brothers had started at a penny a week. Inflation was, apparently, in full bloom even in the early thirties. Tuppence was not to be sneezed at. It had considerable purchasing power. I was always someone for hardware rather than for dissipating my wealth in passing pleasures like sweets (candies). But when Dad found a farthing (a quarter of a penny) in his pocket and gave it to me, I immediately rushed down to Miss Duesberry's sweet (candy) shop and purchased five aniseed balls - they were 20 a penny. Not only did they taste wonderful. If one took them out every now and then during sucking one found that they changed color. I gravely presented one to each member of the family. And if I wanted to blow a whole penny on sweets, my favorite was a tube of sherbert with a liquorice tube coming out the top. One sucked on this and a delicious powder came up and fizzed in one's mouth. I've been trying to buy this concoction on and off ever since. I presume that is has been found to cause cancer in rats and has been banned. Miss Duesbury also had a hair-cutting salon next to her sweet shop. The going rate for small people like me was also tuppence. I remember the amount well because I liked her - she was an attractive young thing, though many times my tender age - and I tried to amuse her with stories of my exploits or those of my family. She had almost finished the cutting one day when I finished a story that made both of us laugh loudly. Her scissors caused a little knick in an ear. Being a man I dismissed the blood as not worth bothering about. Miss Duesbury was, however, extremely concerned. She not only washed and dressed the tiny wound, but took me back home apologizing profusely to Mum


and insisting that I keep the tuppence. I was, of course, overjoyed. I put it in my money box, a device from Woolworths that had two dials, one for shillings and one for pence to indicate what one was currently worth. Mum beamed. Her son was learning the value of saving. I used to be taken to Woolworths in Erdington High Street occasionally. In those days it carried the message "3d and 6d Stores" on the store front, a rough translation of "five and dime". I thought it a magnificent concept. In those days there was really nothing more expensive than sixpence for sale there. A year or two later than that of the present story I started feeling a lot of responsibility for cheering up Christmas, and I bought a growing Christmas tree for "thruppence". It did very well during the holiday, and as soon as the ground softened I took it out of its pot and planted it in the little section of garden border for which I had been assigned responsibility. The tree grew and served for many years subsequently. Improving Christmas was vital because Mum was oppressed by her load, which increased mightily before and during the holiday. Dad would start Christmas preparations at about 5 pm on Christmas Eve. He would call at Woolworths as he bicycled home from work and buy a whole lot of cheap and trashy toys of course I didn't know it was he until years later - and then after tea would disappear into his darkroom in a condition of even higher-than-usual stress to print out the family Christmas cards. These would be finished by 2 a.m., I learned from Mum, and during breakfast he and Mum would be madly addressing them for delivery before and after church. When I reached the magic age of nine and had a bicycle I would sometimes have to spend an hour or two biking around the wider neighborhood pushing these belated messages of greeting through letter-slots of friends just before all their cards came down. Dad was not consumed by the peace and magic of the Christmas spirit.


I was, and like most lucky children thought that Christmas was unbelievably wonderful. And if anything was lacking in the spirit in our home, we would generally have Christmas dinner with our best friends Dr. and Mrs. Kahn and their daughters, one year at their house and the next at ours. I didn't know what being Jewish was; I did know that they enjoyed themselves greatly and made us have fun along with them.

The giant climbing tank at Webb's toy shop

One of the gifts that I hoped for at Christmas was a climbing tank. It was at Webbs' tobacconists and toy shop, next to Miss Duesbury's hair salon in Boldmere Road. I used to gaze at this tank in the window every time I passed, which was very often. I had bought a sixpenny climbing tank from Woolworths, a tiny affair with a little wind-up key and a small turret in which was a serrated wheel and a flint as used on cigarette lighters. When it moved a stream of sparks was shot forward. It had rubber treads, and it would climb over something about the size of a pencil. The climbing tank in Webbs' window was, in contrast, in the super-power category. It was a monster. It would, I thought,


climb over large books. It had several sparking turrets, one of which revolved. It also had the price tag of 4s11d. Four shillings and eleven pence was fifty-nine pence, very close to a king's ransom for me. At tuppence a week I had to save everything for thirty weeks. It was a forbidding prospect, but I was a determined child, and I had learned from Mum the vital importance of savings. I appreciated her lesson. Saving my small pocket money would take sacrifice, but it was worth it. It would certainly take me longer than it would for my friends, who seemed to dissipate their much larger incomes immediately on sweets or comics. One of my friends was getting three times my allowance, and one plutocrat received a shilling a week. I learned from Mum to disdain these people as being "spoilt".

Surrogate grandparents In any case, I had other sources of occasional income. We lived three doors from a lovely family of three sisters, two spinsters, Emma and Amy Spokes, and a widow, Mrs. Bosworth. I didn't have grandparents occupying normal grandparenting roles. Mum's parents were in New Zealand and one died before and one soon after I was born. Dad's mother was fierce on the only occasion I remember her, when I was about two, and she died soon after. Grandpa Wilson spent all his time travelling to or from New Zealand on steamers, which were, he said, less expensive than staying in hotels. The Spokes sisters were my surrogate grandparents. And they were wonderful. I loved to go there because I was always praised. Going there made me feel blessed. It is always almost - the role of parents to supply discipline, and grandparents to supply uncritical love, and this was poured out by those three generous souls. I undoubtedly have a lot to thank them for.


When I was old enough to make things, certainly by when I was four, I would take the creations around to them to hear a chorus of unrestrained praise. I was, they constantly assured me, a very clever little boy. Whenever I felt bowed down by criticism from Dad or Mum I could simultaneously feel buoyed up by knowing that in the sisters' obviously more knowledgeable eyes I was all right. They knew of my parents' views on spoiling children, and didn't shower me with gifts. But I became "handy" early, and would fix - or try to fix - things for them. They would reward me with almost unimaginable riches, usually thruppence (3d). It would be inserted in the Woolworths money box and the dials would click over. My eyes would gleam like those of the chancellor of the exchequer watching the treasury fill up with tax money.

Cousin Arthur’s munificence Another very occasional source of funds was "Cousin" Arthur. I think that he was a second cousin, whatever that is. He was an engineer, a bachelor (he married later) who had jobs in mystical places like Hong Kong and Shanghai. We would see him no more than once a year. Sometimes he just dropped in, and sometimes he gave us a little warning. He was breezy, funny and brightened up our otherwise rather dour family. He would often tell me to go look in his overcoat pocket. I remember finding a large bag of sweets (candies) that I couldn't believe were for me. It seemed too generous. It was cousin Arthur who put me over the top. Through scrupulously putting all my pocket money plus other occasional earnings into my money box and denying myself worldly pleasures I had accumulated the sum of 4s.7d. With the tuppence I was due from Mum on the day that Arthur dropped in I would have only one more week before I could go down to Webbs to buy the climbing tank. I was beside myself with anticipation. I wasn't really taking much notice of what Cousin


Arthur was saying. In any case, he lived such a romantic life in far-away places that I couldn't understand most of his conversation with the grown-ups. But I suddenly realised that he was talking to me. "I'm very sorry, young man. I forgot to buy you some sweets. Here's thruppence instead". And he handed me a threepenny bit, the key to my kingdom. I was transfixed with delight. I let out a wild scream of joy. "No need to make such a fuss, you nice fellow. It's only thruppence" he said. "I know" I said. "But it's what I need to make up enough money to let me buy a climbing tank. Mum likes me to save, and I've been saving for months to buy the climbing tank in the toy shop. Now I can buy it this week instead of having to wait for next. Thank you very much!" And I went to get the money box to put in the keystone of my financial empire. Mum was waiting for me. "What's all this?" she asked. I explained that I'd been saving, just as she wanted me to, and now I'd saved enough to buy the climbing tank in Webb's window. "What a waste!" she pronounced. "Of course you're not going to spend money on a climbing tank. I'm going to put that money straight into your Post Office Savings Bank." To state that my heart sank would be use a snuffling weak phrase to describe the monumental misfortune that had overcome me. The pillars of my world were crashing down. My sense of injustice was rising like a phoenix from the ashes of my existence. I had been instructed to save, and I had saved. Now it was being taken from me to go into a savings bank that was, until I was twenty-one or so, an entirely one-way street. In fact, I never withdrew anything from the account in that period. I remembered about it during a visit to England about fifty years later. I withdrew everything including the interest that had amassed since then, and it bought me and some friends an inexpensive meal in London. "The dinner of the climbing tank" was tasty and memorable - but was it worth the sacrifice? You, dear reader, be the judge. And never, never, spoil your children.


(It is only fair to record that my wife Ellen was so upset at this story of persecution that she bought me a magnificent climbing tank for something like my 65th birthday. She is a sweet young thing.)

Rejection at the dance Besides swimming, another essential skill was dancing. I found out what it was like not to be able to dance when I was invited to my first, and possibly my last, formal twenty-firstbirthday party. Attaining the age of 21 was a big deal in Britain. (I was a long way from that age, maybe fifteen, so that it would be 1943). The party was agonizing for me. Mum found one of my brothers' hand-me-down black-tie outfits. In those days the required shirt was something with a stiffly starched separate wing collar held to the shirt by an engineering combination of buttons and studs, a shirt with thick starched cuffs and an equally thick starched front or "dickie". Getting the cuff-links in the cuffs and the studs in the dickie without leaving the evidence of the struggle on the pure whiteness of the material was torture. Eventually I was assembled and I walked carefully to the party. I was in a state that an engineer would describe as "unstable equilibrium". I was like a house of cards. I moved very gingerly because the tie, in particular, was liable to fall down to my shirt, and I had no idea how to re-tie a bow tie. After the big meal the floor was cleared for dancing. I made myself as inconspicuous as possible. This was quite a trick because I felt like a clown in a cathedral. I was getting to the age when girls were no longer anathema, but I had absolutely no social skills and would not have dreamed of approaching one. I know that I did not ask anyone for a dance, but one or two of the older women, probably including my friend's mother and aunt, took me around the floor. I felt silly and hopeless. Mercifully, the dance period was short and the end of the evening was in sight.


There was one more ceremony to come. The parents of the twenty-one-year old had put out a lot of money for the party. They wanted to remember it, and hired a professional photographer. The chairs were arranged in a row and a couple of raised benches were placed behind the row. I was in the moreforward of the two benches. To my joy, a lovely young woman whom I had been eyeing surreptitiously all evening was just behind me, slightly to the left. I did not, of course, look at her.

The photographer inside his tent

The photographer had a huge wooden camera with a black-cloth awning under which he disappeared for lengthy periods. The camera was large enough to have concealed a small bar, and I wondered if he was taking a swig. He had also set up a metal stand with a large metal saucer at the top, into which he poured flash powder. He was a fussy man, and ordered us to stay absolutely still.


I did my best. I held my breath. Suddenly I noticed a puff of air directed at the back of my left ear. It could have come only from the object of my intense interest. As soon as the frustrated photographer put us at ease, I turned around and smiled warmly at the lovely young woman. She stared back at me rather coldly. I was stunned. The photographer was having trouble igniting the recalcitrant flash powder, and we were repeatedly required to take up the nomovement position. The next time I had my antenna fully deployed. Obviously I was confused about the origin of the puff at my ear. Wow! There it came again. And it had to have come from this lovely person. I turned around again, a little more cautiously this time, but she was engaged in conversation with an unseemly handsome lout on her left. A third time we were bid to be still, and a third time the puff came. And a third time I was given the heave-ho stare. I was dejected.

David suspecting that the gorgeous young woman behind him was puffing at his ear

At last the photographer succeeded in getting his fireworks to go off. And this time I made a devastating discovery. After I had been holding my breath I relaxed, and the starched front of my dickie popped in like the side of an old-fashioned oil can,


expelling a small puff of air through the gap between my neck and my starched collar and hitting me in the ear. Wilson had been fooled again.

Give us that old-time religion The whole family went to church every Sunday. It was not so much that we were very devout. It was rather like being free to attend drill in the army. One attended or one suffered the consequences. When brother Tom returned from five years in the RAF, the last two being in a German prisoner-of-war camp, he wasn't too diligent about coming to church with us. Dad gave him the ultimatum: attend church or leave the house. Tom did both.

Forced march to church

The whole church experience with Dad was very much like a military exercise. We would all dress in our uniforms. Underwear was changed for the week. Clean shirts were put on. Whatever were the latest in clothes that had been purchased were worn to church, and only to church, for many months. Whatever the weather Dad wore his three-piece suit, with a double chain coming from a middle button of his waistcoat ("vest") and disappearing into two waistcoat pockets. One retained his pocket watch. I've forgotten what the other chain


was anchored to. Dad had a regulation trilby hat and, if the weather were cold, a raincoat. He also carried a thick walking stick. The front was eventually covered all the way by metal badges, bought in various towns he hiked through in Bavaria and Switzerland. He swung this precisely as we walked. It hit the ground every two paces, and twirled in between. The whole performance was very like that of a band-leader. However, we had less happy connotations for that walking stick. Dad used it to beat us. At least, I remember him beating George, rather savagely. George had illegally looked into Dad's "wireless drawer" in the dining room. It was full of glass valves (tubes) and condensers (capacitors) and resistances and so forth. We were strictly forbidden to look in there, so that my intimate knowledge must have come from hearsay. George not only looked, but he looked further and further until the whole drawer came out and everything crashed on the floor. I remember the noise. More correctly, I remember the noises. First the crash, then the alarms as George tried to cover what he had done, and Mum came along to see the frightful deed. She did her best to give out verbal distractions to Dad to keep him from finding what had happened. But he did. He was not happy. All his valves were no more. He leapt out to get his walking stick from the "hall dresser". He lost control completely as he hit George. I was in tears out in the hall. The beating made a deep impression on me. And on George. The walking stick had, therefore, great significance. Before our church parade Dad would draw us up in front of the house and review us, using the walking stick as a kind of baton. "Tighten your shoe-laces" he would bark. "Pull your shoulders back". None of us was a fastidious dresser, including Dad, who at best could be called "rumpled". Part of the reason was that his pockets were always full of stuff. There were bits of paper and pens and pencils and general junk. One had hints of these if he mislaid something and had to go through his pockets. Suits were


not taken to the cleaners, or at least not in our family. They grew old, if not gracefully, then at least in an increasingly fruity odor. Or perhaps it was minty. Dad was addicted to peppermints. He often stopped at Woolworths on the bike-ride home at lunchtime to buy a pound bag. They were round white disks about the size of a quarter, and came in a white paper bag, often visible sticking out of a corner of his right-hand jacket pocket. Dad's imminent arrival was announced by the smell of peppermint even if he wasn't clearing his throat every ten seconds, his usual habit. He and Grandpa vied with each other for being more affected by catarrh. Once or twice I tried returning some criticism to Dad on his attire as he reviewed us negatively, but his sense of humor did not extend to laughing at cheek. He was also obviously ashamed of Mum, whose mis-shapen ankles and consequent rolling kind of walk let him down. We would march off behind him in twos. Dad was a lay-reader. He read the two "lessons" beautifully, or so everyone told us. He wore his white cassock and, after 1936 when he was awarded his D.Sc. degree from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, his doctor's hood, hanging resplendently down his back in gleaming purple silk. Dad came in with the choir and sat in the choir stalls. He also sang with them, although he never went to a choir practice. We thought that that was cheating. One could hear his voice over everyone else's. All churches have someone like that. It is usually a screeching contralto or fog-horn tenor, but Dad was a bass. It was a good voice for his drawing-room ballads. In church it needed a little restraint. Dad didn't return from church calm and inspired with the milk of loving-kindness. Sunday dinner, which Mum had to get going before she went to church and finish in a rush when we all got back, was not a jolly affair. Once when I was probably ten or so I was sufficiently ill to be in bed and excused church parade. When Dad and Mum returned he was in a foul mood and was


yelling at Mum. As she tried to escape up the stairs he caught her and was shaking her violently. I came out of my bedroom and tremulously ordered him to stop, eventually beating him with my fists. Mum told me to stop, and he let her go. When I was twelve WWII was taking over everything, we were being bombed most nights, petrol (gas) was no longer available, and Dad couldn't go on his jaunts to Switzerland and Bavaria. When I reached the age of fourteen or so he began biking on youth-hostel tours with me. I found these very amusing because it was as if a martinet in one army had been seconded to be a private in another spit-and-polish army. Youth hostels in those days were run in a military manner (along with the Boy Scouts and most other groups one could join). In the mornings the three blankets provided had to be folded exactly to regulations, the bunks cleaned, and we were each assigned a task. Now it was Dad's turn to be reviewed by a sergeant-major type, often female of the English riding-to-hounds tradition. Dad would be bellowed at to "Do those spuds again and get all of the eyes out!" I smirked deliciously to myself. Dad would have to go to church wherever we were on Sundays. I wondered what it did for him. He would try to sit as far forward as possible and, it seemed to me, to create as much noise as possible. In particular, when we were on our knees during prayers, Dad would be next to me noisily turning over the crinkly pages - not following the prayers but looking at other stuff. (Believe me. I'm an expert. At the age of four, on my first day at school, I reported to the mistress that Peter had his eyes open during prayers. One doesn't lose the God-given capability of divining what someone is doing when one has one's eyes tightly closed). But whenever a response was called for, Dad would clear his throat and bellow out "AAAAAMEN". I was sickened by this open display of false sanctimoniousness.


Like father . . . Fifty years on I was talking about Dad with brother Tom when he made his first visit to us in the US. He tended to defend Dad on the question of whether he had any true religion. But Tom was now a lay-reader himself. In fact, he often took complete services, including the sermons. He was more a pillar of the church than Dad. The year before we were married Ellen converted from Catholicism to Anglicanism (not, be assured, from any pressure from me. But I, being divorced, was unacceptable to the Catholic church). She joined the parish of Epiphany in Winchester and was welcomed into all its activities. In fact, she was so active that I told her she would, were we in Britain, be in danger of being named first woman archbishop of Canterbury. Nevertheless, Ellen (and I, on the rare occasions when I go to church) like to sit at the back half-behind a pillar. I managed to be making bread on the first Sunday we were home after Tom arrived, so Ellen took him to church by herself. Ellen inherited unflappability from her mother. She would be an excellent person to have by one's side during an earthquake or an attack by dive-bombers. When she was on a thousand-mile bicycle ride in the middle of a hot summer in Kansas her mother phoned her and casually mentioned that her house had burned down. "Just carry on with your ride" her mother told her. "I'll get things taken care of". And she did. Both did. The fire led to us meeting. But that is another story. Ellen returned from church more shaken than I have ever seen her. She grabbed me, rushed me up to our bedroom and collapsed on the bed. "Hold me!" she commanded, rather tremulously. "Hold me very tight. I'm totally devastated". Haltingly the story came out. Tom had rejected Ellen’s usual stall at the back of the church behind the pillar, because his hearing had deteriorated. He insisted on the very front row. He


sang bass as the choir gave their chorus, not quietly but in a loud and quavering voice. People were peering to see who it was who was making such a racket, Ellen said. But what destroyed her were the responsive prayers. The modern prayerbook has verses for the minister and responses for the congregation. Tom bellowed out the minister's verses. Ellen was beginning to inch along the pew to try to make it appear that she had no connection with him, but she crept back close enough during the prayers to whisper "Tom - these verses are for the clergyman!" To which Tom replied in a booming reply "I know. I'm a minister in the U.K.". It began to be obvious from Tom's later pronouncements and conversations that he thought that the much-touted-in-Britain special relationship with the U.S. was some kind of hankering after the former colonial status. He seemed to believe that most Americans were sorry about the Revolutionary War and wished that it had not happened. I kept warning him that he could get shot for less.

The Crusaders The first sign of sincere religion coming to us boys was when two earnest young men came to talk with Tom and George at home. One of them was named Crocker, and he may have been 30. It was probably 1937. I learned that they were trying to persuade my brothers to join something called a bible school. Soon Tom and George were sporting little lapel badges in the shape of a crusader's shield of arms. Revisionist historians had not damaged the brilliance of the Crusaders' reputations at that time, and it was an appropriate name for an evangelical Christian group. Tom and George got very serious about religion. I remember George resisting Mum's attempt to plunk another huge ladle of lumpy porridge on his plate against his expressed wishes. He shouted something rather rude but in the circumstances I thought it was fully justified. I also suffered


from Mum's belief in the divine right of force-feeding. "I don't know how you can call yourself religious when you talk to your mother like that" she proclaimed, as the porridge fell fatefully into George's emptied bowl. "The Lord Jesus Christ is my savior" shouted George as he elbowed the now-porridge-piled bowl violently across the room and stormed out. George had a difficult time at home. I used to feel guilty, because he was beaten by Dad whereas I was slapped a little only by Mum. Tom seemed to escape, possibly because he was the eldest, but probably because he had a sunny disposition. On the rare occasion when Dad yelled at him he would re-appear ten minutes later and ask Dad quite innocently how he felt. Three years later Dad and the Crusaders found themselves in league. Dad obviously didn't care for them, but couldn't oppose his sons becoming more religious. He had forced Tom to study electrical engineering at Birmingham University. It was an accelerated war-time curriculum, designed to give a degree in two rather than three years. Tom did not wait to graduate before volunteering for the RAF. The Crusaders were horrified because they were conscientious objectors and they were losing one of their stars. They argued with Tom late into the nights. Dad was furious because he felt that scientists and engineers did far more for the war effort developing better weapons, as he had done during World War I, than in being cannon fodder. He was probably right, but it was an impossible position for an honorable and patriotic young man. Tom was not going to let others do the fighting for him, and joined up. Dad and the Crusaders had failed. But the Crusaders got me. I joined and was swept along by the combination of manly fun and sincere religion. The fun was intense at afternoon gatherings in Sutton Park called something like "rags". We were divided into two sides and played "Kick the can", the rules of which I've forgotten but involved lots of crawling through the heather and gorse - I knew all the tunnels


there were - and rushing out before the "enemy" could move to kick a can set in a clearing. The Crusaders made me genuinely devout for the first time in my life. Five years later I again became very serious about religion when I prepared for and was confirmed in the Church of England. And ten years after that I was very moved by the sincerity, the searching-after-truth, and the deeds-not-words philosophy of the American Friends (the Quakers), even though by that time I had no religious faith. I lost some of it at the Crusaders. I joined as soon as I was just old enough, which I believe was nine. As time went on and as I became more involved I began to respond to the call to proselytize. I had a new friend, Derek Slade. He wasn't a very serious type, but I persuaded him to come along with me to the Crusaders. The group met in a wooden hall in Erdington, and Derek began coming with me to meetings. It was obvious that he wasn't very moved by the religious doctrine, but he seemed to be doing acceptably. And he enjoyed the games.

Mr. Crocker comes to visit


Doom tends to fall without warning on these happy scenes. Mr. Crocker came one evening to talk with me. Derek couldn't stay in the Crusaders. I was stricken to my core. I began to think of ways to make him appear to be more devout. I hazarded a suggestion. "No, that's not the problem" said Crocker. "You didn't tell us that Derek was from a council (town-subsidized) school. The Crusaders are restricted to grammar-school boys". So did class rear its ugly head in religion. Of course it was already there. Class was alive and well in the Church of England. The upper classes had their prominent pews, and the lower classes grubbed around in the back for what they could find. (In our church of St. Michael's, since burned to the ground by an unhappy choir boy, we rented a reserved pew: it had our name on it, and anyone who dared to sit in it would undoubtedly have been transported rapidly to hellfire and damnation.) Many working-class people were Nonconformists - Baptists and Methodists and Christadelphians and so forth. No one ever referred to what their beliefs were. They were, in Kipling's phrase, "lesser breeds without the law". I am rather proud of being, at the tender age of nine, horrified by Crocker's pronouncement. I even made a mild protest. It was to no avail. I went once or twice more to Crusaders, but then gave it up. It has always since seemed to me that privilege is a major problem with religious beliefs. The privilege of the rich over the poor is obvious. There is the much more basic privilege of those who know and those who don't. I used to sit in church feeling sorry for the pygmies in Africa who were so deep in their jungles that they didn't hear the message of the missionaries. Therefore they couldn't be saved. The nonsense of this conclusion soon became apparent to me. "We are God's chosen few; all others will be damned. There is no room in Heaven for you: we can't have Heaven crammed" - this became more than a joke.


The great break Escaping from parents in all kinds of ways is a recurrent theme of sociologists. Tom made his break with Dad when he joined the RAF. (Tom also played a part in what became known as the Great Escape from his prison camp, Stalag Luft 3, but that's his story). I felt oppressed by my parents for most of my years growing up, but it seemed to be normal. All my close friends, Derek Slade, Donald Ayres and Basil Hedgecock, seemed to have friendly and supportive parents, but I reckoned, with strange logic, that they were exceptions. Dad was mostly grumpy and periodically explosive, and Mum reacted by being rather oppressive, particularly to me, or so I thought. As I mentioned elsewhere, my love of sea stories made me keep a small stash of emergency supplies hidden in a place where I could grab them when I ran away to sea. The break came, however, when we were far from the sea. It was in around 1944 when I was sixteen. There was no gasoline for private cars, of course, and Dad took me on his bicycle vacations to youth hostels and hiking centers. By that age I was a seasoned bicycle traveler, having led a 600-mile trip to Devon and Cornwall in 1942 when I was fourteen, and a thousand-mile tour deep into Scotland a year later. On the day of the big break Dad and I were bicycling along a ridge road on a beautiful summer evening high above the valley of the Wye, on the Welsh-English border. Youth-Hostel rules were very strict. We had to be in by just before six p.m. or all chance of supper was gone. We were hungry, and we were a little short of time, but we were doing well.


Dad getting irritated at David's too-good puncture repair

But then there was a loud pop, and Dad got off his bike to survey a blow-out in his back tire. The noise indicated that this was not a simple puncture from a thorn, but that there was a hole in the tire big enough for the tube to come through and explode. I removed his bags, turned the bike upside down, and confirmed my diagnosis. I had, of course, a good repair kit (I still use a lot of it, fifty years later) and soon had his tire partly off and the hole in the tube patched. I knew that that wasn't enough. The hole in the tire (the "cover") had to be repaired well enough so that the tube didn't go through again. New bike tires were very scarce in wartime. I had also learned from all the manuals on bike repairs that one must take the load off the tear by looping a long piece of rubber-backed canvas, provided in all "puncture outfits" in those days, under the two tire beads. I was busy cutting the canvas patch to length when Dad exploded. He had a mental picture of his evening meal slipping out of reach. "What are you wasting time for? Just patch the tire and get on with it!" In my opinion, the time difference between doing a good job and a lousy job was about a minute. I was not about to do a lousy job.


I didn't want to have to repair a worse mess in a hundred miles. I tried to explain to Dad that I was following approved procedures, but he exploded in rage. At that point something in me popped too. I have always had an overactive sense of injustice. Here was I repairing my dad's tire, mainly because he did no pre-trip maintenance or even checking, and he was yelling at me because he was worried about his food. I suddenly got up, grabbed my tool kit and mounted my bike. "Do it your own way, then" I yelled as I pedaled away as fast as I decently could. I risked a quick look back as I disappeared, a little scared that he would be given superhuman strength and run fast enough to catch me up to beat me to a pulp, but he was right there by the roadside. The realization of the awful deed that I had done began to sink in as I covered the thirteen miles to the hostel. I was just in time for supper. The warden, a friendly middle-aged woman, accepted whatever reason I gave her for Dad coming in later (it wasn't a lie, but it may not have been the whole truth) and agreed to break the rules by keeping a plate of food for him. I ate my meal in great apprehension. I told the group I was sitting with what had happened, partly to get a laugh and partly because I hoped that they would rescue me if Dad came in and attacked me physically. He was still bigger than I. He appeared 35 minutes late. We had finished dessert and were drinking tea and chatting. By that time I had decided that the most-appropriate strategy was the appearance of firm composure. I greeted him as if nothing had happened. "Hello, Daddy!" (I still used that childish form then). "The warden has your supper". He fetched it and sat down next to me. My heart was pounding. No need! He made no mention of my mutiny. He was almost friendly.


It would be making too much of the affair to say that our relationship changed from then on. Outwardly it was much as before. But it had basically changed. He could no longer bully me as he pleased. He tried again, much later. It was again something to do with bikes. I noticed that when he pulled his bike out of the garage to go to work one day he caught one of his tools and it fell on the ground. I was in too much of a rush to pick it up, and forgot about it. I was working at my workbench in the evening when I heard him slam the garage door. The violence of the slam was a forewarning. He came through the back door rumbling as one imagines a volcano rumbles just before blowing its plug. Dad saw me and came yelling at me, aiming a kick at me. My sense of injustice went into high gear. By this time not only was the great break behind me, but I was considerably bigger and stronger. And I had a deeper voice. I adroitly side-stepped the kick and let him have it verbally. I dealt forcibly with his general character and his habit of blaming others for his own errors. He didn't wait to hear the best parts. My brain was operating on all six cylinders and had some good stuff coming down the circuit. But Dad lost his appreciation of good prose, and stormed off. The break was confirmed. A new power relationship had been formed. I began to enjoy growing up.

Nudism and sex At some point in the 1930s Dad began taking walking vacations in Bavaria and Switzerland. The first two times he did that he first towed us in the collapsible caravan to Hill Wootton on the River Avon, clean and rural but with no companionship for Mum or me; and to Blythe near Newcastle, in a ghastly camping ghetto with a huge outfall of untreated sewage, in which George and I played. Dad would drive off to the cross-Channel ferry and return brown and fit after two weeks to tow us home. He would bring us little Swiss and German toys to sweeten the remembrance of abandonment. I believe that it was there that he


became interested in nudism. It was also connected with the death of Marjorie in the measles epidemic of 1931. Dad and Mum decided to try for another child to take her place. Dad had heard some theory that sunlight on the male gonads promotes vigorous sperm. I didn't know this, of course. I was four, and I didn't find out about the birds and the bees for another twelve years. All I knew was that Dad suddenly started to strip down to his birthday suit whenever the sun came out at weekends, and sit outside in a deckchair with his knees splayed out like those of an orangutan. Being four, I thought that this must be regular behavior. But we lived in a row of old semidetached houses, and Dad was sitting in full view of any neighbor who wanted to look out his/her bedroom window. Accordingly, Mum, Tom and George were rushing around trying to create diversions. The treatment must have worked. Dad was 53, and Mum, at the age of 44, gave birth to John Michael Wilson on January 27, 1933. He was a beautiful child, and won first prize among 200 handsome competitors in the baby competition at the Christmas Fair that year. (I was told that it was 200. If so, most must have come from far outside our church). He was the fittest of children until, at the age of nine, he seemed to catch a stomach bug from me and died ten days later. I will write more about John later.

David and John at our first nudist camp


The nudism bug had bitten Dad. He wanted to take the whole family to a nudist camp on the Fosseway, another Roman road cutting across Britain like the track of an alpha particle. When Dad wanted something, no one argued. Mum might have put up a protest, but she was hauled down to the Fosseway camp in the folding caravan in the summer of 1933. I was five, and John was just starting to crawl. It was sunny as we unfolded the bunks. The woman in the next tent introduced herself and had me play with her daughter Vera. She was also hospitable enough to give us a plate of raw rolled oats, raisins and nuts. Nowadays we would love it and call it some Swiss-sounding name like Muesli. At that time it just made nudism seem even more - un-natural. We all believe that the way we were brought up has to be the natural way. John was put out in his nappies (diapers) on a blanket, I talked timidly with Vera, and Mum started removing her clothes hesitantly and getting something for lunch to supplement the rolled oats. She called us in, and, seeing that I was unhappy, put me on her ample lap. "It's a little strange, isn't it dearie?" she said, comfortingly. But that didn't seem to do me any good. "Tell Mummy what the trouble is" she ordered. Hesitatingly, I blurted out "Poor Vera has had her wee-wee cut off!" I hadn't yet seen Mum standing up in the nude, but I had seen Vera's mother. I suppose that I had thought that there was something hidden in all that fur. Vera had no fur, and I thought that I saw the cut line of the surgeon's knife. It was very troubling. Mum did her best to reassure me.


David and John studying bare-bones seaworthiness

Dad took us - dragged us could be better - to several nudist camps. The movement in Britain must have been new, because every one seemed to be engaged in digging out a large hole for a swimming pool. The site always seemed to be on slimy clay, and it was always raining. I saw nothing desirable about being stripped to my shoes and socks trying to get shovelfuls of wet slippery clay into a heavy wheelbarrow. Nor was it good to be trying to wheel it up a slope when one is cold, shivery and seven. Eventually a pool was finished, and eventually even in Britain the sun comes out, and I remember sitting with Mum and some of her women friends on a blanket by the pool as a bunch of men came by on their way to play badminton. Mum eyed their bodies and their equipment with a jaundiced eye and then chuckled. "Aren't men ridiculous?" she asked rhetorically. "Looks as if they want to be milked."


Dad doing bottoms

Dad, on the other hand, obviously thought that the female body, particularly when young and slim, was anything but ridiculous. Dad was an accomplished amateur photographer with many awards for excellence, and it seemed to us that he used this status as an excuse to corral young women to pose for him. He borrowed a movie camera, on the use of which he had no experience or expertise whatsoever, but that didn't stop him. I remember being embarrassed when he got a young pretty woman to repeatedly jump over him straddling her legs as he kept the machine running. I didn't know about sex, but I did know that bottoms were bad, and Dad was doing bottoms. I didn't know anything about the engineering configuration of females, so that I didn't know that Dad could have been doing more than bottoms. Bottoms were bad enough, I thought. Now I realize that Dad was hugely frustrated sexually. Mum disliked sex (she told me later), which might have been Dad's fault, or may have just been the Victorian norm. I don't think that Dad ever was "unfaithful" to Mum by actually having sex with someone else. But there was no doubt that he pre-empted


Jimmy Carter by lusting with his heart - and mind and body. I don't know how he kept from being sexually aroused in the nudist camps, except that men were thrown out for becoming aroused, I found out much later when I asked what had happened to a handsome young deaf-mute bicyclist who mysteriously disappeared. At the time I wouldn't have known what it was, but I would certainly have recognized that Dad looked different. I'm sure that he got his jollies when he developed his films in his darkroom. Dad also used to give his secretaries lace panties for Christmas. He seemed to do it openly, and as he was beloved by his staff and used to entertain at staff parties by clowning and singing roisterous (but not bawdy) songs his strange practice might have just been taken as a joke. Mum was surprisingly sensible about sex. At an early age I couldn't accept the prevailing story that babies were left by fairies under gooseberry bushes, and I asked Mum. She told me the truth about where babies came from. As I grew older, I would ask more questions. Mum would always give me a truthful answer, although never the whole truth. I became the sex-information guru of my circle of friends. I remember holding a large group enthralled by the banks of Blackroot pond in Sutton Park as I described how a baby is born in a water-filled bag with a cord coming from the tummy-button to the mother. It was wonderful psychology, because I felt that I didn't have to be part of the dirty-jokes sex-explorers group. When I was sixteen, I suddenly found that I was experiencing what happens to many technologically advanced companies. They become complacent with their lead, and other lesser companies leapfrog over them, leaving them struggling. I found that I didn't understand most of the dirty jokes being bandied around. I fell from my post of chief scientist among my group to that of being hopelessly out of date and befuddled without passing through the state of knowledge maturity, a transfer that I felt was unfair. I had become naive.


The problems of naïveté My naïveté extended from sexual knowledge to jokes to women. I became friends with Helga Herman, a lovely and lively refugee with a stunningly beautiful young mother, whose husband had died or had been killed in Germany. At that time we in Britain didn't know about the concentration camps, and I asked only a few very tentative questions about their past. British people generally don't ask probing questions. It's a combination of shyness and politeness that leads automatically to a conditioned lack of interest. It must have been 1946, because Helga and I were at Birmingham University. She also lived at the far end of Boldmere Road, and I used to pass her house with my dog. I used to take evening walks of eight-to-ten miles from our "new" 1661 home in Erdington through Sutton Park and return at dusk. Sometimes Helga would be at her bedroom window and call me in for a soft drink with her and her mother. I don't know why I didn't fall madly in love with her. She was delightful. At a party at the university she told me the story of the curate (the junior minister in an Anglican church) who had a nervous affliction of one eye - and she demonstrated it by winking deliciously. The curate's vicar said that he should go down to London to see a specialist. He should ask a taxi-driver about finding a place to stay. So when the curate arrived at the London train station he said to the first taxi-driver he met "Please take me to somewhere where I can get a room for the night", winking vigorously. The taxi-driver winked back. "I know just the place for you, guv," he replied, and took him to the red-light district. When the brothel-keeper came to the door, the curate said "I would like a room for the night". "Blonde or brunette?" asked the madame. "I am not that sort of man" cried out the curate indignantly, winking as he spoke. "I know what you want" said the madame, understandingly. "I'll get you Clarence!"


I was extremely puzzled by not being able to understand this joke. I kept asking Helga. She re-told it to me a couple of times, but then refused further enlightenment, giggling as she denied my entreaties. Innocence and naïveté are wonderful qualities in the young. I was eighteen. I had had a previous experience that puzzled me. I saw no relationship whatsoever, until very much later. My piano teacher, knowing that I played the recorder, recommended me to a prominent harpist, Grace McKelvie, who was playing the incidental music for the revival, after 2000 years, of Aristophanes' "The rape of the locks". So began a thrilling and maturing part of my life. I joined the production company of the Highbury Little Theatre, a very serious but fun-loving group of amateur actors. After the stint of recorder playing I helped make scenery, to haul it up and down in scene changes (seriously hampered by being too skinny to prevent me myself from disappearing skywards occasionally), and, after attending an acting course, doing some acting myself. I began doting on one after another of the lovely young women in the troupe without actually taking any action other than gazing at them in admiration.

Grace McKelvie on harp, David on recorder, and Burton Demery on tambourine, at Highbury Little Theatre


Sexual ignorance Another sixteen-or-seventeen-year-old was Robin, who was from a working-class family near the theatre. His class is important, as working-class values are for strong males and females. We weren't close buddies, but we got on well enough in the theatre. One day I found him at the end of our short driveway, leaning on his bike against the lamp-post. He was hoping to spend some time with me. I invited him in, and we found something to do. The next day he was there again. And the next. After a while I told him that I simply had to get on with some homework or other chore. He stayed outside on his bike, looking dejected. This went on for two or three weeks. When I came out to talk with him he would look soulfully at me like a young doe in headlights. I had no idea what was going on. My parents didn't help. I have to presume that, even in a closely structured society, my parents knew about homosexuality, but if they did they gave me no guidance. I wish that I had had the understanding to be kinder and more helpful to Robin. Eventually I became distraught and anguished, and he gave up his vigils. He probably didn't know what was happening to him either. It was possible, of course, that my mother knew nothing about homosexuality. She eventually told me almost everything about what she knew of sex. She showed me where Dad kept his condoms, and told me how he would demand sex particularly after he had given a successful evening lecture somewhere. Mum said she hated sex, and put up with it because it was her Victorian duty. She had obviously never had an orgasm. If she didn't know about women's sexuality, she probably didn't know about men's homosexuality. A shotgun marriage Homosexuality caused two other problems in my life. As one grows up one gets used to sharing rooms with other males -


at home with a brother, in dormitories, in barracks and so forth so it seemed natural that when my time came to leave the students' hostel at the Brush company where I was doing my graduate apprenticeship (described later) I should team up with my buddy and fellow student-association officer Pete. He found "digs" (i.e. a room in a private house with meals and laundry) with Hannah Stephens and her husband. Mr. Stephens was a broken man. He tested pneumatic road drills without, obviously, any hearing protection or cushioning for his hands and wrists. He shook uncontrollably and was nearly deaf. He also smoked constantly, drunk a fair amount, and smiled a lot. Hannah was a robust red-head with a good sense of humor. She was also an excellent cook. Life was a lot of fun. Pete and I were used to sleeping four or five in barrack-like conditions. Here we had single beds in a large bedroom. We seemed to be in clover. Now you may find this hard to believe, but at 23 I didn't know much about sex apart from what Mum had told me. Moreover, Pete and I had no girl friends at the time, and neither told each other "dirty" jokes nor discussed sex. Hannah Stephens was probably in her prime of life and had a husband who could not possibly have satisfied her. She found having two fit and cheerful (and probably fairly attractive) young men in her house challenging, and she began joking about all sorts of interesting possibilities. Here class again reared its ugly head. Hannah was working-class, and if we also had been working-class we would have responded in kind - at least as far as verbally responding to the exciting suggestions being made to us. But we were middleclass, with strong inbred inhibitions against discussing anything sexual with anyone, particularly an older woman. We didn't respond. Hannah changed her approach. She began hinting that we were gay. I didn't realize this. I was still so naive that I wouldn't have known what was happening if she had stripped off and gotten into bed with me. But Pete knew exactly. He reacted swiftly. He


told me that he had to leave right away. We sadly gave the required notice. I was in any case going off to Nottingham for graduate study. Pete began responding to a secretary at work who had been eyeing him. A short while later they were engaged. I was best man at their wedding. Probably quite unfairly I felt that it could be a new kind of shotgun marriage. Scots tutor My education in homosexuality had advanced thereby a little, and stood me in good stead when, a couple of years later, my workmates began kidding me strangely. I had finished my two years of graduate research at Nottingham and was facing three more years at Brush under the binding agreement that I had signed. I had a Ph.D. that I didn't want to advertise; I wasn't keen on the next, unknown, stage in my career; my father had just died; and after the extreme stress of completing an extremely intensive research program successfully I felt rather adrift. I wanted a change. I began reading the personal column of The Times (of London) to look for interesting travel possibilities. I have mentioned one elsewhere. I thought of Dad, who worked his way from New Zealand on a cargo boat. I began looking for a way to get on a boat that would take me to the USA. After much searching and writing and persuasion of the Ministry of Transport that I was qualified for a "Sea Grading Certificate" that would allow me to serve in a ship's engine room, I arranged to join a ship that was due to leave Dumbarton on the Clyde for Canada at a set date. I asked for permission to have three months' unpaid leave, and told my friends what my plans were. That was when the kidding started. My workmates began telling me that on a ship strange things happen. If I should drop a hammer, I should kick it towards a bulkhead, back up to the wall, and only then lean down to pick up the hammer. Variations of this joke were told many times, and only slowly and dimly and after much questioning did I realize that they were telling me


that men on ships can behave as we now know older prisoners do in men's jails: they prey on new, younger arrivals. They told me that I needed to learn self-defence. I took them seriously enough to join the university judo club to learn about it, rather painfully. I packed my tent and minimum belongings on to my bicycle and set off to do the 250 miles to Dumbarton in two-and-a-half days. On the afternoon of the second day I was biking up a long Dumfriesshire hill in a downpour. I was well ahead of schedule and I was looking for any level place with some shelter where I could set up my tent and light my Primus stove. I wanted more than anything a large bowl of hot soup. Cars and lorries (trucks) passed occasionally, giving me a comfortable margin but still dousing me with spray. I couldn't have gotten much wetter. Then a van came by rather more closely. It pulled to a stop ahead of me. The driver leaned out and motioned me to stop. "Put your bike in the back and jump in" he said in a friendly Scots brogue. "No, thanks" I replied. "That's nice of you, but I'm just about to stop and put my tent up." "Don't be ridiculous" he retorted, rolling his "r"s. "It's a deluge, not fit for man nor beast". And he jumped out, opened the rear doors of his almost empty van, and put in my heavily laden bike. I thanked him and joined him up front in the passenger's seat. He asked me where I was going, and I told him the whole story. I asked him about himself, and as he was telling me he suggested that we stop at a pub for a drink. In those days pubs were allowed to open from 6 - 10 p.m., and it was about 6.30 p.m. I was not a drinking man, but I hadn't then become a teetotaler. What was about to happen was a step along the way that led me to make a personal pledge not to drink alcohol. He bought me a drink while telling me about his work - he was a painterdecorator - and we left again. I began asking that he let me off at a suitable place. He said that he knew a very suitable place. He


stopped at another pub. I bought the next round. I began to get insistent that I must stop to put my tent up. It was getting to be dusk. He started the van, telling me about a wonderful spot he knew of. He drove off the road and along a track in an upland moor. We were totally isolated. He went off the track onto the moor and parked the van on a rise in front of a great view. The rain had stopped and the sun was just dipping below the nowscudding clouds. I thanked him and moved to get out to get my bike and packs. "Not so fast, laddie" he said. "How about it?" and he put his hand on my pants. "How about what?" I asked innocently. "You know very well what" he said, moving his hand threateningly. And, very suddenly, I knew all about what. To state that I was scared would be underplaying the situation. I didn't know that much about homosexuality, but my prejudices had been fully loaded by my well-meaning friends. Whatever he wanted to do could, in my fevered opinion, be extremely nasty. I remembered my lessons. "I'm a black-belt judo instructor" I lied. "Would you like me to show you a few throws?" I knew that any judo inside the confines of a small van would be next to impossible. But I turned towards him and put my hands menacingly on the back of his neck and his shoulder. Luckily, he was unversed in judo, and he didn't know how unskilled I was. He growled "OK, get out and get going". I had my bike out in a flash before he could think of backing over me and leaving. I knew that I had to get to a place where he couldn't find me. It was now dark. I left my lights switched off. I headed down the track we had come up, went on to the road, and took any turns that seemed likely to put him off the scent, should he decide to follow me. I was drunk from the alcohol, heady from relief from immediate danger, and I was going steeply down twisty roads at far too high a speed for safety. I kept hitting the bank on one side of the road or the other.


Eventually I decided that it was safe to stop. I put up my tent on what seemed, in the darkness, to be reasonably level ground not far from the road. I unrolled my damp sleeping bag and slept soundly, not bothering to try to eat. I woke to a bright, chilly Scottish dawn to find that I was on a village dump. I cooked a large breakfast in a state of great elation before setting out on the last leg of the journey to the good ship Corinaldo. I had had another extremely enlightening lesson in sex, and I had escaped unscathed. The beckoning world awaited a now-seasoned traveler. Sex education out in the cold About that time I had some other interesting vicarious sexual experiences. I implied above that I had gone straight from the Brush student hostel (touched on later) to Mrs. Stephen's house. Actually, I had been required to leave the hostel four months earlier, having joined the Brush staff. I answered an advertisement for digs and found myself ensconced at the small house of Mrs. Minkley. Mrs. Minkley was a young wife with a young baby, about five months old. She had never before taken in boarders, but was finding money short and decided that this was a good way of earning a little extra. "Old man" Minkley (who must have been all of 28) was a truck driver, regularly away overnight. He made it very clear that he regarded the whole enterprise with extreme suspicion. He didn't like my being in the house. I didn't like it much, either. The Minkley's had a small "row" house, a "council" - i.e. local-government - house, unheated except for a fireplace downstairs. My small bedroom, only a little larger than the bed, was literally freezing in the cold winter we were having. There was one thin blanket on the bed. I spread over it all my wardrobe - one sports jacket, one spare pair of pants, a couple of shirts, some underclothes and a towel. When I found that that wasn't nearly enough I used newspapers that


kept me warmer but crinkled all night. There was just room at the end of the bed for me to do some push-ups. I would get into my pajamas, do thirty rapid push-ups so that my heart was racing, leap into bed and curl up. In about two hours I would be freezing again, and would repeat the exercise. Mrs. Minkley's food was similar to the warmth of the bedroom and to Mr. Minkley's sunny personality. After apparent vigorous work at the stove she would deliver my breakfast: one thin halfslice of fried bread. At first I looked hopefully under it for a sliver of bacon coyly hiding, but there was never an addition. There was just the fried bread and tea: no cereal, no fruit. Supper was little better. The women behind the counter at the works cafeteria at midday were amazed at the quantity of mashed potato and gravy I would ask for each day. I was tanking up for the rigours ahead. Mrs. Minkley was a fairly plump, dowdy young woman with an unattractive strong local accent. She kept complaining about her weight. Since having the baby she had been seeing the National Health Service doctor about it, and he had been giving her diet pills. (If they were amphetamines they didn't help her get lively). On one particular morning I had been pondering how I could get myself out of this situation of enforced privation. Mrs. Minkley had delivered the fried bread and was holding her hand to her head, swaying a little, and complaining about her weight and about how hungry she felt. She had finished her last batch of appetite-control pills, she said, but she had an appointment with her doctor that morning. I was trying to read my Daily Telegraph through the complaining and was trying not to think of food myself. When I returned after work that evening I found Old Man Minkley in the doorway, arms folded across his broad chest and an extremely forbidding expression on his far-from-handsome face. I was filled with foreboding. I thought that he was going to


punch me. "You can't stay ‘ere tonight" he said grimly. My heart leapt with joy. "You can stay with my mother down the street". I first decided not to question a good thing. I asked merely "May I fetch my things?" "No, you can't" he retorted. I didn't bother to correct his grammar. Maybe he would correct it himself by making any attempt of mine physically impossible. However, the situation was obviously interesting enough that I couldn't withhold a question. "I hope nothing serious has happened". There was a fierce silence. Then he growled "My wife's had a baby". This was obviously mind-blowing to the nth degree. A shallow observer, not knowing that my stay at Mansion Minkley had been merely four months, would think that the husband's suspicions were correctly fixed on Roger the Lodger. (I am quoting from a popular music-hall jingle of the time that finished "It wasn't the Almighty that lifted her nightie but Roger the Lodger, the cad"). And the baby, malnourished and premature though it was (I saw it when I was allowed to fetch my clothes two weeks later, and it was tiny, shrivelled and ugly) could not, in those days, have been live-born at four months. I found from grandmother Minkley that Mrs. Minkley Jr. had seen the doctor, he had given her a new prescription for diet pills, she had taken the bus home and had had the baby on her doorstep. I have, of course, related this absolutely true story to many people, mostly women, and no one has been able to explain it to me. If Mrs. M. had not had a baby previously and didn't know what was happening to her it could make some sense. I was getting some sort of sex education, but it made no sense to me, and to no one else. Interesting propositions My sexual education proceeded slowly. At age 15 I remember being puzzled while preparing for confirmation in our local St. Michael's church, where Dad was a lay-reader. Canon


Brown, a sallow-faced bachelor with rimless glasses, was taking all the candidates for confirmation into his study, putting them in front of a bright light while he sat in the shadows, and was asking them extremely personal questions. We all talked about them afterwards. My friend Derek Slade was a candidate, and so was his mother, a slim attractive red-haired vivacious woman in her thirties. She told us that Canon Brown asked about what went on when she was with her husband in bed. Derek and other male friends told me that he asked them about rubbing their private parts and getting a yellow sticky emission. I was fifteen, a very late developer, and it was all a complete mystery to me. Mum hadn't gotten that far in her education course. I was apprehensive when my turn came to get the third degree. But he didn't ask me anything personal, nor did he give me the interesting and confusing information he was handing out to my friends. Afterwards I realized that he didn't want me to relate it to my parents. He was getting some sort of sexual gratification from the encounters about which he didn't want a pillar of his church like Dad to learn. At this point I should in turn try to educate any non-British readers. In at least middle-class Britain at that time the women were generally more sexually aggressive than the men. My elder brother Tom was a rather glamorous figure at school, in the university right after school, in the RAF, and particularly when he returned from two years in a prisoner-of-war camp. Several women proposed marriage to him at different times, and many more propositioned him. On one of his leaves a distant cousin, an attractive woman named Joan in the WRAF (the women's branch of the RAF), came to stay at the house. I had to give up my room for her. Tom took morning tea into her room before breakfast. Tom told me later that she had thoughtfully placed a condom (then called a "French letter" for some reason) prominently on the table by the bed. He said that he did not respond to the invitation. He also told me later something about


the wild drunken orgies that occurred in the flight "messes" among the WRAF women and young men who didn't know if they would be alive for another day. He said that the women were often the initiators of sexual activity. All this prepared me somewhat for Joy “Smith”, whom I had met at a Youth Hostel when biking with Dad. She wrote to me afterwards inviting me to join a trip (which turned out to be a fabrication) and asked me to visit her in Knutsford, Cheshire. Later I happened to be biking through Knutsford on my way back from a hiking vacation in the Lake District, and phoned ahead to ask if I could stop by for a chat. She and her parents persuaded me against my wishes to stay the night. Joy came into the bedroom in her nightgown and jumped into bed, in a small house with her parents near by. I can't believe that they didn't know what was happening. I gently refused to cooperate then and on two other occasions in a fifteen-hour stay. When I wrote that I lost my true love through loving too slow, I was glacial in Joy's opinion. She dumped me. But she had told me earlier that she had been the mascot of a U.S.A.F. base not too far away, or at least the girl-friend of an officer there, so that I dimly understood that she had been turned on by sex. I, on the other hand, was an unexploded bomb, determined to remain unexploded - virgin until marriage. The maintenance man Another episode in my sexual education came about after Dad died in 1952. He had earlier organized a lecture tour of New Zealand and elsewhere and Mum was going to accompany him. My brothers and I persuaded her to take the trip alone. Mum began looking for someone who would want to rent the house for a year. The second person who answered an advertisement we put out bowled Mum over. He was an ex-Army officer, ex-public (i.e. private and exclusive) school, and he had, she said, a charming family. She arranged it all quite quickly.


During Dad's illness I had been bicycling home from Nottingham and Loughborough every Friday night and returning every Sunday night, spending the weekend doing chores, mowing the lawn, cutting the hedges, mending things, as well as cutting Dad's hair and shaving him when he got too ill to do it himself. (He wouldn't allow Mum to do those sorts of things, and the Saturday shave was quite an ordeal). After Mum clinched the arrangement with Major Harry Monk (not his real name) she said to me brightly "I've told him that you would come home every two weeks or so to do any repairs required, my boy". I wasn't terribly excited about this. I was trying to finish my research project and write my thesis, and I had made real sacrifices earlier only too happily. This sacrifice of my time didn't seem justified. And Mum left me no authority and no funds. However, I went along with the arrangement. And after I met Harry Monk I had to agree that he was a delightful, charming fellow. The first time I arranged to come to the house the Monks wanted me to come on Friday evening and to stay the night. I arrived in the middle of a rather "posh" dinner party. I had bicycled fifty miles quite fast, and had brought something to change into after washing, but it was not up to dinner-party standards. I was given a place at the table, introduced to the other guests, and was offered a range of drinks of most of which I had never heard. Mrs. Monk - Frankie - was lovely and charming and made me feel at home. I learned that she had been on the professional stage. Occasionally one or both of their delightful small daughters would find an excuse to come into the dining room to ask Harry or Frankie some vital questions. In the morning I showed them some of the quirks of the house, fixed up one or two items needing attention, and talked with Harry about a good idea he had for a map-projection system for cars. I left for the ride back in a cheerful state of mind. By that


time in my life I had developed something of an antagonism, a prejudice, against the British upper classes in general, and against the products of English public schools in particular. I met them only in the various military courses that I attended periodically as a member of different training corps, and it seemed to me that they were mostly fatuous, not very bright and always in charge. Harry helped to break down my prejudice. He was the first "public-school boy" I met who was open, intelligent and who didn't seem to "look down his nose" at people who were lower in the social order. I made a couple more happy, carefree visits before Frankie made the first advance. She schemed to get me alone on the stairs. She said that she was totally "f . . d" with her marriage. I was doubly shocked. In those days women didn't use language like that. And I liked them both and didn't want to think that theirs was not an ideal marriage. I was also embarrassed, and excused myself somehow. I was a little less keen to go over again, but I had to some weeks later. This time Frankie's approach was even more direct. It seemed to me that it was a proposition. I can't remember too well what happened, but I know that I said some very complimentary things about Harry and hoped that everything would get patched up. I saw no difference in Harry's behavior towards Frankie or towards me. I got out of going to the house and didn't see him again. Mum returned from New Zealand and went back to the house for a while before selling it. The Monks departed, presumably still a united family. I forgot about them. Then, much later, I had a message reach me in London from someone I couldn't at first recollect. It was Frankie Monk. She wanted us to meet for a drink somewhere nearby. Apprehensively, but also most interestedly, I fixed up a time and place. She was there when I arrived, still lovely but looking rather worn. We exchanged


pleasantries for a very short time before she got down to business. She wanted us to run away together. I wish that someone was making a videotape of that meeting and that I could see it now. I would like to be assured that I was compassionate and sensitive. I know that I was flabbergasted and scared. I gave reasons why it would be impossible and did my best not to be cruel. We parted unhappily. I never saw nor heard from her again. Now that I have been involved in education for most of my life I am constantly engaged in discussions about what should be taught to students who seem to have less and less time for learning in a world that gets more complex at an accelerating pace. I emerged from grammar school very well versed, for the time, in Latin, French, English, physics and mathematics, but having almost no concept of another sphere of knowledge that included human relationships, mental health and ill-health, and the interplay of sexual drives with these. It didn't occur to me at the time that Frankie might be mentally ill, and it seemed inconceivable that Harry was in fact a battering husband. I took it all at face value, and was mightily confused. At the same time I was, like most middle-class Britons of the period, a virgin who thought constantly about having sex with passionate women but who had strong inhibitions against doing so before marriage. And I was not to get married for another five years. I kept wondering if I had missed a golden opportunity or whether I had had the wisdom to escape a messy, nasty situation where my previously good name would be besmirched in the courts and the papers. There have been other situations with some similarities to this. During my two years in Nigeria three (European) women made sexual advances. One was the wife of a department head. She was well-known as someone who slept with anyone she could. I suppose now that she had to have been a nymphomaniac.


During a staff dance she cut in and asked me why didn't we sleep together. I turned down the offer, but it was tempting. Everybody did it; there was no risk of a longer relationship; she would educate me into everything I ever wanted to know. I used to have mad dreams that she came in an open night-gown to my cot, swept aside the mosquito netting and took me passionately and with abandon. Another single young woman suddenly started making a practice of coming to my house after supper, about 7 pm, when it was pitch dark. She would say that she had been working late and couldn't get home to her parents - could I drive her in my old VW bus? The first two times this happened I thought that it was interesting, even though this female wasn't attractive to me in any way. But she began making a habit of it. I had a huge amount of work to do - I was teaching five courses about which I knew too little, and trying to write exam papers and grade student work, and I couldn't spare time to drive people to way beyond the other side of Zaria every night. I would make her wait for an hour while I got on with my work. Eventually I decided that if she did it to me again, I would do it to her. I wasn't sure what I would do, but I would do something. (I very much doubt that I would, in fact, have done anything except possibly expressed myself very forcibly). She must have sensed my increasing anger, and she didn't come again. I wondered again if I had missed out on a good thing. But these possibilities just tantalized me and led me to fantasies that spiced up my young life. Frankie devastated me and left me puzzled and very sad for her. Nigerian slide-show You will wonder by now how I could continue to be puzzled by women after a variety of experiences. But all my experiences seemed to be personal failures. I wanted madly to succeed. Under my value system that did not mean to "score". I just wanted to fall in love with someone who returned my love.


Soon after I started working in Cambridge, Massachusetts with Northern Research & Engineering (see later for details) the moment seemed to have arrived. John, a young colleague, told me about a woman student at Harvard who was about to leave for Nigeria in something like the experiment in international living. He told her that I was going around the area giving slide shows on Nigeria ("Town and Gown in Nigeria") and that she had said that she would like to meet me to hear about it. I wasn't too excited at being used as a free guide-book - why didn't she come to one of my shows? - but agreed to go along if something transpired. It did - she phoned John to ask if he could find if I could meet her in Harvard Square that day after work. And so it transpired on a golden afternoon by the walls and spires of Harvard that I met Pam “Buckley”. She was small and lithe with glorious golden hair and big blue eyes that looked at me a little shyly at first. I took her to have a soda. I was prepared to ignore my beating heart and to talk manfully about life in Nigeria. But she seemed to want to talk about other things. Interesting things. Things we had in common. All too soon she had to go. We exchanged addresses and phones, and she said that she would get in touch with me to see the slide show. She was earning money by being a live-in baby-sitter and help in the house of a well-to-do family, and I shouldn't phone her there. My heart sank. I felt that I was getting the brush-off. Just my luck. Here I meet this fantastic creature, with interests close to mine and a burning desire to try to be helpful in Nigeria, and I didn't get even a passing grade. I had, I didn't know how, goofed it. I went home and mourned. I wondered whether or not I was exaggerating the situation my intuition had pictured, and I thought that I might be surprised by a phone call in a day or two. But none came. I tried to forget Pam Buckley.


The front of the brochure that Flora Frame produced for my slide shows on Nigeria. I remember only two engagements resulting. Perhaps she should have had one of the stunning (?) Nigerian slides in place of my photo.

And then one evening a couple of weeks later at about 11 pm the door-bell rang in my apartment. I had the third floor in a family three-decker in which Fred Earnest, my landlord, lived with his aged father on the second floor and another family on the first. He had been extremely suspicious when I came to inspect the place and said that I wanted to rent it. It was big enough for a couple, even a small family, and here was a thirty-two-year-old


bachelor wanting to have the whole place for himself. He obviously suspected that I would start having wild parties or orgies or would invite wild, wild women to shack up with me. I had worked assiduously to change his impression of me, and I had succeeded. I was more than a model tenant. I bowled him over by buying and installing, fairly professionally, a sink grinder and other small improvements. Fred Earnest kept doing things for me in return and refusing payment. We respected and liked one another. And when I had a dinner party once or twice a month the guests included people of all ages who were served no alcohol. The noise we made might have aroused suspicions, but I did my best to keep any annoyance to my neighbors to a minimum. When the bell rang so late at night, I thought at first that it must be Fred having an emergency with his old father. I rushed downstairs with a look of concern on my face. But there was not Fred, but Pam. "May I come in?" she asked brightly. Once again, dear reader, you find your author nonplussed. What the heck am I supposed to do, I asked myself in that split second of recognition. "Come right up!" I replied heartily, trying to make just enough noise that if Fred was awake he would hear that I wasn't engaged in any subterfuge. We creaked up the dark stairs and into my fairly spacious apartment. "I just wanted to talk" she said, as she sat down on an easy chair. I sat down too, because Pam didn't want anything to eat or drink. I began a little gentle verbal probing. I wanted to find out, without directly asking, why, if I was worth visiting now at close to midnight without warning, she hadn't communicated before; whether or not she wanted to see the slide show now; and if not (because she did not) what else she expected of me. Only a small part of this mystery was revealed to me. Pam didn't want to see the slides now - but she did want to see them, soon; she just wanted to talk. And talk we did, and laugh, and we had a


good (totally non-sexy) time. I realized suddenly that it was getting on for 1 a.m. and I had a beautiful blonde in my apartment and we were laughing too loudly. I asked her where she had to get to, and she told me that the house she lived in was only a half-mile away. I walked her there. I don't know how I returned home. I don't think that my feet touched the ground. I was falling madly and deliciously in love. This mysterious lovely exciting young woman obviously liked me. I didn't sleep much in what was left of the night. We hadn't made firm arrangements for our next meeting. Pam seemed to evade commitments. But in my rosy state I had no doubt that we would meet again soon. She had shown she cared. And she was testing me. I passed the test! Joy of joys! The door-bell went again the next evening. I don't remember too much of what went on because I was floating in the clouds. My state of glorious euphoria intensified, if possible, as time went on, because the next few evenings she came almost on schedule, even though she refused to be scheduled. On the third or fourth occasion I asked if I could hold her hand, and tried to, on the walk home, but she didn't want to. I decided that she was extremely pure and wanted to confirm our relationship before risking any further step. I was so happy that nothing could mar my feeling that the long yearning years were over. The visits - I feel like using the slightly ridiculous extension "visitations" because in a way I felt as if I was being favored by royalty - lasted a couple of weeks. Pam told me late one evening that she was leaving for home next day. I had learned that home was in Syracuse in upstate New York. The Nigerian slide show had been put off repeatedly, which was disappointing. Now it seemed to give an opportunity. Would she like me to come over to give a show at her house or in her community? Then her parents could see what she was going to (and, I thought, I could meet her parents and try to impress them with my honesty). She seemed delighted by the suggestion. She gave me her phone


number and address, and we parted again with a handshake. In my love-transformed condition I had tried not to think of Pam's projected departure for a year. I hoped that when she finally decided that I was right for her she would throw herself in my arms, and after that we could weather separation, however painful. I began dreaming and planning of a weekend with her and her family, and long walks and possibly a little cuddling. I was groggy with anticipation. A decent time after Pam would have reached her home I phoned to fix final arrangements. Her mother answered the phone. Pam was out; would I call again? She was friendly and polite, but had obviously not heard Pam talk of me or my visit. I tried again, and then a third time. This time Pam was there. It sounded as if there were several others around her. She was vague about the visit. I pressed her. We fixed up that I would come the next Saturday. She would have the slide projector, a hall and an enthusiastic audience all ready. Early Saturday I flew to Rochester. There was no suitable transportation to Syracuse - I don't know why I didn't rent a car, but I hitched a ride with a friendly and informative fellow. He dropped me off at a convenient place in Syracuse on a beautiful summer day. My heart was singing. I phoned Pam. Her father said that she was out, but gave me instructions on how to find the house. My feet were still walking on air. Her parents welcomed me. We made polite conversation, asking questions about each other. It became obvious that they weren't expecting me. I explained that Pam wanted me to give a show about Nigeria, where I had recently spent two years. They didn't know about the show. Just then Pam turned up. She and her entourage. They were four or five skinny, sunburned, shorts-and-chewing-gum types and were very young. I had the feeling that they spent the summer loungin', drivin', and working as life-guards or soda-


jerks. I began to feel very very old. Pam looked at me rather vacantly, then seemed to pull herself together and asked if I would like to join them. So I put on my shorts and sneakers and came along. The Pam with whom I came along (in her entourage) was not exactly a different Pam. I had known only one dimension of her. This was a completely different one. As the afternoon wore on, and it was increasingly wearing on me as I fell heavily to earth, I began to realize that she had forgotten, three days after we made the arrangements, that I was coming. She had made no provision for a slide show. She had no projector and no hall and no audience. I have to say that she also seemed to have very little interest. I can't remember what we did - I was in a daze of a very different character than that which had consumed me for two weeks - but it seemed to be a round of soda fountains, hot dogs and amusement arcades. There was no scrap of interesting conversation about anything that would engage me. Her friends didn't ask her anything about her forthcoming journey to Africa. I began to doubt that there was going to be a journey, that it was more than a daydream. When we touched on her home again during the endless circling I asked almost with grim determination if her parents would like to see some slides of Nigeria, and her father remembered that he had an old slide projector. The show was on in their small living room. It was a total disaster. The ancient poorly cooled projector kept jamming my beautiful slides, and I would see them start to bubble and shrivel in front of my eyes. I couldn't turn the lamp off without also stopping the tiny fan - when I did, the slide in there at the time was totally fried. No one, including Pam, seemed to be interested in a show that I had given before enthusiastic audiences many times before for Flora Frame and others. I cut it short to save my remaining slides, packed up and bid everyone a good evening. It was not a good evening. It was a


horribly lousy evening. I can't remember how and when I got home. It was a black journey. There is a consolation, of course, that comes to the dejected rejected. If the one on whom one has poured one's affection does not appreciate it, then that person is obviously of lousy taste and not worth one's second thought. I certainly felt glad to know finally that it was Pam that was weird, not I. But one feels shame. How could so seasoned a traveler in life be so duped? Let me confess that I have included this description of l'affaire Pam under false pretenses. This chapter is entitled "Growing up in the thirties and forties", and this part is under a general heading of my sex education. I met Pam in the early sixties, when I was 33. I had had a long sequence of widely separated unsuccessful relationships with women that had left me with an extremely low self-esteem. I had more to come. My education was far from complete. But I have become side-tracked by the fun of relating my general sex education. I need to get back “on message” show the consequence of Dad's first determined try at nudism.

Brother John The product of my parents' union at a time when my father was 53 and Mum was 44 was John Michael Wilson. He was born on January 27, 1933 when I was almost five. He was, as mentioned above, a beautiful baby. I believe that most men, and most boys, think that all babies are ugly, so that I am probably passing along a much-received opinion. I don't remember having negative feelings about John, as do many siblings when a rival baby is born, for a long while. The antipathy grew, however. I began to feel, rightly or wrongly, that I was being picked upon to do John-related chores that my two elder brothers had never had to do for me. I felt that whenever I wanted to go out with my friends, if Mum couldn't think of some shopping she wanted done she would have me


clean and polish the pram (baby-carriage) that was already about as clean as it could be. When he was a toddler John was put in my room, and one of my jobs was to get him up and dress him in the mornings. And then I had to put him to bed at night. It was a real drag. Things began to brighten somewhat when he was four or five. He would like to come into my bed to cuddle and to be told a bedtime story. I started with Goldilocks and the three bears and followed with all the fairy stories I could remember. And then I made up stories. John loved them. I vividly remember that he particularly liked stories about human-powered airplanes. I don't know why I started that line of invention. I know now that there were attempts at human-powered flight at about that time in Germany. Maybe I heard someone talking about a news report. I remember the two of us in the magic world under the sheets as I talked about dog-fights and rescues and other miracles accomplished in our hero's pedaled plane. John started school. It was obvious from fairly early on that he was not going to follow Tom's example by capturing academic prizes. John was a "people person", a term that nowadays is used pejoratively. He was not only popular, but he decided to try to win the prize for the person voted to be the most popular in the school. And win it he did. But I get ahead of the story. John was also muscular and athletic, even at six and seven. I realized that he could almost keep up with me in running and wrestling. I asked my buddies if they would mind if I brought John along to our games in Sutton Park. The Park was supposedly a gift to Sutton Coldfield from Henry VIII in the early 1500s because he liked to hunt in it. It was certainly a gift for small boys. We used to bike there at every opportunity and crawl through secret tunnels in the gorse and heather, playing spy and surprise and tag games for hours. John was accepted in this


seeming adult company from the start. He became a buddy, one of us. World War II The golden days rolled happily on. The war, which had come to us on September 3, 1939, caused us to move into the cellar. Dad had a carpenter make two-story bunks in one of the two rooms in the cellar, for the boys, and two single bunks in the other room for him and Mum. Sometimes when raids were long and close we spent many hours down there. I had books to read, but the noise of guns and occasional bombs was so great that one couldn't keep one's mind on misty far-off events painted with pastel hues. John and I and anyone we could persuade to join us played any games we could. We became especially fond of Monopoly. Seeing the game even now evokes memories of the closeness of our lives in that damp dingy cellar half-filled with coal. I am almost the same age as the producer of the autobiographical film "Hope and Glory" that exactly captures the mood of small boys in the war. He lived in London and experienced far more air raids than we did in the suburbs of Birmingham. Although there was a lot of bomb damage a couple of miles away in Birmingham itself, no bomb hit our house or those of our immediate neighbors. As soon as the "all clear" siren sounded, and sometimes before, we small boys went to inspect the halfblown-up houses and bomb craters and to try to find bomb and shell shrapnel. A German bomber was brought down not far away once, and although the main mass of the wreckage had been cleared away by the time we scavengers arrived, we all managed to bear away in triumph bits of seats and spars and cushions and even a piece of a boot. We would sometimes sneak up from the shelter at night if we suspected that a bomber was caught in the searchlights, and we would watch it twist and turn


while the anti-aircraft guns were blazing away at it, usually ineffectively. At school underground shelters were dug in the sports field. The most memorable raid for me was when a buzz-bomb (V1) (a primitive cruise missile) passed low over the school, sounding just like a motor-cycle. That was comforting. The only mechanism the Germans had for getting it to a target was to fill the fuel tank to some specified level. Then it was pointed in a given direction and launched. When the fuel ran out it dove to earth and exploded. Hearing the motor-cycle noise stop was, therefore, a cause for getting down the shelters fast. RAF pilots became adept at flying alongside to nudge them into, preferably, a return direction. Until a few years ago I was on a Defense Department task force on cruise-missile propulsion systems, and I used to like to ask any military brass present at our frequent meetings how many had had cruise missiles launched at them. (It was, of course, always zero.) When we were old enough, fifteen or sixteen, we could volunteer to become "fire wardens" at school. We would stay all night, prowling the corridors ready for a German attack with incendiaries. We received training in the use of "stirrup pumps". The important message, we were told repeatedly, was to control an incendiary bomb by putting a fine spray of water all around it. I, of course, was dying to have one come within my range so that I could blast away with the full-stream nozzle. I found out how right the advice we were given was forty-five years later, when I set the roof of our house alight when burning the paint off the gutters. I kept pouring masses of water at the spreading flames without effect. Not until I got a hose up to the roof and put on the spray did the fire go out immediately. The fire-warden instructors were right. Another way the war affected our schooling was forced farming. If we had no physical disabilities we were required to spend a


couple of weeks weeding or helping to get in the harvest. Unfortunately the crop in our area was potatoes. Picking potatoes was a very long way from being fun, even if we escaped from going to school for a couple of weeks. A huge field would be marked around the edges into lengths of about 20 m. Two children, each with a bucket, were assigned to each pitch. A tractor would then start traveling along the furrows pulling a blade that would lift the furrow and a rotary set of tines that would throw the earth, stones and potatoes over a wide area. Our job was to pick up all the potatoes in our pitch before the tractor came around again. If we hadn't finished, which occurred fairly frequently, the tractor driver would yell and curse and perhaps throw a few potatoes at us to encourage us. It was backbreaking miserable work, often carried out in a cold drizzle. As soon as the buckets were full we had to pour the spuds into sacks. The farmer or his hand would stride around the field, yelling if he found a missed potato. The very occasional tea break, when a bucket of warm sugary milky tea was brought around for us all to dip our dirty mugs and hands into, was welcome; the lunch break, for a full hour, when we would gather together to eat our sandwiches and talk, was heaven. All too soon we were back to the toil. Anyone who has a yearning for a return to the simple life of a serf has not had a spell at potatopicking. In October 1942 the misery of this forced labor led to another misery. I got some sort of stomach illness. I had to go to bed, couldn't keep any food down, and was really sick. After about five days I got better, but John, who was still sharing a room with me, seemed to catch the bug. Mum called Dr. Harris to come to see him. He pronounced that John had an inflamed bowel. He visited John several times, and continued to treat him for inflammation of the bowel until the tenth day, when he discovered that he had had appendicitis all along. John was taken in the emergency ambulance to the Birmingham Children's


Hospital that afternoon. But his appendix had by then burst. John had peritonitis. Penicillin could have saved him. It was by then being produced in increasing quantities, but was reserved for the troops. We were called in to see John next day, November 11, 1942, at about noon. He was strapped to a bed that was propped up at a very steep angle. There were many tubes visible coming from his flushed yet pallid body. We weren't allowed to get close. He died just before 1 p.m. When people talk of the anguish of bereavement I think of John. Marjorie's death had hardly affected me. I was too young to understand. I was crushed, desolate, inconsolable over John's passing. It must have been worse for Mum. We became close again. We tried to comfort each other. But nothing can be done to fill the hole in one's life after a loss of someone both beloved and integrated into all parts of one's existence. Only a couple of hundred years ago our forefathers and mothers were having twenty children and burying fifteen or seventeen by their tenth birthdays. Did they value them less - or more? How could they bear the losses? Life, and death, have many mysteries. For a long time after John's death I resisted getting too close to people in case I might lose them. The wound has not yet quite healed.

The campaign for a wedding present: the men’s kick line in Nottingham My brother Tom (T. W. S. Wilson, called by the physics master at Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School when he started there at age 11 “Tommy Willy Sammy”, a name that stuck) was the first of my brothers (or any of my friends) to get married. He was a hero who had been shot down on a return flight from Germany (he had the job of jamming the German radar ahead of the main bomber raids), survived a dicey parachute jump from a burning Lancaster bomber and a time of unconsciousness in a Netherlands canal, and was captured and confined in Stalag Luft


III for two years. He was marrying a lovely German girl, Gabrielle Claessens, whom he met while in Berlin on a Quaker conference. Recently they have both been over to Poland (where the site of the camp now is) for the sixtieth anniversary of “The Great Escape” when 76 RAF officers and others had freed themselves through a tunnel under the camp’s perimeter. Fifty were shot on Hitler’s orders when they were captured. Tom helped in the construction of the tunnel but didn’t win the lottery for those who were allowed, by the prisoners’ group decision, to escape. The wedding date was set at July 15, 1950. I had just been awarded a research fellowship at Nottingham University by the company at which I had done my graduate apprenticeship, Brush Electrical Engineering Company (it later became HawkerSiddeley Brush). In chapter 4 I will review my precarious economics when I was an apprentice, because my pay was around thirty-two shillings a week and the company hostel charged thirty shillings a week. There was only a very small raise associated with the fellowship, and in any case I hadn’t yet received any pay. Gathering all the funds I could get my hands on I had five guineas (five British pounds plus five shillings) to spend on a present for Gabi and Tom. Even in those days it was not a princely sum, but for someone in my state of privation it was enough to buy something useful. My penury made me a careful shopper, and, purely to scout out possibilities, I bicycled into Nottingham one lunch time shortly after arriving at the University.


Brother Tom with Gabi, Gabriella Claessens They still seem much the same 60 years later.

I was a little dejected after a half-hour survey of high-street shops because I couldn’t find anything I could consider a candidate for a present within my small purchasing capability. Then I found myself outside a shop that had just been taken over as an auction house. There were samples of goods in the window that could possibly be suitable as a wedding present. I ventured hesitatingly in, and was immediately urged downstairs to a dimly lit large room where there was some sort of auction underway. I tried to make myself inconspicuous, aware that any small motion of my head or hands could have me labeled as a happy purchaser, probably of something far out of my price range that I didn’t want. In my role as an observer I found that most of the people who were bidding were being given free gifts, and when they bid on something expensive it came to them at, the auctioneer stated, a small fraction of the price at which the item could be bought


“outside”. It’s fairly likely that these bidders were plants, associated with the enterprise. However, when a magnificent cutlery set in an expensive-looking box was brought up, I lost my self-control and started bidding on it. It was, said the auctioneer, a twenty-guinea set, but I had only five guineas. So I stopped bidding at that level. I received no free gifts, but the auctioneer encouraged me to go higher. I indicated that that was my ceiling. Then – surprise – there were no other bids. I was the owner of this prestigious cutlery set (that I could not see clearly in the poor light) for five guineas. I was, however, excited at being able to present Gabi and Tom with such a magnificent gift. I emerged from the underground cave into the bright daylight of High Street. That’s when the doubts started. I examined my purchase, and it was not a set of superfine cutlery as described earlier. It was distinctly cheap. Well, I thought, at least it might still represent the best purchase I could make for the money I had. Then, horror, my eyes fell on a cutlery set in a nearby jewelers. It was exactly the set I had just bought. And it was selling not for twenty guineas but for two and a half! I was devastated. I had blown my small savings on a piece of cheap junk that I would not be able to give to Gabi and Tom with any pride. I biked slowly back to the university and told my new friends what an idiot I had been. I told anyone else who would listen, partly for self-flagellation, and partly to warn them not to get taken in as I had been. I couldn’t believe that I could have been such an idiot. After about twenty-four hours of disgust I gradually began to wonder if there was not something I could do about it. In a few minutes I had hatched the following plot. I’m rather proud of it even now. I first made up a couple of posters that I could hold over my head outside the auction house. The heading at the top was in bold large letters: “YOU TOO CAN BE A SUCKER LIKE


ME!” It went on to tell about my being taken in by this mendacious auction house. I did several drafts before the final two, to make sure that I was honest and that the poster would have the required effect. I took one to the Nottingham police station, and asked the bobby behind the desk how long I would be permitted to stand outside the auction house without being arrested as a nuisance blocking foot traffic. “We’ll give you five minutes, sir!” he said. “That’s enough!” I replied. “I’m going to the newspaper office to show the poster there, and to ask that a news photographer be there at 10 am tomorrow. I’m going to demand a refund from the auctioneers when they open at 9.30 am.” And I did indeed tell the same story at the office of the newspaper and was told that they would try to have a photographer nearby. I asked my new friends among the small number of graduate students in mechanical engineering at the university if they would give me some backing, but I sensed that there was much enthusiasm for hearing how my effort had gone, but not for actually participating. The next morning my resolve had weakened somewhat – I was rather aghast at my temerity – but having told the police and the newspaper I knew that I had to go through with it. I locked my bike securely around the corner from the auction house, leaving one poster rolled up with it, and took the other poster and the wrapped cutlery set in some trepidation to the auction house. “I want a refund on this cutlery set that I bought here on Monday” I announced in as firm a tone as I could muster. “You WHAT? You’re out of your mind, laddie!” “Then I want to speak to the person in charge” I stated. I was escorted by two burly men who looked like, and probably were, bouncers, to a florid guy in an office. They sat me down on a bench and took places on either side of me. I felt threatened. I mustered up courage and repeated my demand. “I want a refund on this cutlery set that I bought from you on Monday for


five guineas”. “Why? What’s wrong with it?” “You sold it as a twenty-guinea fine cutlery set, but then I went outside and saw it for sale two doors down for two-and-a-half guineas! That’s misrepresentation!” “Tough luck, sonny! You bought it: you keep it!” I took a deep breath. “Then here’s what I’m going to do.” I said. “ I’m going to stand outside your place with this poster. I’ve told the police, and they are going to let me stay there for a while. And I’ve told the Nottingham Evening Post so that a photographer will be there to run a story.” “Get outa here before we hurt you!” one of them said, tearing up the poster. “I have another poster” I said as I retreated. “I”ll let you think about it for fifteen minutes, and I’ll be back!” And I beat a retreat with as much dignity as I could summon while being scared stiff of the threats from the bouncers. Did I have the nerve to go back in a quarter of an hour? I didn’t feel very brave. I paced the street for ten minutes. And then I went back to the bike, grabbed my other poster and the pole to which I attached it, and walked to the auction house with the cutlery set. I could see no policeman nor photographer, but it was still before 10 am. I strode nervously into the dark foyer. One of the bouncers appeared. “Here’s your money. Give me the package and the poster and beat it!” I happily did so, reaching the light and the street feeling triumphant. I reported the victory to the police and the newspaper. At this far remove I can’t remember what I bought Gabi and Tom with my restored five guineas, but it had to be better than the cutlery set.


Blaknalls, the 1660 house in Erdington, Birmingham to which we moved in about 1945. Tom returned from Germany to this house and we met many of our neighbors in the street parties that celebrated the end of the European war. This photo was taken by Ellen Wilson much later, about 1996, long after the house was sold to others, and I am holding Susan and looking up at my old bedroom.

Close readers of these chronicles will note after they have read chapter four that this was the fourth of the battles that I have characterized as the men’s kick line. The first was the battle with my father over my repair of his punctured bicycle tire on a high deserted road as evening was coming on. The second was a dispute with a landlady over the ration cards and motorcycle clothes she took from me, to be described in chapter four,as will the third. This was my complaints to the apprentice supervisors at Metropolitan Vickers over the motor-shaft-wiping job I had been given. They gave way, transferred me to a dream lab, I blew the opportunity, but had a summer experience that changed my career and my life. So far I was doing rather well in my kick-line experiences. The luck would not, however, last for ever.


Chapter 2 GETTING AROUND IN WARTIME There was life before the second world war, so that I am starting with an introduction that owes much to the first chapter. When I was four or five in Britain in the early 1930s, the life goals of all young boys were to be "engine (i.e., rail-locomotive) drivers", and I was no exception. Trains were still romantic. A little later I transferred my ambition to that of being a pilot. A more immediate goal was to ride a bicycle. My younger brother John arrived at about this time (1933). When he in turn was four or five he wanted me to tell him bed-time stories of escapades, which I enjoyed dreaming up, on pedaled aircraft. Thirty-five years or so later I was given the opportunity of pedaling and piloting a human-powered airplane, the M.I.T. Chrysalis. During this wonderful experience my flight instructor bicycled along the runway beneath me shouting out commands.

MIT biplane Chrysalis. I was one of more than 150 people given the privilege of pedaling and flying this lovely aircraft. The photo is almost certainly taken by Steve Finberg (A friend, Jim Fitzpatrick, has written a whole book “The bicycle in wartime” about the contributions of bicycles to war activities. This short chapter is not meant to compete!)


For the first few months of WWII, which started for Brits in September 1939, private cars could be used under a system of gasoline rationing and heavy shrouding of the lights at night. Soon in 1940 private cars were totally banned except for emergency physicians and a few others. We all walked and biked a great deal. I have written in chapter 1 of the excellent bus, street-car and railroad services that continued to be available throughout the war (except of course, during bombing).

Parental decrees My parents were adamant that I would not be allowed to ride a bicycle until I was nine, and promised that I would get one then. I was not a rebellious kid, and accepted this restriction with good grace, while being envious of my friends who were given bikes much earlier. My desire did, however, rise to a fever pitch. As my ninth birthday approached (February 1937), I began reminding my parents of their promise. Dad went down to the coal cellar and brought up an ancient "Hercules" singlespeed boy's bicycle, grossly dirty and as heavy as sin. Most child psychologists would aver that it could not possibly excite any emotion other than repulsion. However, I was thrilled to bits. I rode everywhere I could, especially to Sutton Park, the twothousand-plus-acre stretch of grassland, woods and lakes that distinguished our town (the land was first enclosed as a deer park in the twelfth century; later Henry the Eighth hunted there). My friends and I loved to crawl through tunnels in the gorse bushes and swim in the lakes and climb trees. Later that year I started in the junior school of Bishop Vesey's Grammar School, a venerable institution founded in 1527 for poor children, but in my time firmly middle class in clientele and high class in education. I would bike the 2.5 miles there after breakfast for the start of school at 0815, leave for lunch at about 1145 to bike home, bike back for classes that started, I believe, at 1400 (2 PM), and then home at 1615 (4.15 PM). I looked forward to each trip on a bicycle. I still do.


Susan and Ellen on the steps of Bishop Vesey's Grammar School main entrance

In 1940 when I was twelve I had grown too large for the Hercules, and my father decreed that I should have a better bike. He brought another old bike up again from the basement, but this time he took it to Garfield's bike shop in Chester Road and asked that it be cleaned and fitted with some new parts. I was beside myself with joy. It wasn't very flashy, but it had a threespeed gear, 26-inch wheels, and handlebars that could be reversed to the semi-dropped position. By this time I was in the senior school, the third form, and I had done rather well, being either first or second in every subject in the first year, unaccountably and inscrutably called, through typically English logic, the “second” form (there was no first form in the senior school). The third form is equivalent to sixth or seventh grade in


the US. I was placed accordingly in form 3A, the advanced stream, whereas the other two-thirds of the students went into forms 3B and 3C. The academic competition for me thus became stronger. However, I was in danger of losing out, so enraptured was I during classes at the thought of that beautiful machine in the bike sheds down the hill. Improvements kept suggesting themselves. My first purchase was of beautiful "Lauterwasser" handlebars. (I was delighted to find that Jack Lauterwasser, the designer, was very much alive at least in 1999.) Later I wanted a Cyclo "derailleur" three-speed gear. The Cyclo company was the principal manufacturer of derailleur gears in France, and its UK branch was in Birmingham. I was learning the value of money and of trade (I had to sell almost all my beloved books, mostly for “thruppence” (3d) each to reach the 32 shillings needed) but I bought my gear. My friends said that I was unnecessarily ostentatious when changing gears near them and especially when near young women. Derailleurs were not very common at that time. Nowadays that bike would be called a "clunker". I was still using that bicycle when I left the UK in 1961, although there wasn’t a great deal of the original bike left. I rode it to Cornwall and to Scotland several times, and once to go over 235 miles in a day. In retrospect I wish that I had bought myself, when I could have afforded it, a good lightweight bike. I tried to be good at various sports without success: bicycling could have been something in which I would have performed passably. It still would not have won me kudos at school. Biking in wartime My first long ride took place in the early months of the Second World War. Private cars had another couple of months of permitted use, with rationed fuel: the lights were so heavily shrouded that I wondered why they didn't all pile up in a heap when driven at night. We were to have a last family camp together in Wales. It was the summer of 1940 and I was twelve. Brother Tom was nineteen and had a leave from the RAF due


and I seem to remember a girl friend or cousin from the WRAF (Women's Royal Air Force) was also coming. My second brother George was seventeen and worked at a munitions factory. There wasn't room for us all in the small family car, and George and I were ordered to start on our bikes after he came home from work on Friday evening. Or rather Dad ordered George to do so, at high volume. I had been ready for hours, having taken my bike apart to the last ball bearing and put it together lovingly with lots of grease and oil. I had read every book that I could get my hands on that covered bicycle servicing and touring, and felt that I was ready to start evening or morning. I believe that George preferred to start early Saturday morning and to do the 150-or-so miles in one day, but he was not allowed to do so.

David and George biking through the "Black Country”


Some of the longer bike trips in the UK

Fast trip to Wales George's forced departure meant that he was fired up, and he set what was for my short and unseasoned legs a cracking pace. I was out of breath most of the time and my heart was thumping. We left Birmingham and went westward through


Walsall and Wolverhampton and into what was then called the "Black Country", the awful mess of slag heaps and cheap row houses that was left from the industrial revolution. (Much later I would be scornful that Dad, who had a strong streak of antiAmericanism, would assail Americans for the dust bowl and other despoilations of nature, but drive without qualms or comments through the Black Country on the way to Wales.) It was getting dark by the time we reached Oakengates, a mining town, and we asked a policeman for advice on finding somewhere to stay. We followed his directions, and found ourselves in a row house, assigned to a bedroom with at least six beds - mine was still warm from the last body. The price for supper, bed and breakfast was 4s 6d., (54 pennies), and the food was substantial, for miners and for bikers. I didn't sleep too much because men were coming into the bedroom noisily, drunk or sober, until around 2.30 AM. We reached our destination in Wales successfully next day and had a vacation marred by a sense of foreboding of what the war would bring to each of us. We knew that we had to return to reality. I don't remember much of the return ride. The Blitz This was the first full year of the war, and later the blitz was waged in full horror against London and the southeast of England. We were on the eastern, Coventry, side of Birmingham, which was probably the foremost British city in the production of armaments, and we began having nightly raids. I remember the first. I was in bed, with my young brother John in his bed next to mine, in our second-floor bedroom with the taped window open. (The diagonal paper tapes were intended to hold the shards of glass together if the windows were broken in a bomb blast.) I was awakened at around 0230 by a distant explosion, followed by another, closer, and another, closer still and so on, for about five or six. They were a string of bombs dropped from a high-flying German plane. The nearest bomb hit


a house about 1500 yards away. My friends and I biked around to gawk at the house in the morning. The front had been blown off and the bath was hanging by pipes. The word was passed around that someone had been in the bath at the time, but given the hour it seems highly unlikely. Our attitudes were similar to those in John Boorman's semi-autobiographical film "Hope and Glory", in which the war, even in London, was fun so long as neither you nor your family and friends were hurt. From then on we lived in a bunk-room that the local carpenter had made at one side of the coal cellar. Neighbors who were unlucky enough not to have an old house with a cellar (basement) were given "Anderson shelters": corrugated inverted 'U's of galvanized steel that had to be nearly buried in the earth to give good protection. Consequently they were even damper than were we. Life was exciting for a young lad. I took classes in extinguishing incendiary bombs (which after penetrating a building were composed mainly of burning magnesium) and was, later, a firewatcher at school on the night shift. Sometimes we spent many hours in the shelters, playing Monopoly or chess or other longduration pastimes. It sounded often as if the Bofors guns firing at the German planes were in our yard right outside the house. At other times we would sneak up during what seemed like a lull to watch a German plane twisting in the searchlights while the guns roared away. In one supposed lull we all went up to use the bathroom, which was on the second floor. Dad went first. However, the sound of a bomb whining down apparently toward us brought him crashing out, throwing my brother and me to the wall in his haste to get downstairs to safety. Dad wasn't at his best in a crisis. At this time my brother Tom was in night fighters (Bristol Beaufighters and briefly in wooden De Havilland Mosquitoes) but he was stationed too far away, we thought, to be involved near us. On the seemingly rare occasions when a German bomber was shot down near us, my buddies and I biked over to view what was left of it and to collect any souvenirs that


were left. I remember feeling no pity whatsoever as I collected from the ground a piece of a flying boot. The next two years were not happy ones. My brother John died on November 11 1942 - I have written of this elsewhere - and my brother Tom was shot down in the spring of 1943 and reported as "missing in action." I had ridden about thirty miles with him after his last leave as he biked back to join his squadron in Norfolk. I had a sense of foreboding: after we said our farewells and I watched him disappear around the bend in the road I broke down and cried. I guess that I was fairly miserable in general at that time. But four months or so later a letter arrived from Tom in Stalag Luft 3 stating that he was OK and that things were looking up. We were overjoyed. He was to spend two years there, getting involved in the preparations for The Great Escape and other adventures. (He has written his own memoirs of those experiences: “In the shadow of the wooden horse”.) Southern discomfort Later in 1943 I felt adult enough - I was fifteen - to organize a bike trip for two to Devon and Cornwall, which were happy destinations before the war for the family at the times we didn't go to Wales. My buddy Derek Slade signed up to go with me, and we both joined the Youth Hostels Association. Many hostels had been closed because of the war, and it was necessary to make several one-hundred-mile rides to get from one to the next. We had a lot of confidence that we could manage these well. However, we had not allowed for several adverse circumstances. One was the hostility of many of the local people. Devon and Cornish people had always referred to visitors from outside their counties as "foreigners", and that attitude had been reinforced by the invasion menace which was especially strong in the south and east of England, but had abated by 1943 . Another serious problem was food. If one wanted to travel in the war one applied for "emergency ration cards": special coupons valid at other than


one's normal butcher and grocer. I tried unsuccessfully to get any food in Lynton and Lynmouth in North Devon, and then came across a butcher with a string of sausages hanging alone in his shop. That should have been a warning that there was something wrong with them. He happily sold them to us another warning. We ate them for supper that evening and were subsequently throwing up all night. We wondered whether he had been saving them for German paratroopers. Unfortunately, the next day we had to do eighty miles due west, and there was a gale against us and driving rain. Moreover, all road signs had been removed, and we were rash enough to ask a group of men working near an intersection for directions. They indicated one of the roads, and appeared to be chortling as we left. We found out much later that they had sent us along the wrong road, one that added twenty miles to our trip. The rest of the tour was a nightmare. I continued to throw up most of my food, and in fact continued to do so on and off for six months. Derek was a good deal better, but we were both very weak. I should have been put off from biking forever, but in fact started planning a camping trip to Scotland for the next summer. I bought maps and read about alternative routes, and lived in a rosy hue of Highland romance. By that time, 1944, I was sixteen and felt rather manly - I was expecting to join the RAF or the Royal Navy next year. Welcoming Scotland A third buddy wanted to join us: Keith Mossman, a school athlete. Three is supposed to be a bad number, but we got along very well. There were several amazing differences from the tour of last year. Having a tent, we didn't have to reach any given destination, which was a huge relief. However, the principal difference was in the people. With every day's biking northwards, friendliness and hospitality increased steadily. I had a list of camp sites, because Dad had the family enrolled in


the Camping Club. They were almost all at farms. We stopped the first night in Lancashire, where we were received in a friendly but fairly reserved manner. The next night was near the Lake District, friendlier and more relaxed, and the third night was near Dumfries, over the Scottish border. It is necessary to digress. I and my buddies were brought up and educated in what I confess was a typically English way. I remember my first day at school, "St. Michael's Preparatory School", January 11, 1933, when I was still four. The principal, Mrs. Lilly, hugged me and said something like "Isn't it wonderful to belong to the greatest nation in the world?" I don't know what world event triggered this patriotic emotion, but Mrs. Lilly was a very kind woman, and was not being more chauvinistic than anyone else. I can't remember any other nation being discussed in a positive light. That doesn't mean that people in other countries were constantly denigrated. It was just accepted that we were number one. These attitudes are superbly described in “The rise and fall of the British Empire” by Lawrence James. I don’t remember much history being taught by Mrs. Lilly or by the Rev. Keyes in Sutton Coldfield’s Central High School where I went subsequently, but Bill Hudspeth at Bishop Vesey’s taught a lot of history. It was only much later – actually when I was writing for a newspaper in Louisiana – that I realized that the history was all about ways the English or the British had won glorious battles. Somehow when I was at this Baton Rouge paper the war of 1812 came up, and I asked what it was. “Well, you should know: you burned the White House!” was the reply. I was shocked: I had never heard of it. But I was well versed in the wars of the Picts and the Scots. I had learned that they were savage peoples, always coming over the border and wreaking havoc on the presumably peaceful English. We were taught that we had to go north over the border occasionally and punish them. I could understand that.


So I was just a wee bit apprehensive about entering Scotland. It had been united with England since 1707, but it had kept its own laws and customs and church and to a certain extent its currency. I thought that there might be some remaining antipathy; How wonderfully wrong I was! We passed through Gretna Green on the border, and Annan, and were, we felt, deep into Scotland nearing Dumfries when we stopped to ask a farmer if we could put up our tent in a field. He wouldn’t hear of it. He insisted on us using the clean dry and warm room in the upper floor of his barn. And he treated us as if we were favorite guests, instead of scruffy English teenagers. The next night we were near Ayr, and here the farmer did let us camp, but he gave us his best field and drove all his cows into another field. As soon as the tent was up a succession of children bearing vegetables, a rice pudding and other goodies came from the farmhouse. It was quite overwhelming. And no one in Scotland would take any money for allowing us to camp. The hospitality was heart-warming. I remember us stopping in a village to buy supplies and the minister of the kirk (almost certainly the Presbyterian church) coming out to greet us and to ask about our journey. The contrast with the reception we received the previous year in the south of England was striking. I had the same mixture of delight and guilt in 1959 when I used to take Sunday-afternoon walks in the “bush” in northern Nigeria and would come into a village which, being distant from a road, would not have had a white man visit for years. Yet the children would come running out, grabbing me by the hand to introduce me to people in the village as if I were someone special. I kept thinking “If one of these Nigerians came walking through an English village, people would go into their houses, lock the doors and peep out at the stranger through chinks in the curtains.”


Bitten alive The Scots’ hospitality did not, alas, extend to highland insects. We biked north through Glasgow and Dumbarton to the road on the west of Loch Lomond, feeling very romantic, and then turned west at Tarbet and Arrochar to the long climb up Glen Croe. Evening came as we were halfway up, and we decided to pitch our tent in the valley near a stream. It had been hot and dry, and as we were preparing to cook our evening meal a mist seemed to emerge from the ground. The mist was in fact clouds of some type of midge, fiercely biting. We tried to beat them off ourselves and each other, but were soon so affected that we stripped rapidly, wrapped ourselves in our sheet sleeping bags, pulled well over our heads, and tried to sleep. In the morning we were very hungry and ate a large midge-free breakfast, much from our dinner menu. My two companions were covered in oozing sores from the bites, and I was very proud that I showed nothing so distasteful. We rode to the top of the pass and were on our way down when I blacked out. I remember managing to crash rather gently, but I was incapable of further biking. The other two put up the tent and said that I lay in it for seventeen hours. Apparently the poison from the insect bites went into my system and did something nasty. We were coming to the most romantic part of our planned trip – I had dreamed of getting to the Kyle of Lochalsh with some longing – but we knew that we had to turn back. By the time we got home we had ridden about a thousand miles heavily loaded, and had had a wonderful time nevertheless.

Something of a break At BVGS I was a fairly enthusiastic member of the Senior Training Corps, and in my sixth-form year (the final one) I had my steel-shod boots shining bright for a day’s inspection. For some reason we had to leave our bikes under the evening-school building next door, and after the day’s events we went to collect them. There was a steep asphalt descent into the dungeon, my


left boot slipped on the surface, and I twisted my right leg. It was quite painful, and I assumed that I had sprained my ankle. I had heard many people who had done this complaining about the awful pain. So I asked one of my buddies if he could bring my bike up for me. After waiting for what seemed like many minutes (but probably wasn’t) I hopped and staggered down to get my bike and pushed it painfully up to ground level, with my friend along apologizing. We biked home, he leaving me at the start of the final hill so that he could go straight to his house. When I got home I fell on the lawn so that I could crawl to the front door, because the pain had increased more than somewhat. Mum helped me to the kitchen, sat me down, took off my boot and started bathing my ankle in her usual nostrum, hot water and boracic powder. There was a swelling above my ankle, and Mum pushed on that a little so that I gave out a small yelp. Dad, who was working at something in his chair and took no other interest, growled “Shut up and go to bed!” which I did. In the morning Mum took me to Birmingham Accident Hospital because the pain was obviously pretty intense, and an x-ray showed that I had broken both my tibia and fibia. I was enormously proud that I had gotten home on a hilly 2.5 miles on my bike, and knew from then on that I could stand a fair degree of pain. When I returned to school in my leg cast our form teacher “Tiger” Bryant said “I hear that you biked home with a broken leg, Wilson.” I said “Yes” and he “harrumphed”, which was high praise in the Britain of my youth.

A short love affair with motor-cycling The year after the Scottish ride I graduated from Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School and presented myself for induction into the Royal Navy. However, the end of the war in Europe took place in May 1945, and the end of the Pacific war seemed close, and at the recruitment offices I and my class buddies were informed that we were not wanted in the armed services at that time of demobilization. (Since then I have read the book on the


rise and fall of the British Empire quoted earlier, and learned that an important factor was the country's severe shortage of funds that made bringing more people on to the country's payroll something to be avoided.) There was some encouragement to go into engineering, which I had intended to do in any case, and to offer ourselves for military service subsequently. As described elsewhere, I went to a local university and became infatuated with motor cycles and Morgans and other cars. After a series of accidents I gave up powered personal transportation and returned to bicycling. I had lost my bicycling muscles, and I remember feeling at the age of twenty-two or so that this was what old age felt like, as I struggled to get up a long hill that a few years earlier I had tackled at full speed. But gradually my youthful strength returned.


Chapter 3 CARS, CLUTCHES AND CONE COUPLINGS “Curious” is a curious word. I was a curious child. That could mean “curious - weird” or “curious - inquisitive”. I hope that it means the latter in reference to me as a boy. Ellen, however, tells people that the reason I took her to England to meet my family was to make me appear halfway normal in comparison. If I have become a little unusual, it happened in adulthood. I believe that I was just a regular boy. This chapter is partly about my introduction to some engineering, mainly but not exclusively in my youthful period.

Morris Oxford burns its corks At the age of around four (1932) I became curious about the drive system of our car, a Morris Oxford of about 1928 vintage (license-plate no. VP 6385 - why do we clutter our brains with useless junk, such as car license numbers? Some people memorize the first few hundred digits of pi.) I asked my father how it was that the engine could be running and the wheels weren’t moving. He said something about gears. I didn’t really understand, but I knew that it wasn’t the answer I wanted. I tried to tell him that even after he had moved the gear lever into the position for moving, the wheels didn’t turn right away. He didn’t understand me, and I didn’t learn more until an afternoon in Bristol in about 1937 when the car was loaded with Mum and Dad and us four boys, and we were towing a loaded trailer up a steep hill. The traffic lights had gone red and then green, and the car started to move forward - and then began to fall back. “Holy smoke!” cried my father, using an expression he reserved for serious emergencies. “The corks have burned out!”


On these dashes to Devon and Cornwall for the annual summer vacations Dad did not merely not converse: he wouldn’t allow any talking by anyone in the family, as related in the chapter 1. But I, along with these corks, was burning, in my case with curiosity. Sotto voce I asked my older brothers what he meant, but they said that they didn’t know. We all had to get out of the car. Dad went to a service garage, the car was towed, and during the waiting time for the corks to be replaced I still couldn’t believe that a piece of majestic machinery like a car depended on corks for anything. Some more background is desirable. In my time Dad always had a car even though he used a bicycle for most journeys. (Ellen, Susan and I follow this excellent example closely.) My earliest “car” memories are of something with a rumble seat, called a “dickey seat” in England. It was probably Dad’s Singer Roadster, which he mentioned occasionally. Later came the Morris Oxford, the Morris Major and the Wolseley “15”. By US standards they were tiny cars, but the family of six squashed in somehow, my mother performing miracles of feeding a baby and three other children of various ages while piled high with bags, tents etc. Dad had made a trailer to carry most of the camping gear. Later, after he had bought the (used) Morris Oxford (he never purchased a new car) he sold the trailer and made, with everyone’s assistance, the Rice-copy “caravan” (a British term signifying a towed vehicle with bunks). Dad’s two rolled-up car inner-tubes acted as both springs and dampers and worked beautifully, in sharp contrast to the performance of a commercial caravan Mum bought later (about 1937) with money (about GBP120) left her by her dad: it would develop a horrifying swinging bouncing motion that could pick up the rear of the car and make it uncontrollable. Nowadays vacations seem to be stretched, as people take off a day or two before and/or afterwards to avoid others’ traffic and to extend their vacations. In the depressed thirties those who


had work, and Dad did, or who went to school, worked five long days and Saturday mornings. However, when people went on vacations they were allowed to leave on Friday evenings. Dad was boss of his department, the Development Laboratory of the General Electric Company (of Britain), and he liked to set a good example. The example he set of support at home was less stellar.

Dad’s copy of the Rice caravan with the Morris Oxford. The bunks have been swung down. Mum I and John and a playmate are relaxing.

Dad worked every weeknight until 1.30 or 2.30 AM after a snooze of an hour after supper; he was writing books or papers or occasionally, as frequently on Christmas Eve, developing and printing photographs. He would do absolutely nothing in preparation for the family two-week vacation, always (at least before the war) camping, and always requiring Herculean efforts on the part of Mum The puzzle over the corks did not require Herculean efforts from me. There were so many things that I didn’t understand that I had no great priority for finding out about one unknown rather than another. I began to learn several years later, after I had left primary school and entered the Central High School of the Reverend J. J. Keyes in Sutton Coldfield. I had reached the significant age of nine. This was the age at which my parents had


decreed that I would be able to bicycle. It was also the age at which I could be admitted to the junior school of Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School, Sutton Coldfield.

The Carnegie library The good bishop founded the school in 1527. I neither covered myself in glory in, nor greatly enjoyed, my two years in the junior school, although I did pretty well in the senior school. Having a bicycle, albeit a very old heavy single-speed Hercules, was, however, very heaven. Being allowed to ride it to school, about 2.5 miles, was liberating. Moreover, my route took me past the new Carnegie-endowed library. I did not know why this unknown Scottish American, or his foundation, wanted to give Sutton Coldfield a new library. All I knew was that I joined soon after it opened, and that it was wonderful. I was allowed to borrow two books at a time, one being fiction. One of the first nonfiction books I took out was “The Motor Vehicle” by, I think, Garrett. (“’The Motor Vehicle’ has been an essential reference work for both the student and practising engineer ever since the first edition appeared in 1929”). I liked it so much that I asked to be given a copy for Christmas. And I found out about clutches, cork and otherwise. They turned out to be quite complicated. In essence, the engine needs a flywheel with enough inertia to keep it rotating steadily between the firing of the various cylinders, and a disk connected to the car transmission would be brought up to rub against the flywheel to start the car gradually. This disk, called the clutch disk, could move along the transmission shaft without rotating on it because it was on a “spline” - a set of axial grooves on the shaft that matched with grooves in the hole at the center of the disk. The flywheel had an enclosure bolted to it that surrounded the clutch disk and that had more axial grooves or slots that enabled a second rotating annular steel disk to press on the back side of the clutch disk, under the action of springs. This annular


rotating disk could be forced back against the springs by one or more rotating levers or fingers, against one end of which a bearing - the clutch bearing - could be pressed by action of the clutch pedal. The clutch disk needs to have friction material on its front and back sides, both to transmit sufficient torque (or twist) to the transmission shaft, and to minimize wear while doing so. An early method was to drill holes into the clutch disk, insert corks so that they were held at about their midpoints, and to run the whole assembly awash with oil. Under normal loading there was very little wear. With a heavily loaded car pulling a heavily loaded caravan on a very steep hill and trying to start from rest, the unusual amount of heat that was developed probably vaporized the oil locally and led to the rapid wear and burning out of the corks. I found later that my first motorcycle had a cork clutch.

The clutch plate with its friction facings gets squeezed between the inside of the flywheel and the moving disk. When the clutch pedal is depressed, as in the sketch, the moving plate is withdrawn and the drive from the engine on the left to the transmission on the right is disconnected.


The bicycle rival - dissecting engines School was, however, where a rival began to woo me away from my bicycle. Even before the war all boys (it was a boys’ school) were required to participate in the “Cadet Corps” for the younger ones and in the Officers’ Training Corps (OTC) later changed to the less-class-identified JTC (Junior Training Corps) and STC for the older students. I had no doubt that I was going into the armed services, but after a couple of four-day courses with REME - the engineers’ component of the Army - I was shocked by the general boasting by the Army instructors over sexual exploits and near-violence, and I began to aim toward one of the other services. In the sixth form (final two years) I joined an air-force training corps that I attended in the evenings to give me more chance of serving in the RAF. However, I was enthusiastic in my time in the JTC and STC, even though I didn’t shine at anything. My most enjoyable experience in the STC was a quick instruction in riding an Army motor-cycle in mid-1945. An instructor from the regular Army had a squad of about five of us on the school sports field. He gave each of us in turn a short lesson, and sent us on our way on his Royal Enfield army bike around a quarter-mile loop. I was last. I wanted to see if I could go faster than the others, and opened up the twist-grip throttle a little too hard. The front wheel bounced and started an oscillation that built up to the point where I was thrown sideways off the bike. I was thrilled to bits, and was unhurt. I could not, however, afford a motorcycle at that time. After visiting several secondhand dealers I bought an old Douglas opposed-twin-cylinder engine for twelve shillings and sixpence. It had an external flywheel that I had neither the tools nor the ability to remove. It was the key to the disassembly of the engine, so that I did not manage to learn much from it.


The test ride had taken place in the languid days after VE Day (May 8 1945), after final exams and before the end of term in July, and I thought that I was about to be inducted into the RAF. However, the end of the war in Europe caused the authorities to decree that, for our group at least, getting an engineering education was better for the country than serving in armed forces that were simultaneously demobilizing, and we were given automatic deferment until graduation from the university. I have described elsewhere how I had defied my father and highschool headmaster by applying for a “state bursary” at Birmingham University rather than staying another year at BVGS and then going on to Cambridge University. My dastardly plan was aided by some rather good results that came through from my scholarship-level higher-school-certificate exams (“Tiger” Bryant, my sixth-form teacher, cruelly kept me hanging after asking rhetorically “What in heaven’s name have you done, Wilson, to get these results?” I thought, of course, that he meant “bad” results. Then, after a full half-minute of silence, he said “You’ve done very well indeed. How did you manage that?” I could have told him: he was my physics teacher, an excellent one, and I still remember two of the questions in the advanced exam. I couldn’t see how my responses could have been anything but spot on.) Suddenly I had a new prospect in front of me: free of school, a university to go to in the fall, and an open summer. In the previous two summers I had managed to get jobs in service garages, the first for no pay, and the second for about thirty shillings a week (about $6.50 in those days). But I had acknowledged Dad’s direction in choosing to do electrical engineering, and I got a summer job in his firm, the General Electric Company (no relation to GE in the US). The work I did, however, was entirely in mechanical skills, and it contributed to a slight increase in my confidence in the manufacturing arts. I started the four-year course at Birmingham University in the


second year, as did all “grammar-school” students I knew. The first year appeared to be purely remedial, taken by very few admitted students. The demobilized veterans on the UK equivalent of the GI Bill went into the second year too, and we felt privileged and enriched by their presence. I couldn’t help feeling also a little guilty at having avoided, through no fault of my own, serving my country in the way they had. Instruction at Birmingham had suffered from the war, however. All younger able-bodied instructors had been drawn into the war effort, and retired people, mostly from industry and totally inexperienced in teaching, had been recruited to do their best. I have related elsewhere how I came to experience the joy of experimenting with turbines during my next summer job, and how I switched from electrical to mechanical engineering. I was also getting a lot of mechanical-engineering experience from my vehicles. The first of these was a Royal Enfield 250-cc motorcycle. Somehow I saved enough to buy a second-hand machine of uncertain background in late 1945. I was living at home on the northeast of Birmingham and commuting to the University at Edgbaston on the southwest, and tried both bicycling and public transportation. Either method took a great deal of time. Motorcycling was exciting for several reasons. Despite the small engine and the workaday reputation of Royal Enfields, it was a peppy machine relative to most other vehicles. My route took me past the works entrance of Norton, whose motorcycles traditionally battled for world supremacy against BMWs. In those days every vehicle had a test run, and I would find it thrilling to be mixing it up with a stream of Norton testers. A large proportion of the route was also crossed with tram streetcar - tracks, surrounded by wood blocks or stone sets. Streetcar brakes worked directly on the rails, not on the wheels, and the tracks gradually wore down until they were deeply set in the blocks. The wood became impregnated with oil, and when


there was rain, which was all too frequently, it was almost impossible to cross a streetcar track at a small angle, when the traffic conditions forced it, without skidding over. Then I would find myself sliding along on my behind with the bike on its side not far away, among the cars, trucks and streetcars. By good luck rather than skill I escaped injury. A cop helped me up after one such spill and said “You're the fourteenth motor-cyclist to come off while I've been here this morning!”

Climbing lessons After I joined the university mountaineering club I went on the motorbike to North Wales for climbing instruction,. I had no idea what clothing one should wear to travel on an evening in November, and was chilled to the bone most of the way. Right after breakfast the next morning we hiked to the top of a high “chimney”, a vertical fissure in the rock. With no instruction whatsoever the “instructor” said that the least experienced - I should go first, and roped three of us on a length of line. I said that I didn’t know how my boots, carrying soft-iron “clinker” nails around the soles, could grip on smooth slate rock, but the instructor pooh-poohed this information, and sent me on my way. I got about 40-ft. down before I slipped. The person above me hadn’t belayed herself, and she came off the cliff too. The instructor was at least well belayed, and managed to lower both of us to safety. My knees were wobbly. I declined further “instruction.” When the time thankfully came to return to Birmingham there was a fog - not a real pea-souper, but enough to encourage one of the car drivers to ask if he could follow me. Fogs were frequent occurrences in Britain in the days of widespread coal-burning. On a bicycle or motorcycle I would have an advantage over fourwheeled vehicles in being close to the edge of the road, which a driver often could not see. It was strange in a really thick fog to be riding at 18 MPH on a bicycle with a line of trucks and cars


dutifully following me. (However, the penalty for heavy trucks was not large: before the 1960s the speed limit for trucks, even far out in open country, was 20 MPH). On the return from Wales the fog was light enough for me to be able to travel safely at over 50 MPH. I had a “pillion” (rear-seat) passenger, but I was going a little faster than I wanted because the car was driving too close to my rear wheel for comfort.

Ellen's concept of the chimney "instruction". Actually it was much closer to the vertical than she has shown here.

Without warning the motorbike braked suddenly and went into a rear-wheel skid. I had the presence of mind to pull on the clutch lever; the bike recovered immediately, and we coasted safely to a stop. I realized that the engine, pulling two people at speed in the mountains, had seized. That means that the piston had gotten hot enough to expand so that it was too tight to move up and down in the engine cylinder. We all gathered around the bike, listening to the crackling from the engine cylinder and


inspecting the rear tire, chain etc. In a few minutes I gingerly tried kick-starting the engine. It ran, apparently beautifully. We went on our way at a more reasonable speed and arrived home cold but safe. I had escaped a life-threatening situation for the second time that weekend.

More tear-downs The responsibility of owning a motorcycle led me to buy books on design and maintenance, and also made me a regular visitor to the reading room of the Carnegie library to read The Motor Cycle and Motor Cycling magazines. Accordingly I knew what I had to do next: tear down the engine to find if the cylinder bore had been damaged, and if there were broken piston rings. I was delighted to find that the bore was well polished, without even a scratch visible, and that the piston rings and their grooves in the piston were in good shape. Two other aspects of the engine were fascinating to me. One was the discovery that it, or rather the associated gearbox, had a cork clutch. (“Standard-shift” automobile engines incorporate the clutch into the flywheel, both running at engine speed. Motorcycle engines are normally “geared down”, usually through a chain rather than through actual gears, to a slower-speed clutch on the gearbox (transmission) shaft.) This was my first experience of a cork clutch since that on the Morris Oxford failed in Bristol about fifteen years earlier. It, too, seemed to be in excellent shape, with plenty of good-looking lengths of cork (none burned!) showing good wear potential. I showed it to as many of my friends as I could persuade to look. The second interesting aspect was the design of the crankshaft. I had worked enough with automobile engines to be familiar with the forged or cast crankshaft, with its main bearings and “bigend” bearings for the connecting rods (see illustration from the Family Car website.).


an automobile crankshaft

The bronze or other low-friction-metal linings or “bushes” are usually split across the diameter, as are the mating lower ends of the connecting rods (called “big ends” because the “small ends” are inside the pistons). These one-piece crankshafts force the engine designer to use “plain” or “bushed” bearings and a forcedlubrication system to feed the center of every bearing with clean and preferably cool oil. My motorcycle engine had roller and ball bearings, and the crankshaft was made of several pieces that could be fitted inside an unbroken ball “race” before it was all assembled.

The wonder of cone couplings The crucial connection that allowed a built-up crankshaft of individual pieces was a conical joint. The single-cylinder engine on my motor cycle had two flywheels, one on each side of the connecting rod. The “big-end” bearing used rollers to reduce friction, and ball and roller bearings have to run in beautifully ground rings, called “races”, that, in high-speed applications, must not be split into two half rings. So the crankshaft had to be built up in pieces, and they were fastened together mainly by conical connections. Anyone who has operated a typical vacuum cleaner is familiar with conical connections: the tools usually fit into the hose with


conical joints. They are just pushed in, and maybe twisted a little, and they stay there. I didn’t associate these with engines at the time, but willy-nilly I began to become a minor expert in cone-and socket joints. One reason for my increasing expertise was my series of engineering apprenticeships described in another chapter. I was taught that many engineering cutting tools, such as drill chucks and the larger drill bits, had “Morse” taper mountings. When one pushed one of these into the tapered hole in a lathe or drill-press shaft the tool became captured – it was held there, and required the use of a slot and wedge to get the tool out again. I learned that “Morse” tapers are “selflocking” tapers, which is why one had to use force to get them unlocked. If the tapers are wiped clean before insertion the tools run absolutely true, with zero wobble. I thought that this was one of the most wonderful inventions of mechanical engineering. My engineering friends know that I am still trying to have conical connections introduced everywhere they are half-justified. (In a strange coincidence, the very day I am editing this chapter in May 2013 I have received patent documents to sign for a concept I proposed a couple of years ago to fasten ceramic turbine disks together using self-locking tapers. Doing so enables a designer to avoid having to incorporate a hole through the disks in which to fit bolts. The hole can double the disk stress.)

Illustration of self-locking tapers. The nearer one is a lathe “center”. It has a


small-angle taper (probably a so-called “Morse” taper) that fits a socket in the lathe “tail-stock”.. Even when just pushed sharply into the socket it is held so strongly that it can be removed only with a steel rod that pushes it under with a potentially large force. The drill “chuck” is also carried in a self-locking taper that fits both the lathe tail-stock and the spindle of a drill-press. It usually needs a blow with a hammer on a wedge to pop the drill out of the socket. The drills that can be fitted into the spindle rotate absolutely “true”, that is without any wobble. It’s a wonderful invention!)

The tapers on my motor-cycle-engine crankshaft pieces could not be self-locking, because if they were it would be extremely difficult to assemble the engine in perfect alignment, and it would be even more difficult to take the engine apart. I need to digress a little to explain a predicament I encountered. King Henry I died from a surfeit of palfreys, and I almost followed suit because of a surfeit of cones.

Wilsons of the world, unite! My best buddy at Birmingham University (1945-48) was another David G. Wilson. We were in the same classes and had similar interests, down to the ex-Army motorcycles we both rode. And he had a delightful sister. We were required to distinguish ourselves by our middle names, and he became D. Garnett Wilson and I D. Gordon Wilson. (I didn’t like that too well because I was named Gordon after a remote relative, a church minister who kept bantam hens. When I tried to stroke one when I was three or so the Reverend Gordon snapped at me, telling me to keep away from his birds. That was enough for me to dislike the name from then on.) One evening in 1947 D. Garnett phoned me in some excitement about an amazing bargain that he had heard about. Someone wanted to sell a racing Morgan three-wheeled car for GBP 18. This sounded too good to be true. (It certainly was!) In those days second-hand cars sold for several-hundred British pounds. And even in those days Morgans were rather sexy, being raced frequently at a well-known British race track called Brooklands. “What’s wrong with it? And why aren’t you buying it?” I asked.


He said that the Morgan was an old one (1927), but in great condition. And he was about to set sail to Newfoundland on what seemed to me to be the ultimate romantic trip. So I collected the details, phoned the owner, agreed to buy it, and then wondered how I was going to get to it. It was in a barn in Winchester school, down in the south of England.

David and Dad inspecting the old wreck of a Morgan up on blocks

A generous gesture from Dad and a hellish journey At family supper I mentioned my dilemma. An amazing reaction came from my father. “I’ll drive you down and tow you back” he said, suggesting a day a week or so ahead. I was overwhelmed. I don’t remember him offering anything so timeconsuming for anyone in the family at any time. I was very grateful. The seller couldn’t be there at that time, but he gave detailed instructions on where the car was and how to get access. There’s no doubt that I should have been much more curious about the condition of the car, and I should have researched things like brakes. When we eventually found the vehicle it was up on blocks in an apparently disused barn with no rear wheel.


The two front tires were flat, and this was a model in which NO BRAKES were fitted on the front wheels! The tires were old thin tires before the time when wired-on “clinchers” were used on Morgans. It was in no way a racing Morgan. It was a poor wreck of a family version of the car.

This is a photo from "Mostly Morgan Ltd." of a Morgan family car. The wreck I bought had once looked like this. Note the absence of front-wheel brakes.


This is the type of sports Morgan (a photo from “Mostly Morgan Ltd.”) that I thought that I was buying.

We found someone who thought that he knew where the back wheel was in another building, and we did indeed find it. But there were no wheel nuts. It sat in the rear fork similar to that of a bicycle. We found that the brakes on the car, a foot brake and a hand brake, both acted on the rear wheel. They were band brakes that pulled bands forward around drums on each side of the wheel. But without nuts on the spindle the brakes didn’t work. We searched madly for the nuts, without luck. Morgans probably used bicycle threads, much finer than those of normal nuts. It was getting dark. We had to get going without the nuts. We managed to pump up the tires, rest the rear-wheel spindle in the rear fork, attach the tow rope, and started on the 128-mile trip back to Birmingham. It was a very exciting journey. Whenever Dad slowed down, I ran into the back of the car. Usually I ran over the tow rope. So when he speeded up again he had the tow rope around one of the wheels and pulled me along somewhat sideways. The rear wheel was in any case canted over, rubbing on the wooden wheel well. At some point it set the bodywork alight. I was giving somewhat


anguished signals at intervals, and Dad saw me waving, stopped and helped put the fire out. A little later we found a place that had nuts that fitted, and I had a wheel that worked and brakes that more-or-less worked. It seemed heavenly. I started to enjoy the trip, and we got home OK. By the safety standards of today it was appallingly dangerous even with the wheel nuts installed and some brakes that worked. Nowadays macho types like to decry our present “nanny” society. I was unwittingly forced to be macho in that wreck of a Morgan towed behind Dad’s car, and I had a very good chance of being killed.

Dad in his Wolseley towing David in his Morgan with the tow-rope wrapped around one wheel.

During the next six months when I was trying to rebuild the car and to get it to run, Dad would occasionally give me a tow. All three-wheeled Morgans so far as I know were driven by large Vee-twin engines. Mine was a J.A.P. 1100 cc engine. Someone had taken or exchanged the carburetter, and I spent a long time soldering bits of brass on the carburetter on the engine to make the mixture richer, without luck. The engine was lubricated through a small pipe going to the wall of one of the cylinders in what was called the “total-loss system”. In other words, there was no recirculation of the oil from a sump through oil filters and a cooler and back to the engine bearings. The oil was simply


pumped in to a place where the rotating parts would produce a mist that was supposed to get everywhere, and some would get burned in the cylinders. Well, eventually a tow from Dad produced a wonderful explosion of power just before we got back to our house. By that time the crankcase must have been half full of engine oil, and it got into the cylinders producing prodigious quantities of smoke. Visibility in the street fell rapidly to zero. I nosed the car into the driveway and turned off the thunderous roar. I could hear the tooting of a driver lost in the thick fog of exhaust, and I felt guilty. As mentioned above, the car was not a racer, but a so-called family model of 1927, able to take four people in a crude wooden body. At least this would put some weight over the only driving and braking wheel. I wanted to make it into a typical two-seater sports version, and spent an inordinate amount of time building a new body – I became fairly skilled at “panel-beating”, which is the shaping, using special hammers, of flat metal sheets into three-dimensional curves. Eventually I got it all together and had the temerity to drive up to Knutsford, Cheshire, about 75 miles away to fetch my girl-friend home to meet the family. Even though she did not have the steering wheel in front of her the cockpit was a tight fit around her ample chest, and she was surprised when one of the exhaust pipes came off a little way in front of her and blue-and-yellow flames came scorching out. She insisted on taking the bus back home. She dropped me – gave me the bird – soon after. A surfeit of cones Now to the surfeit of cones. The J.A.P. engine was a motorcycle variety with a built-up crankshaft consisting of cone joints. So far so good. The internal flywheels were not enough to smooth out the engine impulses, however, and a large external flywheel was connected to the rear internal flywheel, again by a short shaft with cone couplings to both flywheels. The external


fly-wheel was an appropriate place to have the clutch. This is where the designers went too far. The flat-plate clutches of those days had to have powerful springs to prevent the clutch from slipping during hill-climbing and acceleration, and a lot of leg force was necessary to disengage the clutch. The designer of the clutch for this Morgan, obviously a fellow cone-enthusiast, decided to use a cone clutch instead of a flat-plate clutch. By doing so, they reasoned, they could produce a clutch that didn’t need very strong springs and that could therefore be operated with light foot pressure. That was the theory. Unfortunately the clutch thought that it was part of a self-locking taper, and however gingerly I tried to let it out to engage gently it would suddenly grab, the engine would slow dramatically and the rear wheel would spin. It had to do this just once for all the cone couplings in the engine to shift a little. Then the cone clutch would face, not a smooth-running flywheel, but an oscillating horror that threatened to split the engine case, and with which it was impossible to produce a gentle take-off. The surfeit of cones produced a nightmare. At times I would have preferred a surfeit of palfreys. Occasionally I would drive the ten miles to the university, mainly to show off. I mentioned earlier that Birmingham was full of wood blocks and streetcar tracks deeply sunk into them. I found that having three wheel tracks instead of one as on a motor-cycle, and moreover with front tires of only 2.5” size, it was virtually impossible not to get one wheel stuck into one of these lines, and sometimes I would find myself flung around through ninety degrees between two lines of traffic. I advertised in the equivalent at that time of eBay, a periodical called the Exchange and Mart, for Morgan front wheels with brakes and considerably larger tires. For at least a couple of weeks no responses came.


This is a very rough cross section entirely from memory of typical motor-cycle engines and of the particular engine (a J.A.P.) on my Morgan. Just the upper part of the engine is drawn. There are five steel cone couplings generally connecting cast-iron flywheels and, to the right, a cast-iron clutch disk, also another flywheel. In the Morgan this was also a conical clutch. Despite delicate foot-work this clutch usually engaged very suddenly, often causing all the other conical connections in the engine to shift just a little, but quite enough to cause the clutch-flywheel to wobble subsequently. This meant that from then on, it was absolutely impossible to engage the clutch gradually.

Mabel’s end Early one Saturday there was a light snow falling, and I had Saturday-morning lectures to attend. I decided that it would be safer to bicycle than to take Mabel the Morgan. Then my mother said “You’re NOT going to take that car this morning!” and of course there was no longer any alternative to “that car”. I set off gently enough and carefully negotiated various hazards until I came up a short hill with a sharp corner at the top. As I crested it I saw men shoveling snow into the back of a lorry (truck) and a car coming towards me blocking any possibility of going around the truck. I applied the one rear brake, felt the wheel stop and skid without any apparent slowing of my speed. I tried again.


Then I shouted to the men to get out of the way. All I could do was to aim for the rear frame of the truck. The men moved satisfyingly fast, and my two engine cylinders hit the frame – thank goodness, because if they hadn’t my head would have hit the body of the truck first, and I would have been beheaded. The cylinders broke off, I clambered out and apologized profusely, and started pushing the remains home. When I got there I found the morning mail included two responses to my advertisements for front wheels with brakes. Someone brazed the pieces of the cylinders together for me, I did my best to produce a good inside surface for the pistons to slide past them, and the car ran again. I advertised it for sale, giving its total history very honestly. Cars were in short supply at that time (early 1948) and a large number of people answered the ad. One of the first, a sailor, bought it for forty GBP – he insisted on it (I was asking for considerably less). Sic transit Mabel and my surfeit of cone couplings. It had taught me a great deal of engineering technology, and I escaped several near-fatal events in it. I loved it, but it was time for me to move on.


Chapter 4 INTRODUCTION TO AN ENGINEERING APPRENTICESHIP My family labels me a workaholic. I wish that they could have concealed themselves in my briefcase - if I bothered to carry one at any particular time - while I was at the University of Birmingham and during the two years afterwards. In Britain, a requirement of becoming a member of a professional society of one's discipline, in my case the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, an august body that was proud to have George Stephenson, the railway pioneer, as its first president, was that one spent the two years after graduation (1948 – 1950) in an approved apprenticeship. My apprenticeship to engineering and to much else lasted much longer than that short period - it hasn't finished yet - but the two years I spent after college had a profound influence on me.

The University of Birmingham The true apprenticeship started at the University of Birmingham. I went there in 1945. I was a very young seventeen; the war in Europe was over, and the Pacific war was rapidly being won. The government was not keen on processing new recruits at a time when it was trying to demobilize millions of existing military people, and my call-up group was urged or required to go into approved training. Engineering was approved. Cambridge – or Birmingham? By going to Birmingham University I had already shown a first faltering sign of rebellion against Dad's strong hand. All three of us brothers had gone to a good high school - Bishop Vesey's Grammar School, in Sutton Coldfield. Tom did well,


became a prefect (meaning one of a chosen few among the senior students who helped enforce discipline), was popular, and was a member of the rugby "first fifteen". George and I lived somewhat under his shadow. Although I did pretty well academically, my strenuous attempts at athletics, particularly running and rugger, produced only broken teeth and a fairly strong inferiority complex. I led a 600-mile bike ride in 1943, and one of a thousand miles into Scotland in 1944, but if one wasn't good at rugger - a rather disorganized and macho sport one had a wimp image, no matter what else one did. Dad had managed to get for me a provisional entrance to Jesus College, Cambridge - I liked to tell people that I was going up to Jesus and with the war in Europe ending just after I turned seventeen there seemed a good chance that I would be able to go. But my father and "Boss" Jones, the headmaster (Mr. A. Sylvanus Jones) got together and decided that I was too immature to go to university yet: I should stay at school for another year. They thereupon - without any consultation with me - deferred my entrance to Cambridge. I was horrified. I don't remember protesting too much to Dad one didn't do that. He just wasn't very communicative. And whether or not I was a wimp, I was certainly far from a forceful person. I seem to have been trained to take my lumps and - at least up to then - live with them. It took a while to grow out of that attitude. I started doing so right then, in early 1945. There was an announcement of a new program of "State Bursaries", whereby the (national) Ministry of Education would finance university tuition. There were two disadvantages. One was that, if I won a bursary, I would have to go to Birmingham University, which was then far from being one of Britain's leading schools. The second was that I would have to live at home. Both together were not nearly so unattractive as having to stay at school, and I started working in earnest for the final exams. I also entered the


scholarship section of the Higher School Certificate, which I was not supposed to enter until the following year. Everything else took second place to "swotting" (cramming ) for the exams. They were three-hour horrors, one in the morning and one in the afternoon for two weeks. The results were due to be announced on a Monday morning in August, 1945. I remember lining up with my classmates, jocularly shrouding our nervousness, for my individual interview with "Tiger" Bryant, form teacher of "Sixth Science". My turn came, and I closed the door behind me and looked at his face for an indication of the result. He seemed to be contemplating a secret sorrow. He kept me waiting an eternity of twenty seconds or so, while my heart sank. "Well, Wilson, what do you have to say for yourself?" he asked rhetorically. My feelings dropped lower. "You've done remarkably well, remarkably well". My body stayed in the room, but my spirit soared out of the school. It was a very good school. Tiger Bryant was a very good teacher. But I felt oppressed. In the fall I started at Birmingham University, registering for the electrical engineering course of study, as Dad required of all of us. The lack of electricity in electrical engineering I have often wondered whether or not that rebellion was a mistake. Birmingham was not challenging, and I did not challenge myself. The lecturers (in British universities only the head of a department or discipline is called a professor) were mostly old people from industry replacing the younger people who had gone to war, and were generally extraordinarily uninspiring. Two examples stick in my mind. One was the department head in my first year, when I was still in electrical engineering. He had made his mark in industry in servomechanisms, for instance designing a device that would gently lower and raise a seaplane to and from the water with a crane mounted on the heaving deck of a warship. It should have


been an exciting topic. When he introduced it right at the start of the three-term course we felt honored to have him give us the latest developments, and looked forward to learning about them with anticipation. But as the weeks droned on, without any of us having more than the dimmest understanding of what he was talking about, the course became a farce. Moreover, he didn't specify a course text. There was no doubt that, if he had, I would not have bought one, because I was crazy about motor-cycles at the time, and all my book money went to purchasing or "souping-up" a succession of them. No homework; no quizzes In British universities at that time there were usually no homework assignments or periodic quizzes. At the end of each of the first two years (I had entered the second year of a four-year course as had most of my grammar-school fellows) there were perfunctory exams, designed only to weed out the totally incompetent. We didn't take them very seriously. Two weeks before the second of these final-exam periods, in June 1947, this department-head professor came to class and said that he had been looking at the syllabus, and that he found that it had nine topics, of which servomechanisms constituted only one. We would ourselves have to cover the other eight, on which questions would be asked in the exams, in the remaining time. We were some way from ecstasy over this information. Summer jobs, and battles with authority Somehow I and others in my class got through these exams, and being an electrical engineer I went on to my six-week summer apprenticeship, which the university had arranged for me at Metropolitan-Vickers Ltd., in Manchester. I was about to be introduced to some kick-lines.


The end of a promising career. “What's this drawing, laddie? A steam motor cycle, eh? I think you had better come into my office for a chat". My boss was speaking, and he was about to end my promising career in electronics. I had done the promising, but not the delivering. It was the summer of 1947, and I was nineteen, in my second year as an electrical-engineering student at Birmingham University. At this pregnant moment, in the first hour of my summer employment in the electronic research laboratory of Metropolitan Vickers in Manchester, England, several forces were coming together to change my life for ever. It was one of those random concurrences that seem to have shaped my experiences, to the point where you might well convict me of either being blown hither and thither by the winds of fortune or, more malevolently, of being an opportunist. So, you will want to know, why was I sketching a steam motor cycle in an electronic research laboratory? I will have to fill in a little background. The first and largest influence in the background was my father, William Wilson. He studied the relatively new field of electrical engineering in New Zealand at the turn of the twentieth century, had held a lectureship in electrical engineering at the Auckland University College for a while, and had come to Britain to spend most of the rest of his career at Vickers and then at the General Electric Company in Birmingham. He decreed that all his sons become electrical engineers. We all complied, at least for a while. As stated elsewhere, my oldest brother Tom went to the University of Birmingham until about 1940, when he volunteered for the RAF. My father was very angry. He believed that engineers and scientists were too vital to the war effort to be wasted fighting. Tom survived being a navigator in "Beaufighter" night fighters and in wooden Mosquitoes and then became one of the first so-called "Path-finders" in Lancaster bombers, going in


ahead of the thousand-bomber raids that the RAF were starting to inflict on Germany in 1942, marking the way and jamming enemy raider with various electronic devices. Tom was shot down over Holland in 1943, turned up later in the notorious Stalag-Luft-3 prison camp where he was involved in the “wooden horse” escape and to a lesser extent in the “great escape”, and eventually was liberated in 1945. He has written about this period in a booklet called “In the shadow of the wooden horse” (2010). When Tom decided (after he was liberated from confinement in Germany) that he didn't want to be an electrical engineer any more, and went to Cambridge University to study Russian and German under the UK equivalent of the GI Bill, Dad was again furious. We others got the message. George, five years my senior, was his success, staying in electrical engineering with the BBC until he retired. Whether one was registered as a mechanical or an electrical engineer didn't make much difference in the first year at Birmingham University: engineers were on a common no-choice set of courses. A good feature of engineering education in Britain is or was that in the summer vacation a six-week miniapprenticeship was mandatory. In my first summer I fixed up to work at Wolseley Motors, part of the Nuffield Group, later to become the principal part of the British Motor Corporation. My father had a Wolseley Fourteen, a rather fine car for the day, and I was proud to work at the plant where it was made. In the second year we were allowed to get work in the area of our specialty, and that was when the university arranged a job for me with Metropolitan Vickers, a large electrical-engineering company, in Manchester. Why, you may be thinking, did he go to work in Manchester, a place slightly less attractive, if possible, than Birmingham was in those post-war days? Cherchez la femme. My father and I used


to go on occasional bicycle tours, usually staying in so-called youth hostels, which in fact permitted use by people of any age. Everyone had to perform a chore before he or she leaves, and our chore on one overnight stay was dish-washing. A fellow dishwasher was a vivacious young woman whom I will call Joy Smith, in the unlikely event that she is still alive and that my words could cause harm. She had had an adventurous young life, and I enjoyed chatting with her as we dried a few hundred dishes. To repeat something I described briefly in chapter 1, a few days after we returned home I had a letter from her to say that there was an opening in a cross-Europe hiking group she was in, and would I like to join it? (It turned out later that there was no such group, and it would have been just she and I, a combination that in those days would have raised eyebrows). Something within me urged caution, and I declined, but I called on her and her family in Knutsford, Cheshire, on my way back by bicycle from a week's climbing course in the Lake District, about all of which more anon. We fell in love, and I arranged to work nearby in the summer partly to see more of her, and partly to get away from my family. Joy dumped me shortly before the summer work started, so that I had Manchester undiluted for the whole six weeks. It was probably the most broadly educational summer I have ever had. Losing my lover through loving far, far too slowly for Joy Smith was educational in itself. Metro-Vicks also made me appreciate a good home far more than I had ever done before, and in a remarkably short time. For the company arranged the "digs" (lodgings) that I was to use during my summer apprenticeship. Having lived in the US for a fair time, I look back with wonder on what we used to take as normal. In particular, we - almost everyone - were accustomed to having things done for us by "authorities" in a way that we would regard as interfering bossiness in the US. Birmingham University arranged my


summer job. I did have a little input into my choice of area, but I could have been over-ridden if there had not been room. Having been accepted by Metro-Vicks, I naturally left it to the company to fix me up with a room and board. And it did so, with Mrs. Fleet, of a town with the unhappy but, it seemed to me at the time, reflective name of Sale. I met Mrs. Fleet and her brood of boarders on the Sunday evening before my first Monday of work. She weighed about 350 lbm at the time, and she was sitting at the end of the kitchen table with an enormous bowl of very yellow butter, digging it out with a kitchen knife held like a dagger, which she then used to spread on bread as if she were putting mortar on bricks. These, I soon found out, were for herself. Seeing my eyes transfixed on the butter, she told me that she had acquired it on the black market - food was rationed at the time more stringently than it had been in the war, and her bowl of butter would have been more than a week's ration for a family of four. We had a reasonable evening meal, and then she asked one of her favorites - there were obviously old-timers she liked in preference to the upstart newcomers - to show me my bed. Or rather my part of the bed. The room was on the fourth floor, about 11 or 12 feet square, with a double bed taking up most of the space, a small single bed at the end under the sloping ceiling, a tiny window about a foot square, and a single 15-watt bare incandescent bulb. (I remember the size of the bulb because Mrs. Fleet gave me a warning on the second day that I was permitted no more than ten minutes use of the light at night. I had gone to bed early to read and someone unknown had snitched on me.) I was told that my place was the wall side of the double bed. My bed mate was nice enough, but had extremely smelly feet. Even in army barracks, which I had to patronize occasionally in military-cadet exercises, we all had bunks to ourselves, but I


thought that this was another of life's less-than-ideal circumstances with which one had to cope. The real shock came in the morning. Mrs. Fleet had told me that I would have to get my own breakfast along with three other early risers, but that she would leave it out. She did - a single small can of sardines and two slices of thin white bread, cut in half. So breakfast for each of us was to be a half slice of bread and a sardine. We were not even given an allowance of butter or margarine. The others accepted this treatment like soldiers, and I did too. But I was used to a rather substantial breakfast, even in times of food rationing. We all became experts in spinning out rations, and in filling up with the starches that were always available somewhere, even when bread and potatoes were rationed. Work started in the shops at 0730. I had bought an Ariel exmilitary motorcycle, the better to visit Joy, and I used it to travel the two miles or so to the plant. My job assignment had been worked out by the authorities. I soon found myself at the end of an electric-motor assembly line, wiping oil off the motor shafts as they came down every fifteen seconds or so. I was not impressed with the experience that I was supposed to be gathering in electronics, but I put up with it. Or I did until about 1030. At that time, four hours after my sardine and half slice of bread, I began feeling faint and having short blackouts, in which I would suddenly sag to my knees and come to again. A long while after the summer of 1947 I discovered at last that these occasional episodes were not due to hunger but to an allergic or over-sensitive reaction to airborne irritants, particularly cigar and other tobacco smoke. At that time it seemed that everyone in the shops - the blue-collar workers - and many of the staff smoked heavily. It was so common that I didn't notice who did and who didn't. In fact, I was experimenting with a pipe myself, as a means to make myself look like a university student instead of someone attending junior high. But at the time I simply ascribed my


faintness to hunger. Luckily one didn't have to give up ration cards to eat out, and we all ate at the works canteen. And potatoes were plentiful. I loaded up on potatoes. I became rather a favorite of the canteen staff. These longsuffering individuals in any organization I've ever heard of are the butt of complaints and jokes. As I have mentioned before (chapter 1) my mother brought me up with an advantage of enormous worth, one that I have thanked her for repeatedly since she died. She was an atrocious cook. I can't recommend this too highly - having a mother who can hardly boil an egg. Wherever I have had to eat institutional food - in army barracks, school cafeterias, an Atlantic cargo boat, West African local food, and works canteens - I have enthused over the food. Most people seem to have twenty years of mother's delights, followed by fiftyfive years of disappointment. I obviously win out over them every time. Let the battles commence! But in that particular summer, the combination of having been dumped by Joy Smith, of sharing a smelly bed with a stranger, of being hungry half the time, of not even being permitted to read, and of doing a menial, useless make-work job began to stiffen my backbone. Although we were supposed to stay at the digs the company selected for us for the whole six weeks, I began looking around. And I made an appointment to see the apprentice supervisor to ask to have my work assignment changed. This may not seem to be a major step. But for me, in those days, when the phrase "question authority" was still a few decades from being popular, I felt as if I was on a mutiny. And, in fact, I received no encouragement from the supervisor. That was where the authorities in their wisdom had put me, and there I would have to stay. I left him with my spirits depressed.


A few days later I had some good news. I had met another summer apprentice who was in some good digs where there was a vacancy coming up. I saw them, made arrangements with the new landlady to come in ten days, and gave Mrs. Fleet over a week's notice. It seemed appropriate, because we were paying by the week. I remember the amount well, because I was earning 38 shillings a week and paying out 40 shillings for five days' room and board. It was a typical arrangement. But Mrs. Fleet did not take the notice as typical at all. She became very abusive. She slapped me across my face with her huge hand. She asked me what I took her for? I replied, rather nastily "Well, not a lady at any event" which didn't help matters. One of the minor disagreements between us were the rations. She was collecting a week's rent and ration coupons from me, but providing two out of three meals, if you can call a breakfast of a sardine and a half piece of plain bread a meal, on only five days. When I went home to my family at the weekends I had to sponge off their rations. I had asked for something to take home, and she had refused. After I gave notice, she became ever more abusive during my five remaining days. When the last Friday came, I returned from work to collect my remaining stuff to motor-cycle home to Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire but found some things missing. In particular were my motor-cycling war-surplus "flight suit", and my ration card. She refused to give me either. Convex rations I was in something of a dilemma. The weather was amazingly hot and sultry (Manchester is renowned, in a country already blessed with too much rain, as being the rainiest city in the country, and there had been a heat wave since I had arrived) so that I could do without my bike suit for the 90-mile ride home. But I couldn't go to new digs without a ration card, and Mrs. Fleet knew it. What could I do?


A range of actions presented themselves. The one I liked most insisting on searching for my things, if necessary by force - was too risky without some legal advice. In these circumstances a Briton does not - or did not - go to a lawyer. He/she goes to the universal aunts, the police. I found out where the local station was, and drove carefully there on my motorbike. I was very circumspect. The officer at the desk wanted me to give the name and address of the party I was complaining about, and I politely refused. But he heard my story and my question, and he said "No, sir, on no account may you search the house against the owner's will. You must try to reason with her". So I thanked him, remounted my bike, and returned, looking back a couple of times to make sure that I was not being followed. Mrs. Fleet was waiting for me. I tried reason, to no avail. Just at the point when she was reciting the principal ten things she disliked most about me, and was setting herself up to be in a good position for her favorite face punch with plenty of followthrough, the doorway turned dark. It was a police officer. He must have employed more skill than I suspected in following me at a distance. Or had they had similar trouble with this particular landlady before? That was possible because he spoke her name, even though I had not given it to the police. "Now, Mrs. Fleet, you must at least give him his ration book: that's the law" Mrs. Fleet started grumbling in a low, angry tone. Then she sighed, and reached into her enormous bosom, pulling out the hemispherical shell that my ration book had become. I instantly realized what good advice the policeman had given me about not searching for my belongings. I left, mumbling my thanks to him in some embarrassment. We are getting closer, patient reader, to the matter of the steam motor-cycle. But a couple of more educational experiences must come first. I rode home to Warwickshire that summer Friday


night without my flight suit but with very high spirits. I sang arias and the bass parts of choruses from the Messiah at full volume the whole way, especially "I shall spite them with a rod of iron". My parents and I had been members of a Messiah chorus at a local church earlier in the year, and I undoubtedly spoilt the beauty of the music for many. After an enjoyable weekend working on various personal and family projects I set the alarm at 0400 and arrived at Sale well before 0600. I had a good idea where my flight suit was - in the back shed - and I retrieved it without breaking and entering - just entering. I shook the dust off my rear tire as I roared away from Mrs.Fleet's oppressive Dickensian house. The revolt at Met-Vicks My self-confidence was rising with my spirits. I was ready for my next encounter: I had made another appointment with the apprentice supervisor. This time I was not going to make a request, but a simple statement. Either I get moved from the shaft-wiping job, or I leave. This again may not seem to be much of a statement to you, but to me at the time it was high treason. The word would get sent back to the university, and I wouldn't be allowed to graduate until I had completed an additional summer course, no doubt with some other penalty the university could levy. And the government would then place me in some souldestroying place. But it seemed to me to be worth it, rather than to continue to accept what had been imposed on me. And I knew that Metro-Vicks wouldn't look good to the university, where someone would at least hear my side of the story. So I turned up at 1000 at the supervisor's office with my resolution all fired up. I have since experienced places like that office when trying to see some minor government bureaucrat in Venezuela. The people blessed with having appointments to see one of the officials sat on a bench along the long side of the room. Parallel to the bench and ten feet away was a counter, divided up


by short vertical partitions to form open booths. Eventually I was called to one of these booths. I started to state my case about the desired shift of work experience to the man on the other side of the counter. He peremptorily dismissed this and waved a letter at me. What did I mean by breaking an agreement with my landlady and insulting her, he asked in a loud and angry voice. Now in general, it may surprise you to know, I did not like and I do not now like to have arguments in public. I don't like arguments much in any circumstance, but there are occasions where plain speaking is preferable to the alternatives. But here was this supervisor spreading calumnies about me to everyone around. I was glad that I was steeled for this encounter, even if it was to have been on another topic. It quickly became clear that Mrs. Fleet had written a collection of half-truths and untruths, and had asked that I be dismissed. At this point I became genuinely quite angry. Did he, I asked him, make accusations based on one side of a story without making any attempt to find the facts? Did he know anything about the laws of slander and of libel? Did he make any attempt to inspect the exploitative houses where he dumped the summer apprentices? Did he think that being made to share a bed with a stranger, in a room with a 15-watt bulb for three people and with a limit of ten-minutes on per day, with a breakfast of a half slice of dry bread and a sardine met the standards of Metropolitan-Vickers to the extent that victims had to endure this accommodation without alternative for the whole period? And when a landlady steals both ration book and gear to the extent that she would deliver only the ration book with the intervention of the police, and then writes a poison letter to the company, was it going to take her word as a legal indictment of me? By this time it was I that was shouting. I wanted the people who heard the accusation to hear the counter-accusation. The poor fellow was trying to shut me up by any means. He began


apologizing for indeed taking Mrs. Fleet's word, and promised to look into my accusations. Whereupon I started on the matter of the job of wiping the oily shafts, and I believe that I promised a full report to Birmingham University of the type of training that Met-Vicks was dishing out, and he began to promise to reconsider everything if I would only return temporarily at least to my job. I had worked myself into a fine lather, and achieved some degree of composure only by reporting the morning's events to my "mates" on the assembly line, to their raucous amusement. Then a messenger appeared with an envelope for me. It was, of course, from the apprentice supervisor. There were mollifying words, now forgotten, about the Mrs. Fleet affair. And I was told to report to the Electronics Research Laboratory the following Monday morning at 0800. I was in heaven. Now I have to confess that, although I am proud of the gumption I showed in some directions, I am more embarrassed about the lack of enterprise I showed in others. I had four days in which I could have found more about the lab I was going to, what was being investigated there, and what I might be doing. I could have sought out my new boss. But I had had several summer jobs by that time, and they had all been extremely low-level. In the case of the first, picking potatoes and weeding bean fields, the level about as low as it could be. And the pay was sixpence an hour old pence, each about equivalent to a cent at the exchange rate we get close to occasionally. My first job at a service station I took on at no pay, just to get experience, but I found that not being paid I was given no worthwhile work, a lesson I have had to relearn repeatedly. One must put a certain value on oneself before others will put any value on you of their own. Ascent to heaven So although I had gotten my way to the extent of fulfilling my wildest dreams at Met-Vicks - not merely assembling


electronic apparatus but working in the holy of holies - the research lab where many of the war-time advances in radar were made, I did not expect to be doing more than soldering for technicians. I rolled up just before 8 am on Monday morning with a happy smile on my face. With the minimum of waiting, the receptionist, to my consternation, showed me to the lab director's office. It turned out he was the person responsible for many of the radar miracles; I at least knew his name - my father was head of the development lab of Met-Vick's rivals, GEC, and I had heard my father mention him. "Ah! Wilson!" he said. "You're the expert in electronics, I hear. I have a job for you. Let me just introduce you to a few of the blokes in the lab and then I'll tell you about it". This was something new. In fact, it was two things new. Here I was being given a job not by a lab technician but by a famous lab director. I felt some misgivings, but kept my confidence high. The second innovation, in my experience, was someone introducing me to others in the lab, and trying to make me feel at home. It was rather un-British. I appreciated it. But he was very British after introducing me somewhat perfunctorily to the first chap working on an electronic chassis at a bench. As we walked away, he said, soft voce, "He repairs radios in his spare time". American readers will see nothing sinister in that. But to a Briton the concept of trying to earn some extra money in the evenings was infra dig, even loutish. I thought of this small occasion years later when starting a short writing stint with a Southern (US) newspaper (see chapter 7). I worked with a reporter who was proud to have three other jobs. I swallowed hard and began to realize that the British attitude was just plain wrong. But I digress.


After the brief introduction, the boss looked at his watch. "Have to be at a meeting that will last until 9.15. That gives you an hour. What I'd like you to do is to work out a circuit that will use triode-hexode valves (tubes) to multiply two wave-forms, giving the product. I'd like to have your ideas then". And off he went. I suppose that I should say that I felt as if I had been clubbed. I did feel taken aback. I had the wit at least to go around to two of the people to whom I had been introduced to ask for guidance. Both said that they hadn't any idea what the boss wanted. Stupidity followed by the fall At this point, looking back, I know exactly what I should have done. I should have started a sheet with the problem statement as given to me, my understanding of it, a list of questions, and a list of possible approaches given various alternative interpretations. And I should have gone to the library to look up anything relevant. I am ashamed to state that I did none of these. I decided that the boss had misspoken, and that when I saw him at 9.15 he would give me more guidance. I had 45 minutes until then. I would spend a few minutes on my then-favorite dream, converting my motor-cycle to work with steam (not a very good idea, but I knew no thermodynamics at the time) before trying to concentrate on trying to fathom any semblance of understanding from a mixture of waveforms and triode-hexode valves. Alas! I was found out. The boss's meeting was either cancelled or shortened, and he returned in a half-hour. I was starting to doodle on my paper when his shadow fell across my sketches. “What’s this drawing, laddie?” he asked. “A steam motor-cycle, eh? I think that you had better come to my office for a chat.” I followed him to his office. I knew then that I had blown everything. I had complained so vigorously to the authorities at


Met-Vicks that they had given me everything I had asked for, and more. And then I had blown it. The boss looked at me standing there like someone caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and he brooded for a space. Then he leaned back in his chair to open the middle drawer of his desk. Now I had seen enough Westerns to know why people open their desk drawers when they are having differences with people standing in front of them. They wish to get their hands on their Colt 45s. The best I could hope for, I thought, was that he was reaching for his pad of pink slips. My eyes were riveted on the drawer as it slowly opened. The contents were not what I had expected. The drawer was full of little steam engines. My boss was a steam-engine enthusiast. Wilson had fallen on his clods of feet. "Let's forget about those wave-forms, Wilson. I think that I have a better job for you. I need a fast chopper to interrupt an infrared beam, and an air turbine might be the best way of doing it. How about giving that a go?" Some very happy weeks at the lab followed while I was making air turbines. They weren't very good air turbines, but they did the job, and the boss, whose name should be on the dedication sheet of this book, was pleased. After I returned to the university I changed my registration from electrical to mechanical engineering, and have worked in turbines and allied devices off and on ever since. I didn't tell my father. Instruction in mechanical engineering At Birmingham University the head of the department of mechanical engineering was a kindly old fellow named Professor G. F. Mucklow, whose research interests were entirely in wave action in pipes, particularly related to internal-combustion-


engine exhausts. After I switched to mechanical engineering he was giving my new colleagues as ME seniors and me a three-term course on applied thermodynamics. He would come into class, greet us courteously with "Good morning, gentlemen" - there were only a few women in engineering at that time, unfortunately - and proceed to the board, notebook in hand. For the whole of each hour, he would copy out what was in his notebook, and we would copy it down. One of my more enterprising buddies wondered to us why there was no course text, and asked us to join him in an appointment with Mucklow to ask him. One didn't speak out on such a subject in class. Professor Mucklow heard our spokesman, and responded that there was no need for a course text, as his notes were sufficient. With some temerity, our man came back with "How about if we were to get Ingalls, Professor?", naming one of the three or four possible texts then available. Mucklow was gently emphatic that Ingalls would not be suitable. But next week our classmate borrowed Ingalls from the library, and there found our notes, word for word, including misprints and errors. It was not inspiring to be subject to this level of “teaching”. I particularly regret the math instructors. At grammar school I almost loved math. A rival and I vied with each other for the mathematics prizes. All my love for the subject vanished at Birmingham. One of the worst math lecturers, a droner to the nth power, has written a book with a title like "the art of teaching mathematics to young people". He must have learned to teach a long time after I was at Birmingham. Cast overboard by the Royal Navy: is there life after Varsity? In the last year at Birmingham I found that I would have to make a decision about what to do next. For reasons I can't remember I had switched my intended military service from the Royal Air Force to the Royal Navy, but it made no difference to


my fate: the armed forces simply didn't want us any more in 1948 than they did in 1945. We were put on some deferred list, to be mobilized in a future emergency, and told to go on our way. I needed advice. I knew that I couldn't ask my father. He would have given advice, but it wouldn't be optional. And I had not told him that I had forsaken electrical engineering. I made an appointment with Prof. Mucklow. It was the first time I would have spoken individually with an instructor at Birmingham. One simply didn't do that in those days. My question for the great man was simple. Where should I go after I graduated? That I should do a two-year graduate apprenticeship was accepted without question, once serving in the Navy was not the required route. All graduating engineers in Britain had to spend two years learning about machining, welding, casting and drafting and so forth before they could become members of their respective institutions, in my case the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. I had no quarrel with the scheme: I was looking forward to it. The only question was where to do my apprenticeship. I explained to him that I had three requirements.. The company I worked with had to give good training; it had to prepare me well for a career in mechanical engineering; and it had to require living away from home. I had realized that living at home and commuting ten miles each way across Birmingham six days a week (we had Saturday classes) had been in many ways a mistake. With my increasing interest in turbines I rather wanted to go to the jet-engine division of Rolls Royce, if it would accept me. I thought that Mucklow would beam over his pince-nez, pat me on the head and would say “Go ahead, my boy! Rolls Royce would be a great place to go”. But he didn’t. He said something like “You may think you know what you want to do in life. But young people often change their minds. And if you do your apprenticeship in a one-product company like Rolls, you might


be penalized if you later decide that you would rather work in ship-building. So I’d recommend that you look through the brochures on the chair outside my room and come to see me next week.” Momentous decisions When I think back and realize that my career was going to be decided on what brochures the good professor had allowed to pile up on one of the chairs in his waiting room, from which piles other visitors had taken their favorites - there were no more than a dozen or so left - I am shocked at my lack of enterprise. Why didn't I go to other members of the faculty? Why didn't I talk to some of the local good and kindly people who worked at the GEC with Dad? Why didn't I survey all my fellow near-graduates? Why didn't I go to the library and read everything I could find on graduate apprenticeship? One reason was that I didn't take myself very seriously. I had no grand designs or dreams. I was programmed, as I think many of us were at that age, to have life unfold before us, with decisions being made by our parents, our teachers or our politicians. Thank goodness, I had no illusions of greatness. Misplaced stoicism And there is something unfortunate about being brought up male: one is or was supposed to be self-sufficient and stoic. Even nowadays I find it difficult to go to my male friends to ask them for personal advice. I've forgotten now whether or not there was a Rolls-Royce brochure in Mucklow's picked-over pile. Despite his advice I had a strong desire to go there. Rolls gas-turbine engines were at that time the best in the world, and its craftsmen were in the same class as its automobile builders. I went back to Mucklow to ask for his views on going to Rolls, if they would have me, or to one other company whose brochure I had picked out: Brush


Electrical Engineering Company of Loughborough, Leicestershire. Brush made all the usual heavy electricalengineering equipment: motors, transformers, switchgear, large alternators and so on; and it also made diesel and gasoline engines over a large range of sizes, and steam turbines of very interesting designs, and battery-electric vehicles, and dieselelectric locomotives, and bus bodies. Of particular interest to me was the new range of gas turbines it was planning. Mucklow recommended Brush for breadth. He said that I could go on to Rolls for a job after my apprenticeship. I took his advice and applied to Brush. At last some studying One reason I took the professor's advice was that I was none too certain that Rolls would have me, even as an apprentice. My exam performances had been spectacular in neither of my first two years. Small wonder! I left the university as soon as classes were over each day and bicycled or motor-cycled home, to spend all my free time working on my various machines, about which more later, doing jobs around the house and yard - I seemed to be more "handy" and more available than either of my brothers engaging in amateur, but near-professional, dramatics with the Highbury Little Theatre, which contributed mightily to my education, or singing in choirs. I also did a lot of hiking, biking and gardening. There simply wasn't any time left for studies. Luckily, in the British system one can make up past poor performance by a good finish, and I suddenly decided that I should devote myself to doing well in the final exams. About ten weeks beforehand I gave up all these delightful extra-curricular activities to submerge myself in study. I had done this twice before, for my School Certificate and for the Higher School Certificate, and the process had worked. I was still naive. I remember our machine-design instructor, Mr. Sandifer, telling us what he thought we ought to read for the exams. What he was


really telling us, I learned afterwards, were the topics of the problems he had set. My fellows knew the code: I didn't. I tried to learn the whole subject, and all the others. It worked. I left Birmingham with a first-class honors degree in mechanical engineering. I was, therefore, marked for life as bright. In fact, I had learned rather little during my three years there.

Hiking in Snowdonia I took a week off after the exams and before starting work. In 1948, and for all of the years I remember in Britain, one had to book one's summer vacation many months in advance. I had a reservation to join a group at a hiking hostel on the slopes of Snowdon, the highest peak in England and Wales. I went on my newly tuned Ariel 350 motor-cycle early on the Saturday morning of the week, and was meeting the 60-odd other visitors and the female staff - mostly lovely college students - by afternoon tea. I remember many of these vacations with joy. No British standoffishness was allowed. Everyone was on a firstname basis immediately. Activities were strenuous. After a great breakfast - I could usually out-eat anyone - we would be off in "A", "B" or "C" parties, sometimes in special buses, to the starting points of our hikes, and then in the A-parties - my pride would never allow me to find out what the weaker groups were doing - we would walk for a minimum of 12 and a maximum of 26 miles, over mountains and through bogs. Usually the last five or six miles would be in a near run, because there was hot water usually for about four showers. Then, after another massive meal, we would have country dancing until ten pm or so. Falling in love, showing off, and falling off I naturally fell in love - entirely one-sidedly - with an attractive red-head on the staff. Her day off was Thursday, and I knew that she was coming on the A-party climb along the knife-


edge up Snowdon. Since she was paying me no attention whatsoever, I determined that I had to impress her. My rivals were making such play over their prowess on the knife-edge that, although I had not done very well on previous experiences of rock-climbing, I had to show them up. I certainly impressed myself. To my joy and amazement, I hopped and jumped and sauntered along the exposed rock ridge, unconcerned about the long, steep drops on both sides, while the others crawled along the side with their fingers over the edge. The effect on the red-head was to be expected, of course. She was turned off by my display of immaturity. My desire to show off in those few small areas I could almost led to disaster on the last day. I bid a reluctant farewell to all my friends, and set off for my lifetime of industrial toil. But a few miles along the winding mountain road I looked behind and saw a car gaining on me. What a nerve! A car couldn't hold a candle to me! I opened the twist-grip throttle, and the Ariel surged forward. I got around two bends in fine shape, but entered the next far too fast. I tried to brake and avoid the rocks, but couldn't. I was thrown off. In those days, motorcyclists wore protection only against the rain. I was bareheaded. But luck was with me. Not only did I receive only scratches and bruises, but I was able to get my bike up on its wheels and to sit astride it as if admiring the rather poor view by the time the pursuing car arrived. Pride had cometh back after a fall.


Another lucky escape?

The end of the beginning At this point in my young life I was about to go into “industry”, not exactly to a job but to my graduate apprenticeship. So if it was to be an apprenticeship, you will ask yourselves, why not include it in this chapter? The principal reason is that I was becoming more involved in a desire to visit the USA, a topic that deserves special treatment.


Chapter 5 APPRENTICESHIP, AND AFTER IT: WHY WANT TO GO TO THE U.S.A.? One of the principal reasons for these memoirs is to explain why I live in the US. I still feel somewhat guilty about being here. I did not come as a refugee. Britain remains a very civilized land, not without faults, but still a country where freedoms and individual rights are strong and where someone with talent and enterprise has a reasonable chance of success. Skilled scientists and engineers leaving Britain in the decade after the second world war were pictured as taking part in a "brain drain". The implication was that they forsook Britain in her time of need for high salaries and easy living in the US. Along with others who stayed, I disapproved. So why am I here? Let me start at the beginning. My father. I’ve already written a fair amount about him. Stand by for more

Anti-Americanism My father didn't like "Americans". I don't really know why. I don't remember any explicit statements. There were some implications of the "Yanks" blowing their trumpets too much, of claiming to have invented things actually invented in Britain. I'm sure that Edison had a lot to do with it. His claim to have invented the electric light bulb, when he actually took over the carbon-filament lamp from Britain’s Joseph Wilson Swan, rankled. Dad's dislike of the US came out most frequently when we went to the movies to see a "good British film". In my youth one really got one's money's worth from the movies. Besides the full-length main "feature" there was a full-length second movie of


lesser renown. I would always stay to watch this. (And when I started going to the movies, after the grand new "Pavilion" was built on Chester Road in Erdington, the price of the Saturdayafternoon show, including the live organist and the colored-light show that accompanied his performance, was tuppence, two old pennies). But the second movie was apt to be American. And when my father took the family to the "pictures" and the second movie was American, he would march us out, harrumphing words like "Tommy rot" as he went.

Ellen’s sketch of my dad marching us out of the movies

This was the only sign of national or ethnic prejudice my father displayed. He went to New Zealand when he was three - my mother was born there - and there was considerable accepted intermarriage with and respect for the Maoris, so there was no trace of color prejudice in our home. And our closest family friends were the Kahns, early refugees from Germany, whom I


can never remember being referred to as Jews in any way indicating a difference. We used to celebrate Christmas together, alternating the location between our houses, and the fact that I didn't know that Jews generally do not celebrate Christmas might almost be taken as insensitivity. But Britain was very much a country of tradition, of "the done thing", of an establishment, and the Church of England was the established church. Perhaps both the Kahns and we ourselves were simply toeing the line. Alas! I was brought up to believe that Americans were immature, not entirely to be trusted. The first Americans (I use the word in the incorrect, popular sense as synonymous with US nationals) I encountered in any number seemed to reinforce my father's views. We lived in Sutton Coldfield, in the English Midlands, on the edge of Birmingham. Compared with people living in London or in Coventry, which we could see burning on the skyline in the big raids, we had only petty hardships. We lived at night in the basement and the shelters, and the German bombers seemed to come most nights. But in our mile-long road we had only one large bomb, a so-called "land mine", and no incendiaries landed nearby. The American Army central post office came to Sutton Coldfield in about 1942. Americans close to home It may not, of course, have been a post office. But there was no doubt that the troops who came were not going into combat. The immediate impression they created on the war-weary citizens of Sutton Coldfield was not good. Their uniforms were many-hued and finely tailored of high-quality lightweight cloth, totally different from the heavy prickly stuff that British Tommies (and we schoolboys in the Army cadets) had to put up with. They seemed to have an incredible amount of money. The


first two or three days they bought up all the clothes hangers in the town. (I afterwards realized that they were used to the availability everywhere of wire coat hangers from cleaning establishments. On the rare occasions when we scruffy Limeys took our clothes to the cleaners, they came back folded, not on hangers). We looked in amazement as soldiers whooped to each other waving fistfuls of hangers as if they had won the lottery. Then a large proportion got drunk. Not in a polite way in their barracks, but right out there in the streets, sometimes lying on the sidewalks throwing up into the gutter. We prissy grammarschool kids passed by on the other side, holding our noses high. There were undoubtedly jealousies over the seduction of our womanhood, but I was too young to understand that at the time. I remember a couple of joint parades and processions to celebrate some victory or other, when our Junior Training Corps cadet contingent formed up near the US Army platoons, and subsequently marched near each other down the high street. We stuck out our teenage chests and felt that we had twice the discipline, and wanted more than anything to show up the "Yanks" in the precision of our marching and drills. The G.I.s were having a great time, cracking jokes (a few quite clean). A couple of years later, when I had advanced to the sixth form, Boss Jones, the headmaster, invited a young US Army lieutenant to talk to his so-called ‘divinity’ class. The lieutenant was warm, friendly, humorous, and was our first real contact with an individual American. (We obviously had not, individually or as a town, made any effort to welcome our visitors or to make them feel at home. Britons - or perhaps I should say the southern English, because I found much later that hospitality becomes warmer the further north in Britain one goes - don't have any great tradition of hospitality, and the extremely small quantity of food allowed under the rigid rationing system didn't


allow one to entertain anyone who didn't bring his/her own food). After this one positive experience in a sea of negatives, I remember little contact with Americans for several years. My brother Tom returned from two years in various German prisoner-of-war camps, and he had some rather negative reports of the discipline of US prisoners when they were herded into the same camps near the end of the war. Tom said disparagingly that they didn't trust their own bombers, and when a US daylight raid was unleashed on a neighboring German town, the Yanks all dove for the few shelters there were available. Tom went to Cambridge University under the British equivalent of the GI bill, and I went to the University of Birmingham, for reasons given elsewhere. In my first lecture I found myself sitting next to someone I took to be an American in RAF uniform. But he also started making some disparaging remarks sotto voce about anything that had an American angle to it, and I asked him what he meant by it. He was Canadian.

A brush with Brush As mentioned earlier, at the end of my time at Birmingham University I asked Professor Mucklow for advice on where to serve my graduate apprenticeship, and he strongly recommended that I apply to the Brush Electrical Engineering Company. Once having cast my lot, I was delighted when, a few weeks later, I received a letter of acceptance and the notification that there would be a place for me at The Gables, the Brush student hostel in Forest Road, Loughborough, in Leicestershire. I performed the last rites of studenthood: final exams May 27 June 9, 1948; went by motorbike to Cambridge at brother Tom's invitation to join in "May Week" (which, with that inescapable logic that marks tradition in England, occurs in June); tried to fall in love with every young woman I met, and returned with a lovely example on the pillion seat; found to my surprise and


delight that I had been awarded a first-class honors degree, which I received from Anthony Eden, Chancellor of Birmingham University, on July 3; said fond farewells to my fellow Erdington (Anglican-church) Sunday-School teachers, a fun-loving lot; motor-cycled to North Wales for a final wonderful one-week's hiking vacation in Snowdonia where I would have liked to fall in love again but was rejected; and on August 22 reported to The Gables.

The Gables main house (left) and the converted garage where I and four others slept (right)

I realized that life was going to change when I was shown my cot, one of five close together in the house garage, newly converted to human occupation by the addition of doors and windows. The others were student apprentices apart from a "special student" from India, Keku Maneckji, whom I called Coffee because I couldn't pronounce his name and because it sounded like “cocoa” . He liked it; the name stuck; and I was reinforced in the offensive habit of giving people nicknames and thereby saddling them for life with them. I was the only graduate apprentice in that part of the hostel; there was one other elsewhere, a nice, even-tempered mild man


who stuttered a little. I found myself in the unusual position of being put into an unasked leadership position. (What, you may ask, has all this stuff to do with living in the USA? Everything. Hold on a while and wait for me to spin the story, or go out to do something useful. Don't just sit there grumbling).

Brush buildings, an original at the left

The next morning I found my true place. I was told to report to "Tag" Allen, foreman of the large-diesel erection (assembly) shop. Brush had bought Petters, an old engine company, and made small gasoline and diesel four-stroke engines in another part of the factory. Here the larger diesel two-stroke engines probably around 2000 hp for a six-cylinder unit - were put together. Tag Allen assigned me a "mate" (i.e., a supervisor) who immediately put me to work "fettling" - filing off the sharp edges and removing the scale - in the inside of a cast-iron engine bedplate. I could just squeeze into the dark recesses of the casting. I remember coming out of the huge casting into the light after about an hour and asking Tag if I might go to the men’s room. He clearly thought that I was a little odd.


Mates One of the pleasant memories of growing up, and one that doesn't seem part of today's process, was that circumstances kept getting better. That first morning's work was the worst of my many tasks at Brush. I kept having to fettle other things, and the work on the bedplate took several days, but one learned how to cope and to improve. One got to know one's mates - I was continually impressed with the wisdom and experience of many of the people on the shop floor - and I was given more enjoyable and more challenging jobs. And then there was lunch in the works canteen. We had to buy tickets like those for the movies: eleven pence for meat and two veg., and thruppence (three pennies) for dessert. A huge mug of milky tea was a penny. Everyone told me how awful the food was. And most food was still rationed, three years after the war ended. But I have mentioned before the enormous advantage of having had a mother whose cooking was often pretty bad. Except for rhubarb pies and rice puddings and occasionally delicious shortbread, Mum could be relied upon to ruin most food, especially vegetables. Accordingly I have found myself whooping with delight at institutional food at which my fellows are groaning and refusing to eat. I returned to work every day after lunch at Brush brimming with energy and good humor. The Belle of New York Not only did work become more like fun every day, but life in general was very good. I hadn't overworked myself at the university, except in the last three months before the finals, when I dropped all extraneous activities to try to understand what those boring classes were all about. The rest of the time I hiked, biked, took part in choirs and amateur dramatics and fixed cars, motor-cycles and anything else within reach. But whereas I should have felt guilty about some of this when I was a student,


as a graduate apprentice I had no homework whatsoever, and I joined everything with abandon. Hiking and folk dancing were two enthusiasms, and when I asked someone about choirs he persuaded me to try out for the Loughborough Operatic Society. I found myself chosen as the male lead in The Belle of New York. The director, a commanding woman who directed amateur companies for a living, lost patience with my inability to kiss the female lead with any conviction, and sent us upstairs to practise. Alas, I was too inhibited and too inexperienced, and failed again. It didn't help that some friends told me that she was "sweet on me". In Britain women are, or were, much more accustomed to making the first moves in a relationship, and my mother was always aiding and abetting such moves by hopeful women eyeing the three Wilson boys, so that I developed a defensive, uncooperative posture. Parts of The Belle of New York were agony for me, and no doubt for others in the company and the audiences. Several events interrupted this happy pattern of my life, and started a sequence leading to my life over here. One was a rugger injury. To be a man in an English grammar school one had to play this blood sport. I did my best. I lost a front tooth trying to tackle someone, and later on I tore my cartilage. Because I was brought up in the stiff-upper-lip British tradition, I went on playing, both the day I did the damage and the two weeks following. The pain intensity was at the limit that I could stand. But further play became impossible. For the next two years I lived with a knee that hurt, and rattled, and every now and then locked into an awkward position. Then I had to have the help of friends who would twist my foot around while trying to get the knee to bend again. Eventually my appointment to see the medical specialist came up.


My co-star and I in The Belle of New York


Knee surgery I was a little late. Specialists in Britain are very lordly beings, and one does not turn up late to an appointment with them. I started running. I was sprinting with plenty of room to spare in front of a bus outside the hospital when my knee locked up. I fell to the asphalt, dragging myself furiously with my arms out of the way of the bus. I got there only a minute or so late, was diagnosed as having a bucket-handle tear of the right lunar cartilage, if I remember it all correctly, and was told to wait until an opening at Harlow Wood, a specialist orthopedic hospital in the wilds of northern Nottinghamshire, came up. I was told that I would be there a minimum of three months. Nowadays, torn cartilages are removed by microsurgery in an hour or so, and the patient walks out of the operating room. I stayed four weeks. I fell for half the nurses, at a distance, of course, including the matron, a formidable woman about twenty years my senior whom I could make laugh when she came on her lights-out round. I used to practise jokes ready for her visit. The last week I was on my feet from 5.30 am on, making tea for the poor fellows in my ward, most of whom had TB of the spine, and washing dishes with the nurses, and all agreed that I could probably recuperate better at a desk job. A fascinating trio of beautifully dressed young American men sang hymns in close harmony to us one evening. I asked what they were here for, and they said that they were Mormon missionaries. They had an influence on me later. But I get ahead of myself. On the morning after I arrived I was being prepared for surgery by two of the exciting young nurses. One was shaving my right leg, needlessly high up the thigh, I was thinking, hoping that the Wilson self-control would not fail me. The other came in to tell me that there was a long-distance call for me. Now in those days there were very few telephones anywhere, and where there was a telephone there were almost no long-distance calls, and they were never directed to me. I asked her if she could relay a


message, thinking rapidly of the various wars in which I might be asked to serve, and of the welfare of my parents and brothers. She came back to say that I was being asked by some Brush apprentices if I would be willing to run for some office, just to keep someone else out. I didn't understand the message at all, until my nurse-relay explained that an election was coming up. My operation was also coming up, and I sent an affirmative message because it didn't seem very important compared with events closer at hand. I was wrong. The message changed my life. The chairmanship I rather sorrowfully left Harlow Wood, because I liked just about everyone there, and I had become part of the pattern. I took several buses with various long waits to reach Loughborough, deep in the next county. When I eventually got to Brush I found that I had been elected chairman of the student organization. Nothing very earth-shattering there, you will be thinking. This guy's puffing himself up because he was elected chairman of a small group of students in a tin-pot second-rank company in an obscure English town. Right you are, except that I wasn't really puffing myself up. I had never been elected to anything before, and assumed that this was a do-nothing position. I hadn't heard of any major activities run by this student group. But then someone gave me the organization’s constitution to read. Now we are all born with some inbuilt advantages and disadvantages (I believe less and less in a favorable influence from the environment). One of my more serious disadvantages is that I believe that I have to obey rules. You will not find me jay-walking in front of MIT, even when there's no sign of traffic. I wait for the "walk" light. I declare every jot and tittle I have acquired when I go through customs. I am scrupulously honest in my income-tax declaration.


When I read the constitution of this student association, my heart sank. It stipulated that a major event had to be organized each month. It even specified that there had to be a lecture, a formal dinner, a visit to the theatre, and so on. I didn't remember the previous regime having organized anything, but I knew that I had to do so. The rules were written down. My easy, relaxed life changed abruptly. I had to organize a lecture in four weeks. Someone suggested asking a representative from a crazy outfit called the British Interplanetary Society. I wrote, someone accepted, and the secretary, a delightful hiking buddy called Pete Saunders, and I started getting the arrangements down in good order. Except for one detail. We couldn't persuade any of the membership to plank down five bob (then about a dollar) to come. The distinguished representative from the BIS spoke to about fifteen people, mostly from the committee. (I didn't feel too bad, because he talked utter nonsense about space travel in our lifetimes, satellites and trips to the moon. Later I remembered his talk. It turned out that the BIS pioneered, on paper, many of the techniques and trajectories later used in the US space program). We had four or five months of the same fruitless efforts. Pete and I would organize some glittering event, and visit each of the 225 or so members of the organization to persuade him or her to come, and about five would show up (even if it was free). I was ready to abdicate. The turning point Then we had a lucky break. We found that we had had, long ago, a clubroom. When we looked into it further, we found that we still had the clubroom, but no one had used it for a very long time. We asked Mr. Partridge, the apprentice supervisor, for permission to redecorate the clubroom. He warmly agreed. He may even have found funds for the paint.


We managed to plead with a few stalwarts to the point where they agreed to spend an evening working on the room. We all had a great time, talking and singing and telling stories. A few other people dropped by. The next evening scheduled for a work party was oversubscribed. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to help redecorate the clubroom. Pete and I realized that it was not because there were any future activities scheduled in the clubroom that made everyone anxious to get the job done. It was the doing of the job, and the sudden enjoyment of each other's company, that was working magic. It didn't stop there. Someone asked me if it would be ok if he started a music-appreciation group. Another one headed a model-plane sub-committee, and another a folk-dance committee. A moribund and lethargic group of stay-at-homes had suddenly become enthusiastic joiners of every activity that was suggested. Our jobs changed from being chores to something almost glamorous.

The dinner, with the head table at the right. J.H.R. Nixon is at the far right, and I'm next to him


An after-dinner speech And then the event I had been most fearing loomed up: the annual dinner. This was ordained to be one of those very British affairs where formal dress, decorum and speeches were required. Mr. Partridge even had a sheet printed out to guide the association chair on preparing for his/her big speech. Work it out three weeks in advance, the instructions stated, and hone it down so that it lasts exactly three minutes. Two weeks in advance, read it twenty times or until you have memorized it, and repeat it frequently until the day comes. As usual, I followed the instructions to the letter. The big day came. I was sitting between the company big shots. My speech came out from the internal recorder without a hitch, and my supporters cheered long and hard. The big shots apparently took notice. Another key event leading to my coming to the US had taken place. A non-dancing jig A reinforcing development occurred at about the same time. I had had a very happy three months in the welding shop. My mate was a union shop steward, and spent a lot of his time discussing grievances and other matters with the men. Gradually he let me take over much of his production work. I was welding switchgear enclosures which were, in emergency situations, pressure vessels. Moreover those for the Royal Navy were in stainless steel, much more difficult to weld than mild steel. I must have gotten to be fairly good. One or two of the guys in the welding shop were also in the opera company. There was a lot of good-natured joshing. When I couldn't work on the switchgear I got a lot of advice and help making myself tools - for instance, a large machine vice for my newly acquired but ancient drill press. Then I was transferred to the heavy-electrical-machines erection (assembly) shop. I was annoyed, and said so. I was supposed to go into turbine erection. It was obvious that I was being used as cheap labor (my pay during my apprenticeship was 34 shillings a


week, about seven dollars, while the charges at the works hostel were 32 shillings a week) at a time when shop production was behind schedule. I was put to help a gang that, for the first time in my shop experience, I couldn't respect. They didn't have the same pride in their work, or even knowledge of what they were doing, that my previous mates had. I refused to work at this job. I had a lot of association business to do, and I went around the plant visiting all the members to harangue them about something or other. Whenever the foreman saw me leaving, he would bawl me out, and I would yell something impolite back. It was an unusual situation for Wilson, the observer of rules. But I felt that the company had broken its side of the bargain. The gang with which I was supposed to be working was wrestling with the assembly of a largish (by the standards of those days) marine-propulsion motor. It was a salient-pole DC machine (see sketch). I believe that there were six poles and six interpoles, and the group had gotten to the installation of the first interpole. This was a big electromagnet weighing as much as a man, wound with conductors consisting of six flat strips of copper about 15x4 mm insulated with paper and wrapped with insulating cloth into one large conductor about 15x25mm. In each of the two leads coming from each interpole two rather sharp bends had to be made. This meant that the individual conductors in the wrapped assembly had to be bent around the long side. To my horror, these guys were making the bends by using a hacksaw to cut a vee-notch into the conductors, brazing them together again with an oxy-acetylene torch, and wrapping the conductors up to look from the outside as if they were bent. This was obviously bad practice on at least three counts. The low electrical conductivity of the braze metal would produce hot spots at the joints. The high thermal conductivity of copper


would produce heat damage to the insulation a long distance from the joints. And the relative weakness in the joints coupled with the stress-raising effect of the sharp corners would lead to a possibility of mechanical failure under vibration or under the repeated thermal stresses of warm-up and cool-down cycles.

Electric motors and generators were designed with either “salient” (stick-out) poles or “shaded” poles when the rotor would look like a smooth cylinder. This one had salient poles. The stator poles would be alternately “north” and “south”, and the rotor poles would be switched to “south” and “north” as they were pulled towards the stator poles. The interpoles have a few turns of large wire and are connected in series with the rotor winding. Interpoles are wound and placed so that each interpole has the same magnetic polarity as the main pole ahead of it, in the direction of rotation. (The last two sentences are from “Integrated Publishing”, an electrical engineering” web-site.)

After pouring a certain amount of unappreciated scorn at this awful practice in the direction of the foreman and the gang, I had an idea. I did some designing and sketching, and went back to my mates in the welding shop. In a day and a half I had a bending jig made. It had two enormous handles and was impossible to conceal, so I disguised it as something else so that I could sneak it into the electrical shop to test it. Failure! Everything bent except the wrapped conductors. I went back to


the welding shop, added stiffening ribs and gussets and beefed the jig up generally, and went back. I arrived at a propitious moment. The gang was about to start on the second interpole. The cutting and brazing and rewrapping procedure was taking two people about 16 hours. This time my jig worked. On the first attempt we produced the two bends in about twenty minutes. The joints were much stronger; there was no heat damage, and no break in conductivity. Even the existing insulation was hardly damaged, though it was stretched and compressed on opposite sides of the bend.

This is a sketch from memory of the bending jig for the bundled copper conductors that had to be bent twice, producing a low-angle “Z” over their long directions. The two arms had to be around four-feet long to do this successfully.


I did not want to demonstrate the jig operation to the foreman, a person I had not grown to love. I went off again on my association business. The foreman's conversion But the foreman sought me out. I had expected, and wanted to avoid, a grudging mean-spirited acknowledgement, coupled with various reasons why they would not be using my device. I was amazed when he appeared, beaming, full of congratulations and handshakes and appreciation. Apparently he thought that I had spent all my time when I was out of his shop working on this jig, whereas actually I'd been mostly gossiping with my buddies. He said that he was going to write to management about it. He not only did that, but he entered me, against my wishes, in some program that gave prizes for productivity improvements and ideas. I won a prize - two pounds, about ten dollars - and was ceremoniously summoned to the office of Mr. J. H. R. Nixon, the technical director of the Brush Group (under a new financial wheeler-dealer chairman with the contradictory name of Good, Brush had been buying up companies, particular those making diesel engines, and had become a "group"). I had just met Mr. Nixon a few weeks before: he had been one of the company bigwigs at the association dinner. He congratulated me, handed over the check, someone took a photo, and I went off to give the check with somewhat ill-grace to my favorite charity. The jig I designed and made was remarkable only in a small and rather second-rate company. And I was coming to the attention of the management of that company. The Brush Research Fellowship My intention to leave after my two-year apprenticeship and to try to get to Rolls Royce was no secret. I didn't trumpet it abroad, but apparently management found out. Because a


couple of months after the jig episode, management announced a forthcoming research fellowship. I read the announcement with interest but without enthusiasm. The company would select from the applicants someone who would be given support to hold a two-year fellowship at Nottingham University to get a PhD, after which s/he would work for a subsequent three years at Brush. It had obviously been designed to keep me at Brush. There was only one other person who could qualify - the quiet electrical engineer who had been in The Gables hostel with me. If I didn't apply, and I didn't intend to, either he would get it, or the company would declare that no suitable candidate was forthcoming. It was easily capable of such deviousness. There were five reasons for my not wanting to apply. One was my father: he didn't like PhDs. He considered a doctorate to be something that is awarded for achievement (he had a D.Sc. that was awarded to him because he had written two highly regarded text books), and to go to school with the aim of emerging with a title was, he considered, virtually the equivalent of buying a baronetcy. A second reason was that I didn't want to be tied to Brush for another two years, let alone five. A third was that the terms of the fellowship were far from generous - and I had been living in poverty in my apprenticeship, even though my wages had risen to something like three pounds a week. It looked as though I could actually be worse off if I were awarded the fellowship. A fourth reason was that Nottingham University did not have a great reputation in mechanical engineering. And the fifth was that I wanted to go to Rolls Royce. Looking back, I don't know how I was persuaded to forsake my well-reasoned position and to apply for the Brush Research Fellowship. Mr. Nixon was a Methodist lay minister, and very persuasive. But I remember that the main influence was my new boss.


The Fellowship award. (I don’t look too happy about it.)


Ian Goodlet The last port of call of my apprenticeship, in which we were allowed to choose a professional department in which to work, had arrived. Naturally I chose the gas-turbine department. This consisted of the boss, Ian Goodlet, two assistant designers, a chief draftsman, Bill Pottinger, and two assistants, and three or so fitters whose job it was to put together the new gas turbine and turbochargers in which the company was involved. I spent about two months drafting for Pottinger. I had "learned" drafting at Birmingham University, but the real thing was more demanding. Bill was not only extremely strict but he was highly meticulous. To my delight he liked my work. The way the system went was that the designers would do the analysis for a new design and would sketch out a provisional layout. The draftsmen would then convert the layout to a fully realized cross-section, performing simple stress calculations if necessary, and produce the detail drawings that would be used by the people in the “shop” (i.e., the workshops). One of the first layouts I was given was for a turbocharger-compressor casing (a turbine-compressor combination for a large diesel engine). I thought that the assembly would be difficult with the arrangement that was shown on the designer’s provisional layout , and puzzled at all the alternatives I could think of until I arrived at something that seemed more reasonable. I drew a new cross-section and showed it to Bill, thinking that he was very likely to condemn my proposals. Instead he was surprised and then congratulated me. He took the drawing into the design office, and then the lordly boss, Mr. I. W. Goodlet, offered some few words of praise. These were, I learned, unusual. He was a tall, large man with a biting but not a cruel sense of humor. He started pulling my leg along with others in a way that would make me weak with laughter. I admired him and enjoyed working for him a great deal.


So it was at about this time that the question of the fellowship application came up. Looking back, I'm sure that Nixon had told him to put pressure on me. But I trusted his integrity not to have done anything against my interest. I don't remember what he said in general, but I remember very well a particular promise: that if I was awarded the fellowship, he would take me to his former colleagues in the National Gas-Turbine Establishment (NGTE) to help me choose a thesis topic. The NGTE came out of Frank Whittle's Power Jets corporation when it was nationalized. It may seem strange to have a major government activity devoted to one engineering device, but the subsidies and foresight seemed to have paid off. Britain had many companies making jet engines, and for a decade or so after the war they were pre-eminent in the world. Because of the engines, Britain's aircraft industry established many firsts. The first Vickers Viscount prop-jet airliners, using Rolls-Royce Dart engines, were soon entrancing US passengers. For a short period the only pure-jet airliners were the ill-fated Comets. If they had not suffered fatigue failures in the airframes, caused by the high pressurization required by high-altitude flying and not because they were jet-propelled, the aircraft industry in Britain would be a bigger factor in the world than it now is. I held the NGTE in high esteem, almost in awe. Its closest equivalent in this country is NASA's Glenn Laboratories in Cleveland, Ohio. I applied for the fellowship, therefore, more because of Ian Goodlet's influence than for any other factor. The glamour of working on a problem proposed by the NGTE, and the prospect of returning to work for the remaining three years for Goodlet himself, persuaded me. I applied, was awarded the fellowship after an indecently short period, and asked Ian Goodlet to keep his side of the bargain. He did in full measure. In doing so, he shaped my career. I was about to start a very unusual PhD program. I didn't realize how


unusual it was, because I hadn't known any previous examples. The two respects in which it was different were that I had almost complete freedom to choose my thesis topic, so long as it could be carried out at Nottingham with the parsimonious funds allotted to me; and that I had no designated thesis supervisor. Doctoral students at MIT and most other universities choose topics after talking with all possible faculty supervisors. Most students are offered a research assistantship (which pays the tuition and simple living expenses) by a faculty member who has struggled to get research funds to work on one or more research areas. A lucky student may get two or three such offers, and each faculty member may have more than one topic on which the student could work. But the choice is limited, and some students hesitate and even give up because they don't want the major research activity of their lives to be on a topic that is not close to their hearts. A student with a significant topic and a good supervisor is lucky indeed. One of my heroes is Lord Rutherford, who I think rivals Einstein for the title of the world's greatest physicist. He arrived from New Zealand to take up a fellowship at Cambridge University at a time when it was unknown for non-Cambridge graduates to do research. He was lucky enough to work for J. J. Thomson, a man who had already made his own reputation for brilliant work, and who supported and gave the limelight to his young protégé. In turn, Rutherford gave his students the limelight, and a long stream of the world's leaders in nuclear physics came out of his laboratories. Ian Goodlet assured me of one component of this two-part blessing. He took me on a two-day trip to the NGTE in June, 1950, and introduced me to many of the people whose names I had revered on reports and papers. He asked them what problems they would like to see worked on by a doctoral student starting from scratch with no laboratory, no equipment, and few funds.


I quickly became intrigued with a suggestion by A. G. Smith, then head of the heat-transfer section. He wanted to know how the hot combustion gases streaming past gas-turbine blades transferred their heat to the blades: with this information effective cooling schemes could be devised. He also had a proposal for a method of attack. Someone many years earlier wanted to know about the icing of airplane wings, and had coated the entire wing surface with metal-foil resistance-heating strips. In flight, current was adjusted to the individual strips so that they all acquired exactly the same temperature. Then no heat could be conducted between and among them, and all the electrical power put into each strip had to be transferred to the airstream passing each strip. This would give a good measure of the magnitude of the heat transfer in the opposite direction: from the gas stream to the turbine airfoils. I chose this topic and this method of measurement. Another factor determining my future career had been chosen. 1 A Derwent V on reheat My graduate apprenticeship wasn’t yet over. I was assigned to help the two engineers working under Goodlet in their project to improve the combustion in the new gas-turbine engine. It was not something about which I knew anything. One day I was told that we were going to the former Power Jets research place in Ansty, near Coventry. One of the engineers had a two-seater sports car rather like a poor man’s MG. A formidable amount of sharp metal, including the combustion chamber itself, a cylinder about nine inches diameter and 24 inches long in thin nickel1 In 1991 I wrote to Ian Goodlet to thank him for all he had done for me and to renew contact, and he replied with all his usual enthusiasm. I wrote again a couple of months later to send him a copy of an appreciation of him I had written for the foreword of a new book. Sadly, his wife wrote to tell me that he had just died.


chrome steel, and a metal tool box was stuffed behind the seats, and I was instructed to get into what was left of that small space. I had to curl up in a fetal position while their lordships occupied the spacious front seats. I hoped that there was not going to be a collision or roll-over. We arrived in good condition, however, and carried our stuff to the outside of a test lab in a rather devastated area where the rest of the rig was already in place. The combustion system of a gasturbine engine is usually in an annular space between the end of the compressor (something like a porcupine with short airplanewing-like blades sticking out from a rotating cylinder) and the input to the hot-gas turbine itself. Our turbine combustor was of the so-called “cannular” variety – in the annulus were fitted about eight combustor “cans”. We were developing just one of these cans in a one-eighth sector of the casing in the belief that we could repeat the settings in the other seven cans to yield an optimum design. In the air-inlet side of the can there was a fuel nozzle taking highpressure kerosene to produce a fine swirling spray. Air for combustion was admitted to produce an annular vortex around the spray nozzle so that when the spray was ignited by a highenergy electrical discharge the flame would stay lit because of the recirculation of the burning gases. (The speed of the air was far greater than the speed of propagation of the flame, so that without this recirculation the flame would blow out immediately.) The engineers fitted “thermocouples” to measure various temperatures, and recorded the position and size of holes in the can that were defined by adjustable sliders. The outer casing was bolted on, and we retreated into the lab building to open up the air and fuel valves and to ignite the flame. This had to be repeated with the sliders at different positions. At the end of each run I was ordered out to unbolt the casing so that the lordly


engineers could examine the evidence – the colors of the nickelchrome steel – that supplemented the temperature readings from the thermocouples. I used to say that they were tough guys because they didn’t mind the smell of burning flesh – mine – produced by opening the rig before it had cooled much. Going outside to work on the rig, whether hot or not, had another excitement. Our test rig was right next to the world’s then most-powerful engine, Rolls-Royce’s Derwent V. The jet exhaust was just a few feet from where I had to work bolting and unbolting our rig. Moreover, the Rolls people were developing its “reheat” system, which entails burning more kerosene downstream of the turbine. This multiplied the normal deafening roar of the jet. One of the engineers picked up a stone and tossed it into the jet. It traveled apparently absolutely horizontally until it hit a 45-degree concrete-and-earth ramp about fifty yards away, meant to limit the noise and projectile dangers to any members of the public in that direction. I found a brick and did likewise. It was shot at high speed into the ramp and then went vertically up many feet. It was spectacular! I was thrilled to bits! We were not, of course, provided with any kind of hearing protection. My hearing at my present advanced age is better than that of most of my colleagues of similar age. I don’t know how I escaped life-long damage.

Research at the University of Nottingham My move to Beeston, Notts was on Sunday July 23, 1950, and the next day I was introduced to the Nottingham University department of civil and mechanical engineering. The head of the department was Professor J. A. (now Sir Joseph) Pope, a cordial and hard-driving applied mechanicist. There were two graduate students, both working for him, and he took a friendly but necessarily detached interest in my work (because it was not in his field) until he felt assured that I was capable of managing my affairs. I started what was up to then the most intense two years


of my life, in which I gave up almost all outside activities so that I could work single-mindedly on one problem. I worked all day, all evening and some of the night. I developed crushing headaches, about which more elsewhere, and couldn't sleep more than two hours at a stretch. So I used to have two two-hour sleep periods and do some studying or calculating in the middle of the night. I was trying to accomplish many tasks simultaneously. I had to design and build or to have built a fairly high-speed wind tunnel, all the "cascade gear" that would accommodate a “cascade” or row of turbine airfoils, and all the instrumentation, and I had to design and build all the special test cascades for my particular problem. At the same time I had to teach myself fluid mechanics and heat transfer, which weren't covered except in an extremely rudimentary way in my undergraduate courses. Then I had to read all the scientific papers that dealt with the topic of my research to make sure that I learned all I could and didn't duplicate previous work. In this last respect above all I wished that I had someone to go to for help. I remember poring over equations in people's papers until my eyes couldn't focus any more, without receiving enlightenment. A senior advisor could have set me on the right path in minutes. But the exercise did develop a certain self-reliance. I will not try to impress you with all that I managed to do. I am very proud of the apparatus I designed and built, and of the results I obtained with it. I am even proud of the faltering attempts at advancing the theory which I attempted, although again I'm sure that I would have gone much farther had I been a member of a team under a supervisor all working on similar problems. (If I had been a member of such a team, much of the apparatus and measuring instruments would have been already available for me.) The reason that I am emphasizing the


loneliness of my work is that I leapt at the chance of going to my first conference, the Anglo-American heat-transfer conference of 1951, about which I read in the journal of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which I had just joined as a student member. Prof. Pope supported my going in spirit. (The money had to come from my exiguous research funds). My life was about to be changed again.

In the background is the flow-acceleration part of the wind tunnel, at the lower end of which can be seen some of the turbine blades shown in the next photo. The tall thin gadget at the right rear of the desk is the third "manometer" I made to measure air pressures very accurately. For this one I gave up trying to invent something better and used a method devised by the German genius Ludwig Prandtl. I used a lathe screw produced by the local company Myford to raise a sloping glass tube carrying alcohol so as to achieve a balance between the increased pressure due to the height of the alcohol column and the air pressure..


This is a typical graph showing the historical rise of the temperature of the gas entering jet engines. I could claim that the major increase followed the publication of my thesis data after 1953. But would this be like the cock crowing every morning stating "I brought the sun up again"?

Americans in London The only people whom I remember from the meeting, which was attended probably by thousands, were Americans. One in particular was Lou London, then a youngish junior professor at Stanford. (At the time of writing, 2010, he is still at Stanford). He and the other Americans in general would always ask what I was doing, and would give me a great deal of encouragement and advice. Prof. G. M. Dusinberre visited Nottingham after the meeting, saw my apparatus, declared it the best "lash-up" he had seen in Britain, and presented me with a copy of his book on the numerical analysis of heat transfer. I was thrilled, and returned


to my work with renewed vigor and conviction that I was on the right track. The meeting had a profound effect on me. I was not used to professionals being approachable, warm and helpful unless they were close associates. I had not been able to get any help from the people at the NGTE. In fact, I sent my first results to some NGTE people who were specialists in turbine-blade heat transfer and asked for advice and comments. Not only did I get no reply, but I found my results, including a highly significant and unexpected finding, used without acknowledgement in the next paper by one person to whom I had sent them. I was angry, but regarded the treatment as only to be expected from a senior researcher. The Americans seemed not to fit this mold. I began to want to see if the people who came over were unusual, or if there were more like them from where they came. I did not in any way make plans to emigrate. I loved Britain. But I did want to make a visit of long enough duration to learn what people in the US were really like, when they were not on their best behavior, as I suspected they would be as visitors to an Anglo-American scientific meeting.

The S.S. Corinaldo It seemed that I would have to wait until my five years of required service to Brush were over in 1955. I finished my research studentship in July 1952, and Brush had me stay at Nottingham to work on an alternator heat-transfer problem, nominally for another year. When the time approached for me to return to Brush (as gas-turbine development engineer, in August 1953) I began to experience the strongest possible pangs of wanderlust. I asked to take a month's unpaid leave, and looked for something exciting to do. Two activities I investigated were, first, in an international gang working on a new railroad line in Yugoslavia, and, second,


joining a party planning to dive for treasure in the Mediterranean. (This turned out to be organized by a young and very rich widow. However, she wanted a down payment of a thousand pounds from every member of the party. I didn't have that much money, and had reluctantly to decline. My place was taken by a young merchant-marine officer, who died, from a rare unsuspected weakness, on his first dive). For some reason I then fastened on the idea of working my passage over the Atlantic and back. My father had worked his passage twice to get from New Zealand to Britain. After a prodigious amount of correspondence (producing my thesis had made me fairly proficient at the typewriter) I found myself set up with a Ministry of Transport "sea-grading certificate" and permission to join the Donaldson Line’s motor-vessel Corinaldo in July, 1953, for a voyage to Quebec and Montreal. Under “Scots tutor” in chapter 1 I described something about my bicycle ride from Nottingham to Glasgow and Dumbarton, where I joined the ship on Monday July 13. My role was agreed to be “supernumerary engineer”, which was no rank, nominal pay of a couple of shillings for the month, and no firm duties. However, when I reported to the ship I was told that the 7th engineer hadn’t turned up, and I was wanted in that rank. I was thrilled to bits, I was to be paid about thirty “quid” (pounds) for the voyage, I signed “articles”, and I had to buy a white uniform with brass buttons. (I never had to wear it that I remember.) Parts of the huge “Doxford” diesel propulsion engine were being overhauled, which I soon found was a requirement at every port visit of more than a day. One of the engineers took me for a clamber through the crankcase. My apprenticeship was mainly done on what seemed like large diesel engines of up to a thousand horsepower, but this engine gave out eight thousand horsepower, and was very large in comparison. I was allowed to


bring my bike aboard and to stuff it near the ammonia compressor that could freeze a hold used for any meat that we might bring back with us.

The Donaldson Line's M.S. "Corinaldo", which was loaded, on the outward voyage, with Scottish cattle and Scotch whisky.

We “set sail” down the Clyde on Friday July 17. I was given the exciting task of operating the engine-room telegraph. It was connected mechanically to a similar unit on the bridge. When the navigating officer wanted the engine to be at half astern he would swing the telegraph to that position, I would acknowledge it, and pass the command along. I had been brought up to have a high respect for Scottish engineers, and I remember being alarmed because the chief engineer, standing in front of a large cast-in-brass sign that read “When switching from ahead to astern, put engine in neutral for thirty seconds before going to astern”, but he would just swing the control straight over without any pause whatsoever. Later I enjoyed relaxing on or near the stern gland where the huge shaft went through the hull to the screw propeller and I would see how the hull and engine would twist slightly when the screw came out of the water in a storm and then dig in again. Spurts of seawater would come through the edges of the riveted plates as it did so. I guessed that


something similar happened when the chief did his Rambo act on the engine reversals. When I first met the crew I told them that I was a land-lubber, and that I was prepared to take a ribbing. The first occasion came on Sunday morning. I was off duty, and thought that I heard the sound of a hymn being played. I asked the chief engineer if there was a service going on. He looked startled. “We’re late!” he said. “Rush over with this pipe to the captain: it’s needed for the organ” and he handed me a piece of pipe that looked as if it came from a large vacuum cleaner. I raced over to the bridge and found the captain entertaining a group of the first-class passengers. (In those days cargo boats were allowed to carry fourteen passengers, all first class.) “The Chief sent his apologies, Captain” I said as I interrupted, “and sent me over with the pipe for the organ!” The captain gave out a guffaw. “There is no organ, and no pipe, laddie! They are pulling your leg!” A week or two later I found that a committee of inquiry had determined that it was I who had left an oily ring around the shower foot well, that the captain was as mad as heck, and that I had better go over to apologize pronto. I did. Another guffaw! The captain was not so amused at my jogging around the deck for exercise, off-duty. I found that I quickly acquired my sea-legs. I loved to demonstrate them when working at the vice in the workshop below decks. We had four “small” (of several-hundred horsepower) diesel engines used to generate ship-board electricity. They were made by the company in which I did my apprenticeship. I was put in charge of overhauling one on the way out, and another on the way back. I had some steel that needed chiseling in the vice, and had a sharp chisel in my left hand against the steel, and a sledge hammer in my right hand ready to strike a heavy blow. But the ship lurched in the storm, I went sliding backwards (for some reason I was wearing steeltipped boots) until I hit a bulkhead opposite the workbench four yards or so away, the ship lurched the other way, and I slid all the


way back exactly to the vice and delivered my blow. I could do this repeatedly until I had done all the chiseling needed. But I wasn’t getting all the exercise that I was used to (even though I volunteered to help the cattlemen shovel out the stalls of the fifty-or-so head of Scottish cattle that they were bringing over), so I used to jog around the deck when off-duty. The ship rolled and nose-dived, but I felt comfortable continuing, until the storm reached its peak and waves were crashing over the rail. The ship’s horn began sounding, and I looked up to see a gesticulating dim figure in the bridge structure. I went below speedily, and was told off seriously. The captain was right. I was being stupid. The storm eased, and we entered the St. Lawrence in warm sun, although we had been surrounded earlier by scattered icebergs. I had some time off-duty, and felt very adventurous as I read Fitzroy Maclean’s “Eastern Approaches” about how Maclean had been parachuted into Yugoslavia in 1943 with instructions from Churchill to find which partisans the allies should back. (Maclean chose Tito, with far-reaching ramifications.) We stopped for about twelve hours to off-load the cattle in Quebec, where I was allowed to take my bike to go on a ride for a couple of hours. I learned fast that there are few English-speakers in rural Quebec, and that my school French wasn’t a great deal of good. Then the ship went on to Montreal. We spent six days there, mainly overhauling one of the enormous cylinder banks on the Doxford engine. But I was given a day off, and phoned McGill University to see if I could be allowed to visit the mechanical-engineering department. I was switched to speak to the department head, Professor Donald Mordell, who welcomed the idea of a visit, and insisted on picking me up from the ship on the next day. He overwhelmed me by spending much of the day with me, showing me his pioneering work on gas turbines, work that many years later I extended. I tried to


dedicate the report of our work to him. Sadly he had just died. (This was the second time this had happened. I needed to be more circumspect.)

The search for another fellowship I returned to Britain, and led an exciting, breakneck life at Brush. I was also planning afresh to visit the USA, but the advice in general that I received was that it would be almost impossible to get to work in the US for a short period, partly because of the McCarran Act and the McCarthy hearings and the fear and antipathy that they were causing. I was advised to try to get a fellowship. The motherly person at the English-Speaking Union, which I had joined to help in the quest, advised me that I had so little chance that I should apply for at least twenty fellowships and scholarships. I applied for four - but let me return to that later. My life was hectic for two reasons. One was that, as soon as I finished my thesis work, I joined or rejoined all the clubs and activities that I had starved myself of during the two years' research. Partly I was looking for a partner. But I also loved hiking, and singing, and folk-dancing; my father had gotten me into keeping bees, and I took wood-working lessons so that I could make some US-pattern "modified Dadant" hives; and I learned judo partly to give me confidence when I was roaming the world on cargo boats. The second reason was that I was still working on two aspects of alternator cooling, and I was also given responsibility for final assembly and test of the company's new gas turbine, designed by a team that was dismissed in a squeeze a few years earlier. This meant that I had three laboratories and a desk in an office, and I used to run at full speed between them. Two events took place that also helped to direct my future career.


The cooling-fan caper The design team that had been laid off before Ian Goodlet's arrival had been responsible for aspects of all my activities. It had designed the alternator cooling fans, and these were not performing well. It also designed the gas turbine, the compressor of which was destined to be a major problem. The team members had rather unethically removed all their design documents - no doubt they felt that they had been poorly served by the company - and my knowledge of fans and compressors was marginal at best. In fact, I carried out virtually no analytical studies. I had become, however, a fairly accomplished experimentalist, and I was allowed to design and to have built a fan-test rig. I made the fan blades by the same technique I had developed at Nottingham University: I made a mold by the same method used by Italian craftsmen to make decorative shapes in the corners of ornate ceilings, by dragging a template through setting plaster of Paris. At Nottingham I cast the blades themselves out of the same low-expansion plaster. For the fans I used the relatively new polyester resins and fiberglass as reinforcement. The first attempt at a test run was a disaster, but not as disastrous as it could have been. I had been allowed to use a 50hp induction motor, as there was no variable-speed motor available. This meant that I had to test at full speed, just under 3000 rpm. I had had two steel disks with "fir-tree" circumferential root shapes machined into the periphery, and I cast the blades directly into the root shapes to get an excellent fit. My crude calculations indicated that the stresses would be very low. I was required to do the testing on Sunday because of the anticipated noise. The motor had a "star-delta" starter, meaning that it would make its initial acceleration at low voltage to about half speed. Then I would push the starter lever into its full-speed


running position to bring full voltage to bear. All went as planned so far. The initial run up on the "star" connections was leisurely. I was able to take several readings of the shaft speed using a mechanical tachometer with a conical rubber tip that I could push against the center of the motor shaft that protruded through the fan disks. When I pushed the starter into its running position, however, the acceleration was almost violent. I bent down to try to get a speed reading. At that precise moment the fan exploded. One blade must have broken, and all the others broke off. They hit the curved fan "shroud" guiding the air around its tips, and many hard, sharp pieces came forward at high speed to where my face had been a second before. Some pieces of the fan blades hit the roof of the shop forty or fifty feet overhead. I had a quick vision of the backs of the few maintenance men who had been working in other parts of the shop as they made their escape through all available exits. I had been hit by the smaller pieces of shrapnel that were deflected more by the shroud, but none went into my eyes. I hoped that the steel disks would hold, reached into their plane of potential bursting and hit the stop button. (You may have noted that I was not wearing goggles. These were just about unknown at the time. When I worked in the welding (“fabrication”) shop I used to be given the job of grinding the welds of fabrications on a huge grinding machine, totally without guards, and I used to visit the clinic once a week to ask for the removal of all the particles that were embedded in my corneas.) This was a great learning experience. Thereafter I had a very healthy respect for the kinetic energy in rotating machinery. I also became aware of the way brittle materials can make one's safety factors become danger factors. The polyester-resin composite, in which I probably had far too small a glass-fiber content, had broken as if it were ceramic.


My technician and I rebuilt the fan with many improvements. I also had permission from a motor expert to run the motor on the low-voltage "star" connection. At this low speed the fan should be quite safe - and even a blade failure should not be as dangerous. I knew that the flow conditions through the fan would not be quite as realistic as they would be in a full-size fullspeed experiment, but they would be close. And some tests would be easier to make. One test that was to prove invaluable was a "flowvisualization" experiment. I had a smoke generator made by a glass-blower to a drawing put out by the NPL - the National Physical Laboratory. It vaporized kerosene and gave out a dense cool white smoke. I also borrowed a strobe light so that I could adjust the flashing frequency to illuminate each blade in sequence, or the same blade each time it came around. My overall tests showed indeed that the fan produced much less than its designed flow and pressure ratio. Yet if I opened up the discharge-duct valve and then closed it by degrees the fan would produce all that it was designed for. Closing the valve further would cause the fan to stall, as would be expected (in the same way as an airplane wing stalls, or loses lift, when the angle of attack on the wing becomes too high). But what was remarkable to me was that when I opened up the valve again to the point at which the fan was previously working at its design-point specifications, the pressure rise was only about half its previous value. Only by opening the valve to the full extent and then closing it again would the fan operate as designed. By analogy with some other phenomena I called this "hysteresis". Nowadays, as the phenomenon is causing problems in aircraft fans and compressors, it is called "nonrecoverable stall". The flow-visualization experiments were very exciting. In this stalled condition I could see flow going into some blade passages, but out of others. In other words, the flow was normal in some


blade passages, but totally stalled in others. These were not always the same passages - the stall cells moved from passage to passage at some speed less than that of rotation, so that the stall cells appeared to rotate at something around half the rotor rotational speed. I had discovered rotating stall. Now I don't mean to imply that I was the first to discover this very interesting and important phenomenon. Nothing about it had been published, so far as I know. But I found out later that it was the subject of intense concern in the aircraft-engine community, because the low frequency of its propagation was coinciding with the natural frequency of some compressor blades and causing them to fail in fatigue (repeated small bendings) on account of the resulting vibration. But if I had had a mentor or other connection to the centers of research I could have contributed something useful and advanced my own work substantially. As luck would have it, the opportunity came up shortly afterwards. Ian Goodlet was interested in the rotating-stall phenomenon I demonstrated, although he hadn't heard of it before either. But he knew that a famous turbomachineryaerodynamics professor from Cambridge University,William Hawthorne, was a consultant to Brush, and he was due to visit in a week or two. He managed to get fifteen minutes of the great man's schedule set aside so that he could look at my fan rig and give advice. (He became Sir William Rede Hawthorne CBE, FRS, FREng, FIMECHE, FRAES and died in 2011.) All went as planned, to a degree. The professor turned up with his big-shot entourage. The rig worked beautifully. Everyone admired my flow-visualization demonstration of rotating stall. I asked him what I should do next. "Carry on!" he said with a half smile around the corners of his mouth. "How can I design a new fan that doesn't have this hysteresis stall?" I asked. He gave me no comment.


I discovered a few years later that he was, in fact, working on rotating stall at that time. He could, therefore, have given me much good advice and encouragement, and could have suggested references and people to whom to talk. He did none of these. I felt later that he in fact had used us to further his own knowledge, while charging a large consulting fee. It is easy to be accused of paranoia, but as time went on there seemed in Britain to be too many cases to ignore where help and encouragement could have been offered, and weren't. In a mixed-ethnic society one can assume that discrimination is because of one's skin-color or one's religion. In Britain at that time one assumed that it was because one didn't go to a "public" (ie a private, exclusive) school, or because one wasn't from Oxford or Cambridge universities, or one didn't have the "right" accent. The contrast of the warm helpfulness of American academics had made a deep impression upon me. The order to lie These flow-visualization experiments led to the second and more-traumatic event that had a bearing on my coming to the US. Through it I became ashamed of myself and of my firm. Working on the fan test rig was a heady experience. I was finding out fundamental truths for myself. Unfortunately I was following the same pattern as at Nottingham. I was working alone. I showed it to everyone, including my boss, but I probably didn't try as hard as I should have to involve others. In particular, I had no notion of writing the work up as a paper and trying for publication. Looking back, I wish that someone had suggested it. There wasn't much tradition of publication at Brush. My task was to recommend steps to produce design-point operation in future alternator cooling fans. My research plan involved making about five fans having the same blade shape but with the blades set at different angles on the hub groove, and at


differing spacings. I found to my delight that blades set at a higher angle, so-called "high-stagger" blades, did not experience the hysteresis stall. I forthwith recommended a design using them. But while I was playing with the smoke generator one day I found something else that was fascinating. I had the smoke going through the fan blades and the strobe light on, and the flow valve had been in its design condition (representing the flow resistance of the alternator) since start up, so that the fan was in its rotating-stall mode. I saw a shop compressed-air hose nearby, and wondered what would happen were I to give the fan a little blast of air. It took about ten seconds to find out. The results were dramatic. The rotating stall disappeared. All the smoke streamers were going through the passage in the right direction. I looked at the U-tube manometers that indicated the pressure rise produced by the fan. The alcohol column had shot up to design level, and its oscillations from the sudden disturbance were just dying out. I was amazed. I put the fan into stall again. This was all too easy at these low speeds - I could hold up a piece of cardboard against part of the inlet, and the fan would start giving out its characteristic stalled roar. I squirted the fan blades with the air nozzle again. And again the manometer-indicated pressure rise jumped up. I started showing everyone who was interested. And I wrote another memorandum. I recommended that the alternators that were being made with the present blades should be fitted with compressed-air nozzles that could give a momentary blast during the first run up to speed so that the fans could give their full cooling performance. My work on the fan rig was finished, and I was put full time on the gas-turbine assembly and test. Then one day my boss sent for me and asked that I go down to the steam-turbine test stand.


I found John, an old friend from the student association, waiting for me rather anxiously. "Dave", he said, "as you know, we have the Australian turbine coming on test this morning, and we know that the alternators are going to be too hot for the Queensland inspectors to pass them". "Did you install the compressed-air nozzles?" I asked. "That's the point. We didn't. What we want you to do is to go into the alternator casings to blow out the stalls during start up." "Then you're going to add the nozzles later?" I queried. "No, I don't think that that is the plan" John replied. "I think that you want me to falsify the test so as to hood-wink the Queensland inspector. I can't do it" I said. And I went back to the lab feeling troubled. I had been back only a few minutes when the chief of steamturbine design, Mr. McLeod, sent for me. He was a fine man and a very good designer. I don't know how Brush managed to get him a couple of years earlier. He had designed the new range of Brush back-pressure axial turbines. I respected him sincerely. I knew that the meeting was going to be hard. It was, but I stuck to my guns. I refused absolutely to blow out the fan stalls - unless he could guarantee that blowing nozzles would be fitted later. He had the integrity to tell me they wouldn't. I left, feeling devastated that a hero of mine would ask me to do something underhanded. There was one more blow to come. I was ordered to report to the technical director, Mr. J. H. R. Nixon, immediately. Although normally a lofty figure who would be outside the realm of someone at my level, I had gotten to know him well. It was he who sat next to me when I gave my student-association speech five years before. He arranged the research fellowship. He also knew that I had gone to see a lawyer over some previous unethical practices the company had become involved with, and which had reduced my small stipend at the most


critical part of my research fellowship at Nottingham. The lawyer had persuaded Nixon to back down. In addition Nixon was a lay Methodist minister.

Ellen's view of J.H.R. Nixon, in ecclesiastical gown, ordering me to lie.

My brain was working furiously, but I had not had time to work out a decision tree - if this happens I do such and such. I couldn't imagine that Nixon was going to order me to carry out this dastardly deed. But that is exactly what he did. And he was clever enough not to threaten me with dismissal if I refused. He must have realized that I would not mind being free and out of Brush, and that I probably would not keep my mouth shut about the reason. He also knew that I was still rather idealistic. For whatever reason, the tack he took was the following. If I did not blow out the fan stalls, he said, it was known that the alternator temperature would be 104 C, if my memory is correct, and that was several degrees over the limit that the Queensland inspector would accept. The new turbine and alternators were


desperately needed in Queensland, and many people would be out of work if they did not get there on time. In Loughborough, nearly a one-company town, there would also be people out of work, because we would have a turbine and alternators that we could not sell, and we would not be able to sell others either. Furthermore, and this was the clincher, my conscience should not be troubled, because he was taking the entire responsibility for this action. He was ordering me to do it, and he would take all the credit or blame. Therefore there was no ethical question for me whatsoever. The pressure was too much. I gave in. With a very heavy heart I reported back to John Softley in turbine test and said that I had been ordered by Nixon to carry out the fan blowing. I had another reason to be unhappy. The turbine was a radial-flow Ljungstrom counter-rotating design, so that it had two alternators, and each alternator had two fans, one at each end. The stator windings, large cotton-wrapped copper conductors, normally carried electric current at tens of thousands of volts. I would have to lie on these conductors with a metal-ended compressed-air hose, facing an accelerating fan that could suck me into it. However, John assured me that the excitation current, necessary before the stator windings developed their high voltage, would be off, and that he could keep the speed low until I had done my task. I gritted my teeth and did the job. I could hear from the fan noise that I had blown out all the stalls. I could not return to my work. I paced around the shops and yards, torn by conflicts. I felt a traitor to my standards and beliefs. I felt betrayed by my friends and superiors. After an hour I couldn't take the feeling of disgust any longer. I set off resolutely for the turbine test floor to tell the Queensland inspector exactly what was going on. I thought that the consequences would be better than having a turbine set sent to


Australia that would likely fail within a few months of its installation. John saw me coming. "What's up, Dave?" he asked. "Where's the Queensland inspector?" I asked. "I'm going to tell him what I did." "Relax, Dave" John replied. "Just after we got the turbine up to speed it tripped out. We had to start it again without you we couldn't find you - and it was over-temperature. But the Queensland inspector decided to accept it. So you're in the clear". The Commonwealth Fund and freedom I wasn't in the clear, of course, although I was released from a dilemma. I was devastated. I began making more serious plans to visit the USA. When I was offered a Commonwealth Fund Harkness fellowship to go to Harvard University in September, 1955, I accepted it with alacrity. Nixon offered me the position of chief gas-turbine engineer on my return, and offered to pay me a retainer on top of my fellowship stipend while I was away. I refused both. I could not contemplate working at Brush any longer than I had to. It's possible that this was a mistake. I sometimes give talks to engineering students with the title "Eight fatal ways to ruin an engineering career", and you will recognize some of these fatal ways elsewhere in this book. But this refusal of a continuing position with Brush is not one of them.


Chapter 6 EUROPE AND THE DELIGHTFUL CONSEQUENCES OF LONELINESS By 1955 I had graduated from Birmingham University, and had completed a two-year graduate apprenticeship at Brush Electrical Engineering Co. The company had awarded me the Brush Research Fellowship and I had graduated with a PhD from Nottingham University in 1953.There were obligations to continue at the Brush Elec.Eng.Co., but these were due to end in the summer of 1955, and I wanted to make a clean break. I also knew that my short foray to Canada the year before taught me almost nothing about North America. Someone strongly advised me to try to get there through a fellowship of some sort. I took the business of applying quite seriously. I was awarded a superb Commonwealth fellowship from the Harkness Fund. The notification came in February 1955. I suddenly began to feel uneducated. Every American, I knew, had visited every country in Europe, and all I had managed was a vacation in Norway and a few days in Quebec. This lack in my experience had to be made up. My plan was simple. The Commonwealth Fund had booked a passage for me and the other “Fellows” on the good ship Flandre, leaving Southampton on September 6, so that I needed to be back in Britain a week beforehand. I didn’t want to miss out on hiking, so I joined the Austrian Alpine Club and booked for a guided hike of two weeks leaving St. Johann-in-Pongau on August 15. One had to be able to speak German, the paperwork declared. Brother Tom gave me a book on learning German through jokes. It was really enjoyable. The jokes were rather heavy, but who cares? I remember a new chemistry text by E. J. Holmyard being introduced when I was in the sixth form at


Bishop Vesey’s. I had come to hate chemistry. But Holmyard started his chapter on sodium with the following in italics at the top center as if it were a quotation from Shakespeare: Sir Humphrey Davy abominated gravy. He lived in the odium of having discovered sodium. That transformed my study of chemistry. I would read rather intensely in case I missed the next pearl of humorous wisdom. Likewise the German paperback had a cartoon of an athleticlooking chap reaching a mountain peak, and yelling down to his pudgy friend eating something disgusting in a café well below the summit: “Kommen Sie herauf! Die Aussicht ist wunderbar!” (Come up here – the view is wonderful!” And the pudgy fellow replied “Nein Danke! Das habe ich shoen gesehen – ich habe eine Farbecarte gekauft!” “No thanks! I’ve already seen the view: I have bought a picture postcard!”

A Latin adventure French was the main foreign language taught at Bishop Vesey’s, along with Latin, so I figured that I was safe to start my trip in Belgium and just bicycle where it seemed to be fun. I had my Youth Hostels membership up to date and a list of all the hostels in Europe. I biked 67 miles to Dover, took the 1030 ferry to Ostend and set off enthusiastically to Bruges and on to a hostel in Ghent about 50 miles from Ostend. But the hostel was full. I tried asking a couple of people in the street outside where I might find a bed-and-breakfast. I thought that French was appropriate, but they didn’t understand me. I was in the Flemish part of Belgium. Then I saw a priest leading a troop of boys and thought to myself “He’s sure to know!” But he didn’t understand my French either. I tried German. Total incomprehension. Aha! Latin! Communication established! He invited me to join him and his group in his local Catholic school and hostel. My years of


boring Latin studies had paid off! (If I had tried English on any of these people I would probably have done much better!) We all had a great evening trying to communicate in different languages. Next day after happy farewells I went on to Hertegenbosch, Grave, Nijmegen and Arnhem, by now in the Netherlands. I felt that this was a good preparation for the USA: a US type of tour. “If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium”, except that I was there on a Sunday and in the Netherlands on Monday and Tuesday. I slept happily in a hayloft at Denekamp youth hostel, the main bunkroom being full. By Wednesday I was over the frontier into Germany at Nordhorn. Then on to Osnabruck and a stay at a nearby youth hostel.

Am I ever fed up with – me! Although I bicycled occasionally with people I had met, I was getting tired of my own company. I developed a small trick to engage in conversation. I would buy a serious paper like Die Welt and spread it out on an empty table, and would have my Langenscheidt pocket dictionary open so that I could look up the many words I didn’t know. If I was in a youth hostel this always attracted some helpful German person to come over to assist. (German youth hostels were far more civilized than the rather scruffy hostels that were the norm in Britain at that time, and even if a hostel was full there was always a place to read, even a spread-out newspaper.) But there were long stretches of riding where I was alone. I rather liked asking people the way to something, because the torrent of “Sie mussen gerade ausgehen, and dann erste links, dann zweite rechts . . .” (“You must go straight ahead, then first left, second right. .”) was a challenge I enjoyed. But I was also the product of my upbringing in the war and of the revelation of horrors that came after the war, and I sometimes began to feel that I was surrounded by goose-stepping Wehrmacht.


I had plenty of time to ponder this as I approached Hannover, where lived Dieter Claessens and his wife. Dieter was the brother of my brother Tom’s wife Gabi, and he had been warned that I might look him up. I had his phone number, and called to ask if I could take them both out to dinner in the evening. We had a lovely meal in the Ratskeller, which seemed to be in the basement of the city hall. After introductions and pleasantries and finding more about their lives (he was then a junior professor in a local university) I was able to pop the crucial question. Could he/they get me a job for two weeks? I wanted to meet German people by working with them. I was staying at a place called “Die Naturfreund” and we arranged to have lunch together the next day. Dieter tried to get me into the Volkswagen works at Wolfsburg, which sounded thrilling to me. But it didn’t pan out: I’m sure that having someone who didn’t want to be paid but having liabilities for accidents etc. would be no bargain for anyone in an automobile factory. But when I phoned Dieter by arrangement in the evening he had other good news. I should report to Herr Meyer, a farmer in Grossenheidorn, uber Wunsdorf. His son Wilhelm wanted to practise English. Early Saturday morning I set my wheels in that direction, and by lunchtime was being welcomed by Frau and Herr Meyer, their children, and others who I learned by degrees were refugees from somewhere east, maybe Romania.

The farm laborer Thus started a wonderful two weeks. I was fully accepted into the family. No one could speak a word of English except Wilhelm, and he was not always nearby. So my abilities in German were sorely tested but also greatly expanded, often with gales of laughter. I had a nice little room to myself, and would get up soon after 5 am, dress in loaned overalls, and go down to clean out the pig sties. That would take an hour or more, when I would be called in for something that I would call breakfast but apparently wasn’t. After it I would go to clean out the cow stalls,


and around 10 am we would all have Frühstück which is German for breakfast. Two hours later the meal was Mittagsessen. I worked hard, at least in the mornings, and I was always hungry. However, I didn’t eat enough for Frau Meyer. “Daffyth!” she would say, emptying a bucketful of boiled potatoes in the middle of the large kitchen table around which we all sat. “Du muss mehr essen!” She used the familial form as if I were her son “You must eat more!”. I liked that! After the daily manure-and-straw clearing there were more varied tasks: cherry picking, fence mending, hedge-cutting, potato-digging and so on. I had an interesting lesson when working on loading a large wagon with manure one afternoon. Two old women dressed from head to toe in black came along the farm track. Wilhelm said something about their coming to borrow a pump. It was a large cast-iron pump, and there was a long length of cast-iron pipe 4-6” diameter and maybe twelve feet long. I jumped off the wagon and went over to help. Wilhelm stopped me. He said that it was important that old people got exercise. It seemed ruthless at the time, but it is coming to be the modern view. They each shouldered their loads and strode off. Another example of how I was a member of the family happened one morning when I was doing my early-morning chore of cleaning out the pigs. I heard Frau Meyer calling me. I looked towards the main door of the cow shed, but it was still closed. I heard her call again. Then I saw her upper body over the wooden wall around the pigs’ area. She was sitting on the toilet and decided to chat with me! I should explain that the farm had a pretty good downstairs bathroom, but it was used apparently exclusively for hanging up sides of bacon and the like and for no usual bathroom purposes. There was an earth toilet in the cowshed, not enclosed apart from the low wooden wall. I used it when I thought that I had the place to myself. It saved taking my boots off to go upstairs. Frau Meyer must have come to use it


when I was working, but saw nothing amiss in doing so, nor in having a conversation with me (very one-sided, because I was embarrassed!) I had been paid another compliment!

The somewhat embarrassing (for me) situation where I was shovelling manure in the barn and Frau Meyer was on the unenclosed toilet, enjoying a conversation with me.

On two evenings I walked with the younger set (Wilhelm had a young blonde sister, Irminhaud) to Steinhuder Meer, a large lake a few kilometers away, where we could swim and eat “Raucheter Aal” which I believe was roasted eel. The Royal Air Force was still stationed nearby, and used the distant half (we hoped) of the lake for bombing practice. On the two Sundays I was with the Meyers I accompanied the family to the Lutheran church, and enjoyed listening to the clearest “High German” I had yet heard. Since then I have often joked that I lived with German farmers and learned “Platt-Deutsch”, which is a “low” dialect. It wasn’t true. But there was a strong difference in speech between “ordinary Germans” and this minister, who was obviously extremely proud of his diction.


On the (romantic) road again The day came to leave, and it was sweetly painful to do so. Irminhaud gave me a remembrance gift and we hugged and shook hands all round. The experience had a profound effect on me. Beforehand I was feeling that Germany was foreign and hostile. Now I reveled in being involved and among friends. I met with Dieter again for supper in Hannover that evening to thank him for what he had done for me (and for Anglo-German relations!) A year later I was to repeat this pattern of meeting people, this time in the USA. But that’s another story, to be told in chapter 7. After staying the night at the Hannover youth hostel I bicycled east to Braunschweig and the next day started a climb up the Harz mountains to the south. I remember being “up on the pedals” (not sitting on the saddle) for four hours on a beautifully graded climbing road through Bad Harzburg. After that it was a swoop down to St. Andreasberg, Hertzberg, Gottingen and Witzenhausen. Near there I took the D-Zug (the D train) to Wurzburg. People had been telling me that I must see Die Romantische Strasse connecting Wurzburg to Augsburg. I arrived at the starting point at 2 am. The right way to start such a trip was a vineyard, I thought, and I climbed up a road in the near dark (my headlamp was good for riding but not for surveying the landscape) until I found what turned out indeed to be grape vines. I curled up on the ground and slept well. Early next morning I found a place where I could wash and have a large breakfast. The weather was beautiful, and it made “The Romantic Way” seem stunningly magical. I bicycled south to Bad Morgentheim, southeast to Rothenburg o der Tauber; and generally south again to Dinkelsbuhl (where I stayed at a Gasthaus, something between a bread-and-breakfast and a hotel), Nordlingen, Donauworth and finally Augsburg, the nominal end of Die Romantische Strasse. It was probably the


most beautiful two days I have ever spent in any means of conveyance.

When I arrived at Dinkelsbuhl on "Die Romantische Strasse" a fence had been hung with newly dyed cloth to dry.

The Austrian Alpine Club It was necessary, however, that I not linger too long over such scenery, and I went on to Landsberg. I tried to stay at another Gasthaus but it was full. The proprietors kindly allowed me to sleep in the hay loft. Next morning I started a thrilling ride over the Schongau Garmisch Partenkirchen alpine pass to Innsbruck. By that time I was about as fit as I could be in my life and I zoomed up and over it with no problems, except on the way down. Ahead of me was a lookout with a few parked cars and their occupants outside admiring the impressive view. My intent was also to enjoy the view, and to convey a message of the superiority of bicycling. (On a bicycle one has views the whole time.) The time came to leave, which I intended to do with a flourish. But both tires were flat. I was about to suspect the motorists, but then felt the tires. The wheels were still very hot. Rim brakes heat the rims under the tires. The patches on my tire tubes had all floated off in the heat. This experience taught


me a lesson. Years later, after Ellen and I biked over the Southern Alps in New Zealand on a tandem, which has twice the heating per wheel of a single bike and produced strong conservatism in my downhill riding style, I modeled the thermal conditions in bicycle rims and wrote a paper on the result. The Innsbruck youth hostel was full, but arranged for several of us overflow people, including a lad from Loughborough UK and a cheerful bunch of Australian and Canadian young women, to sleep on the floor of a town building. These gorgeous women were too busy cooking to notice us mere men, and I was far too reserved to try to start up a conversation. The next day I managed to locate the hiking boots that I had sent on from the UK, stored my bicycle, and joined the Austrian Alpine Club group. A few highlights of the glorious and entertaining thirteen days that followed might be of interest to the long-suffering reader. The A.A.C. hikers were not, as previously advertised, all Austrian and German, but were all British. Most could speak German better than I. One, a tall muscular handsome guy named Michael had worked on a ranch in Colorado, which made him a very romantic figure. The leader was Gillie, a German of our age. His English wasn’t too good, but he wanted to be formal in German – no “du” but “Sie” for him. His leadership qualities were mixed. Early in the hike we came to a long patch of down-sloping snow in our path, and he announced “Now vee slide!” and indicated that one of the young women should go first. I volunteered for second place. I found that I needed practice keeping on my feet, and fell backwards going down feet first. The poor woman who had gone first fell forward and, in shielding her head from smashing into a rock, had gashed her arm quite badly. Blood on snow is never pretty. I yelled to the others and tried to save them from similar disasters.


How to compliment your hostess Something more amusing occurred the third evening. We had found that the food at the mountain huts was adequate but not generous, and we were hungry much of the time. But at this third hut the daughter of the hutmaster, Erica, had cooked the evening meal, and had made some luscious cake for dessert. I whispered to my group that I was going to thank her. The hut, which was packed, suddenly seemed to fall silent. It may have been the Bodkin effect. P. G. Wodehouse started his novel “The luck of the Bodkins” with “Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.” Or, in this case, German. The setup to this story should also state that I had fallen into the bad habit of saying to clearly top-flight chefs about some masterpiece that they had created that “I couldn’t have made it better myself” in circumstances when it was obvious that I didn’t know anything about cooking. To attempt this bit of silliness in an Austrian mountain hut full of an international clientele was highly hazardous, but sometimes I lose all caution. My position was greatly exacerbated because the German for “could”, “konnte” sounded like “couldn’t.” So I cleared my throat and said loudly to Erica at the serving table “Danke! Dass konnte ich besser selbst-gemacht haben!” There was a horrified silence, because I had actually said “Thanks! I could have made that better myself!” Michael hissed across at me “Nicht besser, you chump!” I fell into an embarrassed torrent of apologies: “Entschuldigen Sie mir bitte!” and the hut exploded. One rather rotund middle-aged fellow laughed so hard that he fell on the floor, where he was trying to loosen his lederhosen to relieve the pressure. Erica told us that she had the next day off and would like to walk with us for some of the way. I said that I would make it up to her, and


carried her rucksack on top of mine until she branched off and left us.

Wilson had tried to say (in German) to the cook "I couldn't have made it better myself" but goofed. The man on the floor was laughing so hard that he was trying to loosen his lederhosen.

Snow blindness One other event had implications for me a few years later. We climbed the shoulder of a mountain called the Dachstein and found ourselves on a high plateau totally snow-covered with a brilliant blue sky above it. A hiker with whom we chatted remarked that those of us not wearing dark glasses were in risk of becoming snow blind. He-man Michael almost collapsed in terror. He and I were the only ones in our party without sunglasses. For the rest of that day’s hike we had our eyes narrowed to slits. We escaped any obvious ill effects. But five years later I had forgotten the lesson. It was my first year of working in the US, 1961, and I had forgotten about Labor Day while on a business trip in Colorado for my firm. I had a tent and rucksack with me for a weekend outing with the Colorado Mountain Club up Mount Wilson, but we were caught in a blizzard and came


down after a cold night under a shelter. I foolishly decided that the next day I could hike up Longs Peak (14,259 ft) by myself, in sneakers. It was a brilliant day. Ice had formed over the snow, but not thickly enough to withstand my weight plus rucksack, and I kept breaking through up to my thighs. My camera seemed to be having a problem too because the exposure meter was off the scale. Eventually I reached within sight of the summit cone, glistening smooth ice several hundred feet high, and at last a little wisdom came upon me. The summit could exist without my visiting it, and I turned east to a trail on which, halfway or more down, the map showed a campsite. On this side of the mountain the snow cover was much thinner and was thawing, so I was mainly sloshing along downhill in cold wet sneakers. At about 5 pm I reached the camp ground, below the snow line but naturally unoccupied at that time (September 6). I pitched my tent, fetched some water from what appeared to be a “safe” spring, and made my evening meal. I was about to spread out my sleeping bag as dark was falling when apparently someone reached into the tent and threw a bag of pepper into my face. I cried out and tried to grab whomever it was, but I could not see and did not hear anything. Suddenly memories came back, and the thought of the camera light meter being off scale, and that I had spent a long day in brilliant sunlight surrounded by purewhite glistening snow without snow goggles. I was snow-blind! This is what it felt like! It hurt! I didn’t sleep much that night. Michael said that snow-blindness leaves one totally without sight for three days. How was I going to pack up and find the way down the remaining third of the mountain? Perhaps a blindfold would help my eyes? I made one and had a few fitful short snoozes, maybe totaling ninety minutes. But in the morning I could just see a blurred image through a crack in the blindfold, and made breakfast and packed up mainly by feel. I found the path down and stumbled into the village at the end of the trail asking for a pharmacy (why didn’t I


ask for the hospital?) and somehow completed my trip to Cambridge Massachusetts. My sight improved rapidly over the next three days, but I was quite sensitive to sunlight for about five years. It took me several decades to realize that being macho is stupid. Wine goes to your head, and elsewhere The end of my grand tour in Europe had one other item of possible interest. We in the hiking group said our farewells and some of us returned to Innsbruck. I took my bike out of storage, and I bought a bottle of Austrian wine as a present to my good friends and landlords Frances and Len Sedgley in Nottingham. I wrapped it carefully in all my better clothes and put it in the middle of my rucksack. The Trans Europa express left at 2130. My compartment was chock full of stuffy British types, and I was exceedingly grubby. After enough time for the bathrooms to clear I grabbed my rucksack and went to clean up and change. Alas! The bottle of wine had broken, soaking all my finery and giving it an alcoholic smell. It didn’t wash out too well. I returned to the stuffed-shirt compartment and tried to explain that I had not been swigging down hooch. I don’t know how many believed me.


Chapter 7 AMERICA! The Commonwealth Fund and freedom, 1955 - 57 The first paragraph here is an edited repeat of the end of chapter 5. The result of the traumatic events that started with the orders from my bosses to falsify test results at the Brush company didn’t leave me in the clear, of course, although I was released from a dilemma. I was devastated. I began making more serious plans to visit the USA. When I was offered a Commonwealth Fund Harkness fellowship to go to Harvard University in September, 1955, I accepted it with alacrity. The supreme boss at Brush, Mr. J.H.R.Nixon, offered me the position of chief gas-turbine engineer on my return, and offered to pay me a retainer on top of my fellowship stipend while I was away. I refused both. I could not contemplate working at Brush any longer than I had to. It's possible that this was a mistake. I sometimes give talks to engineering students with the title "Eight fatal ways to ruin an engineering career". But this refusal of a continuing position with Brush is not one of them. Harvard and M.I.T The Commonwealth Fund gave me a fellowship at Harvard starting in the fall of 1955 for up to eighteen months. The Fund officer in New York was Lance Hammond, an extremely congenial and capable person, who welcomed us off the boat in New York and showed us around for a day or two. He told me that I could take advantage of a collaborative privilege at M.I.T. Being my young insular self I asked “That sounds good – what’s M.I.T.?” All was soon revealed to me, and Professor Howard Emmons at Harvard welcomed me into his lab – an aircraft hangar on


Oxford Street, Cambridge – and allowed me to use a wind tunnel that was available. I wanted to examine a certain type of boundary-layer flow that had been made famous by Professor Francis Clauser of Johns Hopkins university (whom I visited later). There were no suitable instruments around, and I spent a year trying to make some sensitive enough for the precise readings I wanted, and almost succeeded. “Almost” is not enough, of course. There was a cheerful gang of students and staff in the lab. The foreman, Al Boudreau, liked a hot building, and when I arrived often close to 6 am the vast building would be at over 90F, even if the outside was deep in snow. I needed a lower temperature for me and for my readings, and would lower the thermostat to around 65 F. When Al arrived at about 8.15 he would yell out as he raised the temperature again: “Hey! You’ve gotta give the Limeys credit – if they don’t take the credit, they’ll take cash!” It was a daily joke that put everyone into a good mood. Howie Emmons said once or twice that I should give a presentation of my thesis work on turbine-blade heat transfer. I was very proud of it. I didn’t think that I was the cat’s pajamas, but I knew that I had achieved miracles in a short period (two years) with very low funding, no technical supervision, and with having carried out the design and construction of virtually all the apparatus and instrumentation myself. (A local sheet-metal company made the wind-tunnel parts to my drawings.) A description of what followed is in chapter 11 “Rules for presentations to RBSs.”. At M.I.T. I was lucky enough to find the Gas Turbine Lab and Professor Eddie Taylor, a self-effacing person of great experience and wisdom. I took a graduate research-topic course with him, and learned a great deal about multi-stage turbocompressors and a lot about how to run a group of students, staff and faculty in a way that kept them all happy. Eddie was also a superb


silversmith, and his wife Julie an accomplished potter as well as being a formidable cellist. We became good friends. There is more about Harvard and M.I.T. in chapters 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16. Here is something about the US in the mid-1950s. The ways of Friends Although I grew up in a Church of England parish where my father was a lay-reader and I taught Sunday School, by the time I reached the US in September 1955 I was no longer a church attender. My Commonwealth Fund fellowship, however, had as its prime purpose the full acquaintance of fellows with American life. At the time the percentage of Americans attending church, chapel or synagogue was at an all-time high. I thought it my duty to go to many different types of worship, from Congregational, Baptist, Methodist, Unitarian to Jewish, Zoroastrian and other seemingly more mystical religions. One of the last worship services I attended was a Quaker meeting in Cambridge MA. I liked it, partly because so little belief was demanded. Meetings started with people sitting in silence, usually for over a half-hour, presumably thinking deep thoughts. I found myself wondering about the similarities and differences between American and British life. I had started in Cambridge by renting a room for $5.00 per week from Mrs. Marion Bragdon at 90 Fresh Pond Parkway. She had two rooms left when Phil Griffith, an Australian also having a Harkness fellowship, and I arrived. He took the better room, upstairs, at $6.00 per week. My room was on the ground floor next to the kitchen and toilet. The wooden staircase went over my room. The small parking lot was outside my window. The place was full of life. Marion Bragdon’s husband had died unexpectedly, leaving her with a considerable debt. She was a schoolteacher, not well paid, and she filled her once-comfortable house with paying students. Two “new” Americans, one from Latvia, the other from part of the USSR, would start cooking their evening meal and arguing loudly at


about 11 pm. There was general noise until about 2 am, when my slumber seemed assured. Then someone working on an astronomy degree at Harvard would drive in at about 4 am, slam the car door, slam the screen door going into the kitchen, and stomp up the bare stairs over my head. One evening I went into the kitchen and said “Hey guys! You kicked the British out once are you trying to do it again?” They quieted down a good deal for an hour or so, but next day it was the same as usual. I remember thinking about this problem during the first part of a Friends meeting, and suddenly the answer appeared in my consciousness. No one else seemed to be bothered by the noise (of course, their bedrooms were more protected) so maybe it was my fault. I realized that what was keeping me awake was more my irritation than the actual noise itself. From then on, I slept happily through all the racket. So I was predisposed towards the Friends, and later, in the last four months of my fellowship time, I had arranged to work at Boeing starting in November 1956, and thought that I might try going to a Friends’ Meeting when I reached Seattle. I had spent the first year of my fellowship taking classes at MIT and doing research at Harvard. I was far too ambitious at Harvard, trying to rebuild a wind tunnel and to make all the measuring instruments myself with zero funds - I could have asked my Harkness administrators for some funds, but I had become far too independent. So I stayed on at Harvard for three months trying to finish a research report on the behavior of boundary layers - the air flow right against solid surfaces - in a special type of air flow. I went to a Central-Square, Cambridge, second-handcar dealer the day before I had to leave for the west coast, was sold a Studebaker, a total lemon, and listened to Anthony Eden on the car radio threatening to bomb Cairo as I was loading the vehicle with all my worldly goods. I thought “This is not going to be a good introduction to a group of peace activists.”


The car had a slipping clutch, smooth tires that slid in any snow I encountered, and an engine that required oil every fifty miles. But I reached Seattle in good shape, found an apartment, parked the car nearby, unpacked my bicycle and rode to Boeing first and later to the Friends’ Meeting. I was in “Plant One” at Boeing, in the middle of an enormous parking lot. I locked my bike to the railing outside the boss’s office and was at my desk in half the time taken by people who drove cars from near where I lived but had to park a half-mile away from the plant. I was added to a group of about 150 engineers working on some small gas-turbine engines that Boeing was developing, partly to supply its planes with clean air and electricity when on the ground at places not having support services. In Britain the staff would probably number three to five. I enjoyed my four months at Boeing and the people with whom I worked, but was not highly impressed with the quality of the engineering leadership. (And I did not feel that I was contributing a great deal to the project.) At the Friends’ Meeting I was warmly welcomed with no hint of any penalty for coming from a country that had clearly colluded with others and lied about it. I admired the practical programs being talked about and, after a consensus was reached, implemented to try to contribute to solutions to small and large problems. The solution to one small problem tickled me, and showed that even serious Friends have a sense of humor. It also illustrates an aspect of human behavior. One male Friend had been a conscientious objector in WW II, and became a milk deliverer. Cows were milked on one day and the milk was delivered the next day, which was as soon as was possible. One customer strenuously objected to having milk on Thursday carrying a “Wednesday” label. The delivery guy did his best to explain the situation and to confirm that the milk he delivered was as fresh as it could be. The customer was still not placated. So our hero found a refrigerator with spare space, and stored all the milk for


this customer for six days so that he could deliver last Monday’s milk on the next Monday. The customer was thrilled. She said that the milk tasted so much better than the day-old milk. (Our hero wondered if he should hold the milk for thirteen days to make it really fresh!) Right now I’m anxious to relate the story of the wonderful summer I had at the end of the academic year.

The summer of ’56: Go forth and travel The Commonwealth Fund had an onerous requirement for all its fellows: we had to travel for two-to-three months in the summer to see as much of the USA as possible. It wasn’t put that way, but it was so interpreted by most. Alistair Cooke was a famous predecessor. He and most others joined up with three like-minded adventurers, bought an old car, and tried to visit as many as possible of the 48 states (as there were then). Faithful readers of previous chapters will know that I tried to do an “American tour” of Europe in the summer before the fellowship started, and that I became sick of my own company. I decided to stay in one place with a family and to work for my keep. This transformed my opinion of Germany (where I was at the time) and of travel tours. I decided to pre-arrange a selective tour instead of doing what seemed to me to be a mad rush around the states, so meeting lots of gas-station attendants. My trip was shaped by the strong desire to go to a conference at Stanford University in June 1956. A prominent presenter at the conference was Professor Louis London. He had given me much encouragement when I was a Ph.D. student at Nottingham University, and he had become a hero of mine. Stanford is in California, and obviously I had to visit San Francisco. I had never been to a nightclub, and thought that a good initial job would be to work at one. After researching possibilities with my friends, I wrote to the manager of the Purple Onion in San Francisco. To


my delight, manager Barry Drew replied to welcome me and to offer me a bunk aboard his boat in Sausalito harbor. All I had to do now was to arrange transportation to San Francisco. I tried to get a dream job delivering a Jaguar to the west coast, but without luck. Then I saw an advertisement from a business-school student at MIT who wanted a car driven to Los Angeles. We met, liked each other, and he introduced me to the car, a Plymouth station wagon loaded down to the axles. Next, I needed to find a driver who could share the trip with me. A friend strongly recommended a buddy of his at Harvard, and I turned down all the other applicants. To my consternation, the Harvard friend, Bob, had to take a driving a test before we could start. He passed the test, we were given a rousing sendoff by his Harvard buddies, and we nosed the Plymouth on to the highway to New York City. Bob had been celebrating the night before and apparently did not get much sleep, so he made up for it by sleeping soundly as I drove into New York, under the George Washington Bridge, and on to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He missed all these beauties. In fact he slept for about 36 hours, awakened, somewhat hesitatingly took the wheel, ran the Plymouth off the road, and decided to return to Cambridge. Down home in Decatur, IL A Harvard friend, Bud Veech, had invited me to spend a couple of days with his family in Decatur Illinois. This turned out to be a delightful interlude in my trip. I guess the Veeches were a typical American mid-West family. They were farmers, but not at all of the somewhat rough variety that I knew in England. They lived in a comfortable house in town. I was given warm welcome. Soon after arriving I was introduced to all the family and many friends and was taken with them to the town fair. It seemed that everyone was there. The members of the Rotary club were dressed as clowns; the local church ministers


were running stalls; and, metaphorically, the baker and the candlestick maker all had different roles. It was great fun. We visited Henry, the family's black servant, who was looking after a melon patch that Bud had sown during his spring vacation. Henry and Bud were pals, and it was good to experience their relationship. Race relations in the country as a whole were not good in 1956. I spent two nights with the family, and the intervening day, in which we got to help to harvest some hay. It was the first of three gatherings of alfalfa hay. Young and old worked together with great humor. The second evening was particularly striking to me because we were visited by several young friends of Bud. If such a group had come together in Britain, it would have been structured, with the older people being somewhat reserved and they would probably have taken themselves off to another room. But here the old and young chatted together, laughed at jokes, discussed how they could fix themselves up with dates and how they might persuade me to stay and have a date with them. But I had to leave early morning and said my farewells with regret and appreciation. There was a lot I needed to learn about America. One lesson was that I could not expect to say goodbye on an evening before I was leaving. I am an early riser, and I tried to sneak out of the house at 5 a.m.. But Mr.Veech. was ready for me, making sure that I had a good breakfast and food for my trip. As I headed for St. Louis, I thought to myself that here were some strangers with whom I had spent 36 hours and who had done more for me than I would ask or expect of my best friend. I had a little lump in my throat as I left. Keep going west, young man The road stretched through flat grain lands dipping gently towards the Mississippi, and the morning sun beating in on my bare left arm and leg grew stronger. Already I was bearing the


one-sided bronzing that is the insignia of the east-west driver. I crossed the mighty river into St. Louis early on Sunday morning and filled the tank at a price of 22.9 cents per gallon. It is a little horrifying to realize that this was not cheap for the time: later, I bought a tank-full of gas in Arizona for 12.9 cents a gallon. There was a "gas war" in the area. At around noon I climbed high above the road and ate my lunch. By then I was in the midst of the Ozarks. I was becoming entranced with country music. As I drove on the Mayflower emblem on the nose of the Plymouth was dipping gracefully over the rolling hills west of the Mississippi, constantly reminding me of the Mayflower’s voyage from England to new lands. Here was I in the comfort of a modern car covering the ground at a rate which caused me to put my watch back almost an hour a day, and with plans based on the near certainty of easy and accurate navigation. I picked up a couple of Air Force boys, who entertained me with stories of their automobiles. For each it seemed that the sole purpose for having an automobile was to impress the young women. When I asked rather tentatively for their opinion of British sports cars they were very scathing in their judgment. Apparently British cars did not impress young women. Much later that day I reached Tulsa, Oklahoma, took two hours’ sleep in the car beside the road, and passed through Oklahoma City in the early hours of the morning. My future bride Ellen Warner was in her crib at age two: I don't know why I didn't realize that. Then on to Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle, and Tucumcari, Newkirk, Santa Rosa, Moriarty, and Albuquerque in New Mexico. On again through Grants, Gallup, and the continental divide into Arizona, where again I had to peel my fruit under the gaze of the inspectors at the state boundary. (It was not permitted to take fruit across state lines because of the risk of spreading disease.) There was also a wonderful stall bearing the welcoming sign "all you can drink for $.15". I did my


best to get my money's worth. Then onward to Navajo and the Painted Desert where I joined the crowds in gawking and photographing. Just this side of Flagstaff I turned north on the one major detour of the trip: about 500 miles to see the Grand Canyon. The Grand, and hot, Canyon On the way there the temperature had reached 116°F in the shade. The car was certainly not in the shade and it did not have air-conditioning. I arrived at the Canyon at about 1.15 in the afternoon. The air was so clear that the far side of the Canyon seemed to be a mere mile away instead of several miles, and the bottom of the Canyon, which was a mile below, seemed only a few hundred yards. Believing that I was a macho hunk, and that therefore it would be easy to make a seven-mile run to the bottom 5700 vertical feet below and then to return before nightfall, I started off at a good clip. However, the heat was oppressive, I had been driving since 1.30 am, I had not eaten solid food for three days because of a queasy tummy, and I began to have doubts. After about an hour I encountered a group of scouts trying to carry their collapsed leader to the top. Here I thought was a way out with honor. I put the scoutmaster's right arm over my shoulder and a succession of rather flabby-looking scouts took his left arm every fifty yards. We got him up to the top in good order, with the leader cheering up all the way. So although I did not complete the "bright angel trail" I had an interesting experience of the Canyon. As I resumed my road westward I took a last longing look at the Canyon with appreciation and regret. After a two-hour nap at the side of the road I found myself on a long incline passing a laboring truck and trailer. Not long after the summit, when I was keeping to my usual 50 mph, the truck passed me at about 80 mph..But fifteen minutes later I saw that he had stopped at an all-night restaurant. I pulled in too so that I could meet him. He


said that he ran the route from Flagstaff to Salt Lake City, about 600 miles, almost every day, and it took him 10 hours. Today he happened to be four hours late. When I left Britain a few months earlier the speed limit for heavy trucks was 20 mph. By the time I returned the government had raised this limit to the stratospheric level of 50 mph. After another two-hour nap the dawn exploded in glorious orange colors, and by 6:30 a.m. I was in Zion National Park. It was at a much smaller scale than the Grand Canyon, but it was still stunningly beautiful. Soon afterwards there was a transition to the Mojave desert and a famous desert town in Nevada: Las Vegas.. It seemed big and garish then although now, 50 years later, it is huge in comparison. I found a place to park for 10 minutes and ran through the lawn sprinklers of one of the big hotels to cool off. The management sent out their goons to chase me away, and I jumped in the car and shook the dust off my feet, or tires, as I headed for Los Angeles. The sun was lowering as we climbed the successive slopes of the Mojave Desert until at San Bernardino came the final straight stretch of highway, 60 miles into the setting sun. The descent of this road from the high dry plateau into the suburbs was one of the most beautiful stretches I had been through at the time. Soft traces of mist, rosy with the setting sun, hung in the air while the road plummeted down through the hills. Even the sprawling suburbs of the city itself were relieved by frequent parks and green spaces. Rescue by barmaid I had come, but had not quite arrived. At 9:30 p.m. I was not sure whether to try to find the address where the car was to be left, or wait until morning. A phone call would do no harm, I thought, and seeing a public box by the road I stopped, got out my letter of introduction, and popped into the next-door tavern to ask for change. Two men got very friendly, one saying he was an Englishman from Stoke on Trent -- he put on a very good


Tyne-side (!) accent to prove it. Before I realized what had happened, he had my letter and was outside on the phone telling the people to whom I was to take the car that I was here and would be saying with him that night. I grabbed the phone and introduced myself and Mrs. Dunn, who sounded taken aback, said it would be fine to bring the car along in the morning. The man then repeated his invitation to doss down at his place for the night, and I accepted, thinking this was true "grass roots" American hospitality. But the barmaid started attacking him with such vehemence that I realized that I had narrowly missed a most undesirable character, and went on my way with appreciation. The Dunn deal The hotels and motels were full by now, and I cruised around for some time fruitlessly before climbing to a high point and curling up on the front seat for the last time. With the dawn I found myself in a very swanky district, and decided it would be propitious to move on before being arrested as a vagrant. I was not far from my destination, and after finding a place to wash and have breakfast I cruised around slowly until I located La Crescenta, the district where I should find Dr. and Mrs. Dunn's home. It was now 8 a.m.,on Thursday June 14, 1956, and very conscious of my untidy appearance I drove up. A slim and beautiful young woman was watering the outdoor shrubbery and plants. I introduced myself; she was Gail Dunn, and her daughter Janet Lee Dunn came along a minute later. No, they were not going to let me leave immediately. They decided that I needed breakfast, and a shower and some swimming and a visit to the supermarket to get some supplies. In other words, I encountered typical American hospitality, natural, not forced, generous, and a lot of fun. (But I wish that I had a video record of the day to see how I behaved - did I spend the time talking about


myself and not asking any questions of them? I know that I was dying to find out more.) The Purple Onion They took me into LA so that I could take the 8.25 pm Greyhound bus to San Francisco, arriving 6 am. Barry Drew, manager of the Purple Onion night club, had offered to let me work at the club for a couple of weeks and to stay with him on his boat in Sausalito Harbor. I hope that I didn’t try to locate him soon after the bus brought me to SF. I soon found that he tended to go to bed at 4 am and to sleep until noon. He took me to lunch on Fisherman’s wharf and introduced me to a lot of people who worked and performed at the club. He and everyone else were warm and friendly and I enjoyed myself greatly. He drove me over the Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito and to his old houseboat, and we got some sleep before the club cranked into action, usually 9 pm to 2 am. The performers soon learned to use me to enhance (?) their acts “And now, coming especially from England, is Dave Wilson who is bringing out my guitar!” but otherwise I cleared tables and tried to look after people generally. The next day Barry Drew took me up Mount Tamilpais – in his old car, unfortunately, rather than walking, - and before the show started took me to a party at the house of an extremely wealthy woman. She had a closet with furs and jackets that seemed to go on for ever. But when I started to try to wash the dishes she was adamant that this was a chore that she and only she would do. I liked that firmness. The gay boatmen and heat transfer One evening Barry told me that he was having a party on the boat, and that I would be very welcome to attend. It was to start after the club closed, so around 2.30 am, by which time I wasn’t worth a great deal. The tobacco smoke was intense at the club, and I would start swaying with a crushing headache that I could


not attribute to any cause. Also I knew that Barry was “very” gay, and the party would be possibly embarrassing for me and maybe for others. So I turned in “early”, i.e. at 3 am, and slept peacefully through the noise and music. On Wednesday June 20 the Greyhound bus took me to Palo Alto for a two-day conference on heat transfer at Stanford University, where I renewed my acquaintance with Professor Lou London and enjoyed the contrast of an academic atmosphere in glorious surroundings with heat-transfer experts from around the globe. I don’t recollect contributing much. In that field I was trying to salvage what I could from an over-ambitious and grossly underfunded research project at Harvard, and there wasn’t too much that I could glean from the conference. When I returned to San Francisco Chuck, a young waiter at the club, had insisted that I stay a couple of days with him in a totally different part of the Bay area from Sausalito. It was a typically generous offer of hospitality. It was made despite the fact that Chuck had married Dorothy only a few days earlier, I found out, and I felt like an interloper despite their protestations that they loved having me there. They were having noisy and obviously enjoyable sex at all possible times, which was understandable but unsettling for a young single guy like me. I went for long walks in the beautiful weather and area. Alcoholic farewell On Sunday June 24 the club folk gave me a send-off party. Actually I think that they intended having a party in any case, and coupled it happily to my plan to take the Greyhound bus late that evening toward my next sojourn. Barry drove me to Santa Rosa before noon for the barbecue, still a romantic event in my mind, at the home of a friendly couple. Daiquiris and other exotic alcoholic drinks were awaiting us. Everyone (except your humble hero) was getting drunk. I went for a walk, joining up with some local young people in some street games, but when I returned


there was no visible sobriety and no progress toward the promised barbecue. As the afternoon wore on and became evening I was beginning to get worried about catching my bus in San Francisco, and eventually decided to call a cab. That got everyone’s attention, and some hospitable folk insisted that I be driven to the bus station. I accepted, but asked that I drive, being the only sober person around. That went well for a mile or two, but then the owner of the car insisted on taking over. There followed a horrifying drive in which he would repeatedly nearly hit the car in front (the evening traffic had developed into a slowmoving stop-and-start procession). He would stomp on the brakes, people would roll drunkenly on the floor, and then he would accelerate crazily again. I didn’t know what I should be doing (taking the wheel again by force, jumping out with my large bag: both seemed impracticable, calling the police was impossible) but I was mighty relieved to reach the bus station just in time for the bus, and said my farewells to SF and the Purple Onion folk. All I could do was to hope that they got home without hurting themselves or anyone else. It was very troubling. The casual worker in Lovelock Nevada My next scheduled stay was with the Mormon church people in Utah, but if I had taken the bus directly there I would be on it for around 24 hours and would arrive late evening. So I decided to break the trip wherever the bus arrived early morning. I stepped out into sunshine in Lovelock Nevada at around 6 am, had breakfast and walked around the town center. It was a small town (population around 2000), and the walk didn’t take too long. The Munk Brothers repair shop was open, and I wandered over to chat. There was work underway on trucks and agricultural equipment. I asked Lester Munk if he would like some free help for the day, saying that I was an engineermechanic and that I could weld, and that I wasn’t allowed to be paid. If they thought that I had done a reasonable job they could


buy me lunch. I was on! I did a repair on the back boards of a truck, and on a mower for a farmer. I had a fine lunch of calve’s brains and eggs. The Greyhound bus didn’t leave until after 11 pm, and Lester and Mr. & Mrs. Bob Munk were hospitable enough to give me dinner at their ranch and drove me around the locality, including the casino, before taking me to the bus station. They gave me a delightful day. LDS missionary work As mentioned previously, my wish to learn more about the Church of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons) sprang from an encounter with a group of young LDS missionaries who came to Harlow Wood Hospital in the UK in 1948. I wrote to the church stating that I would like to learn more about the movement by working with it in some way for a couple of weeks. A letter came from the director of the Institute of Religion, Harley Cone, welcoming me, and in fact he met my Greyhound bus that arrived at 0640 (am) on Tuesday June 26. It was the day when his vegetable plot was scheduled to receive irrigation water, and it did indeed come on time, bubbling and frothing down an irrigation channel. I tried to help Harley as he diverted the stream to various crops and plantings until the water stopped flowing: it was someone else’s turn for a couple of hours. It was an interesting example of the sharing of scarce resources by rationing. I didn’t have my later fascination with this topic, so I didn’t try to find out what would happen if, for instance, water use were charged instead of rationed Harley introduced me to many people, when we visited the local volunteer fire station, when we collected a load of gravel, when I lent a hand harvesting hay, swimming in the North Salt Lake, and visiting the Union-Pacific stockyards. On the second day he handed me over to a farmer, Clem Toone, in Magna, Utah, and his family. The farm was on the west side of the valley, fairly high I know that because Clem was anxious to get me on a horse in


jeans and a cowboy hat. He managed a few days later. His son Sten got his horse out of a paddock after the day’s work was done, and he fetched one for me that hadn’t been ridden for three months. We went up the mountain towards the sunset. My horse thought that it was human and tried to walk on its two hind legs much of the way. It was exciting, but it was nearly dark, and I was glad when we got back safely at the ranch. I am no horseman. But I should record other events of interest (I hope that they are of interest – you be the judge.) On my first day at the Toones we were bringing in hay all morning. Mrs. Toone had a large lunch ready for us at noon. But one of the farm hands was too excited to eat right away. “It’s come!” he cried, waving a long cylindrical packet. It was a scroll from the LDS church. It showed what was accepted as his genealogical tree, starting with Adam and Eve and going through Nebuchadnezzar and several English kings and queens to his own parents and him. I chuckled at one point because I thought that it was meant to be funny. It was not. Every full member of the church should have a similar scroll. This is why the LDS church is the leading chronicler of genealogy. I learned more when I went to church with the family a couple of times. There is a complex system of heavens in its scriptures. If you do well in this life you advance to a better one in the next life. I was taken to an LDS welfare center, and was told that during the great depression not a single LDS member received government handouts: they looked after each other. The family life was also a testament. At that time the national draft was still in effect, and the LDS church had a similar requirement of two years’ service as a missionary. One of the Toones’ sons was planning to be a dentist, which in the US is a specialty that takes one year less than does a full MD degree. He had fulfilled his military service, and was about to go on his LDS missionary work. This meant that it was likely to be nine years after graduation from college before he would receive his DDS


degree. But by all the signs that I could see, family life was very happy for all the members of the church that I met. Drug use was zero, because even tea, coffee and Coca Cola were banned, along with tobacco and alcohol. The community didn’t have many of the life-style diseases that afflict others. Against all these excellent characteristics of members of the LDS church must be arrayed the truth that in those days Jews and African Americans were not allowed to be full members of the church. Later George Romney campaigned for the presidency of the US, and he managed to get these rules changed. After swimming in the Great Salt Lake, taking part in the July 4 festivities in Magna, and hiking with Sten and David to Cottonwood Canyon, they took me to the Greyhound bus on July 5 after a truly memorable experience. Bee farmers The 6.45 pm Greyhound from Salt Lake City got me to Cheyenne, Wyoming by 5.20 next morning. I didn’t feel like trying to get another day job, especially since my next bus left at 4.30 pm, so I enjoyed sight-seeing and reading. I was on my way to the Tri-State Fair in Sioux City Iowa to meet John G. and Frances Jessup, bee farmers of Perry, Iowa. As mentioned earlier, I inherited some bee colonies in the UK from my dad, who bought them with our 1661 house, Blaknalls, in Grange Road, Erdington UK. I became enthusiastic in the craft, making American-style modified Dadant hives, joining beekeepers’ associations and reading all the literature I could. I was fascinated to read that Professor F. B. Paddock was the state apiarist of Iowa. So naturally I wrote to him to ask if he could introduce me to a bee farmer with whom I could work for free for two weeks in return for room and board. He courteously joined me up with Frances and John Jessup, and we all managed to meet at the huge Tri-State (agricultural) Fair.


They were lovely people, and we bonded immediately. In Britain I used to emphasize that I was a bee-keeper: the bees didn’t keep me. After a rainy suburban summer one was as likely to have to feed the bees with sugar syrup to get them through the winter as one was to harvest large quantities of honey. The Jessups, however, had over one-thousand hives, distributed around a wide agricultural area in lots of about fifty hives each. Alfalfa and apple farmers would pay bee farmers to bring their bee colonies along to fertilize the flowers. John would drive long distances to inspect the colonies to make sure that they weren’t diseased or planning to swarm or to provide new combs that the bees could build out and fill. We would drive out in John’s truck through beautiful rolling Iowa country, the temperature usually being over 100 F and humid, and arrive at the colonies often located in a small group of trees. We would not don bee hats and veils and gloves as I was accustomed to doing in Britain. We would go straight to a hive, check how heavy the upper “lifts” (sections) seemed to be, lift them off, pull out a few of the breeding combs in the middle of the hive to check the state, ensure that no queen cells had been formed ( a sign that the colony had decided to split off into swarms that would be lost to the bee farmer) and look for the queen. Then we would put everything back in place and go on to the next hive. The bees seemed to just continue with their work. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Then we would get back in the truck and on to the next set of colonies, with John telling me all about his family and Iowa. In the evenings we might go to a local baseball game, in which the spectators would remain in their vehicles facing inward with their air-conditioners working, and blow their horns as applause. Some days we would be extracting the honey from the harvested combs in the Jessups’ centrifuge, followed by bottling and delivering them to retailers. John had me talking to the Rotary Club, visiting with Prof. and Mrs. Paddock and going to the local college, attending the Presbyterian Church with the family, and on the last two days we sanded and painted a small house on the


property. The Jessups had me fully immersed in small-town rural America, and it was good.

Dave with "foundation" honeybee comb, and with John Jessup

Newsworthy planning They also helped me with a decision: where to go next. There was a gap in my previously arranged schedule. My last work experience was all set. I had found that the “August Camp” of the Appalachian Mountain Club was to be in the Colorado Rockies, and I wrote to ask if I could pay extra to attend because I was not a member of the club. I listed some of my hiking experience in Britain and Europe, nothing very impressive. Almost immediately a letter came from the organizers of the camp, Marie and Frank Lewis, stating that I was appointed as a hike leader and would pay only 50% of the normal fee. I replied that I had no experience of hiking in the Rockies, but this didn’t


seem to concern them. (It turned out that Frank Lewis was a professor at MIT, but that didn’t seem to be relevant.) So I knew that I must be in Crater Lake Colorado to meet the camp staff on Saturday July 28, and I wanted to do something interesting in the American South beforehand. Frances and John discussed some alternatives with me, and suddenly I wanted to work on a newspaper. They brought me along to the local newspaper where a friendly editor looked in his list of papers and selected two in Baton Rouge, Louisiana: the State Times and the Morning Advocate. I forthwith wrote to the editors of each paper, stating that I would be calling on them in three days. That allowed me some time to get my feet in shape for the rigors ahead. I had carried along my hiking boots throughout the trip. I had also constructed in the Harvard Oxford Street lab a strange shoulder-mounted pack frame that I felt would allow me to carry large loads in a more upright posture than the usual bent-over position that one has to suffer with a conventional rucksack. I convinced the Jessups to let me start walking from Perry at 6 am on Sunday July 15 so that I could walk for fifteen or twenty miles along the bus route south. They insisted on taking me at least to the edge of town, we said heartfelt farewells, and I was on my way. Now, dear reader, you may have noticed that there might have been something incongruous about this plan. Even in those days almost no one walked along roads in the wide open countryside. Moreover, I was wearing shorts, in those days not a part of regular dress for men, heavy boots in the middle of summer, and I was carrying my gear on a pack frame the like of which had never been seen before. Cars and trucks roared by me with people peering out to see what was going on. Eventually after I had walked about 13 miles a sedan passed me, slowed down, and reversed. A window was lowered a couple of inches, and a young woman asked me if I was doing this as a television stunt. As soon


as they heard my British accent I was invited to ride with them, the Lockharts and their twelve- and thirteen-year-old daughters all from Colfax, Iowa. I explained that I was hardening my feet and needed to keep walking, but they insisted on taking me for a root-beer float. (I may have mis-remembered the term. It seems that every part of the US has a different name for the combination of a soft drink and ice cream.) It was delicious, and such company was highly enjoyable company in the middle of a very hot day. After a further hour or so of walking I was wanting to eat the sandwiches that Frances had made for me. I was just about to settle down under the shade of a large tree out in the country when an old coupe came to a shuddering stop. There were three teenagers inside. “Jump in!” they said. When I found that they were going to Kansas City I accepted happily. I would get there before the bus, I thought. We made introductions, I got in the rather tight rear seat while the three, two guys and a girl, were on the bench seat up front. Marvin was the driver, shirtless, and Jeannette, his girlfriend, had her head on his lap. We began travelling at over 80 mph. Then Marvin said “Darlin’ – why don’t you hold the steering wheel and I’ll just work the pedals” and she sat up some and complied. I was trying to maintain a British sang-froid, but was getting a little scared. We were in Sundayafternoon traffic of families out for afternoon drives. But then someone passed us. Marvin grabbed the wheel back and pushed the gas pedal down. I noticed the indicated speed going over 100 mph. At one point all three lanes ahead of us were occupied by slower-moving cars, and Marvin got ahead of them by going right up the grass embankment. There seemed a fair likelihood that we were all going to be accident statistics before long, but we managed to reach Kansas City and the trio dropped me off near the bus station with the cheerful statement “You didn’t think we would make it, did you?” I believe that I bought them a fill-up of gas. I took an all-night


bus that reached Fort Smith, Arkansas, early morning. I offered to help at the Salvation Army and spent the day with Captain Freeman and Mrs. Mary Evans folding blankets and the like. The evening bus took me to Baton Rouge by early morning Tuesday July 17, 1956 Baton Rouge politics As soon as it seemed reasonably polite to do so I called on what I thought was the first of the two editors to whom I had written. But when I found the building for the State Times it appeared that it was tied somehow to the Morning Advocate. After running up the stairs to the editor’s office I found Mr Ernest Guemaid actually in the process of reading my two letters that I had addressed to the editors of what I thought were two papers. In a Cajun accent so strong that it required all my cunning to guess what he was saying, he asked me what I was up to. I did my best to explain. “Well, we don’t have a job for you, but you can look around for a couple of hours and then be on your way” he said, quite loudly. Ken Armstrong, the paper’s photographer, was passing and said “Come along with me – I have an assignment”. Ken took me with him to photograph some southern beauty and, along the way, filled me with information about the politics of the paper and of Louisiana. He passed by the state house and showed me the bullet-hole in the wall where Governor Huey Long was shot. ”Huey Long was the most entertaining tyrant in American history. From 1928, when he became governor of Louisiana, to 1935, when he was assassinated, Long's flamboyant style and brazen deeds provided journalists and their readers with more good stories than most politicians pile up in a lifetime.” (from a review by Michael Kazin of “Kingfish, the man who would be king” by Richard D. White Jr.) Huey Long still seemed to dominate Baton Rouge. Ken had four other jobs beside being the photographer for the paper, the others all part-


time, and he would occasionally call on a business because he represented some product or other. My mind flashed back to the electronics lab at Met-Vicks, where I was introduced to a technician by someone who whispered later “He repairs TVs in his spare time” as if he was a grasping fellow who didn’t play by the rules. I was full of admiration for Ken and his enterprises. We returned to the newspaper office at about noon, and Ken told me that Ernest Guemaid would be at lunch until at least 1 pm. Yes, I could borrow his typewriter. I typed furiously, comparing Baton Rouge that I had known for five hours or so with Nottingham UK. I left it on the editor’s desk with a note, and hid in a far corner of the large office, behind a pillar. At first he seemed irritated. Then suddenly he burst into a guffaw. He liked my jokes! He finished reading the piece, looked up and bellowed “Where’s that Englishman? This piece is going on the front page! Have him photographed doing something American” And so I appeared eating a hot dog. My future, or at least the next fortnight of it, was thereby transformed. I had front-page pieces three more times. The gates of Southern hospitality opened, and the paper’s telephone operator complained that so many people were calling to invite me out or to have me speak to some group that the paper’s business was being affected. The editor took me to his Kiwanis’ luncheon. I was on Louisiana TV after I was invited to help cover a horrible inter-racial rape trial, which sickened me because I couldn’t imagine that justice would be done. Also, the judge was almost a caricature of a southerner. I was sitting with my fellow reporter just in front of the judge’s bench, and every few minutes was startled by the huge noise of his honor clearing his throat. Then he would spit over my shoulder at a spittoon that was on the floor in front of me and a little to the left. I would hunker down, and avoided getting drenched.


Unfortunately the memories of all the hospitable people I met were wiped out by the last invitation, to a cook-out, that I accepted. It was from the minister of a church. He asked me if I had transportation, and I said that I did. I found his place on the map, and set out in good time to walk the thirteen miles there. I had become used to people saying with pride “Isn’t this a great country?” But on the way to the reverend’s house I passed through several miles of a black area, and to my amazements people living in little more than shacks made the same remarks. The minister, whose name I shall not reveal, had been born in Britain and had emigrated to Canada before coming down south to Louisiana. He was easily the most bigoted person I had ever met. His language and his loudly stated views were sickening. I asked for a ride by the first person leaving. I bade my farewells to friends at the newspaper on Wednesday July 25 and took an overnight bus to Dallas. My notes state that I wrote thirteen letters at the library, sending some money given to me by the paper to Captain Freeman for the Salvation Army, had my hair cut and performed other chores to prepare me for the Rockies, and took another overnight bus to Denver Colorado, arriving at 9 am on Friday July 27. I remember trying to buy hiking maps without success. I met the others by taking the 4 am Denver Airport bus. A high from hiking Meeting a new group of people with whom one is going to spend at least several days always fascinates me. One looks around and either says to oneself “What a godawful bunch of nerds!” or “Wow! Some of these people look fascinating – I’m dying to get to know them!” It doesn’t make much difference, because in 24 hours everyone has become a character of one sort or another – a humorist, a jeremiah, a wiseacre, a shrinking violet, a big-mouth, and so on. Before long we become a family and it becomes painful to separate at the end of the togetherness.


I’m a little embarrassed to have forgotten most of the hikers and leaders in the August Camp group. I was considerably scared by not knowing what I was to do. Frank Lewis had a strange view of leadership, and he told me at least twice that he was not going to tell me what hike I would be leading until ten minutes before starting out. And so it turned out to be. We ate breakfast on Monday July 30 beginning at 6.30 am at our camp just above Maroon Lake, around 9500 ft., and the groups were to start out at 7.30. Frank Lewis then told me that I would take ‘A’ party up Pyramid, a just-over 14,000 ft peak that ran down in a tumble of rocks to Maroon Lake. I asked how I should take the party once we got to the top, which was almost visible. He told me to take a path southwards, and that I must get the party off the top by 1230, because that’s when the thunderstorms start. I asked for a map, but there wasn’t one. It was an inauspicious start. I had three small-scale free maps that didn’t even agree with one another on the names of peaks.

The hot-dog photo taken for the Baton Rouge State Times & Morning Advocate


Five minutes later my group had assembled. I gave my usual speech on hiking rules, and off we went. A late arrival came in grossly inadequate footwear – patent-leather shoes - and halfway up the main slope he announced that he was turning back. I told him – and the others – that one must never leave a person to go alone on a mountain. Either a group must go back, or he must come with us. He came with us, and did OK. We reached the summit at around 11 am and took the path southward, eating our lunches as we started our descent. In came the thunderstorms on schedule, as they did every day. I told the group how a party of 13 or so had been struck on the summit of a Colorado mountain, and eleven had been killed by a single lightning strike. My poor maps agreed on the return route, and we got back to camp in good order and time.

Dave leading a hike in the Rockies, and doing a little showing off

Very soon I became too blasé about hiking at high altitudes, which didn’t seem to affect me. I was still, to my joy, unchallenged in going fast up mountains. I liked my fellow hike


leaders except one, a Colorado local, who thought that he looked professional carrying an ice axe. He sent down a rain of potentially lethal stones on any poor hiker below him. There was far too little emphasis on safety in the camp. Frank Lewis wanted me to lead in a following year when the camp was due to be set up in the Tetons. It would have been difficult for me to do so, and I was concerned about the leadership. When it took place a group of ten hikers almost perished – one died – and an intensive mountain-safety campaign was launched by the AMC and continues to this day. In later AMC hikes that I joined and sometimes led, there was often an enthusiastic skinny-dipping group. Ellen felt that she should record one of these occasions.

A designated skinny-dipping pool by Zealand hut

Mountain rescue One other trip is worthy of note, and it relates to the safety concern. We were all enjoying a Sunday late lunch in camp on August 5 when word arrived of an injured man on Maroon Bells, the magnificent 14,000-footers at the head of the valley. We were


told that he had slid down an ice sheet, fallen over a rock drop, and slid further down a second ice sheet. We could see the ice expanses from camp. I volunteered to lead a rescue party of three. We were loaned ice axes and quickly got our cold-weather gear on and packs, a stretcher, and with whatever rescue and medical gear we could assemble. The sun was setting as we set a fast pace up the valley path, At the end we began climbing swiftly. Then we got to the lower snow/ice field that sloped up at about 40 degrees. I had never cut ice steps before, and I made them generous in size. I may have been thinking of the return trip. As we were cutting steps we saw some lights coming quickly up the valley. Within an hour three people had caught up with us: Robert Cray, Ralph Hayden and Dr. Charles Houston, the famous Himalayan climber. (He died in 2010.) Houston took over from me, very courteously, and proceeded to demonstrate how snow steps should be made: with a single whack one after another. From then on we went up rapidly, reaching the injured man at around 1 am. Charlie Houston gave him pain killers, we transferred him to the stretcher we were carrying, wrapped him as warmly as possible (it was well below freezing) and waited until dawn. The injured person turned out to be the guide whom I had replaced. He had told Frank Lewis that he was getting married at about the time of the camp, which was why I was offered the hike-leader position. I spent an exciting night with these great mountaineers. I don’t remember too much about bringing the man down next morning because it went so smoothly. We arrived at our base camp at 9 am. There was an ambulance waiting at Maroon Lake, the end of the dirt road, and our part was over. We bid farewell and profound thanks to Charles Houston and his companions. Without them our rescue performance would have been extremely amateurish. A magnificent trip had been arranged for that day involving mules taking our heavy packs in the direction of Snowmass for


an overnight near there. The mules and the hikers had left several hours earlier. I ate a hearty brunch and set off with my loaded shoulder pack to catch them up. I very nearly did – I arrived at the overnight spot only a half hour or so after the mules and lightly loaded hikers. I had had zero sleep, and promptly remedied that deficiency. The next morning I was given the happy job of leading a small group (three) up Snowmass mountain. My two maps of the area showed “Snowmass” labels on two different peaks. When we got there we took a vote on which peak to ascend. We enjoyed it, but when we saw an authoritative map later we found that it wasn’t Snowmass. At that time the area was totally undeveloped, and was a wilderness of cream-colored rocks. We returned to camp, and shortly thereafter left with the others from the first two weeks. (August Camp runs for four weeks in two sessions.) I was given a ride back to Boston with three lovely women, who seemed uninterested in me except for chats, which I enjoyed greatly. At Harvard I threw myself in trying to salvage something from my wind-tunnel experiments before leaving for Seattle in November, without marked success. Whatever failures there were could not diminish my experience of an annus mirabilis, in which I found that the United States was indeed a marvelous country full of good, earthy people (meant in the best way) with several of whom I remained friends for many years.


Chapter 8 WEST-AFRICAN EDUCATION The sequence in the last chapter will be confusing without the following clarification. After the end of my “grand tour” in the Colorado Rockies in August 1956 I returned to work principally in the Harvard lab of Howard Emmons, trying to produce some results of value from my measurements of “boundary layers” in a wind tunnel. This work had to end at the beginning of November, because I had set up a time to start my four-month experience of industrial development at Boeing in Seattle. My return to Massachusetts was accomplished partly through delivering a Cadillac to Washington DC, a luxurious drive that I was a little embarrassed at thoroughly enjoying. I shared driving to Concord Massachusetts with a lovely young widow and her three children, and spent the last three days of my time in the US principally with her parents. On March 28 1957 I had said my fond yet sad farewells to many US friends and embarked at New York for a voyage to Southampton. I was in a turmoil because I had fallen madly in love with this same young woman, to whom I could reveal or suggest nothing, not having a job to go back to – I had rejected a rather fine offer of a chiefengineer position at Brush - and not being likely to earn enough to support her. When I reached Plymouth to stay with my mother and near my brother George and my sister-in-law Sybil I compounded the problem in letting my pride stop me asking anyone for help. I had a friend at Rolls-Royce where, looking back, I could have been offered my dream job. But I simply responded to advertisements in engineering publications. Several prissy young men at different places had the crust to ask me why I had wasted my time going to the USA. In Manchester (UK) the


interviewers for what seemed likely to be the dreariest possible job at the Ministry of Supply told me that I would obviously realize that they were not considering me for the position advertised, which was, they assured me, well above my level, but they wanted to see me in case a lower post opened up in the future. My self-esteem was at such a low ebb by this time that I just slunk back to Plymouth with my tail between my legs.

Rusting at Rustons In May, however, I bicycled to Lincoln, about 270 miles NE from Plymouth, for an interview with Ruston & Hornsby and was offered a position as a senior designer of gas turbines. I bought a cottage, Old Garth, about which I have written elsewhere. The company was very British, with very strange management practices (illustrated below), and when the woman with whom I was still in love married someone clearly more suited for her than was I, I left Rustons and signed up for a teaching position at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology in Zaria, northern Nigeria. Why else did I go? Why, you will ask, did I act in this seemingly self-destructive manner? There were many antecedents. 1.

When I arrived in Cambridge MA in September 1955 I went to the local Boston branch of the English-Speaking Union (ESU) to meet people. The ESU director in London had advised me on getting a fellowship, and her advice had worked! So I tried to do chores in appreciation. Soon I was appointed to be the greeter at the weekly open-house evenings. I was still reeling from the shock of how shockingly black Americans were treated at that time. The black visitors to the ESU were quite different: they looked me squarely in the eye and


treated me as a fellow human being. Most were from Nigeria. I began to want to visit the country. 2. Some feelings of guilt penetrated my conscience because I had not fought in the second world war, although ready and willing, nor in subsequent smaller conflicts. I felt that I should do something (very ill-defined) to help the world. 3. As mentioned above I had a secret love in the US who married that year. She undoubtedly had a good pension because her husband had died while in the US Foreign Service. The salary I was earning at Ruston & Hornsby could not offer her and her children anything like the life they were used to. I was trying to “Americanize” Old Garth to woo her with it. When I heard she was marrying, I took the only step open to a young Briton at the time: I went to the colonies. (Nigeria was scheduled to get independence in 1960.) 4. Ruston & Hornsby was a depressing place in which to work. It seemed to be run by people who rejoiced in having gone to Cambridge (University), and they were very clubby about it. I had gone to the University of Birmingham, which was just about the lowest of the low in their eyes, and my having since gone to MIT and Harvard on a “post-doc” didn’t cut any ice. At least two of them told me that they didn’t want to hear about anything that was going on in the USA. I had, in my bosses’ opinion, wasted my time by going there. They told me when I arrived that my job was to design the new large (ten-megawatt) gas turbine the company intended to produce. They said that they would put me in a room and they intended not to talk to me about it until the aerodynamic design of the compressor was finished. After fifty years it still seems the worst way of which I have ever heard to get a company’s new product designed. I remember being in a smallish room ruled


over by a young Cambridge graduate. One or other of my bosses would occasionally come into the room, ignore me, and ask the young chap how Wilson was doing. My “Hi there! I’m doing fine!” was likewise ignored. After about six months I had finished the preliminary aerodynamic design, largely based on what I had developed in a project in a course headed by Prof. Edward Story Taylor in the MIT Gas Turbine Lab. The design shocked my bosses because it was considerably different from what they were used to. They said that I would face a hearing on it at Rolls-Royce in Derby, with which company they had some kind of arrangement based on the bosses’ common roots at Cambridge University and Power-Jets Inc. My bosses sat with their Rolls-Royce friends as if they were together in a version of the Inquisition. They all hooted at my ridiculous design. One particularly pompous R-R fellow hauled out a chart to show that my compressor would have a lousy efficiency. Fortunately for me the operating points for every “stage” (this is a combination of a rotating blade row and a stationary one, and my design had thirteen stages) lay along the ridge of optimum performance in his contour plot. Hallelujah! At that point he called for a bathroom/tea/adjustment break. One of the friendlier RR people, a Welshman named Taffy Howell (but not the famous A.R. Howell) asked me to come with him to a place with drawing files just about from floor to ceiling. “I think that we made a compressor like yours” he said. “Worked rather well!” And he found it! But he swore me to secrecy. So I had to return to the Inquisition and to have the members jump all over my body, or my design, with hob-nailed boots. I was ordered to re-design it. A year later when I was in Nigeria trying to write a paper on my original design I wrote to the chart-guy to ask permission to use his chart, with full acknowledgment, in


my paper. His answer was an angry rejection on the lines of “How dare you ask for such a thing, you miserable serf!” 5. The corridors in our building at Ruston & Hornsby were narrow, and when encountering someone coming in the opposite direction one had to get close to the wall. If the other person was one of my immediate bosses I would say, e.g., “Morning, Wilf!” and he would ignore me every other time, so as, apparently, to keep me in my place. 6. The village in which I was living, Potterhanworth, about seven miles SW of Lincoln, was beautiful but the inhabitants, mostly farm workers, were highly suspicious of me and my activities in remodeling the cottage. For the first six months or so I was known as “The Yank on the corner”. Some people would nod to me when I greeted them. The Church of England parson, whose magnificent vicarage was next to my little cottage, used to sing out to me as he passed to try to get me to attend his church, but I had too much to do, and I couldn’t find anything that the parson had done that I could respect. After a while the boys of the village decided that I was interesting, and used to come to watch me pull down walls and dig septic tanks and the like, and chat. Then the mother of one of the boys started to come later and later to chat, and I realized that I might have become a target of opportunity and put a stop to that somehow. I used to have picnics and parties there for the International Friendship League, a happy gang of misfits in Lincoln, where I found most of my friends. I was sorry to say goodbye to them. It was rather naughty for me to be leaving Ruston & Hornsby after only eighteen months or so, but I was miserable. I remember one weekend afternoon when I almost broke into tears thinking of the contrast between my life in Lincoln and


Potterhanworth and that in any part of the USA where I had stayed for more than a week. In the US I quickly acquired so many delightful friends and acquaintances that I had to restrict meeting more people because I couldn’t keep up with more. Here in Lincoln and in Ruston & Hornsby the class prejudice and anti-Americanism were stultifying. The last straw for me seemed to come when I went to the high boss who had hired me. I had applied for a job in the research-and-development department, but he put me into the design department. He said it would be for a year. So the year came up with no change in my status and I made an appointment to see the great man. “Oh no, Wilson! You must be in design for five years at least. Design is above R&D!” I’ve since realized that he was right: design is a higher calling than research. But I resented being misled about a move after doing what I was asked to do in miserable circumstances (by that time I had produced another, more-conventional, compressor design, and an aerodynamic design of the turbine. In tests after I left Ruston the compressor was built and tested at a government facility and it worked very well. As far as I know, I was never given any credit for it.) The job search Jobs in Africa for engineers were not plentiful, it seemed. In the days before Google and other search engines I spent a lot of time at the library and I wrote to various United Nations agencies without success. Somehow I kept being referred to NCAST, the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology. The engineering component of NCAST doubled as the engineering faculty of the University of Ibadan, at that time the only university in Nigeria. I was offered the post of lecturer in mechanical engineering there, equivalent to assistant professor. I turned it down because I didn’t want to teach. A higher calling, I thought, was to do good work in development. But eventually I relented, because I couldn’t find the higher calling. By then NCAST’s offer had inflated to one of senior lecturer grade 1,


probably the equivalent of associate professor. The head of the college, Dr. Hart, had me go down to London for an interview. He was an expert in aerial mapping. I noticed some tiny specks on the frames of his glasses, and asked him how his painting was going. It was apparently true that he had been painting his vacation home, but he did not appreciate my Sherlock Holmes imitation. He also would not tell me which subjects I would be teaching, and said that I shouldn’t arrive more than a day or two before the start of classes. The man in charge of mechanical engineering would be arriving then, and he would decide what I was to do. I was beginning to get a little alarmed about the casual approach to what for me was going to be a life-changing experience.

“Old Garth”, Potterhanworth, Lincoln, UK

The fate of “Old Garth” I left behind an almost completely remodeled cottage, Old Garth, on which I had toiled in what, looking back, was a macho display of strength and guts but was otherwise a crazy exercise.


“Old Garth” was rented out to the Royal Air Force for use of RAF families in some new facility being formed some distance away. I sent ahead to Nigeria, or thought that I had sent, a trunk full of text books and other items for teaching. (In fact it arrived about nine months later.) My brother Tom was taking a group of his grammar-school students bicycling in Germany and wanted some help from me as guide and mechanic, and I happily agreed to go out with them and to leave them somewhere near Frankfurt. That meant that I could arrive at NCAST over a week, rather than a day, before classes. Nigeria was for me an exciting experience, and I typed out periodic “Nigerian Notebook” reports to friends and family, just as I did when in the USA. The following starts with extracts from the first few of them

Nigerian notebook The trip out My impressions of Nigeria started at the airport, where I was able to take a good look at some of the people among whom I was to live and work. Among them was Lewis, also, I thought, from the Lincoln International Friendship League, but his broad ebony face remained impassive despite my calling out to him. Once aboard the Boeing Stratocruiser he was lost, as with my government first-class ticket I lorded it astern. My fellow passengers were of different colors, but many seemed pleased to affect an upper-class air of utter indifference to all around. My immediate neighbor put on a magnificent act of boredom during the wonderful takeoff, never once glancing up from the magazine Punch through which he idly thumbed. I was thrilled to bits with everything, and anxious to use my new camera on the sliding landscape. His window was the only one suitable for photography, and I was delighted that when I asked if I could use


it he came to life and was most charming, even calling me over to show me the different peaks of the Alps, looking more inspiring than ever as the setting sun glanced gold on their frozen summits. One other passenger was paying homage -- or was it just that he, too, had a new camera? He had more reason to be blasé than most, for he told me that his last 20 years had been spent working for oil companies in the Middle East and Africa, his current position being superintendent of off-shore work for Shell at Port Harcourt. "Then you must get on with Nigerians" I said. "Got to" he replied, "when you have to meet schedules like ours. They'll work for you if you shout at them enough." But I guessed that they worked for him because they sensed an inner kindness in him that shouting wouldn't hide. At any rate, after we came down low to land over Rome, with every building and street lit up to give a fleeting impression that I wished would last for ever, we stopped for refueling, the Stratocruiser with gas and I with cocoa. I was pleased to note that after I had spotted Lewis and dragged him, grinning broadly, to our table, my Shell friend treated him with consideration and good nature. Lewis, who had spent some time attached to the Lincolnshire Regiment, was returning home for his last two months before demobilization from the Army, and while it would be too much to say that he became excited, his measured words about his homecoming were almost animated. After we took off from Rome, my two demanding bodily appetites (for food and sleep) were satisfied as sleep soon followed the best meal I could remember for a long while. Normally 11 p.m. is not my choice for a banquet, but as I had eaten only currant bread since an exiguous German breakfast at 7 a.m. it went down very well. Until then I had been subsisting on tomato juice, apart from the cocoa, for this was one of the flights where drinks were free. "How many drunk passengers do you have to rope to the seat?" I asked the steward. "Oh, sir, the worst that happens is that they have a sozzled sleep, and we have


to walk them off the plane" which reassured me a lot. My sleep, which followed pronto, was not subtle but solid in patches, like bad porridge, but it disappeared altogether when I found at 5 a.m. that the Sahara was shimmering 18,000 feet below in the moonlight. This was too precious to sleep through, and I watched fascinated as the ever-changing patterns of dunes slipped by, with the occasional silvery gleam of -- I suppose – a wadi or valley, with a little water. It was two hours before the first solitary light showed that life existed below, and soon thereafter the pre-morning mists cut land from sight, and the popping of our ears showed that we were beginning the long descent to Kano in northern Nigeria.

Location of Zaria, Nigeria

First light I prepared myself for oppressive heat, but stepped out onto tarmac wet with recent rains, (September is the end of the rainy season) and the atmosphere in the lightening dawn could have been an English spring. We were guided into immigration and customs, and I watched carefully to see if the grave-faced Nigerian officers gave preferential treatment to their own people.


True, they were harsh to a Briton showing too much arrogance, but the Ibo lad in front of me, returning full of knowledge from studies in Britain, tried winking and laughing a bit too loudly and didn't get on much better. I was wondering how much poorer I would shortly be, for I had written down everything I had bought -- a darn sight too honestly, my SHELL friend told me -- but they were pleasant and helpful and, to my enormous relief, let me through with the lot. And, a pleasant surprise, there was a letter from the college stating that a seat had been booked for me on the 11:30 a.m. train to Zaria. Six whole hours to look around Kano, I thought enthusiastically, as if I were at Kings Cross, except that the town was just visible 7 miles away across the desert, below the wheeling vultures. But in half an hour I had my suitcases and was in a BOAC van which took me half way, to the airport hotel, which at that time in the morning was dead. The only other European, a languid public schoolboy who had come in by the same plane, pretended not to notice me, but it was very hard work for him, like not being introduced after being washed up together on a desert island. "Must seem old hat to you, but my eyes are wide like saucers " I said. "Oh, it's quite good fun" he acknowledged. It can be. The college had me picked up from the Zaria railway station and taken to the house designated for my use. I was told about various regulations, and the people whom I should employ, and how I should get around. And I was introduced to the Nigerian staff of the engineering department. (There were no others around at that time.) My first college visitor: Isaac “The Magnanimous Man” (1958, September14) It was my good intention this Saturday evening to pick up the threads of this ill-woven saga at Kano and continue the yarn from there. I left Essien, whom I had hired as my "kitchen boy", to stow away the debris of my evening "chop" (which for me at that time was inevitably raw


cabbage) to take a constitutional bike ride around the next village of Samaru., much to the delight of the inhabitants and myself. I was mounted on one of those high-altitude machines used by Grandma to accommodate the surfeit of skirts -- I took the evening air and returned full of bright thoughts and crawling bugs, determined to dazzle you with insight and enlightenment. However, barely had I washed my face and set typewriter and paper before me, and composed myself in anguished receptivity for inspiration, when there boomed above the bullfrogs a sound of someone thumping at the door, which, when opened, revealed the broad beaming features of Isaac Olatunde. I knew the apparition was he despite the disguise of the cleanly pressed cotton robe and trousers in place of his usual workaday khaki drill, because early this morning he gave me an envelope, beautifully addressed, containing a photograph of himself in special-constable’s uniform, with his face set in that look of deadly seriousness adopted alike by the locals and by our Victorian forebears facing the fearful unwinking all-seeing eye of the camera. On the back was written "Kindly accept this as a genuine proof of my love for you. May God grant you the wisdom of Solomon and the courage of David. From Isaac Olatunde, The Magnanimous Man”. The last phrase was produced by a rubber stamp, especially made, as if to endorse the genuineness of the proof.

Isaac Olatunde, "The Magnanimous Man" (and foreman of the school engineering workshop).


Isaac Olatunde, “The Magnanimous Man”, on his first visit to my campus house

The Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology in 1959


Isaac stepped smartly through the doorway and seated himself in an armchair with an air that somehow combined respect and the belief that he would be completely accepted. I offered him a ginger ale, wondering whether his reaction would be that of my first African visitor, James, the tailor, who cried fiercely "Drink, man, not that women's stuff" when I informed him that no man drinks alcohol in my house. James said "let me say, master, that you must give plenty, plenty dinner parties and much drink, and you will get promotion within the year", quoting instances proving this thesis. As James went on, under the influence of hot cocoa and a large plate of cookies, which he stuffed down with both hands, he told me which girls I should marry "quick" and which I should avoid as being expensive "they having been here long time and know the ways". I almost wished I had indeed supplied him with spirits to see what other revelations he would bring out to help me with life's pressing problems. But Isaac, The Magnanimous Man confirmed his affinity with my values by assuring me that he did not drink alcohol, neither did he smoke, "that is the way of the flesh" he said, rolling his big eyes heavenwards. Isaac had first come into my life rather vaguely a few days earlier as foreman of the engineering workshop at the college, but more definitely on the day before his visit when, as we were trying to get materials for apparatus from the College stores, I was requested to return the college bicycle which I had been happily using pending delivery of a new one that I had ordered from a Zaria merchant. Isaac turned to me with zeal and devotion lighting up his face. "Master, may I have the honor and exquisite pleasure to place my bicycle entirely at your disposal" and explained that he had two besides his motorbike, and utterly refused to consider accepting any kind of rental money. I gratefully accepted, and underlings were sent to fetch the machine and to make it fit for my august person. After the saddle had been given a last loving flick of a duster I mounted the


much bent and war-scarred contraption and traveled at least 100 yards before the rear tire gave out in an explosion that brought every laborer on the campus to his feet with a face-splitting grin and cries of encouragement. Isaac hastened to have this defect put right with a patch from a repair kit. Someone must have told him that the tire subsequently softened rather rapidly for soon after his arrival at my quarters this evening he pulled out from under his robe a brand new tube. "Man had said that Master was not entirely satisfied with the performance of the tire and I bring this to put it right".

Babu, who worked for Isaac and therefore for me, always very anxious to help and formal in his deference

This touched me in a weaker spot than the bicycle. Realizing that although it might get me around the campus, Isaac’s bike was not the vehicle on which to trust myself in the “bush” at night, I went in the morning to the United Africa Company and successfully requested that I be allowed to use its remaining Raleigh Superbe until my sports model was delivered. By the time I had returned the 7 miles to the college and had returned Isaac’s bicycle it was just after noon and he had left. But here he was at my house that same evening with a new tube for his bicycle. Isaac had spent


money from his small pay to reduce any inconvenience to me. I was embarrassed. He would take no money from me. It was to no avail, and, giving in, I settled down to plumb Isaac's philosophy on life. There would be time for this, as I had come to realize that these social calls are no affairs of minutes as in our ulcer-ridden civilization. Moreover, a storm had suddenly whipped up in frightening demonstration of the needle-point balance that nature’s energy holds in more temperate countries. Here, the reduction by a few degrees of the obliqueness of the sun’s rays produces a surplus of energy that finds its outlet in vegetation that can engulf your garden in a month, in monstrous insects like the praying mantis, four inches long snapping like a dragon, that frequented my desk, and the tortoise-like beetle the size of a small hen’s egg which flew into the house last night, and in the storms which expand the energy of many hydrogen bombs during their raging passage. As the lightning began flashing almost continuously to appear as if circling the sky, Isaac dashed out to catch the bike he'd ridden here while I ran into the garage and leaned with all my weight against the door, which suddenly yielded as the wind shifted momentarily. By the time Isaac had urged himself halfway in the rain was shooting down. But now we were safely inside, damp but cozy, and refreshed by the cool drafts, and I lent back and asked him to tell me about his family. Isaac’s married life Yes, Isaac was married: there was hardly any need to ask that in a country where a wife of a sort can be bought for a pound or so. This would be for a "bush" girl: the parents of a girl with education may demand 50 or 60 pounds. On my first walk around this site a bicyclist had stopped to bid me "welcome, Master!" and immediately pronounced that I was "a very jolly person" apparently on the strength of my having sung out a “Hello" to the neighboring cook and steward. "We Africans will like you to stay when we have our own country"; but then he


rather spoiled the pleasing sentiment of the conversation by launching into a rambling hard-luck story in which his last master was the villain. To get him off this painful subject -- and this is where hides the nub of this digression from the Book of Isaac -- I asked him about his home country, and his face lit up as he opened the envelope he was carrying and thrust the letter into my hand. "Look, master, my brother has found a wife for me, a good girl who can cook plenty gari (a staple prepared from cassava root), and younger, and she is only 13 pounds. Today I sent him five, and I save money and soon will send the rest." When I mentioned this variation on buying on the “never-never" to a friend, she said "he won't get much for that. He’ll be lucky if she speaks his language, let alone reads." But then he had said she was 13 years old, at which age you would hardly expect a college degree. – although my confidant looked about 35 -- when he capped it by saying that on account of his good fortune and fine prospects he had sent his first wife packing, for "her ways did not please me". So I was bubbling to find out whether Isaac, the magnanimous man, allowed his fine morality to interfere with the local conception of a well-regulated matrimonial state. "How many piccans (children) have you, Isaac?" I ventured, to start the ball rolling. "I have a little girl, aged six weeks." "Isaac, a man like you should be able to boast of more than one piccan." At this, Isaac looked just a shade uncomfortable, and answered in slightly lower key: ""my first wife, she bore me eight piccans, but three died." "And did she also die?" "No, master, she has left me." "And the piccans, what did they die of?" Isaac seemed unabashed by my temerity; rather, he was recovering composure, and in answer he again rolled his eyes virtuously heavenwards. "If I may be allowed to use the entirely correct word -wickedness!" I looked suitably shocked, and waited expectantly. "She would be dancing around the market square, when she should have been feeding and nursing the babes." Relations had


eventually got strained, and it was no solution when Isaac presented her with a "Paper of freedom", which seems to be a divorce push-off without any pay off. However, Mrs. Isaac was made of stern stuff, and refused to leave, and when Isaac insisted, apparently forcibly, "she sent for her brothers, to kill me with a gun." "Brother" is a wide term, covering almost anyone in the same tribe. By some ruse, Isaac got rid of his unwanted spouse, and I asked who brought up his children. "That is entirely her affair, master" and apparently Isaac had neither seen them nor had any wish to since the time of separation. The rest of the story was short. Isaac’s "brothers", hearing of his renewed bachelorhood, sent him another wife, purchased by themselves, "but she was not for me, and in two weeks I sent her back." This delightful extension of the case of the strange girl, often quoted as being given 24 hours to leave after being found in a motel room, would have made me want to chuckle only I couldn't help feeling a pang for the poor cast-off applicant. "Then I found a woman of my choice, and she is the one I now live with." "And your first wife, Isaac, who chose her?" "She was also my own choice, master." One must not judge a case like this by our own values and be shocked: the various Nigerian tribes have woven their societies to take care of a pretty wide scope of misfortunes and misdeeds. The duties of blood relationship, for instance, are great, and even if only one of a family (a term that includes a variety of cousins) of 20 or 30 is earning, he is bound to share his wages among them all. Isaac is at quite a high point on the prosperity scale here, and always has his quota of relatives feeding off him. Shortly after his visit to my house he brought along one "brother" hopefully for a test because "he is a very expert typist, having had daily lessons for a year at the “Go-ahead and Learn school." But I regretted that Isaac had to support him a little longer, though we tried to get him a job as a sweeper, to which his skills seem more adapted. (I was a pretty good typist at the time, and saw no


virtue in giving someone a job that was going to slow me down considerably.) And Isaac's first wife, if she has done nothing to make her unacceptable among her own people, is at least fairly sure of a subsistence living from their charity. Soup kitchens weren't a complete answer to distress in Britain, though, and I found that plenty of problems need some radical change in people's attitude here when I called on the young social welfare officer in Tudun Wadi, the native, Hausa, part of the city at a crisp 7 a.m. "I should think that you would not have have much to do" I said hopefully as I offered some occasional help. (This was during the gap between my arrival in Zaria and the time when I would know what I was going to be teaching, so I had some spare time for volunteering.) "The children here look happier than in Britain." But he assured me that the ones I didn't see were those ill-treated or neglected through cases similar to those about which I had been hearing. Very soon I found myself named on his proposed Social Welfare Committee, otherwise high-powered, which he was trying to set up for an all-out attack on local cruelty to children. Isaac did not seem troubled by misgivings about his earlier children, and happily told me that his latest child was to be given a Christian baptism on the first Friday in October, to which I would surely be invited. To my question, Isaac told me that both his parents had been Christians -- but I am resisting the temptation to put the word in quotation marks. He was born in Ilesha in the western Yoruba province, which is getting on for 500 miles south west from Zaria, but he traveled to one town after another to get training in engineering practice, until he was fully qualified to overhaul steam boilers. That is a high-skill specialty. "Now I want to be sent on a course in the UK, but the college withdrew their support for me because I had applied for a job elsewhere." Isaac seemed to be rather surprised at this unreasoning attitude, so that he had written immediately canceling his application and was hoping that the college's


confidence in him would be restored. "If master writes to support me, then I will go on the course" he said with a certainty which I didn't share, even had I been disposed to put it to the test. (I did in fact write a letter of support later, and he went to Britain for around a year and visited with and stayed for a few days with my mother.) Isaac's wanderings prompted me to ask about the countryside around. "Tomorrow I will bicycle to Wusasa, to the hospital of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), and then to the leprosy settlement. It is 16 miles by road, but only about six across the bush by the hill Kuffena. Can I walk that way?" Isaac looked horrified. "Master must not go that way. Big lions live near the rock Kuffena, and many leopards and snakes." As my first contacts with the hospital was when I and a colleague had called on the CMS mission secretary and we all climbed the rocky outcrop -- maybe 1000 feet above the bush -- together, I wondered whether this might not be slightly exaggerated, but decided it was not a suitable subject for research. At that time I was scared of snakes. "Guess I need the exercise, Isaac -- I'll bicycle around the long way." (Coward.)

Isaac and Mrs. Olatunde and baby


The deluge had stopped outside, though the lightning played unceasingly around, and I took my cue. "Isaac, you don't want to get soaked. Take your chance now." He did, with the final words "I always help everybody. Master will remember to write to the college?" He left me wondering. Isaac's visit came when I was halfway through reading Colin Wilson's "The Outsider", describing and inquiring into "the sickness of all mankind in the mid-20th century". I was numbed to the core with the feelings of men who didn't know why they were here on earth, whether it was worth while being here, where they were going, whether life wasn't a gigantic farce whose worthless problems were better dispatched with a revolver at one's head. Isaac’s ingenuous happy nature came like a sea breeze through all this: I found myself envying his simple drives, and transparent satisfactions -- on the one side, to help others, and on the other to receive help and appreciation. Are we justified in getting the Nigerians to believe that our way of life is more to be sought after than theirs? Along with education and sophistication will come the sale of such books as "the distressed in mind -- an outline of psychiatry" which has just caught my eye advertised as something everybody should read, but for which I doubt that Isaac has yet felt the need.

Isaac Olatunde by rail line to Maiduguri


The Sokoto road Perhaps the need is reversed: psychiatric patients should come to Nigeria to experience the restorative course such as I was given the next, Sunday, morning. The first signs of a miraculous dawn were brightening the sky as I crawled out from under the mosquito nets at 5:45 a.m. and I had showered and was digging into my porridge and cornbread by the time Essien arrived at 6.20. Leaving him to clean up before having the day off, I climbed on my high bike and splashed through the mud into which the storm had converted the college laterite roads until I reached the narrow, bumpy tarmac of the Sokoto road. The sun already seemed as high as at a winter noon, and crystallized the massive rocks of the hill Kufena, five miles to my right over the flat bush, into brittle and brilliant stripes. Already the road ahead was dotted with the white robes of Hausa walking the seven miles into Zaria on bare feet or in the thick open sandals made of sections of recycled truck tires. As I reached the first I raised my clenched fist in salute and said "Sannu" (how do you do?) gravely. His face broke into a delighted grin as he responded "Sannu,Yawwa, Bature!” which, roughly translated, is "you betcha, Master!". A little further on the sides of the road bordered patches of cultivation of tall guinea-corn, and sugarcane, and the lowly cassava and ground-nuts, the twisting ridged furrows, scraped up with primitive hoes in back-crippling labor, giving the scene an atmosphere of age-old peace. The high red mud wall surrounding the village came into view, hiding all but the mud roofs of the houses, and in the shade of the trees outside the village elders were in deep discussion. But not after they saw the whites of my knees, when the chorus of greetings soon exhausted my meager store of Hausa responses, and I fell back on an attempt to match the width of their smiles and to waving to the children. This seemed to go down big: I was around the bend of the road before the cries and laughter died away. On my left a forest of enormous waving horns soon developed into a herd of Fulani cattle, looking fat and healthy at the end of the wet


season, and after the regular attention of the federal innoculation service. (The Fulani are the second northern tribe, after the Hausa, also Islamic but generally itinerant.) The grave eightyear-old driving them in search of grass was solemnly chewing a length of sugarcane.

Village storehouses

The trees of Zaria soon appeared ahead, and then the compounds of the hospital medical staff and of the West-African army officers whose white house is set back to give what to me was a false air of spacious living. Then over the narrow-gauge railway tracks into the stall-lined Main Street, as much like any frontier town of the wild West as the Muslim prayer circles would allow. The United Africa Company had most of the largest stores in all towns; then came the French and Indian chains; but most of the small European stores in Zaria were owned by Lebanese. I stopped at Mukarins, to inquire of Asa , who was close to a grapevine for car dealing, whether he had news of a possible Volkswagen bus for sale. Last year he built Zaria's open-air cinema, and he had promised to flash an appeal for a car on the


screen. But without results, which did not trouble me greatly. For to counter suspicions of my impending collapse into automatic locomotion I should point out that merely for keeping a car in the garage the college paid an allowance that helped a little towards the house rent which was docked from my pay. Asa also sold me the useful Philco short-wave radio I had ordered; his provision store, in common with every other stall on the street, and with Irish village shops and American supermarkets, sold all the necessities of life, bread and booze, together with a selection of luxuries, rat traps and radios, chosen according to a philosophy that so far I was not able to plumb. Bidding farewell to Asa, I climbed on my bike and rumbled out of the township to the river bridge, squeezing to one side to cross it to avoid being tangled up with the donkeys struggling over with panniers bulging with yams. The road climbed up from the sandy stream to enter the Hausa town of Tudun Wadi, where the whole population seemed to be gathered under the kopek trees for commerce or entertainment. Women surrounded by children sat behind trays of ground-nuts, of green oranges, piles of bananas and small heaps of kola nuts, while the men repaired bicycles and appreciated the “high-life” music blaring out from the "Repent Ye All" saloon. I rode on through, acknowledging greetings at intervals, and narrowly missed being exterminated by a bus bearing the destination plate "Barnet High Street" as if it were in Britain, laden with three times as many citizens as were ever allowed inside in Barnet. The driver assumed that I, in common with all other bicyclists, would throw myself into the ditch when he suddenly shot out of a parking area. Recognizing me as a Bature (European) he stomped on such brakes as were still available and waved at me as if he had just recognized a lost brother, while the humanity within struggled up for air, and if possible a gape. The road ahead was thickening with walkers and bicyclists all over the carriageway, along which an occasional overloaded Hillman Minx taxi would lurch, horn blaring


continually. Twice a more strident note was heard, when an enormous new Pontiac and a Chevrolet glided imperially and imperiously by, bearing three turbaned figures towards the emir’s palace. The road to Kaduna veered right past the walls of the old city, but I was early yet and took the left-hand archway under the fiveyard-thick mud battlements. Inside, the red mud walls of the houses crowded close to the road, but there was still room for the inhabitants to sit and gossip, and point delightedly and shout "Welcome!" to me. The most heart-warming were the little girls, who often seem to go about in droves in perfect composure, sometimes necessitated by the great baskets of oranges balanced unconcernedly on their little heads. One such group saw me coming afar off, and rushed up to line the side of the road with a forest of hands waving, palms in front, as if cleaning the window to get a better view. "Sannu, Sannu, Good morning" came the happy chorus, and I “morninged” and waved until out of sight, wondering what they got out of it. The houses continued for a remarkable distance, getting ever closer together, and threatening to squeeze the dusty road into being just an alleyway. I was looking for some possible interpreter when out from a group dashed a young man who waved me to stop, and enforced this by gripping the handlebars and my elbow. I wondered whether it was a hold-up. He looked me straight in the eye, and said very slowly and distinctly "How goes it, old chap?" Not to be outdone, I reached for my Hausa dictionary, and said equally slowly, if not in the Sandhurst accent he had probably picked up as a batman's boy "Lafiya lau, Ranka ya dede!” -- "very well, may your life be long" which drew such sustained applause that I risked a combination of two later sentences: "Is this the way to the Kaduna Road?" This released such a torrent of Hausa that when a would-be helpful person translated it as "yes" I wondered whether to believe him, but he followed it up with "Hold this road. Go through markets. Ask more time." I ran rapidly


through my small stock of words for "thanks" and "goodbye" and left to a burst of cheering. Years earlier I found it great fun trying to learn Norwegian (and, on another occasion, German) "on location", but never found such a response as here. There was no incentive to progress further in learning Hausa: this was clearly the honeymoon phase, and I was happy to stay in it.

Onlookers (northerners) along my bicycle route

Snake charmer: I foolishly jumped into the circle with him, believing that the cobra had been de-fanged. Not so!


The police let me off Eventually the road was pressed so closely by the houses that it could continue in this way very little further, and the mounting babble and chaos ahead indicated the marketplace. I looked for someone to "ask more time", and my dismounting was hastened by the approach of a mammy-wagon (so-called because many, possibly most, trucks and buses seemed to be owned and managed by women) the driver of which commandingly waved me off. I had no intention of risking my neck by trying to ride while he squeezed past, but when I inquired of a likely-looking citizen the way, it seemed odd to me that he should be so unsure of his neighborhood that he should reply "You must come to police" and happily led me through a rapidly gathering crowd to where a Native-Authority constable was leaning against the porch of a police post chewing kola nuts with vermillion teeth and gums. At my approach, he picked up a missile and hurled it in my direction with such force that I began to be unsure of my welcome. But this opening fusillade was aimed at the advancing waves of kids, who retreated squealing. The constable then picked up his fez-like hat, and directed that I leave my bike and follow him. Then I realized what was up. Five yards before I got off I saw a notice out of the corner of my eye, on the right-hand side of the road, “Get off your bike here” and I had taken it for another trader’s instructions aimed solely at the enlargement of his custom. The constable marched self-importantly towards it; I accompanied alongside trying to hide a grin. I sensed tension in the watching crowd at the sign of, probably, the first Bature being corrected by one of their own cops. I could appreciate the situation -- I was wishing I had a companion taking photographs. The constable sullenly pointed out the notice, I explained the reason for my mistake, but he said he would have to take me back to the sergeant. The crowd grew more hushed as we neared the post, and inside I met the sergeant who looked more worried than his subordinates, and much more worried than I. I smiled and apologized, and he looked greatly relieved, even when I


suggested that the notice might be best placed on the left of the road, the side the traffic was supposed to take. As I was a stranger, I would not be charged at this time. I thanked him, and said how impressed I was that so efficient enforcement of rules of the road was maintained (up to now the rule had been that of the jungle: the biggest gets away with murder) and we shook hands. Outside the post, everyone seemed to want to wheel my bike and show me the way, and I headed a cavalcade across the crowded marketplace, into devious alleys, stepping daintily over open sewers and piles of debris from which the vultures moved reluctantly and ungainly away, until we reached something recognizable as a road, and they signaled that I could ride. I decided that they had had enough free entertainment to dispense with the requirement for "dash" (tips), and in any case their motives seemed be all goodwill, so rehearsing my thanks and farewells again I left them. After a decent interval I released my suppressed happiness in laughter to the astonishment of other bystanders. In another mile I was again among the fields of guinea corn and millet and a further mile before I passed through the crumbling city wall. Then there was a half-mile of muddy track to the Kaduna road. By this time I was well past the CMS Mission Hospital at Wusasa and I turned back towards Zaria and Kuffena. The previous Sunday, my second in the country, I had spent enjoying the conversation of Dr.Comely and mission secretary Muriel Ikin. I was shocked to find that Muriel had been recently visited by the thief men, who took her borrowed battery radio -- "they might have waited until I had heard the Proms" -- and some much-treasured presents hand-made from her mother, and other costlier but less-prized possessions. She heard the window being tried in the early hours again last week, and summoning up courage that few would have, rushed in to tackle them with a hockey stick. For these robbers are feared by all: they come stark naked and smeared in what is supposed to be


leopard grease so that they cannot be held, armed with a knife that they use if cornered and sometimes with acid to throw, and the local people are scared to death of them, attributing juju powers to them. For "They just have to press themselves against the wall and they pass through" Muriel was told with wide-eyed sincerity by local folks who loved her and were as outraged as I that such people, who already sacrificed much to live a life of service, should be chosen instead of fatter but hardier victims like ourselves at the college. All I could do that morning was to inspect the hospital diesel generator, which sometimes gave trouble, with Ikey, the driver. He was delighted to be around to help when I worked on the cars the week before, for he was passionately keen to learn to be a mechanic. "Any time you work on your car, I'd come and help, and you teach me what you do. Then I try to go on a course in the UK. Man can learn nothing here in Nigeria." This was a view I hear all too often, particularly about the college in relation to British universities. They were delighted when I said that I was hoping to start some sort of evening class in practical engineering.

One entrance through the wall around Zaria


Four miles nearer Kaduna were the white huts of the leprosy center, where the week before we had come from Wusasa and watched a multiple christening in the little mud church. But there also I found no useful job waiting, and sensed that the staff preferred to relax a little on Sunday without having volunteers causing more work than they performed. They did not so much as hint at this, of course, but I felt my conscience, ever easy to still, was sufficiently pandered for me to turn back towards Zaria. Again I took a track through an archway in the city wall, though this one was further along than the one I left, and I came to the bungalow of Ron, who taught handicrafts at the Provincial Secondary School, and of Yvonne. They talked me into a soft drink without difficulty, for the sun was burning down, and they showed me their compound and the trees of lemon, orange, and grapefruit, guava and paw-paw. Ron had collected some films from the information service -- he drove me there in a fashion that doubled my admiration for Morris Minors -- and I wanted to be there for the showing to his school. "I tried to show them on Friday, Dave, but we got rained out. Come Tuesday evening to chop"(meaning supper) "we will try to show them again after we eat." I booked this high spot of the week in my notebook and turned homeward and lunch-ward. But it was still only 11 a.m., and I had bicycled about thirty miles. There was time for a visit to the Sabon Gari market. This focus of the social life of the "Southerners’ town" (i.e., of the non-Hausa people) drew me also like a magnet: every visit is a rich and rewarding experience. The attentive guide Every northern town in Nigeria had a separate Southerners’ town, for rigid segregation was practiced here and the "Southerners" were relegated to their own section, a selfcontained town in its own right. In Zaria this section had a population of about 15, 000, and was laid out with rectangular


plots on which were houses of mud and corrugated iron. This hideous material was regarded as the height of sophistication: it is no good pointing out that clay tiles were used by the aristocracy in the UK: here corrugated iron was in vogue. One could get the impression at first that the Southerners, like the inhabitants of the Scilly Isles, earned a living by taking in each other's' washing, or here selling pans, for every other house seems to be a general store. And then you notice that many of the other houses are workshops, their doors flung open so that the workers within do not miss the seething life of the streets. I envied some of them their conditions, passing many pleasant five minutes waiting, for instance, for my corn to be ground in an old American electrically powered flour mill, with the proprietor proudly posing for a photograph, then bringing in the neighbors for introductions, and lastly posing one or two damsels for my inspection, with embarrassing suggestions that would accelerate my departure. Or haggling with a tailor over the price of a pair of shorts to be made from my expensive material proudly brought from the UK. The haggling usually ended in an amiable discussion of Nigeria, Britain, the college, and whether I could help in his postal studies for a school certificate. Meanwhile the Singer sewing machines purr and rattle industriously. A shadow might fall over the cool doorway, a long shadow of a small girl carrying a large earthenware pot on her head. "Yam, pennypenny” she would say, and the tailor would haggle with her over the steaming chunks to get an extra amount for three pence. He might add a ground-nut ball to the steaming mass and cover it in his bowl politely until our conversation finishes. Many of the houses, however, contained people whose chief expertise was sitting and staring, of which they built up a great fund of experience. "Sabon Gari” meant to most people not the town but the market, the focus of communal life. This earthy area, about 400 yards square, was crammed with stalls selling almost anything. I made


the mistake of going in where cars can park. The prices of produce therefore start at the European levels. I proudly brought the price of four grapefruit down from two shillings to one before I found that I could easily get them for one third that price nearby. This was also the area where the saddening sight of beggars, young and old, could be seen with outstretched hands, many being the fingerless hands of lepers whose bodies had been reduced to being little more than trunks. They did not whine, these poor human wrecks, but often cheerfully called out "Master, good morning, Master, welcome!" and I felt ashamed that I could bring myself to do no more than drop money into the piteous lumps from a height. In the Hausa-Fulani areas there were also the young lads who, after hours of learning to recite the Koran parrot fashion, which (to my highly biased view) was the extent of the training for life provided by the Islamic schools, were turned out to beg alms for their food and keep. For these I felt no responsibility, and said firmly "Babu dash" (No tips!) enough times and at a volume to drown their "Gimme dashy, master". Then another more lively figure appeared at my elbow, and I recognized one of a group of the sitters and starers, who, as is inevitable when I appear on my bike, were earlier galvanized into frenzied waving and shouting "Bature, morning, goodbye!" --This one said "I show you market." "I know all about the market" I said untruthfully, "you get no dash for that”. "I come for friend" he rejoined, and unquestioningly attached himself at my side, to carry my bag of grapefruit. "Tell that to the marines" I thought, but he looked an honest enough lad and fairly clean in white shirt and jeans, and he looked me straight in the eye, which I took, in provincial fashion, to be a sign of directness. Only later did I find that in the culture of many Nigerian groups it is the height of bad manners for eyes to meet, thus leading some of my students to be forthwith but erroneously catalogued as "shifty".


"Right", said I, "where do I get brown sugar!" I wanted a locally produced variety that, so I had heard, came in balls of about 2 pounds apiece. "We go there" and off he went, threading expertly between the bodies of women who somehow managed to gossip animatedly while bearing a whole stack of laden bowls on their heads, a baby bound to their backs, and walking the while in the garbage-strewn lanes between stalls set so close that occasionally I could brush the wares on opposite sides at once with my shoulders. The first such woman I saw excited my pity even after I had seen the beggars, for it seemed too cruel that a creature so terribly deformed should have to carry loads and to work. I looked at the deformed spine and that terrible growth, a round hard black lump near her kidneys. Then I realized my mistake: it was a baby! It lolled there, making never a sound, apparently fast asleep, though being crushed and crashed during its mama’s cramped perambulations. It was difficult for me to keep up with my guide, who treated the seething mass as if they were a bunch of opposing forwards in a rugby scrum. And there were other distractions. "Bature! Come, look, customer! You buy fine orange!" "Master, what you want! We sell" Sometimes it was too much for my haggling instinct, for even when a bunch of bananas I didn't really want was pushed under my nose with "look! Two shillings" I would hear

The palace of the emir of Zaria


myself replying "one shilling" as I walked on. And when the cry came back "one and six pence" I would hesitate and say "one and three, finish!" And hear to my surprise (at first) "Bring your money!" spoken with the air of someone who had been robbed of what she needed to feed the mouths of the children to let it go at such a ridiculous price. There were other calls on my curiosity by sight and smell -- and sometimes the calls conflicted. How could one walk past a board piled high with dried grasshoppers behind which mass peeped shyly a country wife done up with eyebrow pencil and powder for the occasion? Or the gaudy concoctions of the herb sellers, or the stalls of the purveyors of dried lake fish, whose unlovely leathery corpses were pulled from hand to hand as 16 women, behaving exactly as any 16 women at the opening of Harrods’ January sale in the UK, fought and haggled with the suave fishmonger for the best bargain? I held my nose and maneuvered for a photograph, the men striking exaggerated poses and the women either bashfully retiring or, resentful of the interruption, continuing, as I wished them to do, to haggle. The gloom under the shade of the great trees coupled with the dark features of the characters meant that I had to use flash, which caused more amusement among the pressing throng watching with excited interest, and my subsequent progress to catch up with my guide was impeded by the appeals of every other stall holder to “Make photo me!". I did not have enough film. My guide was now in a more open area, where was concentrated the hardware stalls -- pots, kettles, bicycle parts, hurricane lamps, and interspersed an occasional stall of canned fish, evaporated milk and hair cream. He proudly pointed to one of these stalls containing Tate and Lyle’s best cube sugar. "I don't come to Africa to buy British sugar!" I said, ignoring the logic of my existing purchase of cocoa and margarine, made in Nigeria, shipped to Britain for packing, and then shipped back here at 10 times the price. "Forget the sugar: I see the cloth stalls, and I


want some material for curtains." "Oh, you buy cottons?" he said knowledgeably. "No, curtains" I replied. "Yes, cottons -- I show you them" and off he pranced down the long lines of stalls draped over with gaudy cloths from Japan and India and, yes occasionally, from Manchester UK. It was quieter here, and most of the occupants dozed in the cool shadows under their awnings. I was content to let them lie, while I examined their stock without distraction, but my companion was hovering over them like the angel of death. "Rise up, man, show your cottons -quick" he commanded and I would explain apologetically that I wanted nylon, not cotton, for curtains, but I gave this up when the confusion deepened. Sometimes, for the sake of being civil, I would haggle for something I had no intention of buying, for it is impolite not to, as it is for not pretending that a proffered wife is well-nigh irresistible. In both cases one has circumstances understood by both sides to be specious, unfortunately preventing one from accepting the offer. I was anxious to get clear of these stalls, for the lad’s behavior was leaving a trail of ill will behind. His behavior agreed with so much that I had already observed: some people, charming and well mannered in their own idiom when in lowly circumstances, used the faintest degree of power to demonstrate their temporary ascendancy over their fellows. This was manifested from high government downwards, and at our level became very unpleasant when dealing with, for instance, post-office clerks or telephone operators, who might serve you or not depending on their mood. The mood was often demonstrated by a dictatorial shouting at all comers. "Dash" (tips or bribes) I was told helped, but I found that an appeal to their sense of humor, not buried far below the bullying, worked better. For if the money can be found to buy a large American car it would be bought before the roof of the single-room mud hut was repaired. The car would then be driven with horn blaring through any crowd of men, women, and children -- and the appearance of me, a European, on a bike


could be a special spur to action. My guide, who was using his apparent position as my trusted servant to harangue honest citizens, was causing me some embarrassment, and I paid him sixpence dash, and wished him well. But he insisted that he still wanted to be my friend, and as we reached my bicycle, locked in what could pass as the car park, someone broke off from a group repairing bicycles under a tree to join us, with a low bow to me. "My friend, we wish to show you Sabon Gari,sah" said the first. "And what is your name, and where do you come from?" I asked the new arrival. "Ignatius, I come from Calabar” he replied, with a happy smile. I thought it time that I should find out more about the other. His name was John Robinson, and he was born in Benin, to the south, but he came to Zaria when he was young because his father got to work here. "What does your father do?" John threw out his chest a little further, if possible. "He drives locomotive for Nigerian Railway Corp." said he was justifiable pride; "come, you meet him". Soon we were bicycling three abreast along the pot-holed dirt road of the town between the mud huts and the shops with their tin roofs. The boys, on the outside, rang their bells and shouted at the throng of pedestrians to make way. I gave up trying to encourage any sort of respect for age or sex. John was very proud of his family and position. “My sister, she been to UK” he said, obviously expecting this revelation to make a stir. I didn’t realize then just what an aura attaches to a “hasbeen” – i.e., “has been to UK” – and any Brit who thought that Britain’s position in the world was near the bottom of the barrel should go to Nigeria to have his self-respect revitalized. Soon we turned off the main thoroughfare into a wider, shadier street, in which the crooked mud walls looked as though they could be safe to lean against in places. We stopped outside a hole in the wall and John locked his bike, sternly commanding me to do the same, and summoned a small boy to stand over them until


we returned. Through the hole we entered a courtyard about ten meters square around which were different houses. John bade us wait, pushed the curtains to one side in the low doorway to one house, and disappeared into the shrouding darkness.

This young woman welcomed me into her village when I was taking a hike through the "bush"

Zaria road near police station


A lovely child in the crowd. She or her mother used powder and eyebrow pencil in what seemed to be a natural way

Beautiful children Suddenly the yard was full of kids advancing on me in that charming wide-eyed shyness of African children. I turned around and grinned “Hello!”, but this caused the less bold to run behind their elders. I felt an inquisitive touch on my bare leg – was I real? The girls grew braver and waved in the universal circling way and lisped “Bye-bye”, which they didn’t mean, as they stayed to extend the conversation. John rescued me by appearing in the mud doorway under the corrugated-iron roof and beckoned me in as if I was favored with an audience of the king. “Wait small!” he said, and I felt my way around in the tiny parlor as my eyes tried to adjust themselves to what seemed at first total darkness. Gradually a wicker table carrying a cloth and pot could be discerned, two rather rickety wooden chairs, and then the walls, seemingly completely plastered with photographs. There were family photographs which must have covered every


multifarious connection of the clan at every age, various colored and faded photos from magazines, and a large number of one man in various poses (photos in Nigeria reminded me of the selfconscious efforts of our grandparents to look natural clutching a potted palm in front of a backcloth of the Scottish Highlands). When the inner curtain drew away and this man appeared I somehow felt that I had known him a long while. John, with enormous respect that contrasted oddly with his lordly behavior outside, introduced us, both in the third person, it being anathema to use a person’s name even with close friendships. We shook hands, and I asked questions that seemed appropriate: where did he come from, what sort of locomotives did he operate, and what journeys did he do? He answered factually and minimally, and quite unsmilingly. I wondered whether I was breaking some social custom, for what’s the done thing to an Idomah is a solecism to a Calabar. But I thought that he could have been just embarrassed, standing there in pants and undershirt that had known palmier days, and when silence followed the last of the easing remarks I could think of I thanked him for the honor of being received and withdrew into the dazzling heat. The waving crowd of kids parted as we recovered our bikes, and I thanked John for his hospitality. “You no go?” he queried. “We show you churches and Boys’ Company” with the air which said that no one could consider himself educated who hadn’t at least seen these. “Well, I must be getting back soon” I said uncertainly. “No long, very quick” grinned Ignatius. I thought that there were probably only a couple of churches I hadn’t seen, as I had bicycled past the Colonial church of St. Andrew’s, and as we left the market the sound of hymns floating from the Methodists had reminded me, in a way that stirred up an irrational guilt-complex, that it was still Sunday morning. And we were almost opposite the cream-washed walls of the Baptist chapel, to which John belonged as an old boy at the Baptist


school. But Ignatius reassured me “We show you people who worship God with their feet, and those who think God comes only in great smoke.” We soon heard the first service, and I was surprised when I saw the neat little church. “No, that’s the Catholic” said John. “The Ebenezer Una church is in that house there; come and see” and in a large mud-walled room with all openings uncovered there was being generated something which if Duke Ellington or Artie Shaw were in charge would be called “Power-House Swing”. As we drew closer we could perceive a waving, like wind over a cornfield; closer still, and we could see the bodies swaying in unison, legs lifted alternately and hands clapping as the mysterious words were shouted out in an ecstatic chant. It was vibrant and compelling; I wanted to join in; it appealed to something primeval and joyous, but whether or not Christianity answered I couldn’t discover. There were other similar but quieter gatherings: the Apostolic and the Abbe Apostolic, and then the Cherubim and Seraphim. This was another cream-washed-mud building, a little more ramshackle than that of the Baptists, but as I looked I became aghast and alarmed. I thought: “It’s on fire – it’s exploding!” and from inside came a plaintive wailing as smoke poured from the doors and windows. I was about to drop my bike and dash forward, but my companions were rocking with laughter. “Wait, you see the fire – there, he comes!” and dimly in the doorway was a magnificently robed figure swinging a great brazier belching smoke and fumes. “Wow!” I said “I’m still not sure that someone doesn’t need saving” as the chanting figure disappeared into the orange fog.


She is showing some concern over this strange Baturi (white guy) on a bike

We left them to their fate, for the boys were anxious to show me where the Boys’ Company was stationed. As they gazed longingly at their round huts and barracks, and watched the boys playing soccer on the sports ground, I could well comprehend that it was their ambition to join the company. But entry is restricted to a few scholarship holders each year, who are given further education and army training, and eventually become officers in the Queen’s Own Nigeria Regiment. The boys talked wistfully of their chances, which were not good, for they were short in height, and not from tribes notable for military prowess – the Nigerian forces were almost exclusively Fulani and Hausa – and in any case were far from their home territory. We bicycled slowly around the wide compounds, then, as I was getting anxious about the time, they took me back through a short cut in the guinea corn, soaring up to twelve and fifteen feet. We parted, I saying that I would see them at a soccer match next weekend if I could manage it, and they that they would call on me. I inhospitably told them that I was at work from 7 am to 9 pm,


Welcome, Bature!

remembering from past visitors how quickly they seem to change into residents. I spurred myself on for the seven-mile ride back to the College, but soon heard the inevitable whiling of pedals and panting behind. “No, I can’t race you now” I thought, but hearing a “Scuse me, sir” several times turned to see Essien, my steward, who was also returning from getting his “chop”, and apparently feeling himself off-duty, allowed himself to relax into a broad grin. I slowed down so that he could come into line, and at the risk of our lives we occasionally cycled abreast to talk. He seemed more willing to talk too, and I found out that his father was a minor chief in Calabar. “How many wives has he, Essien?” “Just now he has 17, master” “Gracious! Then how many brothers and sisters have you?” Essien was’t sure, but including those who had died he thought that the number was 71. “How long since you’ve seen them?” “It be five years now.” “When are you going back?” “When I’m big man, or have GCE” (the general certificate of education). Essien spent most of the time in my kitchen reading correspondence courses, and he was ashamed to


go back until he had achieved something. He regarded domestic work as beneath him, especially domestic work for me, for Essien was a snob, and make no secret of his disdain for me for eating African ‘chop’ and for bicycling. His previous master lived on frozen meat and vegetables from the UK, and didn’t move more than 20 yards outside without starting the car. Essien felt that my social prestige reflected on him, and though he brightened considerably when I bought a car, the fact that it was a VW Microbus often used for African transport seemed to plunge him again into gloom. Others have told me that after they have first bought a car their servants, previously respectful, suddenly started abasing themselves on the ground, as they have confided in me, apparently because they consider I’m one of them. “Him big master, he got big car.”

They at least think that I'm interesting


A dirty water hole by the road, used for just about everything

A much more healthful supply of water, brought up from a well by a windmillpowered pump. The local women liked it because they could gather their and exchange gossip, rather as office workers do around the water cooler.

The small town which the College had become sprawled out on our left, and we parted, it being Essien’s day off, he to his singleroomed quarters and I to my enormous two-story house. Both of us, I thought, are having far more than we’re used to or, possibly,


want. Essen’s clean room would have normally housed about six or eight, and he would probably rather have the company over his alien neighbors from other tribes. I soon managed to move to a smaller bungalow that reminded me more of my old Lincolnshire cottage. But meanwhile, as I prepared my okra soup and fruit cocktail, I found myself wondering whether Essien was luxuriating in his version of fish and chips. After all that I had seen that morning we certainly had a lot to learn about each other: what we saw was the superficial.

The past is prologue The pages above were written up to the point when classes started at Nigerian College. When they did, my writing to friends and family almost stopped. Here are the reasons. The college president, called in Britain the vice-chancellor in that inescapable British logic, had, as related, interviewed me in Britain and had told me not to arrive more than two days before classes started because I would not be able to do anything useful. But I did come ten days or so early, and enjoyed finding out about the locality and the people. My anxiety about my duties slowly increased, however, compounded by the non-arrival of the two trunk-loads of text books and other material that I thought that I had sent ahead by sea. (I had been assured by the shipper in Lincoln UK that I did not have to pay in advance, and that I would be billed later. Two months after arriving in Nigeria I wrote in anguish when nothing had come. A letter came back in due course (meaning several weeks later) stating that I needed to pay umpty-ump guineas before the shipper would get my trunks anywhere near a ship. I did so, and the trunks eventually arrived toward the end of the academic year.) There seemed no way that I could do anything to prepare for my coming duties. The acting VC was a young British woman, younger even than I, who was in the liberal arts. I somehow had the nerve to ask her to go on a hike with me the first Sunday


afternoon to see the nearby villages. My principal recollection of the hike was of hearing fearful squealing from the ground. We investigated and found a small animal being eaten alive by some form of soldier ants. She appealed to me to help. The only way seemed to be to put the animal out of its misery quickly. So I killed it by stamping on it. Instantly the ants celebrated the arrival of a much bigger prize, and rushed up my legs to attack at will. And they treated my companion similarly. We shouted to each other that we would run in opposite directions, facing outward, and would try to get the ants out of our pants by disrobing. It worked! Neither she nor I peeked at the other’s nakedness! And we got the ants off successfully! We finished our hike in good shape. But no sparks appeared to draw us together in future. College spring water My hikes continued, but alone. They became almost a religious experience. I worked so hard and long that I forced myself to take Sunday afternoon hikes just to keep sane. I would set off in some direction from the campus – in the semi-desert conditions there were few tracks because one didn’t need them. The land was generally level, and where there was vegetation it was usually low. On one of my first solitary hikes I encountered a Hausa herdsman (I judged his group just from his clothing and facial scars.) I had learned enough Hausa to rattle off a greeting. I raised my right clenched fist and said “Ranka la dede!” To which he replied delightedly “Lafiya!” and I said “Lafiya lau!” and the greetings tailed off into “Qual lafiya!” and “Madallah!”. I must have had the accent right because he came alongside, grinning broadly, believing that I was a fluent Hausa speaker and proceeded to talk animatedly and at length on all sorts of things, none of which I could understand. It cheered me up no end, however, and I smiled and laughed and said goodbye.


A herdsman I met on a walk through the “bush” whom I impressed with my few words of Hausa

A half-hour later I found myself nearing a village. I knew that it was far from any road or track, and there were no signs of vehicles, so I wondered how a young white man would be treated if he went in among the huts. I need not have worried. Two young girls came running toward me, shouting “Bature! Bature!” (White man!”) and grabbed me by the hands to draw me into the center of the village. People began pouring out of the huts and giving me welcome. It was very touching and uplifting. I remember wishing that the same welcome could be given to a black man who walked through a Warwickshire village. A less uplifting experience on another Sunday-afternoon hike was past the College water supply. The Zaria river flowed during the wet season, July August and some of September, and then as the dry season advanced the river became disconnected pools and then dried up altogether. The intake to the college water was some way upstream, and as the dry season went on people on the staff dug deeper to reach the little water there was. (I remember that typically we had water for about 45 minutes every evening,


and we filled buckets to keep us going for the rest of the day. When the water first flowed out of the faucet each day it seemed to be preceded by complaining spiders and more exotic insects.) We had to boil all drinking and tooth-brushing water on our Primus stoves, but lately the taste had been pretty bad even with a lot of boiling. On this hike I saw why. A cow had died close to the deep water inlet. I told the water supervisor as soon as I could, but by this time (later in my stay in Nigeria than during the first flush of my enthusiasm) I doubted that anything would be done about the cow.

The dead cow I found over an intake to the college water supply. Could it have had an influence on the rotten quality of the water?

Nigerian lad demonstrating ancient stone puzzle to two Church Missionary Society women


The missionary position Earlier in these notes I have mentioned a colleague introducing me to a branch of the (Anglican) Church Missionary Society on the other side of Zaria. He said that the staff there needed mechanical-engineering help. Even at that time, when I was at the tender age of 29, I was not in favor of missionaries trying to get other people to change their religions. But I thought that perhaps they simply tried to do good work, without proselytizing. After all, the great missionary Dr. Livingstone had spent several years exploring in Africa without converting a single African to Christianity. (Good for them, I thought to myself when I heard this rather astonishing revelation.) The CMS had been such a prominent part of the Anglican church when I was growing up that I expected something rather imposing for its station in northern Nigeria. But it was in a rather nondescript small building nestled in the outlying foothills of Kufena. The staff consisted of three young British women whose principal job was teaching a large group of local children. The building was a school with their living quarters in the back. The kids were delightful, playing at that time an ancient African game with pebbles and a number of depressions in a large flat rock. One of the two CMS vehicles needed some attention, and I believe that I was able to fix it before getting on my bike for the nine-mile trip back to campus. I called occasionally thereafter, because they were nice young women, and the atmosphere was delightfully different from that at college. However, the other half of the mechanical-engineering faculty arrived on campus the day before classes started, and suddenly I was plunged into a long-drawn-out frenzy of teaching activity that put a heavy damper on socializing, with young women or otherwise. When I found out just how much I was expected to teach I was facing a profound deficit in my preparation.


The mystery of the classes You will be saying to yourselves “Why didn’t the silly chump work on thermodynamics or applied mechanics as soon as he arrived on campus?” And as I think back I know that I should have been more forceful. But I could not find out what the students had done in the previous few terms, for instance, because there had been no previous instruction at the engineering level in Nigeria, ever. We were the pioneers. The college had just been built and the first classes were going through. And in defense of my apparent lack of enterprise I need to point out that I had not previously taught anything more than classes in Sunday School and neighborhood clubs. If I had remembered the size of the MIT mechanical-engineering faculty it would have been around sixty, and each faculty member would be teaching two or three courses a year. At least half would have been graduate topics, and I was pretty sure that “NCAST” had no graduate students yet. But I had no hope of brushing up a hundred courses, so I relaxed as best I could until my fate would be known. The mechanical-engineering faculty It was revealed to me that I was to be half of the mechanical-engineering faculty. The other half, about two-thirds if measured by mass because he was borderline obese, was head of M.E. and came as forecast two days before classes started. The poor guy appeared to have been born entirely lacking in charm or grace. It as also painfully obvious that he didn’t like the idea of having someone with a PhD over-shadowing him. (I hated to be called “Dr.” and hid my PhD so far as possible, but nothing seemed to get him roaring with delight.) He informed me the day before classes started (at 7 am) that I would be teaching four courses. “So what?” you will be saying to yourselves. “Each course probably has classes of three hours per week, so that’s a total of


twelve class hours per week. Nothing to be excited about!” The same sort of math occurred to me. And later that term the civilengineering lecturer Hill asked my boss if I could take over one of his courses. This guy turned out to be a lazy slob who got his students through their exams by telling them the required answers beforehand. We had a hearing in London about it during the next summer vacation. I was so naïve that I didn’t realize what was going on. Something else I didn’t know at the time was that one hour’s lecture required five hours’ preparation, and that was with courses that one had previously taught. In my totally unprepared state I tried to spend ten hours’ preparation for each lecture. But ten times five times three is 150 hours per week. I returned fast to having four hours’ sleep a night, but that left only 140 hours a week for everything including dressing and shaving and buying food and so forth. I became a driven machine, working day and night and weekends and generally being rather anti-social.

This is a small collapsible wind tunnel I had made for a public lecture in Britain and which was in my trunks when they eventually arrived just before the end of the first year at “Nigercol”. It is all made of flexible plastic (PVC) with a table fan sucking air through and out of the round end, bringing in air through the square end to flow over a cylinder or other model in the “test section” just downstream of the square-section contraction.


Some social life This has to be an exaggeration! I tried to spend a little time in the faculty common room getting to know the others on the staff, and accepted invitations to supper. The first was from a couple who arrived a month or two before I did and who taught architecture. Generally the invitations were for 7 or 7.30 pm, well after dark and when the air was cooling. All the other guests always arrived by car, even when the distance from their house was around a hundred yards. The campus was about a half-mile in diameter, and there were few other places from which guests could come. Most people on the lecturing staff would not at that time have been able to afford a car, or a house, in the UK, and here they wanted to show both off. One of the disadvantages of walking, which was my means of short-distance transport, was that I would pass the kitchens when the cook and helpers were not warned by approaching car lights. Thereby would I be introduced to practices that did not enhance the eating experience for me. One time I seem to remember seeing meat balls formed in the bare armpits of the cook. Zaria was in peanut (called “ground-nut”) country, and the guests were offered hors d’ouvres of delicious peanut confections. We ate these and tried to find out more about one another. A local Hausa band had been hired at this first dinnerparty of my Nigerian existence, and it sounded romantic and thrilling. It consisted solely of drums, generally of the type the pitch of which could be varied by squeezing strings around the waist of the drum. It was amazing to me that we could listen to drums for hours without any hint of becoming bored. The hours did stretch out, however. Our hosts were also far below the level of British society who could afford servants in Britain. I caught them whispering to one another at about 9.30 pm wondering when the meal would arrive. “Why don’t they go


to the kitchen and ask?” I thought to myself. Ten o’clock arrived, and then eleven, still without food. At about 11.15 I had the temerity to suggest to them that the cook and staff really wanted to serve us food, and they risked going to the kitchen to get the overcooked meal on its way. I needed to get some sleep before hitting the books again. And the long sessions of drinking reduced many guests to drunken stupor.

Hausa drummers performing at evening party

Although I had long been a teetotaler, I did serve alcohol for the first few dinner parties I gave. Then I decided that I didn’t want the responsibility of guests killing themselves or others after becoming soused on my liquor. So I stopped serving alcohol, covering up the lack by presenting guests with a huge list of drink possibilities. “Prunes and zirash” was one local concoction. Some guests thought that they were in fact drinking alcohol, and became somewhat loopy on it. Such is the power of the mind. As mentioned elsewhere I did unwittingly serve alcohol at one point because I started making ginger beer from local ginger root and sugar, and I left it to mature a little too long. A local Scotsman who liked his hooch began visiting me frequently until I found


that it was not I but the steadily increasing alcoholic content of my ginger beer that was the main attractant.

Typical list of my dinner-party drinks, all nonalcoholic

Some people tried to pressure me into drinking. In particular I remember the first faculty Christmas party at which the school president called for silence and announced loudly that “David Wilson will now take a real drink!” from the other side of a large room. Equally loudly I replied, of course, that David Wilson was going to do nothing so stupid. Instantly I became a hero to the


many people, especially women, who felt constantly pressured to drink more.

The market stall for brown sugar that I used to make ginger beer

Some students Classes started at 7.10 am and ran to 8.50 am, at which there was a time for breakfast (how was I expected to last until mid-morning? I ate breakfast at 6 am) and then resumed from 9.55 to 1140. I was wildly popular with the students at first because, I suppose, I was different and friendly. The effort for me to get prepared for all the different classes that had been assigned to me was huge and reduced my sleeping time. I used to work all afternoon when other faculty and staff were reputedly resting, but it was a great effort to keep awake and alert. The effort was a little lessened because it had been decided by London University in association with the college that we would take two years to cover a one-year class in most subjects. I still had to scramble desperately to stay ahead, given that I had no textbooks or notes of mine. I borrowed what I could from the library, but the quality wasn’t good. My popularity began to decline when the students found that I demanded work from them, and when I started to lock the classroom door at 7.20 am


because I didn’t want repeatedly to have to go over the beginning of the lesson for the late-comers. The practice worked, however – they all came on time. Engineering practice There were about 32 students in my classes, all Nigerian, although one had a Greek name, presumably from a Greek father and a Nigerian mother. As would be the case everywhere they ranged from the strugglers to the brilliant. I started an afterhours activity to try to give the inexperienced students more of an idea of engineering. There was a broken tractor near the workshops – it had supposedly been sabotaged in a strike – and I got permission to dismantle it with my student club and possibly to fix it up to work again. This was a wildly successful activity at the start. I explained the components of the tractor and how each worked. Then I started taking the cylinder head off the engine. After I had removed some of the nuts I asked for a volunteer to use the spanner (wrench) to take off the remaining nuts. No one stepped forward. I harangued them. I joked with them. I said that they shouldn’t have to worry about getting their hands dirty as I did – by this time mine were almost black. But they all had a very strong objection to doing work that they regarded as menial. One or two of them did eventually do a little work, but it was tough going to get much collaboration. It seemed likely that a tractor was too big a device for engineering instruction. Friends on the faculty and staff were beginning to see me as Mr. Fixit, and I thought to myself “Let’s do double duty: the students and I will mend their mechanical/electrical gadgets, and the students will get good experience.” This scheme also started with a bang, great enthusiasm and appreciation from students and people with defunct devices. But once again I found that I was doing all the work, and I wasn’t sure that by just watching me the students were gaining a great deal. I tried to get them to get hands-on


experience. The flow of things to be worked on was increasing greatly. And then I discovered the blackest of deeds: some students were charging people for me to repair their malfunctioning record-players and other gadgets. (Very) educational movies Sadly I gave up that effort and started another. At that time the Shell Oil company had developed a large number of educational films aimed at university-level engineering students, and I wrote to the Nigerian HQ to ask for a couple of films to be sent to the college. I got permission to use the college’s 16-mm projector and screen and a large classroom in the evening. A date was selected and I put around some notices as well as advertising it in my classes. This was my wildest success ever! The classroom was full, as was anywhere people could sit and stand, by the advertised start time, and soon people were in a crunch outside the room trying to see what they could through the open windows. I gave a short welcoming talk and explained the purpose of the movies. Then I turned the lights off and started the projector. It came as a revelation that no one had seen movies before. It was late 1958 or early 1959, long before TV had come to Nigeria, and before there were movie theaters attended by students in any towns I visited. The crowd was spellbound by the first movie. I stopped the projector periodically to explain what was going on, mostly regarding the engineering, because the films were made principally for European and north-American students with more engineering and gadget experience than had anyone in the audience. I was delighted: the impact was dramatic and it had to be educationally beneficial. Then I started the second movie, about another topic, perhaps “hydraulic engineering”. This one started with the engineer, portrayed always in those days as a white man, having breakfast with his family before leaving for work in the family car. As he


left the house he gave his wife a swift kiss. There was an aghast silence. Then pandemonium broke out. I had to turn off the projector and turn on the room lights and go to the front to try to establish order. It took a long time. There was shouting and crying out from embarrassment. When the noise had decreased to the point where I could perhaps be heard I tried to explain the kiss and relationships in general, but I felt that I was not making much progress. Eventually I restarted the projector and showed the rest of the film without incident. The next week the crowds were, if possible, bigger, and it was obvious that some had come from the town seven miles away. I tried to preview the beginnings, at least, of the movies to see if anything untoward from the Nigerian viewpoint would appear. All went well for some weeks. The crowds and the enthusiasm stayed at a high level. Cops and robbers Then the blow struck. The news of the popularity of the movies with the students encouraged some entrepreneur in Zaria to get a 35-mm projector and a collection of appalling American gangster and cowboy movies full of violence and of rough relationships depicted between men and women. He somehow got the college to let him show the movies in the student great hall and to charge a shilling (in those days it would be about twenty-five cents) for admission. He even showed them on the same night as my Shell movies. I lost my audience. The noise from the student building as they saw mainly white people doing horrible things to each other was startling. The effects I thought were almost wholly bad. I began to see dramatic changes in the way the male students treated the few women students, not good changes. And the engineering film series had to stop. American week Although preparing my many classes and grading quizzes and the like were huge loads, I had the conviction that I should


continue to try to work with the students other than just in the classroom. (I didn’t see evidence that my colleagues were doing any of this, but I may be unfairly censorious.) At about that time the student World Affairs Society asked me to be its faculty advisor (it used another title). It had arranged to hold an Indian Week and the students needed help from someone with faculty clout. I happily obliged, and the week was a success. Someone from the US Consulate in Kaduna, a new town about 70 miles south of Zaria, met me and the idea of an American Week was quickly hatched. The students signed on, a program was suggested, and soon the preparations were rolling. Looking back I am amazed that everything worked as well as it did. We not only did not have phones in our houses or offices, but there was not even a phone per department. There was one phone available for the whole of the faculty, and that was in the faculty mail room. (I presume that the college president had access to another.) Making one call to the US Consulate in Kaduna could take hours. I would camp there with my lecture-preparation material and stuff to be graded, pick up the phone, ask the operator to phone Kaduna XXX, and then wait for the operator to call back. If I didn’t hang up immediately I would hear him (I don’t remember any female operators) yelling at the next operator down the line, who was statistically unlikely to be from the same tribe. Therefore insults had to be screamed at him, and punishment exacted by nonresponsiveness. Sometimes I could get a response in an hour, but more usually it was several hours. In surprising contrast, the mail service worked pretty well, and we used that as far as possible. The highlight of the American Week for me and for the students was the visit of Herbie Mann and his orchestra. They were to give an evening jazz concert. There were no restaurants serving US- or European-style food, and when I had tried to eat “chop” with the students in their cafeteria the food was so highly seasoned that I could hardly talk or even see, so much were my


eyes watering. So I offered to give the band a pre-concert supper in my small house. Looking back I am embarrassed to think what I served them. I had by then started to repay the hospitality I was receiving, and had lively and enjoyable supper parties. But it became noticeable that frequently one of the women guests would show up next day to lend me a cookbook or one on nutrition. But Herbie Mann and his band members were uniformly gracious, and their concert was a knockout, so we accounted it, along with the rest of the American Week, a pronounced success. It is necessary to confess, though, that the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology was about as different to my previous experiences at Harvard and at MIT as could be imagined. The prime minister of a prominent country could be speaking in one room at MIT, while not too far down the hall a Nobel-prizewinner might be lecturing, and a famous author in another. There are probably a dozen public events at each school (Harvard and MIT) every day, so that even famous speakers may find a very thin audience. A few years after this time I was the faculty advisor of a student group at MIT that wanted to invite Ralph Nader to talk. He was at the height of his popularity, when he had faced down General Motors over a defective car design. The students reserved the Kresge Auditorium, the largest facility on campus. Nineteen students showed up. It was highly embarrassing. At Nigerian College, in contrast, I remember no public speakers whatsoever. The only public events we had were very occasional student shows and the festivities at the end of Ramadan and other Islamic occasions. So someone coming to give a talk on cross-stitch knitting could well face a wildly enthusiastic crowd. The students in the World Affairs Society nevertheless did a very good job in organizing the Indian and American Weeks.


The World Affairs Society, and two faculty members. (I’m second from left in the front row)

The Tempest One of the student events that was creating a stir was the production of Shakespear’s The Tempest. Ayo Awojobi, the top student in all my classes, was acting as Prospero. At some time just before the performances started he came to see me. “Sir” he said, “I am having difficulty filling my time, and I would like you to give me classes in advanced mathematics!” I was amazed. “Ayo” I said, “You are president of the student union, you are taking the lead in The Tempest, and you have several other leadership positions. How could you have any spare time? And in any case I am not sufficiently advanced in mathematics that I could give you classes.” I don’t know if Awojobi got help from the math lecturer or from anyone else. I do know that some time later I heard that he got his PhD and soon was the equivalent of full professor at the University of Lagos. Alas! He died young. It was a terrible loss.


Another tempest Soon after I arrived in Nigeria and started teaching my four, later five, courses I was told by the department head (he seemed to enjoy doing so) that by some date in November I had to prepare the final exams to be given at the end of the academic year in May or June the following year. This came as a considerable blow. Here I was barely keeping up with preparations for the next day’s lectures and I was supposed to set an exam on the whole year’s work. There was no previous year’s exam because we were the vanguard of the new engineering education in Nigeria. I asked why it had to be done so early. The exams had to go to London to be vetted by staff at the University of London for level, appropriateness etc. My pace began to be frenzied. Desperately I tried to get ahead far enough so that I could set a fair but challenging exam in each subject. I got them finished in time, reviewed them, and felt that I had done pretty well. My recollection is that the department head also asked to see them and voiced no objection. They went off with other exams to London. Eventually they were returned just before the final exams for the year, without criticisms from the lordly Londoners. By the time the students took the exams I had a fair degree of confidence. I had taught all classes pretty well, and the students were highly prepared. But after the applied-mechanics exam the students were obviously unhappy. I asked them what difficulty they had had, and they said that it was a very hard exam. In particular they said that a question in which I had asked them to prove an expression to be true had been done by no one. Ayo Awojobi said that he thought that there had been a mistake. I went back to the exam paper and to my original calculations in great confidence that I would find that they had overlooked something simple. As I looked at my work, a creeping feeling of horror overcame me. I had in fact made a silly mistake. It didn’t


help me that it had been missed by my department head and by whoever reviewed the exams in London. I went gloomily out to meet as many students as I could to tell them that the exam would be graded fairly based on what they had been able to do in that question. This wasn’t good enough. All evening I could hear distant protests that seem to be coming closer. By 10 PM there was a circle of chanting students around my small house, wanting me to be shipped back to Britain forthwith. I was getting worried, because I thought that something violent could happen. Between 11 PM and midnight a small delegation led (thankfully) by Ayo Awojobi came to the door to talk with me. I let them in and we sat down. I apologized again and repeated my statement that the grading would account for my error and would give students credit for what they had done in trying to respond to the question. Awojobi accepted that. He also said that in future I could do what Mr. Hill, the civil-engineering lecturer, did. He set the exams, and then told the students before the exam what answers he expected. Thus the students did well, and the lecturer got good results. The scales fell from my eyes. Now I knew the real topic of the meeting I was asked to attend at London University. I was very naïve. The VW Microbus and the CIA Isaac Olatunde, the Magnanimous Man, visited me again at home a month or so after I came to Nigercol with what he felt was a serious concern. I was a white man who didn’t have a car. He thought that this was a serious blow to my prestige and standing. I didn’t agree, but I recognized that there were certainly times when I would have to borrow a car if I didn’t buy one. As mentioned earlier, I fancied buying a VW Microbus, thus being able to take a fair number of students to places. Isaac brightened considerably. He had heard of one that had fallen into the Niger river, he said, on the way up from Lagos, and it


would be available at a low price and would be almost new apart from some water damage. He said that he would investigate and report back. A few days later he brought a photo of the bus. It had fairly serious damage to the “nose” of the bus, and unknown damage to the steering etc. Isaac said that he could find someone who would do a good job putting it into shape at a reasonable price. I agreed, and after several weeks of unexpected delays the vehicle was mine.

The VW Microbus that had fallen into the River Niger

But I had to ask Isaac why the bus had “NPC” across the front. That was usually the initials of the Northern Peoples’ Congress, an alliance of Islamic groups. “Yes, sir, it was a bus of the Northern People’s Congress” he replied. “It bought fifty of them. They came on a ship to Lagos and were being driven up here to the North. One had an accident and fell into the river.” “Why on earth would the NPC spend all that money to buy fifty VW buses?” I asked in some astonishment. “I heard that they were a


gift from an American labor union” he said. This made it even more bizarre. I stored the information away for further study. More data came a few weeks later when I was with some people on campus and a large helicopter flew over. I had not previously seen a helicopter in Nigeria, though doubtless they were being used by Shell and others in oil exploration. To have one flying over the barren north was passing strange. Then leaflets promoting Awolowo, the Yoruba candidate for the local elections that preceded the handover by the British scheduled for the middle of 1960, began fluttering down. They were well produced and written in English. So now we had strangeness cubed. The Yoruba candidate could afford to buy and to operate an expensive helicopter, with which he was bombarding people in Northern Nigeria, most of whom could not read and didn’t understand English. This time I was with some well-informed people. “The American trade unions AFL-CIO gave the helicopter to Awolowo” they told me. But they couldn’t explain it. My suspicions intensified. They were confirmed only when I returned to Britain in 1960 and bought a book called “Endless Enemies” by Jonathan Kwitny about the results of CIA efforts around the world. (It was published in the US under a different title.) Kwitny was an investigative reporter with the Wall Street Journal who was quite fearless in writing about the Mafia and the drug trade and many other topics. Later he produced superb broadcasts for the Public Broadcasting Service. His book confirmed for me that the CIA had an arrangement with the AFL-CIO whereby CIA funds to influence elections would be channeled through the union organizations as gifts. Kwitny was damning in his conclusions that the CIA had done irreparable harm to the perception of the USA in the world, and had generally produced negative business and economic results. But he gave the CIA one compliment: that it didn’t interfere in Nigeria! If what it did was not interfering, the effects in Chile and most of the other countries in


Latin America must have been appalling. The CIA seems to get very little oversight from Congress or from the other branches of government. So I imagine how a small group of CIA people could come up with a scheme to influence elections or to change governments without any idea of what the long-term consequences would be. And although I went to Nigeria in a very anti-colonial state of mind, I felt that the British had done a pretty good job there and in particular in preparing the country for independence, at least compared with other colonial powers (including the US). To have the election proceedings suddenly changed by the infusion of large amounts of cash to two parties (I heard of no funds going to other parties, although that might have happened) by what I can only characterize as playboys would make democracy a farce. Within a few years of independence in 1960 the country was in a civil war, and subsequent governments have been extraordinarily corrupt. It might be too easy to put some of the blame on the corruption of the elections, but it is worth considering.

Mallam Dogo picking cotton outside his house


Visits with Mallam Dogo At some point the college was visited by our nearest neighbor, Mallam Dogo, a courtly man of around 74, who lived in a compound of a main house and several smaller huts, all made of local mud. In Nigeria, the title “Mallam” means that the man (always the man) has made a pilgrimage to Mecca. Two of us on the faculty were his hosts, and at the end of the visit Mallam Dogo invited us to have tea with him at his place. We were served tea and biscuits and small cakes. We contracted no subsequent illnesses. It was noticeable how much more comfortable his house was than mine. His had massive clay walls and roofs that evened out the chills of the night and the heat of the day. Insects seemed to stay out of his house. The windows were small, just large enough to let in some light. My house had large-size pivoting-slatted windows that could allow a hot, or cold, breeze through but had almost no thermal mass and it was usually horribly hot. Insects of every type loved my house. As I worked at night I would have to periodically sweep the dead insects off my desk so that I could read and write. After the tea Mallam Dogo asked if we would like to meet his wives. We went outside to the first hut. Stooping inside in the gloom we met his premier wife, sitting in front of a loom, weaving cloth. She was also looking after a small baby. One of the other wives was pregnant, and the fourth wife was away actually having a baby. Under Islamic law, men may have four wives. Under Nigerian custom, they may also have as many concubines as they can afford. I tried several times to find out how this system works. There must be a lot of men who have neither wives nor concubines. Mallam Dogo did not introduce us to any concubines. At 74 I believe that he found that four wives were enough. They were cheerful young women. They understood enough English for me to kid them a little, and they laughed heartily.


One of Mallam Dogo's wives, weaving in an almost dark hut

As we left it seemed appropriate that I ask Mallam Dogo if he would like to bring his wives to visit me. To my delight he accepted. We fixed a day and time, and I said that I would come around in my VW bus to pick them all up. There ensued an absolutely fascinating occasion. I don’t know if the women had visited a European home before, but their laughter at everything was infectious. I had prepared a slide show of our visit to them and of other things that I thought would be of interest. I tried to prepare food and drink that I thought they would like. But the main show of the evening for me was the way the wives treated Mallam Dogo. They made fun of him! They pulled his leg and laughed themselves almost to exhaustion. I had imagined that they would be a rather subservient group of exploited women, and what appeared were individuals who seemed to enjoy a wonderful relationship with their old husband and with each other. If I had been a campaigner for monogamous marriage and the rights of women it would have been unsettling. As it was, it was an amazing delightful evening. When the time came for my guests to go they all climbed into the bus, Mallam Dogo in the


front beside me as before, and we laughed our way back to his place.

Mallam Dogo and some of his wives and children at my campus house, to look at slides

The Institute chauffeur In the main street of Zaria was an establishment called the Institute of Administration. Nigerian College had some relationship with the Institute, the nature of which I have long since forgotten. But somehow the chauffeur of the Institute, Ali, developed a nodding acquaintance with me. That means that if we saw each other we would greet semi-formally and cheerfully. He was “very” Muslim, which means he wore the turban and the flowing robe on all occasions. One day Ali rather shyly asked me if I would like to have tea with him and his wife. I accepted with alacrity. It sounded like a wonderful opportunity to learn more of how Nigerians lived. We fixed a time on the next Saturday, when I would have finished classes and when I usually biked into town to buy food in the markets. He had a “mud” house (meaning the usual dried clay)


not too far from the Institute. He and his wife were ready for me - worth remarking only because many Nigerians take a relaxed view of time and appointments. She was a pretty young woman (Muslim women in Nigeria do not – or at least did not – shroud themselves to the degree that is mandatory in some other Islamic countries) and her English was good enough for a little conversation. But she was shy. She also had a young baby. Tea was a safe drink because if made in the British way the water must be boiling as it is poured in the pot. There was also a plate with a few “Arrowroot” “biscuits” (cookies). We chatted and nibbled for half an hour or so, and then I was on my way. It was a quiet, satisfying occasion.

Ali showing his (first) wife some photos I had taken earlier, during our tea in their house

The next time I saw Ali I thanked him for his hospitality and sent my good wishes to his wife. After that we didn’t see each other for a couple of months. I was trying to help a colleague’s wife who had run her VW bug into a ditch and had gone into shock. More capable people came to help and I joined the watching throng, among whom was Ali. He came over to me and asked if


he could speak with me. Obviously he could, but I sensed that this was more than casual, and we walked away from the others. What came next was something of a shock. “Sir” he said, “I want to ask something of a delicate matter. I have been fortunate enough to be able to put a down-payment of ten pounds on my second wife. Now her family is insisting that I pay the balance of fifty pounds. Would you please lend me that money, sir?” Although I have the reputation as being pretty parsimonious with my expenditures on me myself, I am also regarded as a soft touch. Ali probably had a fair expectation that I would agree to a loan. I thought about it for a while. I decided that I could not be a part of this. I said something like the following. “Ali, I like you and your wife and the way you behave. But your customs are different from ours, and I am unsure of how I feel about someone having more than one wife. I believe that it would be better if you could borrow the money from someone in your community.” Ali agreed without apparent rancor. A few months later we ran into each other again. “Did you get your second wife, Ali?” I asked. “Yes, Master, I did.” “And how did your first wife like the arrangement?” I asked. “She did not like it at all, Sir,” he replied. “She got up and left me!” It was difficult not to be sorry for Ali, and for his first wife, but I was relieved that I had not supported the breakup financially. Sex and the ex-pats When the College moved me to a smaller house at my request right at the start of my time at Nigerian College I found myself almost next door to a gorgeous young Nigerian sculptor, Clara Ugbodaga. I introduced myself and tried to be pleasant on the rather rare occasions when we saw each other, but nothing more. Casual dating on the US model was not done in British circles. I sometimes wonder if my rather monastic life style was not an insult to single women who might have liked some male company.


Apparently the pretty young wife of a big shot in the architecture department did take my restraint as something of an insult. She was rumored to sleep around, and when the silence of the night was broken by the distinctive sound of a VW bug – there were several on campus, but the others belonged to very square people – I wondered if she was returning from a dalliance. At one of the dances in the Christmas season where the music would stop and we had to change partners I found myself dancing with this young woman, and she made her intentions perfectly clear. “Why don’t you come to have some fun with me some time?” she asked. I don’t know what I answered, but I was a virgin and was going to stay that way. I didn’t know much about the mechanics of sex, but she came into a few rather wild dreams after that. I had too much work to get entangled so that was that, it seemed to me.

My neighbor Clara Ugbodaga, a sculptor on the arts faculty


The authorities usually asked me to act as host to any American visitors because I liked US people and at that time most British were still smarting over the Suez war, the disastrous results of which they tended to blame on J. Foster Dulles and the American government. Toward the end of the first academic year (when my lecture-preparation demands on my time were lessened) I found myself showing a young woman from Cambridge Massachusetts around the college. She had around three days in Zaria, including the weekend, and I fell instantly and madly in love with her. She was a free spirit apparently with enough money to spend two or three months traveling and staying at low cost wherever she could. I believe that she was lodging in the government hostel near Zaria. I suddenly found that I had more free time than I thought, and took her to the hill Kufena and to the local markets and hiked to some of the villages. She gave no sign of being remotely interested in me other than as a guide, and left when her time was up with little more than perfunctory thanks. However, a few weeks later a telegram arrived for me. That was a big deal in those days, and I was worried that my mother might have had an accident. But it was from this young woman, commanding me to pick her up in Kaduna at a certain date and time and giving me no means of letting her know that the timing was bad. Kaduna was about 70 miles away by narrow roads dominated by “mammy wagons” and small buses. I somehow got my assignments covered, and set off for Kaduna on the appointed day, my ardor considerably cooled. On the drive back I asked her about her activities and her views on everything, and as we neared Zaria again I asked where she would be staying. “Oh! I’m staying with you!” she replied. I had a spare bedroom and mosquito net and installed her there, fed her supper and then took my bedroll and mosquito net to a young Indian colleague who was a near neighbor in a small house. I told him that I was a refugee and was willing to sleep on


my bedroll on the floor. This continued for two or three nights. I was told that my reputation among some of the women on campus shot up when they thought that I had a single young woman in my house with me, a shocking thing in those days. I felt as did Winston Churchill when someone used his memberof-Parliament status to get some advantage: “You have made a public convenience of the Mother of Parliaments!” he sternly admonished. (A “public convenience” in those days was a public toilet.) She stayed a couple of nights and moved on, to my great relief. She had to be on her own a great deal because I had too much teaching and related duties to be a constant companion, but I guess that she was used to fending for herself. A male and the night visitor You will have guessed, dear reader, that the male of this subheading was I. During my two years in Nigeria I turned 30 and had no girl-friend. By that time I was dimly aware of what being gay meant, and I knew that some people thought that I must be gay. It didn’t worry me. Britain was much more relaxed about homosexuality than was the US, and there were prominent people in public life in the UK that were known for their general capabilities rather than being labeled as having any sexual inclination although there was no secret about them being gay. Therefore I saw no reason to proclaim that I was straight. There was just no single woman that I had met on campus or elsewhere with whom I wanted a time-consuming friendly relationship. And my experience at Harlow Wood Orthopedic hospital in Britain when I found myself falling for the matron, a powerful woman of twice my age who had a good sense of humor – otherwise we had nothing I could find in common – told me that I had to be very selective about acquiring women friends. They, or rather I, could be dangerous! It is either a strength or a weakness that when I have too much to do I develop a rather rigid schedule and life style. At that time I


was working in the classroom, the labs or at my desk in the engineering building until about 5.30 PM, when I would go to my house for supper. Right after that I would go to my desk in the house and start on preparing lectures or grading papers. About 1130 I would go to bed, ready to rise again at 4.30 AM to get some more work done before breakfast and morning classes. One evening at about 7.30 (at which time in the tropics it is pitch dark) this established schedule was interrupted by a knock on the door. By this time I was no longer worried about “thief-men” or other intruders, but a knock on the door in the evening not preceded by car lights was unusual. I thought that it might be Isaac Olatunde. However, it was a young woman, who after a moment I recognized as Jan, the secretary in one of the departments. She was a little flustered, and said that she had been working on something without realizing how late it was, and that she had missed her ride home. Could I take her home? I remembered that she was the daughter of a British official working for part of the local Nigerian government, and that he and his family lived some distance the other side of Zaria. I cheerfully agreed, managed to start my somewhat decrepit VW Microbus, and took her the fifteen-or-so miles home. I asked her questions about her life and her family, without learning a great deal, and thought no more of it. However, a couple of nights later, there she was again, same time, same request. This time I did not leap to the bus with alacrity. When one is in the middle of a long calculation, or lecture preparation, to interrupt the flow and to try to restart it later sacrifices much more time than the clock time. So she had to wait a half-hour or so until I had come to a satisfactory break point. After that she came two or three more times. It was obvious that the working-late story was a blind. She was after me. I couldn’t see how her parents could not have been involved. Parents do


not let a young unmarried daughter stay late in a deserted campus in the middle of a wild part of Northern Nigeria (although in my experience it was extraordinarily safe as far as Nigerians were concerned) and have a single guy take her back in his small bus in the pitch darkness repeatedly without having some scheme in mind. I presume that they decided that I had good earning potential, and that they told her to get me somehow. I began to be quite resentful. On the last evening she came I was in the middle of trying to create an exam, and I made her wait almost two hours. She would do virtually nothing but sit there with her perfume wafting over me, not wearing enough clothing (in my opinion) and looking at me sorrowfully. It was highly unsettling for a young man trying to remain celibate. After I deposited her quite late on the last occasion I resolved that if she tried it again I was going to pull off the road as we were driving through the “bush” and I would ask her what she really wanted. I’m embarrassed to confess that I was contemplating consensual sex or something close to rape. It was undoubtedly easy for her to read my thoughts, and she never came again. You may think that this story does not have much point. However, it had a very pointed effect on me. I had not been too successful in my amorous wooing of the opposite sex. I have been pursued and in several cases “propositioned” by several women and one man. I used to be proud of what I saw as an iron self-discipline. Some of the women who were trying to get me involved would say that I lost my true lover through lovin’ too slow. But we all have our breaking points. I think that most young men have a lower threshold than I did and could have ended up with highly unsatisfactory partnerships (on both sides). But who am I to lecture? I have after all been divorced. I became so fussy about women that I had a long list of absolute requirements. When I was 34 I met a wonderful woman who


seemed to match all my categories. We married. It didn’t work out. We lived separately after fifteen years and divorced after twenty-four. I began to respect the role of matchmakers in other cultures. My own judgment was not to be trusted!

A “Mammy Wagon” on the road near Victoria, Cameroons

Naked and unashamed We had a serious and dedicated sculpture instructor at Nigerian College. He was possibly a mite too serious. When the model he had hired one morning for an advanced sculpture class failed to turn up, the instructor persuaded (I hope with cash) the man sweeping the corridors to come into the studio and to pose naked. At least four of the students did rather well. The instructor was so proud that he put the four life-size sculptures alongside the main walkway in the campus. We were surprised the next morning to see these four very male figures, complete with all their equipment on display, in places where pedestrians could not avoid them. I imagine that if this had happened in France or


Italy people would have grinned and shrugged their shoulders. But this was in British Islamic Africa in 1959. The model had no resemblance to Zeus or Eros. The statues seemed to be of a rather ugly man caught with no clothes. To the women of that place and time they were rather offensive. I came upon the statues early and had work to do. They didn’t worry me much, and I went on to my morning classes and then home for lunch. While there I had an unexpected visitor, a fellow instructor, who walked up the dusty road to ask if I could lend him some wing collars and possibly spats. I had forgotten about the naked sculptures and thought that he was preparing for a fancy-dress dance. I had a couple of starched wing collars, and handed them over.

Three nude men at Nigercol

The next morning my dim wits were jolted into consciousness: the four statues had bowler hats, wing collars, spats, brollies, and copies of The Times (of London) under their arms. I chuckled for quite a while. I liked the operation. No one had tried to


install pants and shirts on the figures. I went on to class and home for lunch as usual. But it was not as usual. I had another visitor, a very angry one. It was the sculpture instructor. He had found that the only items of dress bearing anyone’s name were two of the collars. My mother taught me to put my name on almost every item of clothing. He instantly concluded that I had done the awful deed. I protested. I hope that I also pointed out that the unnamed person who had clothed his students’ statues did so in fun, and that presenting nude males in an area of Islamic Africa in a place where many women and a few children would perforce see them required some form of response. He departed muttering dark oaths in his beard. Schools near Zaria and a subsequent campaign At the end of my first year at Nigerian College I arranged to visit some schools near Zaria. I felt that I should gain some understanding of from where our college students were coming. Two aspects of my trips remain with me. The distances were too great to bicycle without sacrificing the chance of visiting a couple of schools, and I drove to them in my VW bus. At the first school the head came out to the parking area to greet me warmly. We were entering the last year of the British raj, and although he was Nigerian he looked like a British civil servant: white shorts, white shirt, white knee-length stockings and black polished shoes. We came into the main hall of the school’s entryway, and there was a long colorful mural. I asked if I could look at it. It was a historical time line, and to my amazement and amusement it started with a Scottish explorer, Mungo Park, “the first man to discover the source of the River Niger.” “And what were your forebears doing before that?” I asked this tall imposing and welleducated black man. But he had been brain-washed by past Brits and didn’t see the incongruity.


The second message that came back with me was more serious. Nigeria was and is Africa’s most populous country. Yet I was told that only one in five babies lived until their fifth year. Only one in five of those finished primary school. And only one in five of those graduated from high school. Less than one in five of these went on to university. There might have been some exaggeration in these rounded numbers, but there was no doubt that Nigerian education had a great deal of catching up to do. I was told that if every university graduate every year became a teacher, it would take several hundred years before Nigeria could reach the educational coverage of an average western country. (Since that time many universities have been founded, so that the outlook has changed radically. Also the child death rate has fallen considerably.) This stark reality seemed to me to cry out for a solution. Importing teachers from overseas, who would be mainly white, would be clearly unacceptable. I had been impressed with the impact of the educational movies that I had been showing, and I began to believe that educational TV used primarily to educate new waves of teachers was the only possible solution. Satellites to spread TV were being planned (Telstar was launched in 1962) and I began to be consumed with the belief that teachers in the several subjects could be recruited from intelligent people in all walks of life so long as they had had a high-school education, and could be taught the following week’s classes in evening broadcasts, and early-morning transmissions would go in detail over the classes of the day. I may have been somewhat sophomoric in my enthusiasm for this scheme, but the belief in it was genuine. It evolved into a campaign. Much later, when I had a job in London, I tried carrying the campaign into what I had hoped would be sympathetic areas, without success. When I came back to Cambridge Massachusetts I tried the leaders in childhood education at MIT, and was rebuffed. At Harvard, however, Bill


Eliot had a vigorous program in education in Africa at the Littauer Center and welcomed me warmly to his weekly seminars. I met such luminaries as Sargent Shriver, who was forming the (US) Peace Corps. Eventually I gave up trying to be a leader in this area of education. Educational TV and all forms of multimedia instruction have, however, become mainstream. A succession of wonderfully creative students and faculty working with me in developing a program called EDICS – the engineering-design instructional computer system – have seen this effort come full circle in one respect. One of the graduate students, Amy Smith, took EDICS to South Africa and to Botswana, where she had taught for four years in the Peace Corps, Educators there were very keen to use EDICS, and MIT released it world-wide in its Open CourseWare project in 2007. She is now head of D-Lab at MIT, working on developments in Third-World countries.

Malaria and Man O’ War Bay Every day in Nigeria we took an anti-malarial pill called Paludrin, described in a Google search medical dictionary as “A biguanide compound which has little antimalarial activity until metabolized in the body to the active antimalarial agent cycloguanil. The usefulness of proguanil is limited by the rapid development of drug resistance by the malarial parasite.” I have no idea what the chemical names mean, but the described progression fitted my situation pretty well. Paludrin worked well for the first fifteen months I was in Nigeria. Then I began having horrible fevers and weakness that became worse by the day. I remember putting on all my heavy clothes and blankets in the middle of the night and lighting the kerosene Primus stove we had for cooking, and shivering over it when I couldn’t sleep. I dragged myself to classes and the labs – I could no longer bicycle. I had a profound fatalistic sense that I was going to die rather soon. I was determined not to go to Zaria hospital, where a nice young neighbor, a secretary on campus, had recently gone


for a relatively minor condition but caught a cross-infection and died quickly. Some very fine friends on campus, Margaret and Andrew Knox, didn’t like what was happening to me. “David, you have to get yourself out of this mosquito-infested area if only for a while. Easter is coming up. We’ve heard of the Outward Bound school in Man O’War Bay in the Cameroons. That would be a complete change of climate.” Outward Bound was started by Kurt Hahn, who in turn credited the nineteenth-century philosopher William James and, later, the Duke of York, who started camps that brought diverse British boys together to tackle outdoor adventures and challenges. The Cameroons Outward Bound school was run by a handsome and vigorous former British Commando named Sandy and was staffed by VSOs – Volunteer Service Overseas, the organization on which the US Peace Corps was based. I can’t remember how I got there, apart from flying to Victoria, but by the time I met Sandy and the staff on the evening before the school started my fever had completely gone and I was beginning to feel like a million dollars. Everyone I met was first class and a lot of fun. Sometimes the courses were for policemen, sometimes for army officers, but this time the course was for secondary-school students from all over Nigeria. Most of them had never seen the sea before, and right after breakfast on the first day each one had to leap into the sea from a jetty, shouting the Nigerian equivalent of “Geronimo!” It was a very dramatic occasion. After that they were divided into teams, each of which manned a “war canoe” that went through races and competitive exercises. The second day was devoted to an obstacle course, which seemed to be largely given to traveling on ropes among the trees. Instructors went first, and I felt pretty confident on such courses and had no problem with this rule. Except, maybe, at the crevasse. This seemed to go down forever and to go up quite a


way, where a rope stretched across from a tree on one side to a tree on “our” side, and another rope hung down centrally. Where we emerged from the trees we could see a narrow platform on the other side of the crevasse about seven-to-ten meters away and a little lower. “Dave, the instructor goes first” said Sandy, and the rope was snagged, I jumped on it and away I went. About halfway across I felt some lightness about everything, looked up, and saw that the rope had broken. I put full concentration on grabbing what I could of the platform. I managed to hit it with my chest, to hold on and to haul myself on to it. I stood up and tried to look nonchalant. “Thank you Dave!” yelled Sandy – “It might have been a student!” That made me feel good.

The winner of the canoe race

Obstacle course at Man O’ War Bay


An Outward Bound column in the near-jungle around Mt. Cameroon

Snakes and rockets Most of the students had not experienced a jungle, nor a mountain. The last week was to be devoted to climbing Mt. Cameroon, a volcano that rises to over 13,000 ft from sea level. To my great regret I could stay only three weeks and therefore could not take part in this fantastic climb, but in the previous week there was scheduled a hike into the neighboring jungle. It was probably pretty tame as jungles go, but I was thrilled. On the first night we stopped at a banana plantation on the outskirts of the jungle proper. The school had arranged that a banana house - a roof without walls over a concrete slab - would be made available to us, and cots were arranged in ranks. I took one as it came up and made my bed quickly, because the sun goes down seemingly very rapidly near the equator and there were no lights. Then we gathered outside for supper. We were each allocated a can of stew among other staples, and we practiced our firemaking skills. This was a time when the instructors went last. By that time our fire was pretty low, and I said to my buddies


“I’m just going to put my unopened can in the embers – it will get hot enough, and I don’t feel like cleaning out a saucepan in the dark.” About that time one of my students came up to me and said “Excuse me, sah! I thought that you would like to know. I have just removed a cobra snake from your bed.” Needless to say I thanked him profusely, went with him to see what evidence there was, and returned to tell my buddies all about it. Just about then the second excitement of the evening occurred. Someone let off a rocket. At least, something shot up with a whoosh and with red-hot embers streaming from it. It went clear over the roof of the banana house. Then I realized that it was my supper, my can of stew, and that I had had another lucky escape. The exploding can could have hit someone else, even me, and could have caused horrible burns and injuries. Since this didn’t happen we laughed ourselves nearly sick, and I apologized to everyone.

Return to health and to offers of jobs Man O’ War Bay might have saved my life. Certainly everything changed subsequently. I returned in time for the last term of my teaching in Nigeria full of health and vigor. No longer was I facing death! I had originally wanted to sign up for teaching in Nigeria for a long-term commitment, but Dr. Hart, the college president, persuaded me to make it two years initially, 1958-1960. The malaria had stopped me from making any plans for my future. However, when I came back to campus from Man O’War Bay I found six letters waiting for me, all with offers of jobs. How and why did this happen? I’ve never found out. There’s no doubt that sometimes I have had very good luck. When I left the USA in 1957 after having a rather prestigious fellowship at Harvard and MIT and working at Boeing Airplane Co. I had no job offers, and found that looking for a job when I arrived back in the UK depressing. It had to be far worse looking for a job in Britain when I had spent two years teaching, and


doing just about zero research and publishing, in a new university in Africa. But the market for engineers changed radically between 1957 and 1960. We were suddenly in short supply. Probably one of my Harvard or MIT friends was having lunch at an engineering meeting and when someone asked if anyone knew of engineers coming on the market he mentioned me. Five letters were from universities, four in the US and one in Britain, and there was one from a small US company offering an attractive-sounding opportunity of starting a branch in London. One of the US universities was in Arizona, and the job would involved some teaching in outlying campuses, and I dreamily imagined taking flying lessons so that I could pilot myself to classes. A dirty trick What an embarrassment of riches! I pondered for perhaps a whole day, and then wrote to accept the British academic offer, which was from Professor R.E.D.Bishop, who also had had a Commonwealth Fellowship in the US, and the offer was for teaching in the University of London. I had never met him, but he was pretty famous, and it seemed to me that I couldn’t go wrong. I wrote to him to accept and to all the others thanking them but declining their kind offers. Prof. Bishop wrote a letter of welcome, and even the Zaria campus began to look rosy. But about four weeks later another letter came from R.E.D.Bishop. He had found, he wrote, that he wasn’t free to make the offer to me, and must withdraw it. The world I had built came crashing down. I was not in great demand after all. This guy had found something negative about me, and I was dumped overboard. I began muttering curses on Bishop. (I was told later that he had treated others similarly at different times.) I abandoned my former loyalty to Britain that had propelled my choice of the one British offer, and wrote to the company that had offered me the chance of starting a branch in London. Alas!


The company president, Jack Rizika, wrote that he had already filled the position. Delightful development Depressed again, I hauled out the other four job-offer letters and wrote a letter to the next–best choice. But before I had mailed it another letter came from Jack Rizika, to let me know that the person to whom they had made the offer to start the London branch had changed his mind and accepted another offer. Therefore I could have the job! I shot up to severalthousand feet. Years later I found that an old friend whom I met in the MIT Gas-Turbine Lab in 1955 had been the unwitting cause of my musical-chairs job experience in 1960. He had also been offered the two jobs, although perhaps not simultaneously. He tentatively accepted the industrial job, later met Bishop who decided that this excellent fellow in the hand was better than Wilson in the bush. (Apparently my curse on Bishop worked, because he died an early death. So I now feel justified in speaking ill of the dead.) Another lovely and very bright person whom I had met at MIT, Alan Stenning, was Jack Rizika’s technical director, and was responsible for my being offered his job. When I wrote to ask how I could get prepared for such a lofty and frightening position, he casually tossed out a few examples that scared me considerably. One I remember was a possible project predicting the yaw rate of a fighter aircraft in various circumstances. The college library had nothing to give me any background even to confirm my guess as to what “yaw rate” meant. I remember this well because at MIT we try to teach students to tackle any problem or to develop any concept that occurs to them without getting scared to the point that their brains won’t function properly. It showed that I was still naïve and stuck in old patterns. I have mentioned elsewhere my rejection of the idea of


an undergraduate friend at Birmingham University who told me that he was going to design a hydraulic press, a project that we had been given, to have the piston stationary and the cylinder moving. “You can’t do that!” I exclaimed. “It’s always done with the piston moving!” Well, of course, you can do “that”. It might or might not be better than doing it the usual way. I had to learn to open my mind. My six years at the company, Northern Research & Engineering Corporation (NREC), were highly educational in this respect, but I still had a lot to learn when I finished there.

How I (nearly) saved the Peace Corps Soon after I came to NREC in Cambridge Massachusetts the urge to spread good news came over me again. The word “again” is needed because when I returned to Britain after my first visit to the US I put together three collections of slides so that I could deliver “The truth” about America to any audience that would allow me to present one. I would go to schools, Scout meetings, clubs, women’s groups, and even the British army on one occasion. There was a strong under-current of anti-Americanism rather generally, and it was very encouraging to me to be told by many people who heard one or other of my slide-shows that their minds had been changed. (I liked to show slides of my meetings and involvements with ordinary Americans, and it was difficult not to fall in love with all of them.) The same missionary spirit came over me when I returned to Britain from Nigeria in 1960: I was able to put together photographs of a series of encounters with Nigerians to show how they lived and how they welcomed me into their lives in various ways. British groups seemed to appreciate them. So it seemed obvious that I should continue the good work in places around Cambridge MA when I arrived in May 1961. It turned out to be more difficult in the US. The greater wealth was reflected in camera ownership, and the slide show was


beginning to be recognized as a serious danger to one’s enjoyment of an evening with friends. (I modestly believed that MY slide shows were on a higher plane, but I can understand the developing antipathy.) I signed up with Flora Frame, an agency that promoted my show as “Town and Gown in Nigeria.” Then I heard that Harvard University had been given the first contract to train Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs), and they would be going to Nigeria. I was thrilled to bits. I wrote to the head of the program offering to show my slides anywhere, any time, at no cost. I could show the PCVs the actual conditions in Nigeria and the Cameroons, and how people lived. I waited expectantly. There was no response. So I wrote again. When no answer came to the second letter I started phoning. After several days of rejections at various levels I managed to reach the great man himself. He pompously said that he had received my letters, but Harvard didn’t need any help from me. The PCVs were being well prepared. They went to Nigeria at the beginning of October 1961. Shortly afterward came news of a postcard that, as reported by one of a group of Peace Corps writers, produced an outcry such that “the Peace Corps Nigeria almost came to an end.” The following is from .html “The infamous Peace Corps postcard”. Marjorie Michelmore was a twenty-three-year-old magna cum laude graduate of Smith College when she became one of the first people to apply to the new Peace Corps. She was an attractive, funny, and smart woman who was selected to go to Nigeria. After seven weeks of training at Harvard, her group flew to Nigeria. There she was to complete the second phase of teacher training at


University College at Ibadan, fifty miles north of the capital of Lagos. By all accounts, she was an outstanding Trainee. Then on the evening of October 13, 1961, she wrote a postcard to a boyfriend in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Here is what she had to say: “Dear Bobbo: Don’t be furious at getting a postcard. I promise a letter next time. I wanted you to see the incredible and fascinating city we were in. With all the training we had, we really were not prepared for the squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions rampant both in the city and in the bush. We had no idea what “underdeveloped” meant. It really is a revelation and after we got over the initial horrified shock, a very rewarding experience. Everyone except us lives in the streets, cooks in the streets, sells in the streets, and even goes to the bathroom in the streets. Please write. Marge. P.S. We are excessively cut off from the rest of the world.” “Never was mailed. “The postcard never was mailed. It is said that it was found on the grounds of University College at Ibadan near Marjorie’s dormitory, Queen Elizabeth Hall. The finder was a Nigerian student at the college. Copies of the postcard were made and distributed. The PC Volunteers were immediately denounced as “agents of imperialism” and “members of America’s international spy ring.” The protest made front-page news in Nigeria and it sparked a minor international incident. As the Nigerian Ambassador to the United States put it, “No one likes to be called primitive.”” We were told at the time that Marjorie Michelmore gave the postcard to a student to mail, and he took it to the local Nigerian paper. For days the future of the Peace Corps everywhere, not


just in Nigeria, hung in the balance. The Nigerian president told President John F. Kennedy to take his Peace Corps out of the country. A huge and multipronged effort by the Kennedy administration eventually smoothed over ruffled feelings, and the Peace Corps was allowed to continue its mission. Some background to my feelings at that time is that I came to the US initially on a fellowship at Harvard. I was treated pretty well there. I was also treated very well at MIT, where one gets used to joking about the superiority complex of Harvard people and of the condescending way they often treat anyone from outside their walls.. The head of the Nigerian program at Harvard fitted so well into that mold that it was a source of great amusement to me and my buddies to whom I reported my attempts to show the PCVs what conditions were like in Nigeria. Harvard knew better! So I didn’t actually save the Peace Corps. But if the pompous ass at Harvard had allowed me to show my slides the PC and the US at all levels would have been saved a huge amount of embarrassment.


Chapter 9 JOINING THE NREC AND MEETING JACK RIZIKA Although I had intended for quixotic reasons to devote my life to serving the Queen (Elizabeth! Not Victoria!), in my second year at Nigerian College, Zaria I was so severely afflicted with malaria that I thought that I was dying. There seemed no point in trying to plan my future – apparently there wasn’t going to be any. Happily I was given the opportunity to come to a company called Northern Research & Engineering Corporation, or NREC, as related in the last chapter. In this case, “come to NREC” meant starting a London branch. I was thrilled and frightened simultaneously. I didn’t know that I could cope. Alan Stenning, whom I had met when he was a junior faculty member at MIT, had joined NREC and had invited me to join the company. As I stated in the last chapter, I wrote to ask him what sort of work I should be doing or supervising. He gave examples of problems so exotic (to my untutored mind) that I was scared out of my wits. I had not been exposed to the construction of the type of analytical models that would be needed to work on these challenging projects. I could get no help from my Zaria colleagues or from the library. When I left Nigeria I felt it necessary to decompress gradually from my two years there, and I arranged to work in a refugee camp in Sweden for two weeks. It was a delightful relief for me, but it didn’t get me one whit closer to predicting F4 yaw rates, one of Stenning’s suggested projects. However, when I reached London, Alan Stenning met me and said that the F4 project hadn’t materialized and he had something else for me to work on.


Love’s labors lost Alan also introduced me to Gretel, his Hawaiian secretary, who was going to help me get everything going. I immediately fell madly in love with her. After two years with a very limited selection of single British women in Nigeria I could have fallen madly in love with the wicked witch of the west. Gretel was smart and sassy and very funny. She was also not interested in weird Wilsons. When the work actually started what was required was quite different from the initial one. The first job was a cooling system to be worn by flight crew suited up on aircraft carriers in the tropics. I designed a system with a diaphragm compressor in which the diaphragm was guided by intersecting multi-leaved cones. (Here come those cones again!) I did the drawings and advertised in a magazine called something like Model Engineer for someone to make it. A superb craftsman from the south of England responded and made a beautiful set of parts at far under the price that would be charged commercially. Moreover, he refused to accept a bonus gift. My Massachusetts bosses were highly impressed. I was off to a good start.

How to impress big shots The next job was in the scary category. NREC had a contract to analyze SpacePlane, a jet aircraft that would take off from land, pull in huge quantities of air and separate out the oxygen as it cruised in the atmosphere. The oxygen was to be liquefied and stored ready for the rocket phase of the mission. My job was a design study of alternative air-separation devices that could be used on such a plane. At least I did some things appropriately: I spent hours in libraries trying to find what I could. I reported on progress and roadblocks. I was recommended to arrange a consulting contract with Professor D. B. Spalding of Imperial College, a world-renowned expert in multiphase heat and mass transfer. He paid a visit to our office


in Knightsbridge, was friendly and supportive, reviewed my work, and gave me a paper that he had just written and that was about to be published. He thought that it would be helpful. We set up a meeting time at Imperial College for a week later. Spalding’s paper was way above my head. I tried very hard to understand what he had written. I had just returned from two years in Nigeria, where I had been teaching – and learning – undergraduate thermodynamics and a whole lot of other relatively simple topics. As the second meeting date approached I was extremely apprehensive that I would betray my appalling ignorance. I phoned him, and asked if I could come up ahead of our meeting for some guidance. He agreed on my coming up right away. I jumped on my bike and was there in fifteen minutes. I had his paper, and I had circled areas where I was completely nonplussed. I said “Brian, I think that your paper could be very useful, but I’m having difficulties in the areas I’ve circled. If you could refer me to a book that would explain them I would be very grateful.” Brian Spalding grabbed the paper and looked at it gravely. He said nothing but his face reddened. I thought that he was about to explode in anger at me for my stupidity. I thought of making a dash for freedom. Then he spoke. “Oh thank you, David! You’ve found a lot of silly errors that I should have caught, and that would have been published to my embarrassment!” He put in the corrections, made a note of them for his paper, and gave me some priceless guidelines on understanding the rest. After that he had far more respect for me than I deserved. My further studies of the air-separation system of SpacePlane followed a pattern that should be familiar to readers. After a month or so of floundering I suddenly seemed to see the light, and I was happily calculating advanced methods of analysis and proposing an ambitious program when the axe fell. Someone in the contracting agency discovered that work on SpacePlane was being carried out in Britain, obviously highly suspicious. All


work on the system was suddenly classified. colleagues and I were excluded.

My British

About eight years later when I was in the depths of despondency at MIT, I was interviewed by the head of Imperial College and, after a long delay during which my then-wife’s health encountered a serious problem, I was offered a chair (a professorship). I would be working in fairly close association with Brian Spalding. It was a high honor. Because of the family situation I could not accept. I have often regretted not taking the position.. It could have been a lot of fun. MIT, in contrast, turned out to be a miserable place in which to work, but more on that later.

Meeting the boss After a month or two in the NREC London office the big boss, Jack Rizika, came over to inspect this new corner of his empire and to meet his latest raw recruit. I enjoyed him very much. He said that he would pay for me to go to the US in the coming November so that I could get acquainted with the NREC world headquarters and so that I could give a paper at the annual meeting of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (the ASME). I looked forward to that trip greatly.

Mum in London A month before the scheduled trip I showed my mother around London one weekend, mainly on the top decks of doubledecker buses. These buses gave wonderful views. They also allowed smoking on the top deck and thus gave all passengers there a strong dose of second-hand smoke. After the tours I had a long-running sinus headache and later an even-longer-duration sore throat. These symptoms progressed to the point where I had very little voice, much to the joy of the small London NREC staff. I went to the local National Health physician, waited for the obligatory hour in a crowded waiting room with others


having communicable diseases, and went in front of the lord high MD, a young man whom I didn’t know and wouldn’t want to remember if I did. He asked what the matter was, and I croaked “I’ve had a sore throat for three weeks.” He told me to pull my pants down, and asked “Which side do you want it?” I whispered “Which side do I want what, doctor?” “The needle!” he seemed to yell, as if he were talking to a moron. There was a short sharp jab and I was on my way. By the next morning the throat had cleared up as if by magic. My right buttock had also grown huge, turned red, and burned and itched. After a day or two my whole leg had swollen greatly, and I could get some sleep at night only by lying in cold water in the cast-iron tub in the apartment. I went back to the doc, who airily said that the swelling would go down. But by now it was spreading down both legs and up my torso, and was growing, if possible, more itchy. I went back a second time a day or two later, and he gave me the same lofty message “It will go down.” By the time I left for Boston I was at least 20 pounds overweight from the swelling. I wore a large overcoat so that the immigration people would not stop me entering the country as a public-health risk.

Saved by Jack Rizika and Dr. Milner Jack met me as I emerged from customs. He was about 25 yards away. “What the heck is wrong with you?” yelled Jack. “You look as if you’re allergic to penicillin!” Thus Jack diagnosed my problem in an instant, where the British National Health Service had failed for two weeks. (Jack was also allergic to penicillin. There’s no way that I could detect it in someone else.) He pulled his Dr. Milner out of a Thanksgiving meal -- I had thoughtlessly arrived on that day. Dr. Milner announced that he might have been just in time. The swelling had reached my neck, making breathing difficult. This story has made me a minor hero among lawyers, because I like to point out that Britain is very short of them. Penicillin was


discovered in Britain, and allergy to the drug is widespread and well-known in medical circles. The lousy physician who treated me in London had, however, no fear whatsoever of being sued. He practiced truly careless medicine – he didn’t really care what happened to his patients. (And he was very truthful to me: my swelling would have gone down, after death.) Several British friends have told me about their far-worse treatment by British doctors. I had had, earlier, wonderful doctors in Britain. It is a monumental scandal that, along with the superb physicians, such turkeys are allowed by the system to continue inflicting their murderous forms of treatment on the public. However, I must not blame the National Health Service. My sister Marjorie and later my brother John died through physician misdiagnoses, a long time before the NHS was formed. It is easy to look at American lawyers as ambulance-chasers, but when society provides no other restraints on dangerous behavior, trial lawyers can provide some ultimate incentives to good performance by companies, professionals and individuals. Dr. Milner prescribed cortisone and antihistamine, and my problems melted away. He also treated me as an intelligent human being, describing what had happened, what he was prescribing, and what I should do if not everything worked in the way he thought probable. It was fun to meet my Cambridge Massachusetts colleagues, and the paper I presented at the ASME meeting seemed to be wellreceived. It was, in fact, to have an influence later on the NREC as a company.

A promotion A few months later (in the spring of 1961) Alan Stenning decided to return to university teaching at Lehigh (he had formerly been on the faculty of MIT, and he thoroughly disliked it). Jack Rizika offered me his position: technical director at NREC HQ. It was an offer I could not refuse. I still felt guilty at


leaving Britain. But why? I was after all in that position because of two dirty tricks, the withdrawal of an offer of a position by R.E.D. Bishop, and the order to falsify test results at Brush Electrical earlier, as told in chapter 5. It left me with a lot of baggage.) A charismatic London colleague took over leadership of the London office, I extracted myself painfully from my Barnes landlady, and I bicycled up to Coleshill, Warwickshire, to say goodbye to my mother and my brother Tom and his family, with whom I stayed overnight. Mum had another member of the family in bed with mumps, and just before leaving for Heathrow I went to her bedroom window to say farewell. “Don’t be silly!” she said. “Come in – I won’t hurt you.” The third time I met Jack was when I arrived in Cambridge. The time had been chosen carefully so that I could have a week or so overlapping with Alan. However, having turned up earlier swollen from penicillin allergy, this time I arrived with mumps. His secretary looked after me in Jack’s apartment until I became too much of a pain and he put me in the Pratt Diagnostic Clinic. My condition at least provided amusement to visiting NREC males, because mumps, normally a childhood disease, does awful things on adult male genitalia, and they all wanted to see the evidence. Alan’s departure came before I could get in to the office, and I felt more of a greenhorn than usual having missed all the guidance he was to have given me. There were only five employees when I arrived (and about fifty when I left five years later.) Jack put me in the office next to his, and he would either come in or call me in to his office many times per day, so that I learned the ropes rapidly. Propinquity is important in such a relationship. I know that, because someone got a Ph.D. studying the effect on company organizations of propinquity (which sounds like a table-tennis-players’ union). (I wonder if this


researcher was funded by the government? At that time my hero, Senator Proxmire, used to publish the “Golden Fleece of the Month” to draw attention to government waste in supporting research in such worthy topics as “Why do we fall in love?”)

Environmental control Much of the work of NREC at that time was on the optimization of environmental-control systems for aircraft, satellites and the like. We were doing nothing to improve the planet’s environment. We were trying to improve the internal temperature, pressure and humidity of aircraft crew quarters and cabins 2. We did most of our work for Pratt & Whitney, one of the USA’s two major aircraft-engine manufacturers. The other was GE, and the rules of the game in those days were that a consultant or company could work for one of the rivals but not both. Also one could not go directly from working for one of the companies to getting a job at the other. All this has changed greatly now. We would visit Pratt & Whitney at East Hartford, CT, almost every Tuesday. There was a daily 7 A.M. Mohawk Airlines plane to East Hartford which could get us there in time for an 8 A.M. meeting. However, Mohawk had a habit of making frequent announcements that the plane was about to load and then, if it didn’t have enough passengers to half-fill the small plane, would shamelessly announce at 6.55 “Ladies and gentlemen, your limousine is waiting at the curb.” That really screwed up one’s morning schedule because the limousine trip would take nearly three hours. Therefore we usually drove down in Jack Rizika’s Chevy Impala. In fact, he often asked me to drive. That was 2

It’s still a topic of interest. I have recently been on a panel of an aviation “Center of Excellence,” the aim of which is to make airline cabins less liable to result in infections, poisoning from engine leaks, cosmic-ray damage, and the like


quite dangerous because I didn’t realize then that my occasional blackouts could be triggered by smoke, and Jack was a heavy smoker.

An industrial gas turbine (I designed it) with a three-stage axial-flow compressor followed by a centrifugal compressor, a two-rotor regenerator, a combustor and an axial-flow turbine.

Multiple sponsorship In 1962 Pratt & Whitney asked us to write what amounted to an introductory textbook plus computer programs so that their engineers could get back into designing centrifugal compressors. (Your vacuum cleaner will probably have a tiny centrifugal fan, and if you are a speed demon with a turbocharged auto engine the turbocharger will have a centrifugal compressor.) At that time all the company's aircraft jet engines were large, and used axial-flow compressors (see photo below). Two decades earlier Pratt made superb radial piston engines, and used centrifugal compressors as superchargers to increase the power output particularly during take-off and at high altitudes where the air is at low pressure. By


the 1960s all this expertise had either disappeared or was so outof-date as to be useless. We at NREC loved the sound of this project and began drawing up plans. However, before we could put time into it the senior person at Pratt phoned. He sincerely apologized, said that the project had been canceled for some reason outside his control, and suggested that we might try to sign up multiple sponsors for the project. This turned out to be very fine advice. Jack decided to limit the sponsorship to twenty organizations and set the fee at $20,000 each. I hope that my memory is accurate. Jack regretted both the limited sponsorship and the low price, because we lost money on the project. But we made our name in being able to produce high-quality text-book-like reports and usable computer programs for general use. In most areas Jack was a perfectionist. When we finished the report I took it in to Jack. He said “Take it back, choose two other people, and go through it with a fine-tooth comb to find every error.” We thought that we had done a perfect job, but when we did as Jack instructed us, we found hundreds of errors, mostly small, but also some whoppers. Jack accepted the new report with grace, but said that he was giving it to another threeperson group of error finders. To our horror they found about a hundred errors. Then he gave it to a third group, and they found about fifty. However, the errors were getting into the punctuation category. The contrast with the performance of professional musicians, virtually all of whom seem to be able to deliver glorious music without any perceivable error, has always embarrassed me. We followed this with a series of jointly sponsored programs on other components of turbine engines --: on radial-flow turbines, axial-flow compressors, combustors, heat exchangers and the like. I was in technical charge of these so long as I was at NREC,


but I make, and made, no pretense of being the technical lead. The heavy lifting for the first two projects was carried out by Willem Jansen, who had come to us after earning a PhD in the MIT Gas Turbine Lab, and Doug Carmichael, who was previously a compressor designer at Bristol Siddeley in the UK. We had many other talented people working on these programs, several of whom continued on after I left NREC in 1966.

Tornado alley Not long after I arrived at the Cambridge headquarters in 1961, a man named J.J. Neitz phoned from the U.S. Linde company in New York City (it’s now called Praxair). He had read the paper on compressor design that I gave at the ASME meeting a few months earlier. He wanted some consulting help on a compressor failure. The compressor was a vital part of a Linde plant that supplied one-thousand tons per day of oxygen to a steelworks in Gary Indiana. Linde was keeping the steelworks operating by bringing in 1000 tons per day of liquid oxygen by train from all over the country. That emergency procedure cost the company a pretty penny.

The rotating blades, rather like aircraft wings, of an axial-flow compressor that had suffered the failure of one blade, the lower part of which is visible in the center of the lower row. The casing holding stator blades looking rather


similar to the rotor blades puts the rows of stator blades in between the rotor rows. The one broken blade caused damage to many other blades through the compressor. The rotor turned around an axis that was almost vertical on this photo. The general direction of the air was parallel to this axis, which is why it is called an axial-flow compressor.

The compressor had been made by the Allis Chalmers Corporation in Milwaukee. It was an axial-flow machine, which means that it had hundreds of blades looking like small aircraft wings sticking radially out from a cylindrical rotor, and a similar number of stationary wing-like blades coming radially inwards from a surrounding casing. When one blade fails in such a compressor it tends to destroy all the downstream blades, rotating and stationary. This compressor had lost all its blades several months earlier. The company replaced them with thicker blades, which lasted a shorter time than the original. Everything therefore indicated a vibration failure. Jack Neitz and Alan Stenning, who was still a consultant to NREC, came with me to Milwaukee. After we were introduced to the design staff there was a fascinating event: a lawyer who presented a restraining order to prevent us from talking to anyone or collecting any information. We were glad to have Jack Neitz with us. He phoned someone senior and then told the lawyer to get lost. We were free to get on with our mission. By this time I had a fairly long history of looking into compressor problems, and I knew that the first item to examine was the air flow coming into the inlet casing and then into the ring of blades. We asked to see evidence of how smooth the flow was coming into the blades. The Allis-Chalmers engineers were very proud to show us plots of the air velocity taken across the whole inlet. The plots were indeed impressive: the velocity seemed absolutely constant across the whole inlet annulus, except that in each plot there was one reading that showed a very low velocity. I asked about this low reading. “Bad manometer tube!” was the response. In those days the readings were often taken by a


“comb” of upward-facing open tubes, often called “pitot tubes”, each connected to a U-tube “manometer” with alcohol or oil at the bottom part of the U. The liquid would then get pushed up by the air pressure, and one could then get a plot of the pressures, and from these the velocities, of the entire flow. Sometimes an individual tube does have a problem.

Here a fan is being tested in a lab in which a bank of manometer tubes can be seen at the right. One can just discern the level of liquid in the tubes. Each tube would be connected to a point on the fan where the pressure needed to be recorded, and when the fan operated many pressures could be read from the levels in the tubes. The whole bank of tubes has been put on a slope so that the readings are large even if the pressure differences are small.

However, in this case every plot had one very low reading, but never in the same place. The engineers kept saying “Another bad tube!” We asked to look at the whole machine. And there was the problem, staring us in the face and waving its trunk at us. (It was the elephant in the room.) The compressor was typical of most industrial compressors having a high ratio of outlet to inlet pressure: it was made in two casings. The overall pressure ratio was about 10:1 (meaning that the outlet pressure was ten times atmospheric pressure), so each casing enclosed a smaller compressor with a pressure ratio of around 3.3:1. The


flow came in from the outside through an air filter and through the first casing. The air gets quite warm through being compressed, just as the air in a bicycle pump gets warm. Then the air passes into a heat exchanger called an “intercooler”. It’s usually full of finned tubes like those in a car radiator, having cool water inside the tubes and the compressed air going over the fins. As the air cools it also reduces its volume, so that the second casing of the compressor doesn’t require as much power when the temperature and volume are reduced. If the air coming into the first casing is reasonably humid, the moisture will usually come out as rain in the intercooler, because compressed air cannot carry as much water vapor as atmospheric-pressure air. The oxygen plant doesn’t want a lot of water going into it, so some designer specified a swirler at the outlet of the intercooler. The intense swirl thus produced flung out the water on to the inside of the pipe carrying the flow to the second casing, and the water could be collected and drained out. But here was the problem: the designers did nothing to remove the swirl in the flow. Everyone who takes a bath knows that gentle swirls usually develop as the water goes through the bath drain. This swirl can persist a long way down the pipe. The swirl in this intercooler pipe was intense, and could have gone hundreds of yards down the pipe. However, the pipe discharged into the inlet of the second compressor casing, the one that lost all its blades, the one with the single low-pressure reading in the plots of inlet velocity. Swirls are vortices, and unless controlled can cause huge problems in compressors and even turbines. The vortices wander around just as do tornados and hurricanes and dust devils. This poor compressor had an intense tornado wandering around but always hitting the first blades, until one failed through what is known as “fatigue.” We can fail paper clips in fatigue by bending them often enough.


The solution to the compressor failures was clear: install a new set of original blades, and put in an egg-crate-like air straightener downstream of the moisture-removal swirler.

An international education However, Allis-Chalmers got out of the compressor-building business. I suggested to Linde that a survey of compressor manufacturers might be valuable if they were going to build another plant. Linde was planning to build several plants, and gave us a contract for the proposed survey. I visited all potential manufacturers in the US, the UK and Europe. I was still a bachelor, and found the travel and the visits romantic and highly educational. The many engineers I met were uniformly courteous and highly skilled. I carried a little typewriter around, and would occasionally sleep on park benches so that I could type up a report before going to the next company. I didn’t have to waste time looking for a hotel. One sad exception to the plaudits above was Britain. I wrote to each company that we wanted to visit, explaining the purpose and giving the specifications of the compressors in which Linde was interested. In other countries I was often picked up at 7.30 or 8 A.M. and brought to a conference room with engineers who had studied my materials and were anxious to tell me what their company would offer. In Britain I received no responses to my letters, so I got on the phone in London and tried to talk to people in each company. At the first company I managed to reach the compressor salesman, and I suggested that I come around at 0800 to discuss what the firm could offer. “Good Lord no!” he said. “How about coming at 11, and we can have a spot of libation before going to lunch!” So I did, and kept pressing him to let me talk to the engineers. He had done something called a history tripos at Cambridge (I don’t know what a tripos is, but he made it clear that he had no idea what type of compressors his firm sold.). Eventually, well after lunch, he gave in and phoned


the chief engineer, who came along pretty quickly and in a bad mood. “Why didn’t you send me these specs?” he demanded. It was obvious that the two cultures were alive and well in British engineering companies. These two people didn’t really speak to each other. The chief engineer tried to wing it, and made it obvious that he had no idea of the duty of a compressor in an oxygen plant. The next day I visited De Havillands, then at the top of its reputation and achievements, with rather similar results. The chief engineer said that he would provide the world’s best compressors for Linde. I said that I had to report something more specific. For instance, how many intercoolers would the company use? “We don’t need to use intercoolers!” he proclaimed, as if there were something effeminate about using them. He thus sealed his fate, because his “best” compressors would use far more power than quite-poor intercooled compressors. The lack of communication between engineers and salesmen was profoundly damaging to both groups. This problem area was in my genes, I found, several years earlier when I worked at Ingersoll-Rand in Philipsburg, PA in the summer of 1959, between my two years in Nigeria. I started working for Darwin Schmitt, the chief compressor engineer, quite an exalted position. At the end of my second week he told me that he was moving to another post and wished me well. “What will you be doing?” I asked. He told me that he was going into sales. I was horrified. My British background told me that being in sales is a mark of lack of engineering knowledge. Darwin told me that people are rotated through sales to keep everyone on her/his toes. The engineers have to know what is wanted in the market, and the salespeople have to know what is, and what could be, offered. It all made sudden sense to me. It should have made sense in Britain.


Recommendations bore fruit - twice At the end of our several months of visits and study we submitted our recommendations in two reports. We actually recommended three companies. Linde chose one of them, Sulzer of Switzerland, with which to negotiate for its next big plant. We heard no more for several months – we weren’t expecting any follow-up. Then one day Jack Neitz phoned me. “Well, Dave, we have been negotiating with Sulzer, and we have the company’s proposal right here. Would you like to look at it?” “If you’d like me to, I’ll be happy to” I replied, knowing that Jack Rizika would appreciate any work so long as it was paid for. “How many weeks do we have to look through it?” “Not weeks, Dave” said Jack, “you have until tomorrow noon. I’ll send someone up by an afternoon (Eastern Airlines) shuttle with it.” That being the method used to get papers delivered urgently in those days, the flunky duly arrived, and I took the mass of paper home on my bike to do what I could that evening. When I had visited Sulzer months earlier, a highlight was being introduced to Dr. De Haller. It was a bit like meeting Archimedes. All aerodynamicists were familiar with the De Haller number, a simple measure of the permissible aerodynamic “loading” of the blades of axial-flow compressors. I had used the De Haller number for many years, and it always seemed to be validated. I told him so, and thanked him for it. He beamed courteously. So when I took the Sulzer design home it seemed unnecessary to check that it had the De Haller numbers observed, but I did so. Then I sat back in confusion. The design of the rotor blades would have them working over the De Haller diffusion limit. I checked again, but there it was. European axial-compressor designs were always markedly different from US and British designs in that they used what is called a high-reaction design, which leads to the rotors being more heavily loaded aerodynamically than the stators. One reason given is that rotors tend to fling dirt off the blades,


whereas dirt can build up on stator blades. And dirt on compressor blades acts just like ice on aircraft wings: it can promote stalling. It is better, therefore, to have the stators lightly loaded so that they are less sensitive to dirt. Rotor blades are normally cleaner than the stationary blades because the dirt gets flung off them. In the short time I had I looked at everything else I could, and it all looked good. So when Jack Neitz and I spoke by phone next morning, I gave him the message: everything is good except the blading design. Tell Sulzer to lower the aerodynamic loading of the rotor blades. “Can’t do it, Dave” said Jack. “To meet our schedule we have to confirm the order today.” “Then why did you ask me?” I said. “I can’t sprinkle our holy water on the design as it is.” Jack accepted the design, it was built and put together on schedule, and eventually started operation. It was a triumph. The two big axial compressors were driven by a gas turbine and a steam turbine that took its steam from a boiler heated by the gasturbine exhaust. But the plant was so efficient that the steam turbine wasn’t needed. I was delighted, but felt that my reliance on the De Haller number had taken a beating.

A recording of note About two years later, Jack Neitz phoned to tell me that the high-pressure compressor had lost all its blades. He asked me to come to a hearing at the plant. The Linde plant manager told us the history of the plant in fair detail. There was one aspect that hit me like a flash of light. He said that operating in a steel works means that the air isn’t pure and pristine so Linde had Sulzer put in the best air filters. The Linde operators also cleaned the compressor blading every two weeks by opening a cover in the air intake and pouring in about ten pounds of walnut shells or rice husks, time-honored


methods. He said that often toward the end of the two-week period, he would notice a whistling noise coming from the highpressure compressor. It is delightful to state that this highly intelligent plant manager took a tape recorder to capture the whistle. I wanted to hug him. The frequency was exactly that which would be produced by a stalled rotor-blade passing the next row of stator blades. De Haller was exactly right! The prophet was not honored in his own country or company! I reported my findings, which pointed to the only possible explanation and one that fitted all the known data. This explanation was not accepted. I believe that there was a legal or insurance reason why neither side wanted to acknowledge the truth. It was up to them. We submitted the modest NREC invoice, and it was paid. During the wonderful honeymoon period of this compressor system, Linde ordered a second. In due time this one lost all its high-pressure blades too. I guess that Sulzer knew what blades to use to replace the originals, even if it didn’t want to acknowledge the reasoning. It was a high-quality firm, run by engineers. Then suddenly (at least to me) a few years later it announced that it was getting completely out of the turbomachinery business. Sulzer went into making artificial hip and knee joints. It seemed to be making the cream of the crop of such joints, but then suffered a disaster. A huge batch of hip joints were shipped without being thoroughly de-greased. Surgeons implanted them, following all the company’s instructions. Then some months later the hips had to be taken out of the unfortunate patients because they hadn’t bonded to the bones. A quality-assurance failure led to horrible results for all.

Contributing to the design of the Boeing SST In the mid-1960s we were asked by Boeing to contribute to its proposal for the US supersonic transport. The US was feeling


stung by the apparent success of the French-British Concorde, and wanted to leapfrog that plane. Our job, as far as I can remember, was to make a preliminary design of the environmental-control system required for the cabins and freight areas of the proposed plane. An agreement was reached with the people at Boeing, we were given a short deadline, and we fell excitedly to calculating and designing. By dint of working in shifts almost around the clock, we were finishing what was required with a few hours to spare when the phone rang. It was our friend from Boeing. Many apologies: someone somewhere (I believe that it was in the government agency handling the requests for proposals) had changed the specifications. The plane wanted was now to be bigger and would go faster. Please go over all your work again and deliver the results in five days. This changing of specifications happened repeatedly over the next month. We were quite well supported by the computers of the day, but these calculations involved the properties of various gases at far from normal conditions, and the properties weren’t available at that time for computers, and so a great deal of hand calculation was necessary. At the end of a month of what became torment we were all groggy from lack of sleep, we could no longer have confidence that our work was as perfect as possible, and we wanted it all to end. When it did end, it was in a way we did not expect: the government decided to stop any idea of building a supersonic transport. We knew in our bones that it was the right decision, but that decision could have been made well before this fruitless effort. Concorde was a losing proposition throughout its life, and was patronized by rich spoiled people who were proud to value their time at thousands of dollars per hour.

A naval engine Many years later I was asked by a former MIT graduate student, Carl, if I would consult for him. Carl, who had taken my


classes and had done some excellent thesis work, was then at GE Aircraft Engines in Cincinnati Ohio, and was involved in the GE proposal for the new turbine engine for the US Navy. I was very happy to do so. I felt, possibly unjustifiably, some parenthood for the engine. It was proposed by a US Navy project engineer who had attended my summer course on turbine design, in which I expressed my strong advocacy for this particular type of engine. The specs came through, we started work, and then the same sequence as for the SST proposal occurred. Every few days the power level of the turbine engine was bumped up or down or some other change was required. When at last the specifications stopped changing, the power level and other requirements exactly suited some Rolls-Royce aircraft engine parts that were, figuratively, on the shelf. All the work that GE put into the proposal was for naught. The contract was given to a consortium that included Rolls-Royce. The US engine people were upset. Then for reasons unknown to me the US Navy pulled out, and the turbine engine is currently being developed for the French navy and the Royal (British) navy.

Working as an engineer Most of the time I’m very proud to be an engineer. I always wanted to be an engineer, and it has been great fun. Engineers have built the great civilizations of the world, beginning with the Egyptians. Every aspect of modern life has come from engineering. Engineering, sometimes called “applied science”, occasionally has depended on pure science, but usually science has come later to explain phenomena. The industrial revolution came predominantly from the invention of the steam engine, but the science of thermodynamics of engines did not contribute anything until the end of the nineteenth century. At the present moment in history, when global warming could change the world for the worse, when equatorial forests are being destroyed, the seas are being polluted and over-fished, when


species such as the great cats are in grave danger of becoming extinct through man’s greed, I often wonder if all our engineering might have been a mistake. Before the Europeans came the native Americans seemed to have about the right level of technology to survive happily, in harmony with nature. They and most other so-called “primitive” peoples around the world (who are actually extraordinarily sophisticated) had a far more nurturing and respectful relationship with nature than did and do Europeans. Engineers could solve our present problems if we were given charge. I have been immodest enough to give my prescriptions for solving some of today’s difficulties in chapter 11. And I have recently (2008) launched a web-site – – to try to advocate these solutions more forcefully. It includes an obvious way of stopping the use of fossil fuels worldwide rather fast. It could be superseded quickly by better methods, but it shows what is possible. It may sound perhaps that I wish that the world were run by engineers, and I don’t. We’ve had a couple of engineers as presidents. Hoover was a disaster, and Carter wasn’t much better as president. He’s been the best past-president of them all, however. It does concern me that engineers are often managed by people called disparagingly “bean-counters.” On a rather trivial level, it is often pointed out that Toyota is run by engineers, whereas General Motors has been led by beancounters. Our great country is run under a superb constitution that mandates three branches of government: executive, legislative and the judiciary. All three have been overwhelmingly populated by lawyers. Our laws, the rules that govern all of us, have become an extraordinary mish-mash confusing to us all. The one constant seems to be that lawyers are always favored. How else could an ordinary human being, at a time when we are trying to get the minimum wage up to $8 per hour, charge $650 per hour, as my lawyer has just charged me, or $1500 an hour


which prominent trial lawyers are reported to charge? Just before New Year’s Eve 2006, it was reported that the average bonus given to Goldman Sachs employees for that year would be over $600,000. Wealth at this level is bound to accelerate the destruction of the planet. How else can one spend the money except by building mansions, and/or buying huge vehicles and boats and airplanes? I am not a big admirer of Microsoft, but the way Bill and Melinda Gates are devoting their wealth to solving problems that all the governments in the world have largely ignored is inspirational. Osama bin Laden decided to spend his money in a different direction. Before I succumbed to this rant, however, I wanted to point out a highly unpleasant part of being an engineer at a major company like Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, Lockheed and many others. They are the companies that have kept the US reasonably safe from attack by producing the world’s best aircraft, engines, and other defense systems. In today’s world they survive largely by competing for defense contracts. This means that every few years one company is given a multi-billion-dollar contract and the others have to lay off sometimes tens of thousands of employees, mostly highly skilled engineers and technicians. The local economies around the plants are also hard hit. A local slump occurs. All who can try to get jobs at the successful company in the contest, which might be on the other side of the country. No one wants to buy the houses they have to leave. Sofamilies are uprooted, reduced to something near poverty, kids lose their friends and have to find their way in new schools, and all kinds of relationships are destroyed. The situation has something in common with the lot of migrant farm-workers. It would be trivializing the lot of the farm workers to put engineers in the same class as these exploited people, but there is some commonality. Engineers see these appalling destructions as the result of machinations by bean-counters, often from political deal-making


where one part of the country gets favored over others. So, dear readers, who may have children who want to be engineers, be warned! Life can be very uncertain out there. There has to be a better way. Some years ago when there was a long strike against a prominent company, I think it was an airline, I wrote some op-ed pieces advocating new rules for strikes. (One was published by the Washington Post.) I pointed out that strikes were similar to the behavior of some tribes discussed by Rose Benedict in “Patterns of Culture”: instead of one village attacking another destructively, it would bring its prized possessions, such as its war canoes, and destroy them in front of the other village, whose members were then challenged to do likewise, until both villages were impoverished. Strikes are rather like that: they can destroy a company’s business and the union that brought the strike. So I advocated new rules for strikes. (I later learned that others had devised rather-similar changes.) If a union declared a strike, it would do so with some agency such as a government department to do with that industry. Under the rules the company would be required to deposit with that agency all the paychecks for the workers plus 25% each month. The agency would pay out to the employees their wages less 25%. But the workers would keep working and the company would keep operating. After a month the 25% could be increased to 50%. The pressures to solve the dispute would thus become very high. When the settlement came, the company and the workers would get back their deposited money less perhaps 5% handling fee to the agency. Very little harm to their common enterprise would have occurred. It seems obvious to me that a similar arrangement could be invented for major contract decisions. One example arose a few years ago when GE received a major engine contract, and its competitor, Pratt & Whitney, was given the right to make


components of the GE engines. Many layoffs were thus prevented. Some consolation such as this could be required when a major contract is awarded by the government. There is a huge cost to the disruption that results from laying off tens of thousands of workers in a community. We should try to avoid such costs.

The decorum policeman This is just a short light anecdote. At some point Jack Rizika developed what is sometimes called “jock itch.” He would suddenly scratch his crotch area vigorously. I mentioned this to Jack, saying that it didn’t matter except when we were in crucial discussions with a group of big shots, particularly if they came from Japan. Jack was horrified. “I’ll try to stop!” he said. “I’ll give you some help, Jack” I replied. “If I see you doing it, or seeming to be about to do it, I’ll scratch my ear lobe like this.” And I demonstrated. The system worked wonderfully. Until, alas, a wayward mosquito took a bite on my ear lobe and left it itching maddeningly. I forgot all about my role as a decorum policeman and scratched my ear. Jack was distraught. After an important meeting he said “Dave: I swear I didn’t scratch!” And I had to confess: I did scratch.

Farewell to Northern Research In 1965 I was offered a three-year position on the faculty of mechanical engineering at MIT. I left Northern Research with sadness. Working there was a wonderful experience, and I remember all my work mates with great affection. I still see Jack Rizika and Doug Carmichael frequently. The work at NREC must have induced good health .


Chapter 10 BATTLING THE HOODLUMS: CRIME ON BRATTLE STREET Brattle Street was and maybe still is called “Tory Row” in Cambridge Massachusetts. It is in what some news accounts have stated is the most desirable zip code in the US: 02138. We lived there. I was an impoverished academic. I need to explain myself. Academics, impoverished or not, tend to explain themselves in accounts lasting about fifty minutes. You have been warned.

Nigeria to London After I returned to London from Nigeria in 1960 and was given the amazingly wonderful position of being technical director of the London branch of Northern Research and Engineering Corporation (NREC) in the very fashionable area of London called Knightsbridge, I lived in a very unfashionable flat in Barnes, Surrey. I fell madly in love with Gretel from Hawaii who had been sent over as the company secretary. I was a miserable failure as a suitor. My Barnes landlady took far too much interest in my love life, and one evening after she discovered that my advances towards Gretel had been rejected, she knocked on my door at around 11 pm and asked me loudly (because the door was closed) to come down to her apartment to fix her bedroom light. I took her seriously, pulled on some pants and reported for duty. It took a few seconds to find that the plug of the misbehaving light by her bed had been pulled out. I then said something that, dear reader, I greatly regret. I let something flow out of my big mouth without giving it a formal review. I believe that I was quoting something in a P.G. Wodehouse story. I meant to make a light-hearted comment to let us out of the


situation without embarrassment. Instead I launched a nasty unguided missile that exploded causing horrible injuries. Before I left to return to my own bed.I said “Aha! You didn’t want the light fixed! You wanted attention!” I was far too innocent to believe that that was exactly what she did want. In fact she wanted my body. Her room and her bed, neither of which I had seen before, were ready for a tryst, I realized later. She was a once-attractive divorcee about ten years older than I who smoked too much, not that I had any negative feelings about smoking in those early days. I was much too inhibited to think seriously about sexual relations with women of any age. As was the norm (or so I believed) among middle-class British men in those days I was a virgin, and I was going to stay that way until marriage. (You’ve heard of “No sex please! We’re British!”) So when she asked me to go to her bedroom fairly late at night on some pretext no wayward thoughts entered my head. I unleashed this disgusting insult on her without premeditation. Her feelings were made only too obvious next day when I returned from work. She had removed all curtains and the few other things provided in a furnished flat. She demanded that I leave. But I had already given notice to leave in a week, because I had been given a promotion to be technical director of the main NREC offices in Cambridge Massachusetts. I was fully occupied in getting my goods dispatched or distributed to my brothers, and in saying goodbyes. I didn’t want to have to find another place to which to move for only a seven-day stay. So I put up with the insults which my landlady poured on me and managed to adopt a stiff upper lip. Three days before my flight to the US I bicycled the 110 miles after work to Coleshill, Warwickshire, to say my farewells to my mother and to brother Tom and his wife Gabi. I arrived late evening and stayed with them overnight. I left my beloved old bike with them and accepted an offer of a ride back to London.


London to Cambridge Massachusetts At the NREC I was taking over from the brilliant Alan Stenning, and the schedule allowed for an overlap of two weeks during which I could learn what was going on. As related earlier, mumps took those two weeks, alas. My introduction to the hightechnology world of Cambridge MA was very challenging. But I must return to my story of how I/we managed to get ensconced in the pinnacle of US residential properties. Jack Rizika hospitably put me up in his apartment when I arrived. It was urgent that I remove myself from Jack’s apartment PDQ. I scanned the classified advertisements and liked the sound of an apartment at 257 Upland Road Cambridge. I called on Fred Earnest, the landlord. He was highly suspicious of a single young man who wanted an unfurnished apartment on the third floor of a triple-decker, with an overly large kitchen and living room, but he relented. The rent was $200 per month. I arranged to move in the following Saturday, and went to Hubley’s weekly auction on Broadway, Cambridge and bought a whole lot of good stuff. (We still have some of the dining-room set.) I remember bidding on a washing machine. The price had reached $20, and Mr. Hubley was trying to get a bid of $25. I stuck up my hand and said “Twenty-two ten!” The auctioneer looked puzzled for a moment, then his face broke into a wide smile and he said “Sir, we are not bidding in pounds sterling. May I record $22.50? (In those days half a pound was ten shillings.) I happily agreed, and a moment later I had bought an automatic washer. A US landlord, Fred Earnest Somehow I got the mass of purchased furniture and apparatus and what I had brought from Britain to the back yard of 257 Upland Road at the right time, and Fred Earnest was waiting to oversee the moving operation. “Hold on right here!” he said, and disappeared inside. Within ten minutes or so he had fitted up a boom with a pulley and rope over the outdoor deck of


my apartment and began hoisting up my stuff. I was overwhelmed. I rushed up and down stairs, trying to be of maximum help. As we were nearing the end, I noticed that two of my just-purchased chairs were still on the lawn. “I could take those up the stairs” I said. “No, leave them there. They need repairing, and I’ll do that!” This was my introduction to landlords in the US, about as different to my Barnes landlady as possible. I was always trying to get even with Fred Earnest. I made small improvements, with his permission, in the apartment. I installed a sink grinder to avoid the necessity of storing decaying garbage for too long on the third floor. I tried to get him to accept a higher rent, because I knew that I was getting a bargain, but he wouldn’t accept it. Parties I began having large parties once or twice a month. I was restarting a practice developed in Nigeria, where I was invited to dinners by people all around the campus and beyond, and I felt diffident, as a single guy, to repay the hospitality. But I began hosting my own dinner parties, tentatively at first. To give people guidance on the food and drinks I offered I began to type out a menu (see example in chapter 8). I began to rely on a small number of old reliables for the main course. The large range of drinks needs some explanation. My family was not one that consumed much alcohol. There was a bottle of port in the kitchen cupboard throughout my childhood. If someone was ill, a small glass of port wine plus something else like ginger was prescribed. The consumption was so low that the bottle always seemed to be at the same level. It had probably turned to vinegar, but no one in the family would have known the difference. When I was seventeen I started drinking a little “hard” cider, i.e., alcoholic, with my hiking and acting buddies (I believe that I was then within the drinking age), but not enough to give me any sort of high. However, I did get


drunk twice, to my recollection. One was at a school reunion of fairly close friends. There didn’t seem anything to do but drink, and I remember the long walk home, several miles, when I was quite impaired. The other time, recorded under “Scots tutor” in chapter 1, was when I was being set up for seduction by a vandriver. I wasn’t proud of either event. More shocking, in my opinion, was experiencing the drunkenness of friends and others. One was when I biked over seventy miles to go to a New Year’s Eve party at my university-best-friend David G. Wilson’s house. (We had to be known by our different middle names.) I arrived promptly at close to 7 pm and was given a bathroom in which to change into my party clothes. I emerged into the gathering, and was soon chatting with a lovely young woman for whom I had had a long liking. But she was consuming alcohol too fast, and before 7.30 she was telling me about parts of her life and activities that I didn’t want to hear. By 9 pm it seemed to me that almost everyone was at least partially drunk. It is my experience that someone who is drunk believes that he/she is delivering a stream of scintillating stories, but to anyone not under the influence it sounds like drivel. I ate enough food to be able to bike comfortably to my parents’ home twenty miles away, and sadly left.

The Intercollegiate Girls’ Club of Greater Boston Another occasion that is relevant occurred soon after my arrival at Harvard and MIT in 1955. I couldn’t help seeing a notice in copper-plate script on many Harvard notice-boards with words that are so dated that they cannot be forgotten: THE INTERCOLLEGIATE GIRLS’ CLUB OF GREATER BOSTON INVITES MEN OF HARVARD AND THE BETTER BOSTON COLLEGES TO A SERIES OF FALL MIXERS . . . The word “mixer” confused me, but upon being told that it was just a social gathering I went to one of the club’s mixers. As usual I arrived on time, which was far too early. I was the only


man there for what seemed like hours, but was probably just one hour. There were a lot of young women, maybe twenty to start with and growing to fifty later. I did my best to socialize. There was a dance floor and recorded music was playing, and although I’ve never been much of a dancer I asked a few young women to dance. As the hour wore on, the alcohol being consumed was having its effect. I told my school buddies afterwards that the last “girl” I asked to dance with me simply hitched her chin over my shoulder and let her legs dangle. Then the men arrived, about fifty within a few minutes. They made straight for the drinks. They quaffed thirstily. I also went for drinks. There were only alcoholic drinks. I knocked at the staff door, and asked if Coke were available. No, it wasn’t. Then could I have a drink of water? It was given somewhat grudgingly. Soon afterwards I left the women to the drinking men and went home, feeling inadequate to the situation. These experiences convinced me to become a teetotaler. When I arrived at “Nigercol” in 1958 I stuck out like a sore thumb Although I offered a few alcoholic drinks at the start of my career of hosting dinner parties, I soon felt that I didn’t want to be responsible for people having accidents on the way home after my parties, and I stopped the provision of alcohol. Instead, I developed a bewildering range of soft drinks, some having names that don’t convey much meaning. What, for instance, is “zirash”? I still don’t know. I didn’t try to explain them. All I know is that on most occasions people had a very good time despite the lack of alcohol. Two people at different parties told me at around 10:30 pm that they mustn’t have any more to drink because they were driving home – and they were serious, not joking. My dinner parties at Upland Road were therefore not drunken orgies. But there must have been a good deal of loud laughter. Beforehand I would warn Fred and his father and the people in


the first-floor apartment and had no trouble. And no one seemed to worry when the blonde bombshell supposedly interested in my Nigerian slides (see. “Nigerian slide show” in chapter 1) was ringing my apartment bell at 11 pm and later and spending an hour or two. I had bought a clavichord in London, and sometimes I played it at 1 am. A clavichord is an exceedingly quiet instrument, but in a quiet neighborhood in the early hours it can sound deafening. A party must have been very loud by comparison.

Meeting and marriage All went happily with my work and social life for a year and a bit from mid-1961 when I moved into 257 Upland Road. Then someone who had been trying to introduce me to Anne S. succeeded doubly. We were introduced, and I fell in love with her. I invited her to my next party. I had developed another trick. I had a Westinghouse table oven, and I would bring this into the middle of the gathering during the preliminaries so that people could tell me when the meal was done. If the meal wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t my fault. Stalin used this trick. When he took advice that turned out badly, the advisor tended to lose his life. I didn’t go that far. But Anne S. refused to give advice on the roast that evening. We married in 1963, and lived for a short while in Fred Earnest’s apartment. She wanted something better. We found a house being finished less than a hundred yards away, 36-38 Winslow Street, Cambridge. It had been mostly consumed by a fire. A Harvard architecture student (Harvard uses the title “Design student”) Andy S. followed the fire engines, bought the property while it was still smoldering (I’m just repeating what we were told by neighbors) and worked on the design of the remodeled house for his senior thesis. We rented one of the three apartments. A Scandinavian engineer and his wife took on the one next door, and Andy kept the third-floor studio apartment.


He entertained many young women, and the sounds that came through our second-floor ceilings were arousing and entertaining. Missiles and insults The first week wasn’t too promising. The back yard had not been finished. A brick was thrown through the large glass sliding door to the kitchen on the first evening. Andy S. could be heard to be having frequent loud arguments with the owner of the property to the rear. Mr. DeLeo, the property owner, objected to Andy allowing his construction trucks and equipment being routed through his property. And that evening Anne parked her car a little further into the cul-de-sac from our house, and found a quite-nasty note under the wiper next morning. It was obvious that we and Andy were seen as yuppies horning in on a traditional Irish-Italian neighborhood. We pussy-footed around for a few weeks, trying not to cause any more anger. And then we decided to hold a block party. Transformation after a block party A better term would be “street” party. Winslow Street was short, with about four buildings on each side, mostly with several tenants. We felt that we were surrounded by angry people. But most came to the party, and the effect was dramatic. We immediately became the social leaders of a large family. Hospitality and friendship flowed. Everyone wanted to be cordial to everyone else. The change was so striking, in fact, that we wondered if it might have gone too far. Anne was having a bath one day when the bathroom door opened and revealed a neighbor (luckily a woman) who, not getting an answer at the front door, walked in and explored. Anne came from an upper-crust Boston family, and this behavior was not welcome. But it was wonderful to be among friends instead of supposed enemies.


Andy graduated and wanted to sell his property. We made an offer, he accepted it, and then changed his mind and wanted another $20,000 or so. In those days this amount was considerable. The house next door, an ancient three-decker, was coming on the market at about the same time. We made an offer for that and it was accepted. Andy was irritated because he had offered something for that property too, unknown to us. We became the proud owners of 42-44 Winslow Street. The house was, however, nothing to be proud of. It was falling to pieces. I hired a young employee of NREC for some weekend work, and we took one brick after another off the chimneys for about ten feet before we reached two that we cemented together. We also threw an old cast-iron bathtub out of a second-floor window on to the roof of the verandahs, and someone called the police. Throwing bathtubs out of windows was not permitted on Sundays. Very strange. We had hired an architect and we were getting advice from several neighbors. They said “Have the house torn down and build a new one.” It turned out that this was good advice: the basic structure of the house was not sound, and it cost considerably more to remodel and rebuild it than it would have to have started from a clean lot. The Cambridge zoning laws, however, would have required us to set back the new house so far from the lot lines that the resulting place would have been tiny. We decided to keep the outer walls and rebuild everything else. We would have three apartments (versus four in the original house). To limit sound transmission I had no continuous floor beams go from one side to the other. There was a double wall between the lower apartments. All heating ducts, wiring, communications, piping etc. were in this double wall. It worked very well. We combined the third floor into one gorgeous apartment, but kept it associated with our apartment. We had wonderful huge meetings and parties up there. (We tried to ensure that there was a high level of sound insulation between


third and second floors, and our tenant said that it worked for her.) A cure for free parking I carved parking places out of the yard area for our tenant and us. There were only nine curb-side parking places available in the whole street, thus explaining the note on Anne’s car when we first moved in. Having our own parking was a huge benefit. Sometimes others couldn’t resist it. Someone parked his car behind ours at a time when the kids were ill. I couldn’t find to whom it belonged, so I removed the distributor rotor so that I would find out. I didn’t hear him trying to start his car, but eventually he hammered on the door. He didn’t apologize. He said “Where do you expect me to park?” I was and still am a bicyclist, and the pathetic bleats of people so wedded to their cars that they cannot walk from the edge of a parking lot to a store leave me unmoved. However, I did give him his distributor rotor. On another occasion our parking entrance was almost blocked by a car that was parked during a heavy blizzard. I enjoy shoveling snow – on occasion I used to shovel both sidewalks the length of Winslow Street to get exercise and to be a good guy. I had to do a lot of shoveling to allow Anne and our tenant to maneuver their cars into the street. And the rogue car stayed there. It was parked about two feet from the curb, opposite our entrance, during a declared snow emergency, and stayed for long over twenty-four hours. Thus four Cambridge ordinances were being broken simultaneously. There was a similar car further down the street. I asked a lot of questions. I found that both cars belonged to a couple of young Harvard astronomers who had an apartment in a nearby building but had gone to Australia for a year. I got their address and wrote to let them know that unless they had their cars moved within three weeks I would have them towed by the police. They did move them. They were angry


because, they said, they were paying rent on their Winslow Street apartment and so could leave their cars wherever they wanted for as long as they wished. House remodeling Meanwhile work on the house remodeling went on slowly. Within a week of paying the contractor our first monthly payment he appeared in a brand-new station wagon that would have cost an amount similar to our payment. I was traveling often for NREC and I found later that every time I left on a trip the contractor didn’t put insulation in the walls or roof. He stopped work about two-thirds of the way through the job because he owed too much money. Our lawyer put a lien on his property because of the amount he owed us in work not done but paid for. Several years later he tried to sell his house, found that he could not do so because of the lien, and paid us. It was small consolation for the years of labor I had to put in to try to finish the work at a time when I was teaching a huge load at MIT. It turned out to be just about impossible to get an electrician, for instance, to complete wiring that had been started by someone else, but could not be inspected. (An electrician we did manage to hire found an illegal bridge bypassing the electric meter, put in by the original contractor.) We had a small baby, and the plumber promised us that the plumbing would all be working when we moved into the structure. It wasn’t. All the toilets had scalding hot water, hot water which was not available in any basin or bath where it was wanted. Pipes mysteriously broke even in warm weather. When cold weather hit, pipes froze everywhere the insulation was omitted. We looked at the house with great ice sculptures like fir trees starting on the third floor. It was possible to point out when I or we went to Egypt, when to Britain and so on.


An alarm clock for the painter Other examples of the “men’s kick line” in action were connected with the painter and the carpenter. I had worked full blast during the increased spare time I had in the summer to get the apartment ready for a family to move in on a certain Friday. Anne persuaded me to leave the interior wall painting to a contractor. He promised to come on the previous Tuesday. He didn’t, but faithfully promised a Wednesday start. Again he didn’t turn up, but absolutely guaranteed Thursday on his honor. When he didn’t, I came home from work early, and started frantically to get paint and drop cloths and rollers etc. ready. I started in the evening and went on all night. But at about 3 am I was so angry at the painter that I decided to phone him, if only so that I did not feel so abused. The man came to the phone himself, rather groggy. “This is Dave Wilson. I’m painting the apartment that you promised several times to do. It will be ready by the time the tenants arrive today. I thought that you would like to know that you needn’t come around this morning.” He began to apologize profusely, and said that he would be over very soon. I told him not to show his face or he would be in danger. He did, however, after I had gone to work without sleep. My classes that day were not models of brilliance. Anne told him some home-truths

This tool enabled me, when high on a flimsy ladder, to force warped tongueand-grooved cypress boards into engagement and to nail them in place.


Cypress siding The other promise-breaker was Dan, an expert fine carpenter and thoroughly nice guy, except in the matter of the cypress siding. The architect, a trend-following type without much practical realism, called for the hideous asbestos tiles to be removed and for vertical tongue-and-grooved cypress boards to be put up in their place. I gleefully removed the asbestos at high speed. I hadn’t worked with cypress before, but I worked out how much I needed and ordered it to be delivered in early spring, a large pile that took up almost a parking space. Dan kept promising to start work (with me as carpenter’s helper), but then not turning up. He was an older guy, and maybe didn’t like working up ladders. It was a miserably wet summer, and I tried to keep the wood dry under tarpaulins. The weeks of failed starts stretched into months, and I realized that if I didn’t start with a week left of my three-week summer vacation we would have to go through the winter without siding. I considered myself still young and strong at a little over forty, and started trying to maneuver the huge long boards up to the base of the mansard roof and to get one heavily galvanized nail in the top center of the first board as a temporary hold. Then I went down the long ladder and up a shorter one to put in the required hidden nails angled along the edges. Lastly I went up the long ladder again to remove the temporary nail and to complete the upper nailing. The problems started when I tried to install the second board. The cypress had reacted to the months of dampness by twisting up not merely rotationally along the length of the boards, a twisting that was fairly easy to straighten out by nailing progressively, but also laterally, which seemed impossible to correct, especially by myself. If there had been two of us one person could have engaged the tongue of the new board into the groove of the preceding board at the top, and possibly the assistant could have used a long pole to force the board to bend sideways into the groove as I nailed it. It didn’t seem too


promising, however, and I didn’t search for an assistant. I grabbed a pad and started trying to think of ideas. After a few false starts I made a tool that worked so well that I experienced an inventor’s high, and the work went fast and rather well subsequently. Two events delayed the completion of the cypress-siding installation. One was when I had to negotiate around the incoming 230-volt electric cable feed and nearly killed myself. I was at the top of the aluminum ladder, holding it tightly with one bare hand. I grabbed the rubber-insulated cable with my other hand and pulled to get it off the hook that I needed to move. At that precise moment I felt a strand of wire that had come through the insulation and it contacted a finger. And immediately there were two massive explosions. Only with great difficulty did I manage to hold on to the ladder. I found that I was still alive, but shaking so much that the ladder was bouncing off the side of the house. As I reached the bottom and tried to stand on the sidewalk people were coming out of their houses. I staggered down the street, apologizing profusely. I presumed that I had tripped a circuit-breaker somewhere. But as I went further that explanation didn’t seem to be correct. And suddenly it hit me. An aircraft breaking the sound barrier had caused the bangs at exactly the time that my bare finger hit the piece of wire. Wilson had been fooled again! The other delaying event was when I had finished the actual nailing up of the cypress. It looked rather fine, except that the architect said that it would weather to a silvery finish, and it was a glaring light brown. I found that Cabot made a bleaching stain that would hasten the weathering appearance, and would also protect the wood and possibly the house wood underneath. I applied this bleaching stain liberally and simultaneously painted the wood molding separating the siding from the mansard roof. I was trying to scrape the old paint off the molding where I could, and to burn it off with a painter’s blowtorch when I couldn’t. In


doing so I started a fire at a point near the corner of the roof eaves in the near-rotten timber. I tried to blow it out, but it burned more strongly. I dashed down the ladder, warned the family of what had happened, and went up with a watering-can full of water. I poured it vigorously over the flames, and they appeared to go out. Then they mischievously popped out again from the under surface of the timber, retreating back into the parts of the roof where my throwing water wasn’t helpful. I dashed down again, asking Anne to be ready to call the fire station a hundred yards away on Garden Street. I grabbed the garden hose. It reached halfway up the ladder. Down again I went, fetched another hose and attached it with fingers that were beginning to shake. Up one last time to the top, where the flames were getting established. Triumphantly I turned on the nozzle, shooting water way into the roof cavity. The flames didn’t seem to notice. They would go out when I doused them, and pop up again shortly after I turned the stream elsewhere. Then I remembered the lessons drummed into me when I was a “fire watcher” at the beginning of the bombing in WWII. “Always use the spray setting!”. Households were required to obtain “stirrup pumps” to fight fires from the incendiary bombs that the Germans were raining down on London in huge numbers, and were beginning to target Birmingham and environs. It always seemed silly advice. Why not deliver a strong stream right at the fire? But up that ladder at the third-floor roof level I switched to the spray. It didn’t have nearly as much penetration as the stream. I knew that it was doomed to failure, and that in a few minutes the fire brigade would be putting the fire out with a huge mass of water that would also cause a lot of damage. But almost instantaneously the fire went completely out. I stopped the spray for a moment to see if it had really gone out, and it had. I yelled to the family and others on the ground, and a cheer went up, but I kept spraying for safety until it was obvious that nothing hot


could survive. I had learned a lesson, and almost lost some of the house.

The now-installed cypress siding can be seen here. I am carrying out my daily dog walk, Eleo (named for a rather wild aunt of Anne), and Hobo to the right with John in the back-carrier and Erica in the shoulder sling

Not the gardens of Versailles Eventually we got everything working. I was and am very enthusiastic about saving power and water and so on. I hated letting washing-machine water, laden with phosphates and organics that could act as fertilizers, go down the drain to cause unnecessary problems in the sea. I made a concrete-lined sump in the basement into which the discharged wash and rinse water went. Then I fitted a sump pump that would turn on when the level reached a certain height. I had finished landscaping the


yard with brick paths, terraces and walls, a lawn and swings etc. and some flower gardens. I buried pipes connected to pop-up sprayers, and fed the whole circuit from the sump pump. It was, friends assured me, like the gardens of Versaille. I was very proud of the whole setup. Or I was until Anne was taking one of her upper-crust friends on a garden inspection when the fountains burst into life. The two were sprayed with rather smelly wash water that left stains on their expensive clothes. The water-saving system had to go.

The new house Everything seemed perfect about the house after I had spent five years of all my spare time working on it. But Anne was concerned that her aging parents might find the toilet facilities difficult to use, and said one day “This morning I’m just looking at a house that has been advertised – I’m not thinking of moving – just for interest”. It was no. 15 Kennedy Road, off Brattle Street (Tory Row), Cambridge. We bought it, of course. We lost money on the Winslow Street house, but the Kennedy Road house cost only about a third more than we got for the old house. I didn’t follow the real-estate or any other market, but it must have been at or near the bottom. So that’s how we found ourselves in prime real estate in Cambridge.


The Kennedy-Road house in winter

It was a beautiful house, mostly in very good condition. It was built in about 1931 in the great depression for Mr. & Mrs. Newbegin at the start of their married life. We bought it from Mrs. Newbegin some time after her husband’s death. They had money, and it showed in the house. The ceiling insulation in the owner’s part of the house, for instance, was thick (1” – 2”) cork. In the servants’ quarters over the garage, where I went to live for several years after Anne and I had problems in our marriage, there was absolutely zero insulation. Ice formed on the walls. I put in around 40 large bags of rock-wool insulation between the walls and the slate roof tiles. The dog tunnel One of the first major jobs I undertook after we bought the Kennedy Road house was to build a dog tunnel. Anne suffered from agoraphobia, fear of the outside. A worse phobia was an overwhelming concern for animal suffering. She kept adopting stray dogs. They needed walking morning and evening, which I


did with the children, but they also needed to be let out between times. I commissioned a local contractor to put a fence around the lower lawn, creating a pound. It wasn’t too pretty, but we had kind neighbors who didn’t complain. Then I built a 40-ft. underground tunnel from the basement to the pound. We were on a hill, so the tunnel emerged into the surface just before the pound fence. The house had a very good foundation and basement: it took me three weekends of concrete drilling before I finished the opening. I dug a trench for the tunnel itself, made of thick marine plywood as lining and more concrete around the outside.

The dog tunnel, from the house basement to the pound in the lower formerlawn.

The Rube Goldberg operating and warning system was something of which I was very proud. When the dogs wanted to go out, we would turn on the basement lights from the kitchen and pull a rope to lift the door to the tunnel. The dogs would have to jump on a box to get into the tunnel, and in doing so they would sound a mechanical bell – I had fitted the top of the box with a sprung surface. Halfway down the tunnel they went over


another sprung floor piece that, when stepped on, closed a switch and sounded an alarm. That meant that the rope could be released so that the door fell down and latched. When the dogs wanted to come in again, they would come down the tunnel, trip the switch, we would open the tunnel door with the rope and close it again when we heard the right number of rings from the “box bell”. It worked pretty well for many years. Persis Toppan The dog tunnel solved a second problem. The house was built on land that the Newbegins bought from the grande dame of the area, Persis Toppan, whose imposing house was about thirty yards up the hill behind our house. Persis was of the old school and liked to walk. In particular, she was chair of the board of the Mt. Auburn Hospital about a third of a mile away, and she regularly walked there. If the connection between the dog pound and the house had been a fenced run, Persis would have had difficulty circumnavigating it. But we made a path for her (and for us) over the tunnel. This is leading (at last) to the topic of this chapter. It was easy for me to become fond of Persis Toppan. She was long a widow, and her boys were married and some distance away. So she used to ask me to fix small problems for her, and she liked to chat after I had fixed a light or burglar alarm or whatever. One night I was grading papers in the study when the phone went at about 1030 pm, late for phone calls. “David, this is Persis. I have just freed myself from my bonds. Today is my 80th birthday, and I phoned Harriet Newbegin to come at 5 pm so that we could go out together. A car came up the driveway just before 5 and then left. Then Harriet’s car came. She parked, and as she was walking towards the door, which I had open for her, two men jumped out of the bushes and used her as a battering ram to get into the house. They bound us up and gagged us, and one told us to take the rings off our fingers while the other was


looking for money and silver. The first guy said that if I didn’t get the rings off fast he would cut my finger off, and he started to cut into my flesh. I’ve called the police. You don’t need to come. I thought that you’d like to know.” The mugging The next morning I went off to MIT as usual, though somewhat troubled. When I came home I was more troubled. That morning Persis wanted her finger wound attended to at Mt.Auburn hospital and had walked past our house, down Kennedy Road, and had been mugged on Brattle Street, left lying in the road in a pool of blood. She recovered well. She was well cared for at “her” hospital. She was also a very robust woman. We called a meeting of neighbors for the evening a day or two later. About fifty people came. After we had related what we knew of the two incidents someone asked that all who had been burglarized in the last year raise their hands. Almost twenty hands went up. To the next question “How many of you have been burglarized twice or more?” about ten hands were raised. Alarms and violence The situation was worse than any of us realized. Some of the events included violence, although none to the extent of the horrors inflicted on Persis Toppan. We had invited a Cambridge police officer to attend, and he gave us advice. We decided to get to know our neighbors, and I was asked to make up a list of names, addresses and telephone numbers. There was a stated concern about privacy until someone pointed out that this information could be obtained easily by buying the list of residents from Cambridge City Hall. (We found that some of the concern was actually because some of our well-heeled neighbors had illegal boarders.) We resolved to respond to the home sirens that seemed to go off every night. We would equip ourselves with good flashlights and noisemakers to alert everyone if needed.


Two or three evenings later I was preparing lessons in the study when I heard a house siren. I was about to ignore it as usual but realized that this was a new era. I grabbed my yacht horn and a flashlight and dashed outside. Two immediate neighbors had their lights on a man trying to scale a high fence. I yelled out that I would try to cut off his escape on Appleton Street, and asked if the police had been called. I dashed down Kennedy Road sounding off loud blasts on the horn (which brought residents to their doors), turned left on Brattle Street and again left on Appleton, and saw a police cruiser coming down towards me. I signaled it, and as I did so another police cruiser came up Appleton behind me. I told the officers the situation, and thought that we had the would-be burglar cornered. We hadn’t. Somehow he escaped. He may have taken the message back to the hoodlums that this community was no longer a bunch of sitting ducks because after this we had a long period of relative peace. Neighborhood bulletins I typed up a “Neighborhood Bulletin” describing what had happened, and took it around to the growing number of houses that wanted to be included. This number eventually reached over 150, among them the house of the Harvard president and the future governor of Massachusetts, Bill Weld and all kinds of RBSs (real big shots) from academia. We began to hear of other shocking cases from earlier periods. Someone two doors away had called one evening for an early cab for the airport, rashly indicating that it was for the family and that they would be going to the Caribbean for two weeks. The cab arrived at 6 am and the family was whisked off. At 8 am a moving van was seen to arrive, and the house was just about emptied. At that time neighbors didn’t tell each other anything about their movements, so nothing was suspected until the unfortunate family returned. This case was like Persis Toppan’s in that it seemed to be connected to a phone call. People began reporting unusual


activity up telephone poles, and cars that were stopped on local streets in the dark with a person sitting inside, not apparently doing anything, but who could possibly be monitoring phone messages with some technology. There seemed to be an unusual number of magazine salespeople who would ring the doorbell, start their spiel about magazines, and then ask for a drink of water. When the resident returned with the glass of water the magazine person would be in the hall. It was reasoned that there was usually a hall telephone, and that it took less than ten seconds to unscrew the microphone end and to slip in a bug, although none was found. I tried twice to get the local telephone company to look into these possibilities, but each time someone was sent to examine me as a suspicious person. I complained to the head office, but got nowhere. This seemed highly suspicious to me, but I couldn’t get any more information. In the area of crime on Brattle Street I became the community leader. I liked it. It reminded me of the beginning of WWII, when I was little more than a kid. The way the neighbors pulled together and helped each other was very similar to Britain in 1939-40. Everyone was friendly over a wide swath of this part of Cambridge. I and others were asked to give talks on our efforts by other groups nearby. One reason was that we seemed to be so successful at making the lives and livelihoods of the hoodlums insecure that they almost completely left us alone, and began to concentrate on other communities. One effect of this notoriety was that people began to ask if they could connect me to their burglar alarms. The usual arrangement was that when an alarm was triggered it would set off a signal in the central office of the alarm company. The people in the office would find whom they were authorized to phone. In several cases it was the Cambridge Police and me. The homeowner would give me a key to the house, and ask that I meet the police and let them in.


The Dwight Harkens One homeowner who asked me to help in this way was Dr. Dwight Harken. He was a famous thoracic surgeon who had been prominent among those who connected smoking with heart and lung disease. He had greatly helped my earlier efforts to further nonsmokers’ rights (see MASH, chapter 13). By the time the crime wave hit Brattle Street Dwight Harken was retired, and was in great demand to give lectures and to receive awards all over the world. His wife Ann went with him, their children had long gone to form other families, and the Harkens left the house locked and dark. I bought them a time switch as a present so that they could have a light come on to make the house look as though it could be occupied, but they never put it into action. They were burglarized repeatedly. One time when the thieves didn’t bother to break into the house they put the Harkens luxury car on blocks and took all four wheels (rims) and tires. On another occasion I accompanied the police at about 1.30 am and found the bathroom window had been broken by the burglars to get access. I screwed in a sheet of plywood later in the day. My happiest memory of crime at the Harkens was when the phone went at about 2 am and I was told by the burglar-alarm company that the police had been called and would I go to let them in the house? It was on Lowell Street almost at the corner with Brattle, and it took me only about seven minutes to pull on some clothes, get the key and run down. The alarm was wailing loudly. The police arrived almost simultaneously, and we examined what appeared to be footprints in the garden beds against the wall of the house. Above these prints a second-floor window was partly open. The police didn’t find anything in the garden, and asked me to let them in the house. I unlocked the door. “After you, Sir” said the senior officer, courteously. I went in gingerly. Everything seemed in order. “There’s a basement” I said helpfully. “After you, Sir” said the courteous cop. I went down those stairs with


extreme care, the officers close behind with their guns ready to be drawn. But relief again – no sign of intrusion or presence. “Better look upstairs. After you, Sir” said the cop, and I went up those stairs like a cat on a very hot tin roof. The siren was still wailing loudly. At the landing I paused. “That’s the room where there was a window open” I told them. “Then let’s go in – after you, Sir” said the cop. I went up to the closed door, summoned up my courage, and swung the door open. A white figure flung himself upon me. I was scared out of my wits. Then I was overcome with something else: relief. The white figure was Dr. Harken. He appeared to wear a night-robe and a cap and to be thereby rather ghost-like. I shouted to the officers that this was the home-owner so that they didn’t shoot him. Dwight and Ann had slept without being disturbed through at least a half-hour of the siren sounding and of us banging about outside and downstairs. We all had a laugh and left them to any more sleep they could get.

My "first" family in about 1984: John, Anne, Erica and Dave

I tell this story because I don’t like the idea of everyone being armed with guns. If Dwight Harken had had a gun by his bed he would probably have shot me. If I had been carrying a pistol I


could possibly have shot him. (The police were restrained about everything, including using their guns, that evening!) Occasionally there is benefit to a homeowner in having a gun, but these occasions are statistically rare compared with the number of sons, daughters and friends that are shot in haste. For at least four years there was no crime in the area of Brattle Street and nearby. The hoodlums had left. We all returned to our former peaceful lives. Our children left home for work and college, and soon after they did so Anne and I also left for different destinations, Anne to live with a friend in Groton MA and I to a bachelor's apartment in Winchester, MA. However, not too much later I met and was genteely pursued by Ellen Warner of Oklahoma, of whom more later. However, it does seem appropriate to include a photo someone took during a summit rest stop. For the moment you have to guess which of the two young women was Ellen.

Ellen Warner during the hike that I was helping to lead over the Presidential mountain range in New Hampshire. I was in the habit of singing madrigals when I was at the head of a column of hikers, and I became aware that someone behind was singing the alto parts.


Ellen’s unflattering sketch of herself contemplating her next move at Lakes of the Clouds hut, near the summit of Mt. Washington, New Hampshire.


Chapter 11 POLITICS AND WILSONOMICS The chapter title is self-serving. A friend gave the name "Wilsonomics" to the collection of policies I have been advocating since the early 1970s. They have been a significant driving force in my life. You won't want the whole story of how I came to be a tub-thumper, but a summary would not, I hope, be out of place here. First to come is something of a preparatory lesson.

Ralph Nader, Fred Lang and the DuPont caper In around 1963 the company I was working for in Cambridge, Massachusetts, NREC, began applying its turbine expertise to machines to produce extremely low temperatures, a field known as cryogenics. We hired the great Sam Collins at MIT as a consultant to guide us and to keep us honest. My colleagues and I published some papers, at least one of which went out under the auspices of the Cryogenics committee of the Process Industries Division (PID) of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). You, dear reader, will have divined by now that I have a serious behavioral problem: I don’t know how to keep my big mouth shut. And all too often I say “Yes, of course!” when I should have said “No – not in a thousand years!” Consequently I was invited to be on the cryogenics committee and then on the executive committee of the PID. That’s how I met Fred Lang, a large, affable and capable guy, then chair of the PID. Later I became chair myself. A pipeline problem Fred and I became friends. In around 1967 he asked me if I could perform a service for him. He told me the following.


He and his family lived in a farmhouse in Landenberg, Pennsylvania. He worked in a senior position at Du Pont in Wilmington, Delaware. It sounded like an idyllic existence. His wife and children had wide spaces and country air and he at weekends could play at being a farmer. Suddenly this piece of heaven was shattered by his receiving notice that a right-of-way under his farmhouse was being taken by eminent domain so that a pipeline company could run a large pipe (I believe it was six feet in diameter) carrying natural gas at very high pressure - onethousand pounds per square inch, 69 bar, through his property. Fred began furiously to research the situation. Everything he learned about the pipeline company and its history was disquieting. There had already been many failures in the part of the pipeline that had been put into operation. One blowout in Natchez Mississippi had incinerated a family of seventeen. The pipe was formed from coils of steel plate a quarter-inch thick, formed into a spiral and welded on site before being buried. No effective inspection of the welds was carried out, he told me. If the welds were perfect – that is, if they had the same strength as the pipe walls – the stresses in the pipe just from the gas pressure were more than 75% of the maximum stress that the steel could withstand. No allowance had been made for slightly defective welds, for soil and rock pressures, earthquakes, thermal stresses, gas-pressure fluctuations or accidental hits by digging machinery. Du Pont detectives Fred fought the eminent-domain procedure and the pipeline company. Then he had another unpleasant surprise. The pipeline company was a good customer of Du Pont. He was ordered to desist from fighting the pipeline. He refused to do so. Du Pont hired detectives to “dig up some dirt on him”. They would find this a difficult assignment. Fred was a straight arrow.


What Fred wanted me to do was even more interesting, at least to me. The pipeline company was using as its defense its claim that it was conforming to every provision of the applicable standard for pipeline construction and placement in the soil. The pipeline standard was produced by a committee of the ASME. So Fred, recently a big shot in the ASME system, had asked to look at the standard and to discover the names of the members of the committee. He was refused! This would be unbelievable now. But to sit on the standards committee of anything from a skyscraper to a sausage machine takes a lot of time and travel expenses over the years, and naturally the only employers who will pay people to be on standards committees are those who are producing the items being studied. The foxes get to set the rules of the chickenhouse. And, because pipelines were exploding, the foxes – the committees – decided to keep the memberships and proceedings of the committees secret. Deep Throat at the ASME Fred asked if I could get to see the proceedings, because I was then PID chair and thus edging into the big-shot-at-ASME category, theoretically governing the pipeline area. I said “Yes, of course!” I was due to be near the ASME building in New York City in a few days, and formally sent my notice that I would want to study the pipeline committee’s records. I was refused! I protested vigorously – I was beginning to learn how to do so – and was given grudging permission to see the records for a maximum of about an hour, and I would be allowed only one sheet of paper on which to make notes, no photography or copying. It sounds unbelievable even to me, but that is how I was permitted to see the committee’s proceedings. As I have boasted elsewhere I write in exceedingly small characters and I use a form of shorthand called Dutton’s Speedwords, and while I can’t inscribe the Bible on the head of a


pin, I knew that I could get all I and Fred wanted on a single sheet of paper. As suspected, I found that all members of the committee (more than 50 if I remember correctly) were employed by pipeline companies, and that there was nothing that I could find in the discussions that could be taken as representing the public interest. This was all faithfully reported to Fred Lang for him and for his lawyer. He was pleased. I told him that I thought that I could help in another way. An introduction to Ralph Nader By this time (about 1968) I had moved from NREC to MIT. As related later in this chapter, I was not allowed to work in my normal disciplines, and my department head ordered me to take up traffic safety. As usual, I got myself involved in all kinds of activities, from being the mechanical engineer in a Boston University team investigating gruesome traffic accidents to doing research on automated transportation systems. We were about to have a two-day conference or retreat to discuss all kinds of stimulating alternatives, and I knew that Ralph Nader had agreed to be with us. Nader was at the height of his popularity, having written “Unsafe at any speed” about the Chevrolet Corvair. During his research for this book he had been followed by detectives hired by General Motors to try to dig up dirt on him. (A major reason for the MIT activity and for the conference itself was that GM had given us a million dollars to study traffic safety. We knew that it was a political gift because the truth about its pursuit of Nader had given GM a big black eye.) At a slow point in the meeting I asked Ralph Nader if I might tell him about my friend Fred Lang’s campaign against the pipeline companies. He listened intently. When I told him of the detectives hired by Du Pont his nostrils seemed to widen as would those on an


Arabian war horse, address.

He asked for Fred’s phone number and

A victory for the public good It would be possible to say that the rest is history. Except that if it were history it would be unwritten, and how would you be expected to know it? The upshot was that Ralph Nader hit the pipeline company so hard that it must have wished that it had been accommodating to Fred Lang in the first place. And the ASME had to change the way it organized committees on standards. There had to be openness, and there had to be representation of the public interest. This was a major change for the better in the safety of the public. Hallelujah! Later, Fred Lang had other good news. Several years earlier he had invented and patented a way of post-stressing concrete structures so that they could be kept in compression and therefore not form cracks. A latecomer had taken his idea and was using it despite the patent. After the miscreant would not discuss the problem Fred filed suit, and the case had been languishing in the way these legal matters proceed in the US. But the case settled, and Fred was vindicated. He was awarded several million dollars. Fred being Fred, he started a foundation just to give the money away for good causes. He made several awards to the nonsmokers’ rights groups for which I worked, and supported a student working for me on environmental legislation. This case gave me an introduction to US national power politics. I was impressed, both favorably and unfavorably. I began to realize that I could possibly play a part myself.


Why should a mechanical engineer be advocating policy? The topic of role-reversal has often been evident in the policy area. Politicians are frequently found vehemently advocating some advanced technology. Usually, alas, the technology is totally beyond the grasp of the politician who, in the U.S. at least, is highly likely to be a lawyer. People become lawyers for many reasons, but one reason is often a feeling of discomfort with, maybe a fear of, technology. One can also leave the legal profession for several years without being disastrously out of date when one returns to do legal work again. In fact, if one has been in politics, one's value as a lawyer is usually enhanced. (This is in high contrast to what would happen if an engineer or scientist or thoracic surgeon were to spend time as a legislator: she or he would be hopelessly out of date when trying later to return to a previous profession.) Small wonder, therefore, that all three branches of government at the national and state level are run predominantly by lawyers. They often find that it enhances their image to advocate advanced technology. Because they don't understand it, it is very often totally inappropriate for the problem under review. For instance, Governor Dukakis, in his campaign for the U.S. presidency, liked to recommend to farmers that they grow corn to be turned into alcohol for motor fuel. He didn't know that it took at that time several gallons of petroleum products (in the form of fuel, fertilizer and so forth) to produce enough corn for conversion to one gallon-equivalent of alcohol. In frustration at this sort of nonsense - or perhaps in enlightenment - technologists are more frequently being heard advocating policy. Lord Rutherford, the first person to split the atom, and Lord Tizard in the U.K., and the long list of so-called "science" advisors to the U.S. presidents. Virtually all of the politicians who advocate technology and some of the technologists who advocate policy have their personal interests at heart, whatever


their speeches state. However, I believe that many, perhaps most, of the technologists try to advance the public - perhaps the world - interest in the policies that they advocate, even though these policies might have a short-term negative effect on their own perceived prosperity. You will be the judge in my case.

Governor Dukakis of Massachusetts signing legislation protecting nonsmokers' rights. Our ally Senator Lois Pines is on the right and I am just left of the governor There is nothing new in this. Distinguished engineers and scientists who played a prominent role in policy advocacy and sometimes in policy formulation include a hero of mine.

I adopted policy advocacy as an avocation because I was forced into it. Or at least I was forced away from the professional direction I chose for my early career. I was extremely angry about this situation at the time. I still am. My anger might show through in what follows despite my best efforts at maintaining an even, unbiased presentation, suitable for family reading. But maybe my diversion into politics will in the end be judged to be good. I don't know. It's too early to tell. Mark Twain is reputed to have said that a lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. In politics, destructive legislation is passed in a trice, usually in the dead of night when most legislators have either gone home or are too tired to notice


what pork barrel has been attached as an amendment to something completely benign on another topic. Constructive legislation, on the other hand, takes years of education and of drafts and trials. If, some time in the future, it can be said that I have had an influence on the passage of a piece of beneficial legislation, it may therefore be claimed that I have done more good than I have managed to do in the whole of my professional career in engineering. Policy is that important. Here is how my involvement came about.

The double-cross As I may have implied elsewhere, in my formative years I didn't take myself or my career very seriously. The world seemed wonderful, and I was given many incredible opportunities to work and to have fun simultaneously. At the end of 1964 I had been technical director and vice-president of Northern Research and Engineering Corporation in London and Cambridge, Massachusetts for over four years, and I was enjoying the life. My engineering, business and worldly horizons had been expanded enormously through exciting challenges that my boss, Jack Rizika, or my associates and I took on from an international array of organizations. If there was an aspect of a problem that seemed beyond our reach, we hired the best person we could find to act as a consultant. And so I found myself traveling to an aircraft company in eastern Canada with Professor J. P. ("Yappie") Den Hartog, the bestknown expert in the world at that time on mechanical vibrations and other aspects of applied mechanics. He had been head of the mechanical-engineering department when I was on a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT, so we had a nodding acquaintanceship with each other. We were due to improve on that. While we were in Canada an early winter blizzard closed down all air travel in New England, and we returned by bus on what could have been a long and dreary trip. But Yappie was


very good company, telling stories about engineering and about sometimes-scandalous aspects of life in general in his strong Indonesian-Dutch accent. I had learned to become somewhat apprehensive of meetings in general because of my thenundiagnosed narcolepsy, leading me to fall asleep sometimes in the most prestigious company and at the most inopportune times. However, during the three days that the trip and the return journey took I must have been in good form. Otherwise how could Yappie have asked me if I had considered teaching at MIT? I was taken aback. It sounded like a heavenly possibility, but would I be letting Jack Rizika down if I discussed the possibility? I asked Jack at the next opportunity I could. He was characteristically generous: he didn't want to lose me, but thought that it was something so promising for my career that I should follow it up. And so I found myself meeting with Yappie, a couple of other senior faculty members, and the then-acting head of the mechanical-engineering department, C. Richard Soderberg, on May 10, 1965. Dick Soderberg was extremely warm and positive about my coming to the department - he was well-known for his turbomachinery studies and said that he wanted me in the department - and phoned me three days later to confirm the oral offer and to say that a letter to clinch the arrangement would come from the president of M.I.T. Everything seemed to be set fair for my transition to academic life for the second time in my short career. The relevant people in the M.E. department seemed keen on my coming, and, after a period of self-questioning (I sometimes tell students about the cost-benefit tables I made about the decision of whether to go to M.I.T. or to stay at N.R.E.C.: they always came out in favor of N.R.E.C.) I was very keen to take up the challenge. But an ominous cloud appeared in the shape of the new department head – Ascher H. Shapiro - who took over from Soderberg, and whose opinion was in sharp contrast. By the time he was


installed my appointment as associate professor had been offered and accepted, and all that remained to be fixed was the salary, the starting date and the group with which I would work. However, Shapiro told me on July 1 that my appointment was not, in fact, certain, despite the letter from the president. After a meeting and several phone conversations over several weeks I said that it was not being fair to Jack Rizika to have my position in this state of uncertainty, and that I should withdraw. This forced Shapiro to move. He confirmed that the position had been agreed upon. It would be for three years with no possibility of tenure; I could not work in the Gas-Turbine Laboratory, the most-appropriate location for my experience. I could also certainly not work in fluid mechanics, Shapiro's field, and the area of my sub-specialty. He wanted me to work on a transportation-safety project resulting from a political gift of a million dollars from G.M. to M.I.T. following Ralph Nader's campaign against the company. I had never worked in transportation safety. On August 31 1965 he let me know that my annual salary would be $10,500, almost exactly half my N.R.E.C. salary, and very low for a 37-year-old associate professor even in those days. (It stayed well below that of my peers throughout my time on the MIT faculty.) My starting date was fixed at February 1, 1966. Jack Rizika gave me a generous farewell party at the Harvard Club in Boston, including as a gift a collapsible Moulton bicycle that we took turns at riding around the paneled dining room, ducking under the mounted deer heads.


Ellen’s view of my position at MIT. My neck is under the guillotine, and the cord is held by my department head in his office.

Mentoring young faculty There is nowadays emphasis on the need to connect a young incoming member of the faculty with a senior-faculty mentor. It is highly needed. The intensely competitive atmosphere of MIT has led to a high proportion of promising young assistant professors being ground to metaphorical mincemeat. The system tends to favor the hard-skinned and the ruthless. In my case Yappie Den Hartog got me invited to MIT, but he said that once I was there I was on my own. He meant it kindly. He didn't want me to feel that I should work in his division of applied mechanics, where I had few if any strengths. I tried asking for help and advice from my new colleagues in design, but my only interpretation of their advice at the time, and in retrospect, was that they were driven solely by the needs of their own careers. Instead, therefore, of having a mentor as guide and champion, I had in Shapiro the antithesis of a mentor. Read on.


I accepted my prescribed lot at MIT philosophically, and threw myself into teaching. (I crazily agreed to teach five part-time and full-time courses the first term, including Yappie's undergraduate and graduate courses. He was accepting awards overseas. The normal load at MIT is one or two.) I also went full-tilt into transportation-safety research. Many of the safety proposals made by people inside and outside M.I.T. seemed so far-fetched that one of my first projects was the development of cost-benefit methodology to give guidance to decision-makers on what projects should be undertaken and in what order to produce the maximum reduction in accident injuries and costs for any given expenditure. I became so "turned-on" by the need for rational decision-making of this type that I pursued this work, including publishing in serious journals, for many years, eventually applying it to several areas, including bicycle safety, for the Consumer Product-Safety Commission. I can't pretend that it took the world by storm, but it was a factor in the development of Wilsonomics, as friends came to call my policy proposals. Automated transportation, PAT Another research direction that resulted from that period was a new form of transportation system called PAT, for "palleted automated transportation". Several of us working on the transportation-safety project felt that over-reliance on automobile transportation was not viable in the long-term. There was a general revulsion at the then-widespread destruction of neighborhoods to put in urban expressways, and the so-called "Inner-Belt" highway in the Boston area had just been stopped by widespread protests. (Two protesters who later became good friends tied themselves to the Memorial Drive sycamores outside what is now the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard to prevent the trees being cut down for part of the Inner Belt development). Two of us came up with competing transportation systems.


PAT was awarded several patents and still has champions that continue to advocate it as a solution to many of our urban transport problems. I put a great deal of my professional and personal energy into PAT over the years without, so far at least, much effect on the world. I designed PAT, among other aspects, to be extremely energy-efficient. I was told by at least two moresenior MIT colleagues not to make an ass of myself by talking about energy efficiency: no one was interested in that. This was about six years before the temporary oil shortage that followed the oil embargo led to a predominant concern for energy by a large number of what I call the sheepy types at MIT who rush in the direction of the mania of the moment. (This may be unduly pejorative. I have many superb and generous colleagues at MIT. Yet I have also been struck by the vehemence with which many apparently intelligent people there will oppose topics or directions or policies in which they aren't currently working. Read later for the reactions of some MIT and Harvard economists to proposals for increasing the price of energy).

One essential component of "PAT" was the propulsion system of the pallets or flat cars. One or more constant-speed (synchronous) motors with vertical shafts picked up AC power from conductor rails on a vertical wall alongside the track or guideway. The wall also carried a linear or “rack” gear that engaged with a pinion gear on the motor shaft. Pivoting levers with rollers kept the pallets following the wall. Or, when an exit came up, a similar wall on the right could be engaged and the rollers on the left wall lifted.


For transit the pallets in the “PAT” system could carry small (e.g., ninepassenger) buses. These could pickup people in suburbs to take them fast to a business area, and then drop them off near their actual place of work.

Blackouts in thermodynamics I was also putting a lot of effort into teaching. A course I enjoyed was thermodynamics for what was then the Aeronautical-Engineering department. I taught it with Gordon Oates and Bill Gouse. Bill had an extremely cynical - perhaps I should call it "realistic" - view of power at MIT that he shared with me on frequent occasions. I used to value these chats, even though I unaccountably used to "black out" or actually fall asleep after only about ten minutes. This strange coincidence was very helpful later when I realized that the weird syndrome to which I had become subject was at least partly a sensitivity to cigar smoke in particular, and Bill was a constant cigar smoker. I had also taken over an undergraduate course just started by Bob Mann, then leader of design-instruction reform at MIT and perhaps nationwide, called "Design and Experiment". I would


choose some theme for each semester, invite a series of "outside" and MIT lecturers to talk on various aspects and to propose problems, to which student groups would develop hardware "solutions". The first semester we chose "technological aid to developing countries" based on my recent Nigerian experience. I was also New England chair of an organization called, then, Volunteers in International Technical Assistance, VITA, and had large monthly group meetings of enthusiastic local engineers and others at our house discussing and experimenting with windmills and human-powered water pumps and the like. There was a happy synergy of VITA with the course. Next year I chose transportation safety and transit systems, and again there was a degree of synergy with our research projects. Following that the topic was environmental concerns, before it was fashionable to do so. This made more news than I expected. Bill Gouse and I decided to collaborate to try to raise more interest in research and teaching in environmental matters at MIT. We sent around a memo inviting others to join us. We received a very curt note from a senior colleague in fluid mechanics, telling us that he was going to coordinate all activities in environmental matters in the department and, by implication, MIT, and he very pointedly abstained from inviting us to join him. In those days there was a fluid-mechanics triumvirate that dominated mechanical engineering, and its members wielded their power quite crudely. Head of the Gas-Turbine Lab? One of the triumvirate was, of course, Ascher Shapiro, the department head. He sent for me on May 22, 1967. Eddie Taylor, founder of the Gas-Turbine Laboratory 21 years or so earlier, was about to retire. Eighteen months earlier Shapiro had vetoed my going to the GTL Now he asked me to take over as acting head of the lab. I had the sense to refuse. Shapiro asked why. I said that my research in transportation was gaining momentum and I was now heavily involved in design activities and teaching. And in addition it was widely rumored that the


GTL was going to be transferred to the Aero department. Shapiro expostulated that that was absolutely untrue. He put heavy pressure on me to take the job. I asked how long he could guarantee that I would be in the acting-head position. He said that I would be there at least a year. That would take me almost up to the end of my contract. I could return to my first loves: gas turbines, power and propulsion. On the basis of that promise I relented and agreed to move. I dropped all my safety, transportation and environmental activities, moved into the GTL on August 3, 1967, and threw myself into the job of finding new research support for me and the lab. I went around talking to interested people telling them of my temporary position and of my plans. Given the internecine nature of academic politics at MIT this openness was undoubtedly a mistake. I told the then-head of the Aero department that, although I loved gas turbines, I thought that it was strange to have a major mechanical-engineering lab devoted to just one type of engine, while there was no MIT lab devoted to energy and power in general, and that I wanted to widen the scope of the lab's work somewhat. Big lies On December 11 1967 we had the annual sponsors' meeting at the GTL. Eddie Taylor mis-spoke by announcing that I was the new head of the lab, rather than the acting head. I did not interrupt to correct him, as my position was clearly stated to the attendees in the agenda. However, that evening Jack Rizika phoned me to ask if he should congratulate me. Someone at the meeting had told him about the announcement. I replied that I was sure that I was not the new permanent head. He concurred, saying that he had heard that in fact the GTL had already been transferred to the Aero department and that the new head was Jack Kerrebrock, a senior faculty member recently arrived from NASA. Filled with foreboding I phoned Shapiro next morning to


ask about it. He absolutely denied both aspects: the GTL was not being transferred to Aero, and I was still, and would remain, acting head. Twice more in the succeeding two weeks he repeated this. By that time I knew that it was, in fact, a brutal lie because I asked Eddie Taylor about it, and he confirmed it. I then phoned Jack Kerrebrock, asking if I should congratulate him - by this time it was December 22. He came right around, expressed his unhappiness with the way I was being treated, and offered me a position in the GTL under him. I was devastated. I couldn't make rational plans. Shapiro had forced me to make two complete switches in my professional activities since coming to MIT. My several months of work on new future directions for the GTL were now totally wasted, and it seemed that the abandoned transportation and other work was also a lost cause. If I transferred to the GTL I would also have to move to the Aero department, and it was obvious that what had happened to me had been precipitated by the Aero-department head who was in fact anticipating the transfer of the lab to his department and who didn't want the GTL deviating from a dedication to aircraft jet engines. I turned down the GTL offer. Shapiro continued to deny what were now obvious facts for several more weeks. When he did finally tell me about the transfer and about the loss of my promised year-long position, he made no offer of help or of apology for his appalling mendacity and sacrifice of my career. I went to friends to ask for guidance, without getting anything that seemed appropriate.

An urban fellow Such a revulsion for MIT developed in me that I determined to take a leave of absence. I went to Carroll Wilson, a management professor whom I had shown around my college in Nigeria and whom I had subsequently assisted while I was at NREC in the creative program he had organized called "MIT Fellows in Africa". I also went to John Collins, who had joined


the management faculty after being a very active and successful mayor of Boston. He and Carroll Wilson were launching an Urban Fellows program for "younger" faculty to gain experience in urban affairs. I was at the end of my thirties, but the program was not overwhelmed with applicants, and I liked the completely new experience it seemed to promise. I was awarded a fellowship. John Collins suggested that I go to work with and for a friend of his, the then-mayor of Detroit, a city facing monumental problems. However, my wife Anne's health problems prevented me from taking a post away from home. Someone suggested that I look into a just-formed Massachusetts special legislative commission on the operation and finances of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the MBTA. It would meet nearby in Boston. Commission technology advisor – or dogsbody My aversion with MIT politics resulted in full immersion in Byzantine state politics. In many ways, the bizarre politics of Massachusetts were far less deadly and far more educational than those of academia. I arranged to meet the chair of the commission, Senator (and mayor of Quincy) James McIntyre in his Quincy office. When he eventually turned up - I was to find out that he was always an hour or so late to everything - he turned out to be a cheerful and rather vacuous roly-poly man who exercised neither his body nor, so far as any tests I could devise could detect, his mind. (He died sufficiently long ago that I believe that I can speak the truth about him). He seemed to like the idea of an MIT (associate) professor working for him. We quickly came to an arrangement whereby I would be the staff of the commission (in addition to the secretary, Patricia Small). I bicycled back to Cambridge greatly relieved to be, for a space, out of what I felt at that time to be the mendacious and deceitful atmosphere of MIT and into one where, I was sure, my engineering knowledge would make me a star. My foray into transportation would also help. The PAT system, which seemed


my clearly unbiased mind to offer outstanding benefits in flexible, fast and frequent high-efficiency low-cost service for people and freight, would clearly be seized upon as the saving technology for the region. How wrong I was! The legislative members of the special commission were supremely uninterested in technology. As far as they were concerned, the technologies used by the MBTA (diesel buses, electric trolley-buses, street-cars (trams), subway trains, and regular surface rail service) were established. The only questions were how were the services to be financed, and to what places and along what routes should services be extended. The only commission members that had any interest in technology were Edward Dana, a wonderful enthusiast who had started with the "Boston Elevated Railway" in 1912 and who became its long-term general manager, and Herbert Bixler, a highly knowledgeable railroad buff. I was feeling my way in my new role. I did not think it appropriate to make a strong sell for new technology. I may have been too reticent. One result was that Senator Jimmy McIntyre treated me as a gopher, even occasionally as a copy-typist. I took it all in stride - I was learning all the while - until he ordered me to cancel a family outing long arranged on New Year's Day 1969, a public holiday, so that he could have me at some meeting. I complied, and turned up at the assigned place. After I had waited two hours and he didn't turn up (and never did, and did not bother to let me know or apologize) I wrote him an extremely strong and angry letter. He was someone who took from others as much as he could until someone stopped him. With shining exceptions, most politicians - or most I met in the State House, Boston, Massachusetts - were egotistical selfinflated pin-heads who liked to be surrounded by patsies. I had let McIntyre treat me as a patsy, and I stopped it. I can't claim


that our relationship subsequently professionalism, but it was vastly better.




The Boston Globe “Spotlight” team noted how little work was done for the State by Senator Jimmy McIntyre while he was paid full time for his services.


A Boston Globe cartoon on Senator McIntyre

Clarity on the problems of the MBTA After several months the reasons for the problems with the MBTA suddenly became brilliantly clear to me. I had been looking at the legislation setting up the MBTA (previously the MTA) that had been devised in 1964 by a bright lawyer, Robert Springer. It was exceedingly detailed and complex. In particular the formulae that set up the methods by which the annual deficits (caused by the cost of operation greatly exceeding the fare-box revenues) should be divided among the approximately 74 cities and towns in the MBTA district were highly complicated, and changed over time according to other formulae. We had periodic commission meetings with testimony from a wide range of people on what was wrong with the MBTA. Virtually all recommended that more money be pumped into the system from the general funds. In Massachusetts these funds


come mainly from income taxes and sales taxes, and are paid by everyone in the state, not just those in the MBTA district. It is a sore point among the "westerners", who feel that they are continually being required to pay out taxes to bail out Boston. I extrapolated the growth in the deficit, predicting that in about 1992 it would be a half-billion dollars per year. The prediction was on target. After many helpful discussions with the non-legislative members of the commission, with consultants and others, it suddenly became obvious that the MBTA's problems were not just with the shortage of funds, or the restrictive practices of the 25+ unions that represented the employees, or the poor quality of the track, or any of the other many problems that were described to us by those giving testimony to the commission. The overall problem was simply that the legislation that created the MBTA also set up negative incentives to productivity. I am now a little embarrassed to confess that this finding hit me as a startling revelation. I feverishly examined the legislation again, and looked at the effects on the employees, on the users, and on the traffic managers of the cities and towns. All had negative incentives. The employees had an easier life - and no fear of sanctions - if they worked slowly, if they sought out the bus route with the lowest patronage, and if the trains ran late. The cities and towns had incentives to ask for more buses and other services at rush hours, and then to discourage people from using them because they would incur more charges to their communities. The users, faced with a peculiar system of flat fares and transfers, had incentives to get maximum moneysworth by using it only for long rides. I could relate stories that you would read with disbelief about the resulting waste. My role reversal was almost complete. I reported to the commission that the present legislation gave incentives such that if the Pope and the Rev. Billy Graham could be persuaded to


drive MBTA buses, within a week they would be smoking on the job and swearing at the passengers. The commission members seemed to like this picture, and instructed me to do something about it. McIntyre, a died-in-the-stuffing Democrat, actually told me to write something that would privatize the system. I knew that, even if all the waste were eliminated and incentives restored, the system could not make money against competition from prodigiously subsidized private automobiles. So for the next few years (I worked full time on the commission for less than a year, and part time for several years thereafter) I wrote and re-wrote legislation that would reward productivity and service with powerful incentives that would apply to everyone, MBTA employees, users, and cities and towns. My students and I developed computer models that we continually demonstrated at MIT to members of the commission. We learned practical politics. However good a scheme might be, it would not stand a chance of acceptance if the district of a prominent legislator was predicted to bear an increased share of the MBTA deficit. We trimmed and modified and honed the formulae for the different services. I wrote the final reports. Gradually we won over almost all the members of the commission. I became filled with quiet excitement. If this legislation passed, the MBTA would become a jewel among transportation systems. Service would improve first. The employees would earn bonuses and would further improve service. The cities and towns would encourage ridership generally and discourage peak-hour use, which would reduce costs to them. The employees would begin to demand improved technologies. From then on there would be no limit to what was possible. The final press conference With Senator McIntyre's concurrence I worked with Pat Small to set up a press conference at which the new proposed legislation would be released. A big impression on the media was essential. The media would transmit the promise to the


public, who would pressure their legislators to support it. My excitement mounted. The day was set for a day in May 1971 at noon in the Great Hall of the State House. Everything was ready for a major event in Massachusetts legislative history. I was nervous but confident that people would recognize the rightness of the revolution that we were about to launch. Selfishness over public interest And then it all fell apart. Pat Small phoned me in consternation the day before the presentation. She was out of a job. Senator McIntyre had just come into the office and told her that he was leaving. He had a new position. He had become Senate Counsel. The much-coveted job of senate counsel is an almost-do-nothing position paid for by the taxpayer. It is virtually for life. Senator McIntyre had never done any work that could be detected for the commission. He turned up at every meeting between one and two hours late, never having read any of the testimony or reports. The new post suited him perfectly. He was completely uninterested in Pat Small's future. She had served him loyally for many years. He was also completely uninterested in the report of the special commission. This had cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars for the reports of high-priced consulting organizations alone. Some public funds also went to my students and me. The commission had involved the dedicated work of several legislators and public members, who had sat on the commission at no charge and at significant personal cost. Dozens of people had come to give testimony at their own expense in the belief that they were taking part in a democratic process. All were sacrificed. McIntyre refused to chair the press conference. It was canceled. Some months later Senator James de Normandie (a minority, Republican senator) on the


commission tried to release the reports, but the attempt was an expected fizzle. No members of the media showed up. I had been so excited by the prospect of the improvements in transportation that incentives would undoubtedly produce that I kept trying to publicize the message. In the next decade I gave papers to learned societies and lectures to citizens' groups. I joined, by invitation or by self-invitation, three successive recess commissions or panels on Massachusetts transportation, and successfully persuaded a majority of all of them (including, in the last, the president of the Carmen's Union, the dominant labor group) to support the special-commission approach. However, all the commissions had been set up in the Massachusetts tradition to give some legislator a quick boost as someone who was going to take action. That was all that was wanted, not actual programs. All fizzled into nothing.

The MIT trash man Once turned on to the power that legislation could have on lives, I saw political solutions in every problem. After my stint working in transportation and the fiasco of the Gas-Turbine Lab I found myself back at MIT wondering how I was supposed to serve out the remainder of my three-year contract. (My work for the MBTA special commission continued as a consulting project.) I was in fair demand at other universities and in industry, regularly getting offers to move to very attractive moresenior positions. This would obviously have been a perfect time. In this period I was offered a chair (i.e. a full professorship as head of a department) in my field at Imperial College, London. It was mouth-watering, but it was quite out of the question given my home situation at the time. My wife Anne had been hospitalized and was quite seriously ill. I felt rather hopeless. Then the MIT dean of engineering, Gordon Brown, came to see me unexpectedly as I was sitting in the lab contemplating the results that a very bright graduate student, Joan Moore, had


produced in the quest for a perfect formula for transit incentives. Gordon Brown had heard of the design course I had been running in which I chose environmental problems, and in particular solid-wastes management, as a topic. We had worked with an energetic commissioner of public health in the City of Boston on some real problems. (One of the earthiest was to examine the question of whether paper or plastic bags could be used for refuse disposal and collection, given the large population of rats in much of Boston. The students set up a test cage with laboratory rats with a trash bag containing succulent morsels of food. The rats did not get through the bags. We were delighted. Then some Cambridge rats had the audacity to break into the cage and into the bags. Laboratory rats were not good models for local street rats). The course had gone rather well. One doesn't expect a great deal from a one-semester undergraduate course, but the results received wide publicity. Dean Brown wanted me to run a summer-study (broadly interpreted as a faculty research group) on solid wastes in 1968. I would have some funds and could recruit people from all over the Institute. Having nothing to lose and nowhere else to go I accepted. In this unpromising way started an exciting and fulfilling part of my life.

Summer study on solid wastes People tell me that I'm a rather good organizer. I know that I love running activities like the summer study on solid wastes. I get a high from chairing meetings in which there is a lot of humor and good fellowship and yet in which a lot seems to be accomplished. On this occasions I was blessed with a delightful and highly accomplished group that volunteered eagerly to be involved. They were mostly from the chemical-engineering faculty - Sam Bodman, Jack Howard, Michael Modell, and Adel Sarofim; Dave Marks from civil engineering, Igor Paul from mechanical, and John Collins' friend Jim Freaney, who ran one


of the companies picking up trash and cleaning the streets in Boston. We met, discussed, invited experts to brief us, visited local facilities together and distant places as individuals, and rapidly "got up to speed" on the state of the art. In good time at the end of our summer period we wrote a report. John Collins read the drafts. When the report was released, it created enough of a splash that the TV stations wanted interviews. John Collins agreed to join the group. He lauded our efforts so generously that we were instant celebrities. For me the phone kept on ringing for several years.

Fire down below!

One of the first calls was from a gravelly voiced local entrepreneur who said that he and his partner wanted to take me out to lunch. They were a highly unpromising pair who ran something between a used-car lot and a junk-salvage business. They wanted to know if the new technology we discussed on TV was as good as we made it out to be. I confirmed that we were reporting as accurately as we could. The pair read our report, formed a new company, bought the equipment we had considered promising, acquired Cambridge land near what was then called the Prison Point bridge, and set up an operation called Reclamation Systems International, a misleading title. I think that they would have done well if it were not for their shady pasts and consequent habitual underhand way of operating. They kept coming to me for free advice until I felt that I would be less compromised by being paid than by seeming to be in league with them. When I went to face angry townspeople in a community, I would have the RSI owners state that I was a paid consultant who had, however, been given the freedom to say what I wanted. And I did. I told the communities that were protesting the acceptance by a local landfill of the company's baled trash that they should demand all the safeguards and clean-up provisions they felt necessary and, on top of this, ask for as high a per-ton fee in compensation for the 408

increased traffic and the odium of being known as the recipients of Cambridge's trash as could be obtained. I might have won one or two over. But RSI couldn't find enough locations to get rid of its product, and soon the yards under the bridge began filling with cubicyard-sized compressed bales of trash, two and three high. They began to stink in the summer heat. Flies began to be a real nuisance. A crisis was fast approaching. And then a miracle occurred. The whole lot began burning. It was an enormous conflagration. Everyone directly involved maintained that it had not been set. If so, it would have been rare among Boston-area fires at that time. It solved an immediate problem for the company, but created a few more. By that time I had successfully separated myself from it, partly because of nonpayment of fees. I was frankly fearful for the safety of my family. The Mafia is a pervasive player in refuse disposal. The last I knew of the founders of RSI was when they were serving time in a federal penitentiary somewhere further south on the east coast. I couldn't feel sorry for them. I was relieved to be clear of the mess, although worried that I might not be as clear as I hoped..

How to get bottles and cans recycled The recent death of Leo Kahn, formerly the effective but gentle head of Purity Supreme supermarkets, reminded me of his courteous interest in us. Soft-drink bottles and cans were among those that were charged a deposit, usually 5 cents, to encourage recycling. However, even Scouts were, it was found, unwilling to go out of their way to recycle containers for so small a sum. After we had found that the sorting apparatus that we were developing at MIT could distinguish between Coke and Pepsi bottles and lots of others I suggested, semi-humorously, that we should harness


people's enjoyment of games of chance. We should have bottleand-can recycling centers in shopping-center parking lots, in the shape of a certain politician's head with his large mouth open. Cans and bottles could be placed, or even thrown, at this open mouth. In general, no deposit would be repaid. But the sorting system would be adding up the amounts of the deposits, and after the total was more than $20 and before it reached $200 some truly random system would decide to make an award, lights would flash and bells would ring, and a chit exchangeable for cash at a bank would be presented to the lucky winner. Leo Kahn liked this concept, and wanted me to make such a system. Alas, MIT had all of me and more, and although I talked about possibilities with some local companies we weren't able to go ahead with this scheme. Alack-a-day! Leo and I would have enjoyed it. Ups and downs As a result of the summer study the phone rang for all sorts of other reasons. I and my colleagues were constantly in demand to give papers and lectures to local and national groups. A publisher asked me to write and edit a book on solid waste, which I did with my colleagues. Later Van Nostrand Reinhold asked me to produce a major handbook on solid-waste management, a very significant enterprise that consumed much of my life for several years. My friends and neighbors called me "Mr. Trash" in a friendly way. The Environmental Protection Agency encouraged me to apply for a research grant after I had sent a "pre-proposal" on innovative ways of sorting refuse for recycling. The grant was awarded, and I gathered a group of talented students. One student whom I had put to test various means of identifying refuse components automatically consulted with a bright young faculty member from Electrical Engineering, Steve Senturia, whom I later invited to join the project. Our collaboration succeeded almost beyond our wildest imaginings. On schedule and within budget we developed a prototype


laboratory-scale plant that took raw mixed trash and sorted it, using a small computer and the analytical instruments we had developed, into many useful categories. We were awarded several patents on the process and on the instrumentation. The EPA was delighted. My contract monitor asked me to write a new proposal at double our previous funding so that we could complete transferring these laboratory developments into practice. A wonderful future seemed assured.

The MIT refuse-separation system would take refuse from compaction trucks, cut open the bags, separate air-lifted plastic and paper and sort the larger items into two size groups. These could be sorted into e.g., fifty categories.

However, not only did we not get the new larger program funding: we did not even get a continuation of the existing funding. We were completely cut off. One never has a right, of course, to continued funding from the taxpayer's purse, and one should not expect it. However, it was an unwelcome shock. There isn't much of a market in grants for solid-waste research. It was the EPA or nothing. I puzzled as to what went wrong. I lost some other grants at about the same time and wondered if I had been blackballed. An angry person who had insulted Steve Senturia when he appeared in my place at a national meeting and whom I had consequently reprimanded wrote to the heads of all the federal agencies with which he thought I would deal, to the president of MIT and to several heads of departments implying that I might be a


communist because I was at the same school as the person who had released the Pentagon Papers. One of my friends said that this fellow was so obviously mentally sick that I should ignore the letter. I don't think that that was good advice. One should counteract lies with the truth at all occasions. Otherwise Gresham's law might apply: the bad drives out the good. If all one has heard of someone is a wild accusation of wrong-doing, one might believe that there might be something there. Since then there have been some interesting revelations that bear on the matter. At the time President Nixon, it has been disclosed, was so angry with MIT President Jerry Wiesner (former science advisor to President Kennedy) for some reason that he ordered all contracts with MIT terminated.

Press report of vengeance wreaked on MIT by Nixon


Not too long afterward national interest in solid wastes went to near zero for various reasons, principally related to the Arab oil embargo. Federal funding for solid-wastes research dropped from around $26m to $6m and later almost to zero. I will write about that development in chapter 14.

Commissions During my "trash period" (roughly 1968-78) calls continually came from people wanting me to serve on local, state or national study groups and commissions. (There was no waiting line for people anxious to be on such earthy endeavors.) I was asked to give a paper on solutions to solid-waste recycling to the National Commission on Materials Policy in May 1972. By that time I was enthusiastic about the sorting and recycling technology that we had developed at MIT. However, it was obvious that none of this technology or that of others was being used to solve our mounting waste-disposal problems. I gave a paper that identified the problem as due to the underpricing of virgin materials - there was no payment for the use of irreplaceable assets now denied to future generations - nor of the costs of environmentally benign disposal. If these externalities were internalized, recycling, I maintained, would occur without the need for subsidies, simply because it was the best approach economically. I began to call the resulting system the "Modified Free Market", or MFM. My proposals were not greeted with any noticeable enthusiasm. In those days economists did not recognize environmental costs as externalities. I advocated the establishment of a resource-depletion tax to be applied at the point of extraction of virgin materials:

At about that time Larry Susskind from the MIT urban-studies department, with his department head, asked me to be a


consultant in a program for which they had received funding. They wanted me to write a chapter on solutions to the Boston solid-waste-disposal problem. Once again it seemed to me that lack of application of new technology was not the problem. I was strongly influenced by my sessions with angry townspeople opposing RSI's attempts to dump bales of compacted trash in their localities. Also I was intrigued by the charge of $1/ton imposed by the city of Mountain View, CA on San Francisco for receiving its solid wastes. Mountain View was reported to be creating new recreation land and facilities with the funds received for refuse disposal and for compensation. It had also been able to lower real-estate taxes. Accordingly I recommended that Boston create a kind of Dutch auction. It would advertise that it wanted to find a location to dispose of its solid wastes. It would guarantee specified high standards of integrity for the landfill (for instance for the lining of the landfill and the collection and treatment of leachates, for daily covering and protection against blowing paper and infestation, and for the building, if necessary, of a dedicated and landscaped access road for trucks) and over and above that it would pay an amount per ton to the receiving community. The bidding for this per-ton payment would start at $1 per ton and increase perhaps weekly by $1, with negotiations proceeding with interested parties, until a community decided to sign up. It probably wasn't a totally original proposal, but it seemed certainly novel in application to a community's solid wastes. This proposal was greeted with irritation by Susskind and his boss the department head. They asked for a meeting and at it told me that they didn't like my suggestions. They wanted me to write an addendum on technology. I refused, saying that it would mislead the recipients of the report if I were to do so. They took my offering with bad grace.


Some years later, Susskind was making headlines supervising a major program pursuing exactly the program I had recommended. I asked for the program's publications and found no acknowledgement of my role whatsoever. I phoned Larry and expressed my considerable irritation over this situation. He apologized over the phone, and promised that he would make full amends in the next major publications in the program. Nothing has appeared. I suppose that I should have kept insisting. It may seem somewhat petty to expect acknowledgement of one's contributions. The older I get, the more I see that great discoveries always have antecedents. Most often, one person gets the credit. The person on whose shoulders s/he stood is not mentioned. Who invented the carbon-filament electric-light bulb? Joseph Swan of Birmingham, UK, of course. Edison, who bought or borrowed the discovery from Swan, gets all the credit. I have been rather retiring about many of my possible inventions and discoveries (almost everything has been at least thought of before, so that it is difficult to claim absolute precedence). But there comes a point in antagonistic societies where one is confronted with unpleasant choices. Does one put up with continual plagiarism or harassment from a bully for the sake of not making a fuss, or does one stand up for oneself in a major fight? Lately I have found that I cannot live with myself after I have been trampled on repeatedly by intellectual charlatans and bullies - or by egotistical buffoons like the late Senator Jimmy McIntyre. I wish that I could live among people that respected others and acknowledged contributions. It is, alas, the human condition that we don't. Every now and then someone starts a perfectionist society in which entry is restricted to the pure of heart and of conduct. So far as I know, every such group in history has broken in dissension eventually over exactly the same type of problems that beset the lesser mortals outside their walls.


The OPEC-induced energy crisis

In 1972-3 the organization of petroleum-exporting countries (OPEC) instituted a limitation on the availability of oil, producing what was termed an “energy crisis”. Prices of gasoline rose considerably, coupled with long lines at service stations, leading to calls for gasoline rationing. My brain sprung into action. Initially it seemed obvious that I should apply my increased-price approach to this problem. However, doubts arose. This would obviously hurt the poor more than the rich. And the amount of money that would be required to change people's gasoline-using habits would be huge, and the tax flow would be an enormous infusion into the government's coffers. I could see stretching to the horizon monuments to congresspeople being built . Suddenly the solution hit me: if gasoline (and other fuels) were taxed, but if the tax proceeds were then put into a trust fund, it could be returned to citizens by equal per-person installments through reductions in income taxes for those who paid taxes, and through other means like checks for those who don't. In that way a regressive tax could be made progressive. Poor people would actually get more returned to them than they paid out, because they consumed less fuel than do richer people and would pay out less tax, while receiving exactly the same rebate as rich people. The rich would lose some money, but would have far more freedom than anyone else to change their energy-using systems to reduce their penalty. Our money would come back to us instead of going to the OPEC members. I was TTB, thrilled to bits, made this known by some means now forgotten, and was sent a clipping from the (Quincy) Patriot Ledger of December 4 1973 with the headline “MIT Professor Urges Energy Use Surcharge” and a scribbled comment by the sender “Best suggestion I have reviewed to date – Joe H****” (I could not read more of his name.)


In a letter published in the New York Times in February 1975 I likened the low price of energy, and its effects on the public and corporations, to what would happen if the government decreed that ice cream should be free. I was still using the same theme in an op-ed article published in the Washington Post almost twenty years later. Neither had any noticeable effect except that plagiarists started advocating the same policy as if it were their own. At that time I was a fairly frequent contributor of articles for the Christian Science Monitor (I was the happy recipient of wonderful hospitality from a lovely Christian Science family in Concord MA, Julia and Perkit Kidder, who frequently hosted for lunch Saville Davis and Geoffrey Godsell, editor and chief correspondent of the Monitor. They were courteous enough to ask me to write occasionally). They had seen the report of my proposals on energy, and encouraged me to write a fuller article on my proposals. It came out in the issue of March 15, 1974: “Here's a new alternative to gasoline rationing”. An obviously highly intelligent person wrote from Germany to the paper, stating that my proposal was an “act of genius”, My head could have swelled. But just before publication, we had a distinguished visitor at MIT.

A definite lift from Kenneth Boulding An occasional word of encouragement, like that from Germany, works wonders for me, In fact, it might have made me what Englishmen call “a perishin' nuisance” I saw in “Tech Talk”, the MIT “house” newspaper, that Kenneth Boulding was scheduled to give a late-afternoon seminar in the first week of March, 1974. Boulding was a Quaker whom I had met very briefly at the University Friends Meeting in Seattle in 1957 when I was working for Boeing. I couldn't expect him to remember me. He was also an ex-Brit and had been president of the American Economic Association, of the Society for General


Systems Research, and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. I was looking forward to his talk. To my dismay, he was decidedly downbeat on the future of this country and of the world. In the discussion I said that I didn't believe that the future was as bleak as he stated, and that policies that gave people incentives to help society as they helped themselves were possible. I asked him if I could write to him about these and did so within a day or two (on March 4), including the MS for the Monitor article and probably another for the Environmental Action Bulletin, a monthly publication started by Jerry Goldstein who had been active in the recycling movement. After four months I still had not heard from Kenneth Boulding. And then a most extraordinarily enthusiastic letter arrived, full of apologies for the delay. My proposals were, he stated, "magnificent economics", far better than what economists were currently proposing, and I should get them published right away in prestigious journals such as the Economic Review. I was, of course, ecstatic. Recognition had come at last! I began converting my proposals to what I thought were scholarly articles with references and even equations. Alas! I was rejected repeatedly. I began including copies of Kenneth Boulding's letter of endorsement with his negative remarks on general economists “whited” out. I kept up the attempts for what became years, given that most editors take one to four months to let you know that they don't want your article. Senator Proxmire’s Joint Economic Committee My temerity knew no bounds. The thought kept coming to me that I had not always succeeded to reach some goal in the past because I hadn’t given it all my efforts. So I kept pushing for this set of policies to be considered. Somehow I got myself invited to testify before Senator Proxmire’s Joint Economic Committee. He was a hero of mine. He was a former school teacher who displayed intelligence and integrity. Lobbyists got nowhere with him because his usual spending on elections was


between $150 and $200, so no contributions were wanted or accepted. Since that time I have testified several times (five in total) before committees of Congress, and I have learned the usual drill. One reports to an aide who collects printed copies of your testimony (which gets published in the Congressional Record) and who tells you the rules of deference and general behavior, and then you are “stored” on a bench with others who are to testify. Usually the meeting starts well after the advertised time. Unless the committee and the topic are important enough to attract TV cameras, no one listens to the testimony of ordinary folk like me. Usually there is only the chair of the session and possibly one other member of the committee. One addresses a long curved bench at which a couple of people are consulting their colleagues or aides, but no one is paying any attention to the speaker. It is not inspiring. Senator William Proxmire did not follow this pattern. He was a courteous chair of his committee, and he listened very attentively. I gave my testimony and he asked a couple of questions for clarification. Then, when I finished, he came down to talk with me personally. “These are very interesting proposals,” he said. “But we are in a period of great inflation. Putting a tax or surcharge on to the price of energy and other commodities would increase inflation, wouldn’t it? That would be a disadvantage.” Rules for presentations to RBSs My students often hear this story from me. The message is “Never make your first presentation to an RBS – a real big shot. Make it first to your family or friends and work up the scale to critical audiences, encouraging them to ask probing questions. Soon you will either have the flaws in your arguments exposed, or you will be able to answer every possible query satisfactorily. I also tell my students about the time in 1955 when I first arrived


in the USA with a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard. I was lucky to be accepted by Professor Howard Emmons, a genius in fluid mechanics who had discovered some of the basic characteristics of turbulent flow of gases and liquids, and had work on jet-engine-compressor stalling being energetically pursued in his huge lab in Oxford Street. I started on a fundamental laboratory investigation of boundary-layer flow, far too ambitious for the time I had available and for my condition of not having funds to support even buying instruments. Howard asked about my PhD work, and said “You must give us a presentation about it some time.” Then he seemed to forget about it. I didn’t prepare anything, because I had written a couple of papers about it for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in Britain that awarded me two top prizes. I had had no criticism of any of my arguments. My PhD was unsupervised, and the oral examination at the end was by two professors distinguished in applied mechanics but with no knowledge of either heat transfer or fluid mechanics. One day during a regular visit to the lab, Howard Emmons casually said “Let’s hear about your work tomorrow, Dave.” I did no preparation because I felt that I knew everything cold. But Howard questioned everything with deep insight. He did not like a particular hypothesis I had used about the development of turbulence in turbine-blade boundary-layer flow. He was unhappy with one of my arguments. Afterwards I had several days in which my brain was whirling around his questions and my hypothesis. On the third day the answer appeared, clear as daylight. But it was too late. Howard Emmons made it clear that he was not impressed with my abilities in either fluid mechanics or in arguing my case. I felt like a failure at Harvard. Much the same reaction occurred after my presentation to Proxmire. I anguished over why my apparently perfect policy failed in the area of inflation. Previously I had made the argument that a tax-plus-rebate policy would decrease inflation


because there would be incentives on everyone to arrive at optimum solutions. But there would obviously be a “starting transient” of an initial boost in inflation. This time it took more than three days for the daylight to penetrate my confused mind. When it did, everything was crystal clear: we had to treat taxes in a consistent manner. The existing tax system was based largely on personal and corporate income taxes, which were excluded from assessments of inflation. My tax-plus-rebate approach would move in the direction of consumption taxes, which produce increased costs of energy and pollution and goods generally, so would directly increase inflation as currently assessed. So we need to change the formula by which inflation is calculated: either income and consumption taxes should be included, or they should be excluded. It is clearly inconsistent to exclude the payment of income taxes at present: they are a large part of the cost of living for those who pay them. And in a taxplus-rebate policy I would want the rebates to be included as a negative cost of living, a reduction in inflation. I included this provision in all later versions of my policy. However, my over-confidence had lost me a crucial opportunity of influencing the most powerful and rational legislator in this area. I never made up the lost ground. I continued the campaign in various ways, especially in op-ed articles in papers such as the Washington Post. But this time in 1974 was the high point in my advocacy of the policy. Subsequently it began to be copied by a large cast of plagiarists, none of whom acknowledged my part. Read on! The “modern” form of my policy is to increase the cost of fossil fuels and pollutants by fees, rather than by taxes. At the end of this chapter you will be able to find a letter sent by email, fax and regular mail on August 9, 2010 to Carol Martha Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, Executive Office of the President. It gave the modern version of my policy. (It received


no acknowledgement of any kind. I was uncharitable enough to conclude that anyone presented with a policy that does just about everything that is desirable and doesn't jump for joy has to be regarded as seriously lacking in gray matter.) The energy "crisis" and TPR Shortly after testifying to Congress I was paid the honor of being asked to give a talk on the energy crisis, especially as it affected our automobile transportation system, at the June 3 1974 "Alumni Day" meeting at MIT's Kresge Auditorium. I was the technologist on a panel of policy-makers and economists. We were asked to let other members of the panel know the substance of our remarks beforehand to avoid duplication and to allow a measure of collaboration. So far as I remember, I was the only speaker to do so. I made what was now becoming my usual argument: the energy crisis was not a technological problem: there were many technologies ready and able to contribute. The problem was a gross under-pricing of energy, of congestion, of parking space, of pollution rights, of defense costs and so forth, and that the appropriate action was to increase these prices gradually. In the case of energy and the automobile, the amount of money that would have to be collected through charges was far too great to be entrusted to the government. Major economic distortions would result. The parable of the shared lunch The "shared lunch", an old parable of economics, intrigued me. It is a corollary to the tragedy of the commons. If ten friends eat lunch at a restaurant every day, each paying for her/his own meal, the average meal cost is likely to be modest. However, if someone recommends that the costs be pooled and that everyone pays a tenth of the total bill, there is a strong incentive for one person to get an expensive meal, because she/he will have to pay only one tenth of the additional cost. Everyone sees the result of this calculation, and by the logic of


shared-lunch economics, before long everyone is eating the most expensive meal possible, and is grumbling about the cost of eating and at the increasing size of her/his waistline. It was obvious that this was the problem of the country's greedy over-consumption of energy. I puzzled long on how to reverse it. As told above, the solution hit me suddenly: increase the cost with a surtax or user charge, and share the proceeds equally as a rebate to every (legal) inhabitant of the country. Thus TPR, or tax-plus-rebate, was born. It may not sound like a big deal to you, dear reader, but absolutely no one was thinking of anything like this during that crisis. When I presented this to the gathered alumni there was a almost-tangible air of hostility among my fellow panelists. Morris Adelman, labeled the oil economist of MIT, was quite belligerent. Armed with the fore-knowledge I had sent him and others, he lambasted me and my proposed policy, stating that it was quite inappropriate. He advocated some form of regulation. A few years later I caught him being interviewed on television, strongly endorsing energy taxes and hinting at some form of rebates. (Economists invented the term "revenue neutral" a decade or so after this time to indicate that, at last, they were going to consider the destination of user charges and taxes). Another panelist was H. D. Jacoby who worked closely with Adelman. He became head of a group researching energy policy, refusing to talk with me many times, and implying that I had copied my policy from others. It will be obvious by now that I am not an admirer of economists, with some honorable exceptions (such as Kenneth Boulding!) They are very good at looking at the past, and almost hopeless at predicting the future or at recommending sensible actions to take. They give themselves socalled “Nobel Prizes” (which did not come from Nobel) for mostly vacuous and obvious theories.


An appeal to leading economists Following Nixon's resignation, Ford became president and tried to face the energy problem by inviting 50 leading economists (I could never find out whom they were leading) to a weekend conference at the White House. I wrote to the four who came from New England: Paul Samuelson, John Kenneth Galbraith, Andrew Brimmer and Otto Eckstein, asking them to allow me to regard them as my representatives, and to consider proposing the TPR policy (The letter is below.) Otto Eckstein was gracious enough to reply, stating that it was a policy that should be studied. But the all the proceedings were broadcast on educational FM, and as I was undertaking a major project laying granite setts in the driveway of 15 Kennedy Road, Cambridge on the day of the meeting, I listened to every word as I toiled in the hot sun. I heard to my consternation one economist after another state that energy taxes could not be considered because of the regressive effect on the poor. I was almost berserk with anger and frustration.


My letter to prominent local economists


My letter to prominent local economists

Another appeal – to Congress Since my attempt at influencing economists had apparently failed completely, I decided that I needed to go to every member of both branches of Congress, to people in the Administration, and to the heads of relevant agencies. After much re-writing and editing I produced a two-page single-sheet letter stating the


advantages of the TPR policy. My family was recruited to help me address almost 650 envelopes to all these people, mailed on December 28, 1974. As a result of this major effort the policy began to be proposed and discussed by people who had been informed of the broadsheets I was distributing. (I also successfully distributed some "news releases" to the major news services). My contribution was never, however, acknowledged. At that time I did not care so long as the policies were adopted. An early astonishing case was the Carter Administration's introduction in 1977 of what it called “The Well-Head Tax”, which was exactly my policy. I did not know then that Professor Otto Eckstein, who had complimented me on my policy when I had sent it to him earlier, and his former PhD student Lester Thurow (later a professor of economics and dean of the Sloan School at MIT), were on the Carter Transition Team and apparently inserted my policy without any acknowledgement to me. (It was handled very clumsily by Carter's energy secretary, Dr. James Schlesinger, and died a quick death.)


My letter of December 1974 to every member of Congress


My letter of December 1974 to every member of Congress

The academic free-for-all Once something is copied anonymously, others jump in. Jay Forrester, an MIT “great”, wrote on February 7, 1979 that “the government should impose heavy taxes on oil and gasoline to drive prices up to realistic levels. . .and thereby encourage conservation” I wrote to him the same day sending copies of my


latest paper. I have only recently found out that he forthwith changed his energy policy, making it virtually identical to the early version of mine, in 1979, over five years after I first published it. He then gave it as his own policy to John Sterman (who is now a Sloan School faculty member) for analysis in his PhD thesis published in 1981. Sterman analyzed the policy, again without acknowledgement to me (despite his using my description of my policy as the “modified free market”, and including a reference to my work), and it has since been treated as openly available by the Sloan policy group. I met with Jay Forrester recently (2011) to ask him how he could copy my policy in the way that he did. “You should be proud that you developed something good enough that people wanted to copy it” was his amazing response, totally without any apology. A report coauthored by Henry Jacoby changed my name of TPR, tax-plusrebate, to “tax-cum-subsidy”. Other copiers have been Greenpeace, the Sky Trust, Dr. James Hansen of NASA, Senators Maria Cantwell and Susan Collins, and other faculty at MIT, who have advocated the policy, usually employing the same figures I used in my examples. I wrote to everyone, without receiving any response except that some dropped their claims. Another who would not respond to my letters asking that I be permitted to join the energy-policy discussions is Ernest Moniz, director of the MIT Energy Initiative and probable head of the Department of Energy. When I managed to get a short meeting with him by somewhat surreptitious means and briefly described my policy, he said “That’s exactly the policy we want to get adopted” but then said that he could not work with me because he had other commitments” who were clearly the people who had plagiarizing my work. The situation is a sad demonstration of the poor ethics and morality in academic life. Several of my colleagues engaged in what is undoubtedly plagiarism have not returned phone calls and have not replied to written communications. The dean of


the Sloan School (of management) refused my request to appoint a committee of inquiry on the matter. In 2012 I tried unsuccessfully to institute an inquiry through Claude Canizares, associate provost. The “Two Cultures” are alive and flourishing at MIT, but the two are the combination of management people and economists on the one hand, and engineers on the other. I would have to describe it as repugnant. My chequered career in which I have worked on many diverse areas results in my being written to by students, inventors, researchers and interested people from all over the globe, and I have never knowingly failed to respond.. In chapter 14 I discuss a horrible case of persecution at MIT involving a young colleague who asked me for help. I agreed to help him somewhat reluctantly, but then encountered repeated lying, perjury, dirty tricks on a major scale, and did my utmost, unsuccessfully, to break down MIT’s façade of righteousness. I reveal there my late realization of the probable cause. A restatement of the modern version of the policy You, dear reader, may have read enough about my policy by now; nevertheless I am going to set down a restatement. The several plagiarists who have been advocating the general policy have copied a very early version, and none has made any improvement whatsoever. They have not included the safeguards against inflation, nor the treatment of emissions. Here is most of a letter referred to above that I sent in the middle of 2010 three times to Carol Browner, a senior person on President Obama's staff. (No acknowledgement was received.) RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LEGISLATION ON GLOBAL WARMING, ENERGY USE AND EMPLOYMENT As background, we note that in the last week of July 2010, the climate-change legislation previously under consideration was abandoned, but President Obama stated on July 27 that he still supports the need for broad climate legislation and pledged to keep pushing for it


(Boston Globe report on July 28 by Julie Pace). Earlier (May 20, 2010) Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press stated that “The National Academy of Sciences specifically called for a carbon tax on fossil fuels or a capand-trade system for curbing greenhouse-gas emissions, calling global warming an urgent threat.” Economists in general and The Economist magazine in particular have maintained for decades that fossil fuels and pollution in general are underpriced and should be taxed, including by cap-and-trade. We point out however that such taxes have three severe disadvantages. They cause inflation. They distort the economy by giving huge funds for Congress and the Administration to spend. And they are regressive, hurting the poor more than the rich. (The Nation, in its issue of July 19-26 2010, has a major treatment of “Inequality in America” that reviews this problem extensively.) We recommend a policy that would avoid all the above problems entirely. It would put gradually increasing fees – not taxes, because they don’t go to the government even though they are handled by the government - on the prices of fossil fuels and on the emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other pollutants that seem to contribute to global warming. The funds would be collected and entirely distributed every month so that every legal US citizen would receive exactly the same sum transferred to her/his bank account. People without bank accounts would receive debit cards. The cost-ofliving index, on which one measure of inflation is based, would be modified so that the rebates would be subtracted from the effects of the general increase of prices in the “market basket”. Congress would decide when the fees should be imposed (for instance, they could start in six months, at the equivalent for fossil-fuel


energy of 25 cents per gallon of gasoline, and increase by that amount every quarter) and when the increase in fees should be delayed or stopped. The consequences of such a policy would be the following. 1.

2. 3.

4. 5.




The use of fossil fuels – natural gas, gasoline, diesel and fuel oil, coal etc. – and emissions of pollutants would be gradually but strongly reduced. Business in general would rejoice at the reduction in uncertainty about future energy prices. Inventors, entrepreneurs, individuals and companies would start projects of all sorts to produce energy from wind, sun, biomass etc. and to reduce emissions in ways governed by the market, and would hire huge numbers of people to work in these enterprises. All these new employees would start paying taxes, reducing the country’s deficit. People would start buying more-efficient vehicles, using buses more, walking and bicycling when convenient, buying better home-heating systems, refrigerators etc., using their monthly rebates. Poor people would get a little richer because their energy and other expenditures would increase less than those of the rich, but they would get the same rebates. They would receive something like a guaranteed income and have greater self-pride. If the rebates continue to increase, virtually all would come off welfare. The rich would pay out more than they would get in their rebates. However, they would have far more freedom than do the poor to change their life-styles. They would buy everything available to lower their fees: fuel-efficient cars, air-conditioning systems, LED lighting, photovoltaic generators and so on. Congress would have the right to roll back, stop or accelerate the increases in any of the individual fees put


on energy or emissions at any time. They would be hearing cries of joy from many and of anguish from the rich. They might even receive evidence that would convince them that global warming has been exaggerated, and they might therefore decide to roll back fees. All these possibilities would be democratic applications of Congressional power. 9. Congress would be discouraged from advocating one technology over another, because the modified free market would work its magic. 10. The government could cease to put stimulus money from our taxes to increase employment and to decrease the use of fossil fuels etc. The deficit would drop fast. 11. Almost the only expenditure required of the government would be for the system for transferring the monthly rebates – surely a relatively low-cost operation - and a step up of enforcement on people seeking opportunities to cheat. This policy would discourage illegal immigration. This policy would shrink government, would provide incentives for all of us to solve problems, and would greatly reduce government expenditures. This table shows the likely effects of this policy in the first 72 months after enactment in the US. Other technologies such as solar PV would become economically viable in the next few months if the fee increases continued on schedule. As the prices of fossil fuels rise, people with the means to do so would do everything they could to avoid paying the fees, which would give a huge boost to new technologies. Poor people would be getting a little richer even if they have few capabilities of avoiding the fees. The government would have a policy with major effects at a very low price.


A postscript to this table This is written on October 18, 2013. The penultimate category is “Savings from reduction of government funding, etc.” and I entered a series of question-marks in the boxes to the right. An article by Andy Kroll and others in the issue of Mother Jones for November/December 2013 gives figures of present subsidies that could be entirely removed were the policy recommended to be adopted. These authors state that the present annual subsidies for oil are $4.8 billion and for renewables are $7.3 billion, “plus, renewable received another $6.2 billion in direct subsidies, research and development funding, loan guarantees, and other help in 2010; fossil fuels got just 2% of that.” It was a surprise to me that renewable were so greatly subsidized. These subsidies are the result of powerful people trying to “pick winners” with our taxes. Under the policy that I have been recommending, the “modified free market” would pick winners in a highly efficient, unsubsidized, manner, not involving any guessing.


Regulations: bad examples One message that I was trying to spread evolved gradually into the guidelines below. They came about because of the apparently automatic tendency of legislators to use their power to regulate, to practice what is sometimes called “command and control”. If there is a pollution problem from power plants, a legislator will introduce a bill to require all power plants to reduce their emissions by 50%. Another legislator, not wanting to be left out from the good-guy category, will write another bill requiring a reduction of 90%. In California, regulations are frequently enacted that manufacturers produce ZEVs, zeroemission vehicles. These aims are patently ridiculous, except to legislators. Not even bicycles powered by human beings have zero emissions. The legislation pushes manufacturers to produce battery-electric vehicles, which have been more polluting than modern gasoline-engined vehicles, but the pollution occurs near power plants and in and around battery plants where rich people seldom live. The new generation of battery-electric vehicles, not using lead-acid batteries and being charged from cleaner electricity, could be a major improvement. In addition, any legislation that requires a reduction in emissions has an inherent negative incentive to cleaning up the air or water or land. The reason is the following. Suppose that one company is public-spirited enough to spend a lot of money to reduce its emissions before any regulations are enacted. Then if a regulation is brought into being that all companies should reduce their emissions by perhaps 75%, it will be far more difficult for the public-spirited company to comply because it has already reduced its emissions by using the best available technology. So companies have an incentive to wait to reduce emissions until legislation forces them to do so.


The polluter-pay principle has some good incentives If, however, legislation were introduced to put a tax on particular emissions, for instance, $10 per kilogram of nitrogen oxides, the public-spirited company would immediately be rewarded for its early steps. The incentives of a “polluter-pay principle” are therefore in the right direction. They still have the drawbacks listed earlier: they are regressive, inflationary, and give large sums to the government that can be used for “pork”. My (modest, of course) belief is that my policy solves these problems well. If you accept this belief, you may ask whether we should abandon regulations and introduce nothing but pollution fees? No, that would be to bring about other serious inequities. Regulations requiring restaurants and work-places to be nonsmoking are clearly preferable to adding fees to the price of tobacco for the pollutants it produces. The fees would have to be so high that smoking would be restricted to rich people. There would also be an incentive to bootleg tobacco products to avoid the high fees. There would be no protection for people sensitive to tobacco smoke, which has been shown to increase cancer rates among nonsmokers.

Guidelines for legislation Therefore my guidelines to cover a great deal of legislation have evolved to be these. 1.

If regulation (command and control) is introduced, it should be supported by the overwhelming proportion of people and businesses affected. The costs of complying should not be prohibitive. For instance, an obvious regulation is to drive on the right of the road (or in some countries the left.) One doesn’t allow rich people to drive against prevailing traffic. The costs of complying


are zero. It costs the same to set up a highway system for right-hand as for left-hand driving. 2. If it is decided to charge fees on pollution emissions or on energy or parking, for examples, the cost of charging and collecting the fees should be on average small relative to the fees collected. It is clearly an economic distortion if the collection of fees costs as much as or more than the fees themselves. This means that it may often be necessary for alternative creative solutions to be examined. (It is also often desirable for fees of this sort to be introduced at a low level and increased on a specified schedule, to allow people and businesses to adjust their behaviors to the increased costs. At introduction, collection costs might be substantial relative to the fees, but with the ramping up of the fees and the inevitable fall in the costs of collection as the The fees collected should be specified for some purpose. General consumption taxes, such as sales taxes or valueadded taxes, are likely to be regressive, hurting the poor more than the rich, if the taxes are simply put into a general fund. If, however, the fees are put into a trust fund (meaning that it must be not capable of being raided for other purposes), and if the trust fund is reduced to zero every month or every quarter by equalper-person rebates being given through payments to bank accounts, the consulearning process continues, this guideline is likely to be soon satisfied.) 3. mption taxes become progressive, making the poor somewhat better off. If the fees are levied for a local problem, for instance on emissions from a power plant or steel works or noise fees on planes using an airport, the fee monies should be rebated in some form to the people and localities affected. 4. Inflation should be calculated based on the inclusion of income and consumption fees and rebates.


My belief is that fees and regulations along these lines have to come about in any rational society. We cannot be called rational at present. People in a hundred years will shake their heads in disbelief at our enormous subsidies for the use of automobiles, and for the production of unhealthful foods such as sugar and butter, and for mining companies, including many from outside the country, for despoiling the landscape and leaving huge cleanup costs to be borne by future US taxpayers. A few years ago I was invited to give a series of five seminars in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and I included one on the need to give poor people money rather than handouts of services. Whether I had any influence I don't know, but a small monthly payment to the poor has since been introduced in Brazil (“Bolsa Familia”, which goes to thirteen-million families). The Economist of March 19, 2011 stated: “It has had a fairly dramatic effect on poverty and inequality”. The amounts received by these families is far less than would be rebated under my policy as forecast in the table above, so that the effects in the US should be more, if possible, than “fairly dramatic”. Forgive my boasting!

Ellen’s view of my policy advisors


Chapter 12 THE DEATH OF DEMOCRACY IN MASSACHUSETTS This chapter follows the previous pages in dealing with other, mostly later, aspects of politics in the US, nationally and locally. Massachusetts is proud of its democratic traditions. This is where the tea was thrown into Boston harbor to show King George and the British parliament how their distant citizens felt about new taxes. This is where the shot heard ‘round the world was fired. The Adams and the Kennedys came from the state. The magnificent US constitution was modeled on its predecessor in Massachusetts.

The Great and General Court of Massachusetts Alas! We now have nothing to be proud about as far as democracy is concerned. My experiences with the Great and General Court (Massachusetts’ fancy name for the state legislature) when I worked for the Special Commission on the MBTA from 1968-71 showed me that there was a great deal wrong with most aspects of special commissions and related legislation (chapter 11). However, I had the hopeful feeling that everything else must do pretty well, or the state would have dropped to the bottom of the quality-of-life tables that someone produces annually. As is to be expected, the sea, the rivers and the mountains are given more weight in these tables than is the integrity of its politicians. Here’s how the full depravity of our senators and representatives (with some praiseworthy exceptions) was forced on my consciousness. The circuitous route started with John Gardner, former secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, former president of the Carnegie Corporation, and former professor at


MIT. He noted that politicians seemed unduly influenced by “special interests” and said “Everyone is organized except the people”. He founded the “people’s lobby”, Common Cause, in 1970 as a way to confront special interests (mainly industries and companies persuading legislators to grant them special privileges). The emphasis of Common Cause was on national politics in Washington DC, and when state groups, including one in Massachusetts, were formed, I thought that their role was principally to collect funds to send to the national body. I joined to show my support. Before writing something about Common Cause, however, I would like to put the problem in British, or perhaps more accurately, English, terms: the divine right of kings.

The divine right of kings In the years and decades after I left high school (grammar school in the UK) the realization of how little I understood many of the concepts that were drilled into me has been unsettling. One such concept was the divine right of kings. English kings from around Henry the Eighth began to assert that they had the god-given right to do what they felt was right. I didn’t know what to make of our history teacher Bill Hudspeth’s disquiet with this concept. It was part of the fabric of everything for me. My father and mother had some sort of divine right. So did my older brothers, although theirs was not absolute. The school headmaster, policemen, politicians all seem to have overwhelming power. I never heard of one of these majestic beings punished for anything. I grew up trusting them to do right. It was obvious to me that the monarch had more divine right than anyone else. I was not a political young man. Generally I obeyed authority without question. It was part of being British. We were brought up with glorious accounts of the charge of the Light Brigade in 1854 in the Crimean War ringing in our ears. “Into the valley of


death rode the four-hundred” (ordered by some idiot officer downing vintage wines well behind the front, no doubt.) Compared with these character-forming parables, my first objections to ridiculous orders were trivial in the extreme: I revolted against my father when he ordered me to repair his bicycle tire by doing something I knew to be half-baked, as reported in chapter 1, and against my employers in my first university-arranged summer apprenticeship (chapter 4). When I first came to the US in 1955 I was in awe of the quality of the politicians seeking the presidency: Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower, and the general high standards of much of US life reinforced my respect for authority. However, there were troubling signs that not all was well. Above all, there was obviously something totally specious in the divine right of whites to persecute blacks. Gradually I came to understand that people in general, once given power, believe that they have a divine right to it. Lord Acton stated “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We expect this to occur in totalitarian regimes, including feudal societies. What has taken much longer for me to realize is the great extent to which officials and politicians in what pass for democracies can be corrupted by almost absolute power. In chapter 14 I will expand on the message of chapter 11 on how academics are likewise capable of great evil when they have uncircumscribed power. I was struck a few years ago by a news item in The Economist that the government in Malaysia had struck down a previous requirement that ordinary people had to prostrate themselves when an elephant bearing someone of the level of a maharajah appeared. “Here” I thought “is an example of democracy at work!” Shortly afterwards I was almost the victim of a driver who swerved his vehicle to come within an inch or two of my left shoulder as I bicycled innocently (and lawfully) along, and as he yelled “Get the hell off the road!” It came to me in a flash that


this guy thought that he was a maharajah on an elephant, and everyone not in his exalted category had to get out of the way. I knew, however, that he was driving on a road that was first improved by bicyclists as a result of the “Good Roads Movement” of the late nineteenth century, before the advent of the motorcar. Also, although bicyclists are excluded from many major highways, on regular roads they - we - have all the rights and responsibilities of motor vehicles. Many years later I found out that, to add insult to insult, we bicyclists (and pedestrians) were subsidizing every motorist to between $5000 and $25,000 per year, because we are paying for a large part of the costs imposed by drivers. How could they treat us like that? I started reading political texts and tracts to find out. It turns out that these anomalies come about in something like the following fashion. Some event, or a powerful politician, gives a particular group or industry an advantage. This is the thin end of the wedge, the camel’s nose under the tent. I am primarily thinking of the alliance of the automobile, highway, and petroleum industries, but you may also think of the sugar, farming, tobacco, mining and other industries. When cars first appeared on British roads the ruling classes disapproved of them so strongly that a law was passed requiring them to be preceded by someone walking carrying a flag. This was a restriction so extreme that a motorists’ lobby sprang up. In Britain and elsewhere this was supported by the enthusiasm for the free form of travel that the car promised to rich people who could afford them, coupled later with Henry Ford’s huge production of cars for ordinary people and his payment of decent wages to his workers. Politicians swept away the restrictions and gave increasing benefits to drivers and the industries that supplied them, benefits well beyond those paid for by fuel and other taxes. The automobile and related industries employed lobbyists to promote legislation helpful to them. The lobbyists were provided with expense accounts that allowed them to bestow favors on politicians in


many kinds of ways, including large contributions to their election funds. As I am editing this chapter in 2013 the US appears to be emerging from a slump, one that has eaten up the huge surpluses in tax funds that were built up during the boom years of the 1990s. The sudden downturn in the economy has resulted in penalizing deficits for virtually all the US states. Funding for all kinds of worthwhile programs has been slashed, including those for education, welfare, environmental improvement and so forth. After several years of cutting and slashing, I have heard not a single word from any politician at any level suggesting that the holy cow (or elephant), the prodigious subsidies to the use of automobiles, be touched. Yet to do so would bring enormous benefits. This is a time when there is rising concern about obesity and the other health effects of Americans’ inactive lifestyles, about urban sprawl and pollution and global warming and the huge loss of time spent by people in traffic. Large sums of tax money are devoted to research and regulations to bring about “zero-pollution vehicles”, which politicians, who are overwhelmingly lawyers and who are suckers for any crack-pot scientific-sounding idea that they don’t understand, believe to be represented by electric cars or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. (In some respects these are, in fact, more polluting than current gasoline-fueled vehicles.) We have available almost-zeropollution vehicles - human-powered devices like bicycles and walking shoes - but these have received not a cent of research funding. Maybe they don’t need any. Pro-bicycle groups regularly run demonstrations in which commuters travel from suburbs to urban destinations by car, bus, rapid-transit and bicycle, and virtually always the bicyclists win handsomely. The message does not get through. The power - almost the divine right - of the automobile lobby and friends has become almost absolute. The politicians at the state and federal level are so closely allied with the industries’ lobbyists that often the bills


they introduce on behalf of the industries are drafted by the lobbyists themselves. It is a marriage made in democratic hell, and it is one that can be seen at all levels of government in the United States. Common Cause (CC) CC’s policies began to coalesce around the need for “clean elections”, because the existing elections for congress-people and senators were “dirty”. The definition of dirty is that elections for most politicians were beginning to cost millions of dollars, mainly to pay for TV advertisements, and that they were being funded by lobbyists for special interests. A US senator must run for office every six years, and with the average cost of an election campaign at $20-million, she/he must raise an average of nine thousand dollars every day to pay for it. If lobbyists and captains of industry are willing to shoulder a large part of these costs it would seem to be a cozy relationship. A citizen could be grateful to these supporters until she or he learns the economics. A donation of, say, a hundred-thousand dollars to a legislator’s campaign will pretty well assure a favorable vote on some legislation that affects an industry, and that vote may result in a savings in taxes or fees or a favorable treatment in other respects worth millions, sometimes billions, of dollars. As an example, Arianna Huffington in “Pigs at the Trough” states that a top lobbyist, Ed Gillespie, was given $50,000 each by Enron and by Daimler-Chrysler to lobby for an energy bill. She wrote: “The energy bill that passed the House in August 2001 contains about $33 billion of tax breaks for the energy industry.” The payback is thus huge, and it is paid for by the taxpayer, the consumer, in higher prices or more toxic pollution or lower safety. But it is hidden. Common Cause and its several allies drew up a system of “clean elections” whereby the election costs sufficient for the different elective positions would be provided from public funds, most of which come from taxes. These are not


hidden, and CC found that it was a hard sell to convince the taxpayer that she/he would be better off this way. An act for accountable politics As a test of its message, the Massachusetts branch of Common Cause launched a ballot initiative in 1991 on “ The Act for Accountable Politics” to reduce the power of lobbyists, to reduce the power of political-action committees, to reduce campaign spending and to make campaigns more open.. We had to collect 120,000 signatures from across the state to get it on the 1992 ballot as a binding initiative petition. I was asked to be the town captain for Winchester. It had not really sunk into my thick head at that time that we were involved in a state campaign – I thought that we were testing the waters for a national drive (I was just a young thing of 63 in 1991 and couldn’t be expected to know better at that tender age.) Some wise and seasoned supporters of CC and the League of Women Voters from the district were assigned to work with me. We happily spent a few Saturdays outside the post office, the main supermarket and particularly at the town transfer station (still called the “dump”) waving at people, hearing their views and collecting their signatures. Somewhat to our surprise we easily got considerably more than the required minimum, and so did other workers in other election districts.

Dave collecting signatures at "the town dump"


Under the Massachusetts constitution we had surmounted the first step in getting a proposed law on the 1992 ballot. We showed that the measure had support in poor districts as well as rich, in towns and in rural areas. Clean elections and the Supreme Judicial Court Common Cause and its allies then started work on a full clean-elections law, which was drafted by 1996. The next step was a statewide petition drive to get 100,000 signatures from Massachusetts voters by November 1997 so that we could get the Clean Elections Law on the ballot in 1998. I was again team captain for Winchester, the same good people plus a few others were keen to help, and the voters’ enthusiasm for the cleanelections proposals was undiminished. We sailed through. The bill went on the 1998 ballot, and was passed with a two-to-one majority across the state. It thus became law and with it a cleanelections fund was created. Hallelujah! The speaker (perhaps it should be spelled “dictator”) of the Massachusetts house of representatives, Tom Finneran, did not like the new law, and said so frequently and caustically. (Wallison & Gora point out in “Better parties, better government” 2009 that politicians reject anything that chips away at the enormous advantage of recumbents in elections.) Finneran refused to transfer money into the fund, as required by the law. Common Cause and its allies brought suit to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in October 2001 to require him to obey the law. The SJC acted fast: on January 25 2002 it ordered that the Clean Elections Law be funded. There was joy in the supporters’ ranks. Alas! It was short-lived. Finneran refused to fund the law. How could a mere mortal thumb his nose at the SJC? I expected him to be turned into a pillar of salt, or at least to be taken to jail in shackles. Nothing of the sort occurred. Finneran let it be known that he was considering introducing a bill to have judges elected in


Massachusetts rather than appointed, thus spreading “dirty” elections into the third branch of government. He stated on February 8, 2002 that the Clean Elections Law was “nonsense”. The CEL allies went back to the SJC. On April 5, 2002, Justice Martha Sosman gave a strong opinion on behalf of the court, stating that “the conduct of the resisting legislators is in blatant and flagrant violation of a clear constitutional mandate. ..” and more in the same vein. An immune speaker Finneran was not only seemingly immune from legal restraints. After the pro-CEL allies went on the offensive to get the public aroused about the failure to fund the clean-elections law and were winning more supporters, he realized that he was losing the public-relations battle. He went to the major companies in Massachusetts for which he had done favors in the past, companies like Fidelity and Raytheon, and asked for donations of $25,000 to $50,000 to pay for a TV advertisement masquerading as an information presentation that gave a wholly specious picture of the CEL. He put another question on the next ballot that asked if voters wanted their tax money to pay for politicians’ campaign expenses. Put in those terms and following the TV blitz of misinformation the obvious answer given by most of the electorate in the November 2002 balloting was “no”. The good guys lost and Finneran and his nasty allies reveled in their dirty victory. Somehow, not through any campaigning on my part, I became chair of the board of Common Cause Massachusetts at the annual “Awards Brunch” in May 2002. My reign didn’t start well, and everything seemed to deteriorate subsequently. CC-MA had had a bright hard-working and enthusiastic executive director. I was greatly looking forward to working with him because we seemed to have similar approaches to problems.. He did not, however, suffer fools gladly. He had the unfortunate


habit of putting young women into that category. He blew his top at one young woman handling – he thought mishandling – tickets and floral decorations at the brunch. He had exploded at a young woman in the CC national office a short while before, requiring much diplomacy to smooth over ruffled feelings. There was no doubt that he had to go. Unfaithful Fidelity The person who took his place didn’t like any of my schemes and used every excuse to stop or endlessly delay everything I wanted to do, even down to the letters-to-the-editor category. The president of the national Common Cause, a former Massachusetts pol, was also interfering in our handling of the election campaign by putting friends of his in charge of vital aspects of the campaign. When Finneran and his allies won their lousy victory over clean elections, after thumbing his nose at the Massachusetts constitution and the Supreme Judicial Court I became suffused with anger at the lot of them. I wanted direct action. No one seemed to have any ideas, so I launched my own. As mentioned elsewhere in the description of the nonsmokers’ rights campaign (chapter 13) I had been given a pearl of great price: ammonium isovalearate. It is a legal food flavoring, and thus completely harmless as a perfume. Its aroma is, however, totally repulsive, combining the stink of limburger cheese with that of an athlete’s feet. After a few crystals have been sprinkled in a room the stench persists for days, even weeks. My plan was to resign as board chair of Common Cause and then deliver envelopes personally to Speaker Finneran’s office and to Ned Johnson III, chair of Fidelity Investments, and maybe to others who had backed Finneran in defying the SJC. I would state that I was delivering the envelopes in the name of clean elections because there was no doubt that the opposing campaign had a disgusting and dirty stench. I would leave my card and, if not arrested earlier, hold a news conference. And if I were arrested I would have an automatic news conference.


Some of the State House and possibly the Fidelity offices would probably be shut down while cleaning people tried to remove the “smelling salts”. It would be front-page news. I thought it likely that Finneran and company would become laughing stocks. Whether or not I was associated with Common Cause, the campaign would revive, and entertained supporters would flock to our banners. . The legacy of MASH I became so angry that I could hold myself in restraint only with difficulty. I asked for the support of the Common Cause board to take drastic action. The CC-MA board had about twenty members, with twelve or so at a typical meeting. I had several loyal supporters. But the majority voted me down because they understandably were concerned over the effect on the reputation of Common Cause. They voted to start the six-to-eight-year cycle all over again to get clean elections on the ballot in 2010 or 2012. I was too old for that long a view. Years before I had been executive director of MASH, Massachusetts Action on Smoking and Health, later GASP, the group against smoking pollution, and we took direct action, as described in chapter 13. Resigned to reality 3 I resigned my chairmanship. Massachusetts had lost most of its democracy and, as far as I was concerned, its spark. I had lost a series of battles. Looking back, I realize that I should have been more political in launching my direct-action movement. I should have started discussing possibilities with my supporters on the board, and eventually I should have talked to everyone. I should not have launched something precipitously when I was so angry. What a pity it is to learn such a lesson so late in life. 3

References.[] McCullough, David (2001) “John Adams”. Simon & Schuster, NY, NY.


Finneran and other believers in the divine right of kings had won.


Chapter 13 MASH This is a third chapter on political action. It covers the period from 1972 to 1985. This time the “kick-line” concerns mainly local politics. “MASH” stands for “Massachusetts Action on Smoking and Health” as I’m sure you expected. Soon after its formation we were asked to change the title to something else (we chose Mass GASP – group against smoking pollution) because our vigorous activities were threatening the not-forprofit status of our parent body ASH. Here’s how MASH and Mass GASP came into being.

A summons from on high One day in 1967 I was minding my own business at MIT when I was sent for by the mechanical-engineering department head, the late great Ascher H. Shapiro. I went to his office wondering what new assignment I was going to be given. (Junior faculty traditionally get all the “dog-work” committee assignments, the oversights of student groups etc. with which senior faculty don’t want to be involved.) I was ushered into Ascher’s smallish office. There were three others with him: Jim Eacker, the administrative officer of the mechanical-engineering department, Hank Paynter, the controls guru, and Bill Gouse, with whom I used to teach thermodynamics to aero students. They started to tell me why I was there. I was trying to understand. But I was beginning to black out. I excused myself, went unsteadily to the men’s room across the hall, doused my face with cold water, jumped around a bit to get my heart pumping, and returned with apologies. But I began to pass out again. Back to the men’s room I went, same procedure, same reaction when I came into the presence of these big shots. I can’t remember if I learned what was wanted of me, nor how I got out


of the meeting. I probably excused myself because I was obviously feeling sick. Blacking out occasionally (it sounds more macho than “fainting”) was something that started much earlier when I was in my late teens. It was rare enough that I wasn’t bothered by it. It seemed to happen, for instance, after my very occasional visits to Lewis’s and other large department stores in Birmingham. During my graduate apprenticeship at the Brush company in Leicestershire, UK (1948 – 1950) I was sent home from the Gables hostel with something called acute sinusitis. The young doctor I visited in Loughborough told me that I must henceforth lead a very quiet life and to go out as little as possible. Being just over 20 I did not take this nonsense seriously. After traveling on a series of buses to get home I went to see our wonderful family doctor in Sutton Coldfield, Dr. Violet Parkes. She didn’t want me to limit my activities in any way. However, she told me to get relief from the sinus pressure by breathing the vapors from menthol crystals dropped in very hot water. She always gave me excellent advice, and I still follow it. I had unusually serious blackouts during a wonderful hiking vacation in the Cairngorms in Scotland with my buddy Pete Saunders. I had bought a Velocette 350 motor-cycle just to take us up to Kirriemuir for the start of the hike. I had crushing headaches the whole time. But it was on the return trip that things became serious. I couldn’t stay awake on the bike. I kept blacking out when we were doing 65 miles/h. We kept stopping so that I could nap. We made it home OK but it was a warning. The fainting/blackout problem became more frequent when I came over to the US in 1961 and worked with Jack Rizika at his company Northern Research & Engineering Corp. Sometimes the headache and accompanying “wooziness” would become bad enough that I would ask Jack if I could smoke one of his mentholated cigarettes. I was a little puzzled because they didn’t seem to help. They should have: they were spiked with Dr. Parkes’ menthol!


Pete Saunders and I strolling during a bicycling expedition to Cork and Galway

Patterns of culture and the weirdnesses of human behavior A friend had recommended that I read a book by Ruth Benedict called “Patterns of Culture” (not in connection with my occasional blackouts, however). The book made a deep impression on me. Different groups of humans could develop very strange practices, ones that we nowadays would regard as self-destructive and ridiculous, but they could be made to work – that is, the societies would conform to the practices and would govern their individual and social lives by them. Elsewhere in


this book I maintain that many of our present practices in the Western world (such as enthusiastically destroying our environment) will be regarded as totally mystifying by people living a century or two hence (if there are people around then). Other books by other sociologists enlivened my eager mind. One had a comment that I vividly remember and that is relevant to the subject of this chapter. It was that the members of a South Sea island group practised sex so frequently and from such an early age that it was not realized that male-female intercourse produced babies nine months later. The smoking hypothesis The point of all this is that after the meeting in Ascher Shapiro’s office I fell furiously to thought. And I was blessed with a revelation. Everyone in that meeting was smoking a cigar! A blinding light seemed to fill the sky! The answer had been given to me: I was somehow sensitive to cigar smoke! I hadn’t realized that there might be a connection earlier because of the delay between exposure to smoke and the effects. Dots began to be connected. My hiking buddy Pete Saunders was an inveterate pipe smoker. I had no animus against pipe smoking: I liked the smell, and I used to smoke an occasional pipe myself when I needed to compensate for my choir-boy-like appearance when I was twenty or so. But Pete and I had an exceedingly small tent – I made it myself out of parachute fabric – and the concentration of smoke in the tent was high. Immediately this hypothesis had to be put to the test. I began dropping in on my many cigar-smoking friends, surprising them by my chumminess. The hypothesis seemed to be undergoing confirmation: some time after exposure to smoke, particularly cigar smoke, I would get a nasty pain above or behind my eyes, something there would become swollen, I would begin getting double vision, and then I would black out.


Another period marked by severe headaches came up for examination. It was after I started at Nottingham University on my PhD work. I fixed up to stay with a delightful family, Frances and Len Sedgley and their small daughter Valerie. Living with them gave me the greatest happiness that I had known up to that point. We became close friends and did as much together as possible (I was working pretty hard). Also I learned how to do with four hours’ sleep. My headaches were so intense that I could sleep only two hours. Then I would get up, do thirty or forty pushups, and immerse my head in cold water, and be able to sleep another two hours. The physician I consulted had me admitted to Nottingham hospital and removed my tonsils and adenoids, which seemed to lessen the severity of the headaches considerably. But they continued. Looking back on that dreamy time in my life I wondered if the only negative aspects were connected with the Sedgleys’ smoking. They were constant smokers. The relation with sex in the South Seas is simply that when everyone is doing something, and when there is a delay between the action and the consequence, the connection isn’t obvious. Only when I had an almost-immediate reaction, resulting from four cigar smokers in a small room, did the connection suddenly seem to be a certainty, at least for me. In those days most people smoked, and I had a lot of headaches, but when the smoke intensity was relatively low it could take an hour before the sinus swelling had reached a critical level.


The Sedgleys and the Smiths. Frances Sedgley is holding daughter Valerie on her lap while looking admiringly (I hope and trust) at me. Len Sedgley is at the right at back. They were delightful. (They and the Smiths were also conspiring to link me with the Smith daughter, here between Len and me.)

The physicians’ rounds Now that I thought I knew what my problem was I began the rounds of physicians who knew about ear, nose and throat afflictions. I had recently married Anne Sears, from upper-class Boston society, and I was encouraged to drop my earlier and obviously lower-class medical experts in favor of those patronized by the upper crust. The first I saw was Dr. Francis Weille, whose tall slim blonde receptionist was close to being a supermodel. Dr. Weille soon scheduled me for an operation. He wouldn’t tell me what he planned to do – he was too lofty for that – but when I awoke from the anesthetic I found beside the bed a glass bottle full of large polyps that he had removed from one side of my nasal passages. Their removal made me feel better for


a while. So later in another operation he repeated the procedure on the other side. But they all started growing back. Dr. Weille liked to have a stack of important people waiting outside his office. I was not an important person except to Northern Research & Engineering Corporation, where my absence could cause a loss of business. I didn’t like the long waits, so one afternoon when I had an appointment at 5.30 PM I phoned Supermodel at 5.15 to ask her how long would the wait be. Dr. Weille’s office was a ten-minute bike ride from mine. She told me loftily that he was absolutely on time. I dashed over, saw the long queue, but decided to wait. I did so until about 6.45 PM, at which point I told Supermodel that I would phone the next day to get another appointment. I didn’t have the opportunity of doing so. The great doctor phoned me, full of apologies, and from then on Supermodel would usher me into his holy of holies as soon as I appeared in the doorway. That was fun, but I felt embarrassed at the local big shots past whom I was being taken. And unfortunately, Dr. Weille’s cures were short-lived. Another famous physician I saw was a Dr. Ryan. He had a physician’s manual on ear, nose and throat problems displayed at a publications fair in Boston at which I was speaking. I scanned it, bought it and then bought Dr. Ryan’s full textbook. I was bowled over by the symptoms for sinus infection that he described: they seemed precisely what I got from exposure to tobacco smoke. In the book he also mentioned a cure that he had developed, that sounded as if he would manipulate a special pair of pliers into a patient’s sinuses and somehow pull out the lining leaving, presumably, bare bone. That appealed to me mightily. I was desperate for relief. I had just been taken off teaching a new course on applied thermodynamics into which I had sunk a huge effort and which seemed to be going well. But at the weekly thermodynamics teaching meeting I would black out within ten minutes of arriving because several people smoked cigars and others smoked cigarettes and pipes. Seeing me lapsing into a


state of collapse convinced them I wasn’t interested in thermodynamics. I was distraught. I wrote to Dr. Ryan explaining my problems and asked if I could set up an appointment to see him. Everything was arranged: I bought a return air ticket to St Louis, Dr. Ryan’s home base, and turned up at the appointed earlymorning time. Dr. Ryan was almost obscured by haze from the pipe which he was enthusiastically puffing. No, he said, he wouldn’t do the operation on me because there was no chance whatsoever that I could be affected by tobacco smoke. But he would cauterize my nasal passages. I didn’t know what that was but agreed to him doing it right there. As soon as he had performed the procedure he told me that I should go out to expose myself to smoke so that I would find that this procedure had cured the problem. It was about 10 AM on a beautiful St. Louis morning, and I had until about 3 PM before my return flight to Boston, so I started trying to sit by cigar smokers and to inhale their smoke. After an hour I found no one smoking a cigar, so I bought one myself, lit it and breathed the smoke for a few minutes. At first I felt good – until darkness at noon seemed to close in. I reported to Dr. Ryan at the appointed time that I felt lousy, paid what I owed for the visit and procedure, and got myself to the airport. It took about six days before the oppressive headache and wooziness abated, along with my enthusiasm for Dr. Ryan. Cures in Canada? Then a physician at the Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary recommended that I see a Dr. McClennan in Canada where, he said, “challenge” tests were permitted, whereas here in the USA they were illegal. After correspondence I was booked for a threeday series of tests in Hamilton, a suburb of Toronto. It was a highly educational experience. I was one of about twenty patients being tested simultaneously, but all on different


schedules and different samples of allergens. A head nurse sat in front of a large board on which allergens were listed down the left side and ten columns contained graded strengths of the allergens. Dr. McLennan, a courteous but somewhat lofty man, decided which allergens in which order and at what strengths each patient would be tested. I felt it necessary to tell him that his science was not firm. He was challenging us with samples of allergens administered partly (in scratch tests, under the tongue, and up the nostrils) by his lovely daughter Janice. We then had to tell the nurse if we had headaches or if our pulse rates had increased. I pointed out to him that my pulse rate increased whenever his daughter came nearby. As with Queen Victoria, the good doctor was not amused. At one time everyone in the room reported headaches. As we were on different allergens at different strengths it seemed remarkable. I asked the nurse if I could report this to Dr. McLennan. She said that he was out of the building at the time. I looked out the window, and saw that the good doctor was trying to start his Rolls-Royce for his wife in the middle of a Canadian winter. The Rolls had no exhaust catalysts, which wouldn't have worked when cold in any case, and it was sputtering, emitting white clouds of noxious gases. The exhaust was shrouding the building, presumably finding an air intake, and we were breathing a weak mixture of exhaust. In any case, the building was just off a steep hill up which trucks, buses and cars chugged up all day, spewing out a whole lot of ghastly stuff. I couldn't see how the tests were not confounded by all the extraneous challenges we were getting. Dr. McLennan was an enthusiast for food allergies and tended to discount airborne allergens. He pronounced me allergic to a wide variety of foods and prescribed a rotation diet. I should especially avoid having wheat more often than every five days.


On the second day I would have rye bread, for instance. I asked him where I could get pure rye bread. He told me, and I went out at lunch time on the last day of my visit to buy the exact loaf he recommended. I pointed out to him that it, along with most other alternative breads, had a large percentage of wheat flour along with the rye. He did not seem disturbed by this information. After I reached home he required that I exist on distilled water alone for five days, and then to try a sequence of foods, one alone at a time. I was able to prove, at least to myself, that I was totally unaffected by the various foods to which Dr. McLennan had declared me allergic. I felt sorry for the many people whom he had ordered to leave their homes and jobs to live in totally ceramic or stainless-steel buildings far from others, because it seemed likely that they were not in fact allergic to almost everything. The science of allergies was, I felt, highly defective. Smoke gets in my eyes At some time after this series of tests someone whose views I respected told me that he suspected that many airborne allergens entered the body via the eyes and tear ducts. He suggested that I might try scleral lenses, an early form of contact lens that encased the entire front of the eyeball. At that period I was young enough not to need vision correction, and I had myself fitted with these monstrosities in clear glass. They were painful to insert, to wear and to remove. My eyes watered a great deal, but they did seem to reduce the effect of smoke quite remarkably. Alas, after a week or two the attending ophthalmologist said that I must stop wearing the lenses because my corneas were being adversely affected.

The start of MASH Now, dear long-suffering reader, we come to the origin of MASH. The lenses had pretty well convinced me that the eyes were a significant route for the allergens to get into my head, but


I couldn’t use them safely. So I started experimenting with wearing goggles in any indoor area where there were traces of smoke (i.e., just about everywhere). Naturally people started asking why, and I would respond truthfully but with embarrassment. There was no doubt that I was obviously very strange: up to that time I had never met nor heard of anyone who was affected by second-hand tobacco smoke. It was highly embarrassing being some kind of unique freak, condemned to suffer on the fringes of society. Was I ever wrong! The goggles spread the message, and people began coming to see me, writing and phoning that they too had problems like mine. It was amazing to me. I felt as if I had been welcomed back into the human race. I had heard about the organization ASH, Action on Smoking and Health (started by an MIT alum, John Banzhaf in 1967.) In the early days his organization seemed to be concerned more with getting smokers to quit for their own good. But then his newsletter reported on the activities of Betty Carnes who was winning campaigns for nonsmokers’ rights in Phoenix, Arizona and far beyond. In 1972 I wrote to John Banzhaf and offered to start a local New England branch of ASH, and he gave me the green light. He also gave me the names of two world-renowned physicians who were from the Boston area and who had helped him start ASH: Dr. Dwight Harken and Dr. Richard Overholt. They welcomed me and my efforts warmly, promised their support, and added hugely to our later successes. Nonsmokers’ rights at MIT, 1972 - 1985 Initially, however, my motives were partly selfish: I wanted to clean up MIT where smoke was everywhere. Volunteers came to help. I made and installed, with permission, a large windowed notice board along the main drag (the “Infinite Corridor”) of MIT. We started having a stall in a central lobby of MIT (“Lobby 10”) at noon once per week, at which we passed out leaflets on


nonsmokers’ rights and extracts from letters from students, staff and even some faculty who were having severe problems at MIT. We also sold bumper stickers, button-hole badges and the like from ASH. There was an amazing degree of enthusiasm, given that the media gave very little time to the topic in those days, and there was also an even more surprising lack of animosity from smokers. They probably thought that there was no way that this fringe group was going to restrict their smoking rights. In those days it seemed that everyone smoked, students, staff and faculty, medical doctors and nurses. My friends said “Look around, Dave, there’s no chance of changing the minds of so many!” Nevertheless I sent a petition to MIT President Jerome Wiesner, a pipe smoker, to ask for a ban on smoking in classes. He appointed an ad-hoc committee consisting, my friends told me, of five smokers and one nonsmoker. (One of the smokers was probably the head of MIT Medical. We had had frequent complaints of patients seeing doctors who smoked during medical examinations.) Months went by without a response. I thought that a little educational advertising was called for, and paid (out of contributions and sales monies from the stall) for two full-page advertisements in the student newspaper THE TECH, containing as much incontrovertible evidence as we could muster (there wasn’t a great deal at that time) and extracts from students’ letters on what harm smoking at MIT did for their prospects. To my great delight, some fellow members of the faculty told me that they had no idea previously that their smoking affected anyone but themselves, and that now they realized that they were wrong they were quitting immediately. Eventually the president’s committee delivered its weighty donothing conclusions. Smoking at MIT, it declared, was under the control of local laws and ordinances, and that we should look to these for any possible change.


The Cambridge campaign We were obviously disappointed, but we girded up our loins, found out how ordinances were passed in Cambridge, and began to attend some City Council meetings. When we drew up our petition to have a city ordinance banning smoking in schools I was quite nervous, knowing that most of the city councilors smoked. The mayor was, moreover, Al Vellucci, a populist – and popular - fellow who delighted in making fun of academia. With some hesitation I asked the great Dr. Dwight Harken, a near neighbor in Cambridge, if he could come to City Hall to back us up. He did. It turned out that he had operated on at least one of the councilors, probably saving his life. Our presentation turned out to be something of a love-fest. We were given unanimous support and were urged to proceed to the second and third readings. The ordinance wasn’t solely on smoking in schools. By the time we drew it up we had many supporters from outside MIT. They wanted to have smoking restrictions in medical facilities, public meetings, and in the public transportation system, and they wanted ten-percent of the seats in the larger restaurants to be designated as non-smoking. The proposed ordinance sailed through the second reading with no adverse comment, and we were beginning to congratulate ourselves. The third and final reading was to be held on a Monday in 1974. Three days before that day the tobacco companies struck. It turned out to become a familiar pattern. Somewhere else I have confessed that I am a newsaholic. I choose a selection of radio and TV programs during the week to record (to listen to when I’m shaving and dressing) so that I can keep in touch with events and trends. To my horror I heard the recording of my favorite Friday-evening radio news state that our group was trying to stop all smoking in all Cambridge restaurants. We spread the word of this calumny among


ourselves but thought that we could counter this false information at the Monday council meeting. What we didn’t know was that the tobacco lobby (it operates under the name “The Tobacco Institute” as if it is some academy of higher learning, instead of being a sleazebag of liars) had sent one of its minions by plane to Cambridge on Saturday, laden with fat files of falsities for every councilor, and probably similar lies for restaurant owners. Anger and hostility We all came to the Monday council meeting feeling fairly confident. But then we heard the noise. It was like that produced by angry bees swarming. As we entered City Hall we found the corridors packed with restaurant people. We recognized many of the restaurant owners, because we had discussed our plans with them cordially and with apparent support. They thought that we had gone back on our word to them, and that we were trying to pull a fast victory out of their earlier welcoming of our modest proposals. We tried to disabuse them of this misconception, but no one wanted to listen to us. We held a quick council of war. It was obvious that we were going to lose the whole ordinance over the restaurant issue. In the first part of the hearing I held my tape recorder up to the Council-chamber microphone to present the lies that were reported as news. Then we asked Mayor Vellucci if he would allow us fifteen minutes to discuss problems with the restaurant leaders. He agreed, and gave us a room for the discussion. We said to the restaurant leaders that we would ask that the clauses concerning restaurants be removed if they would agree to make a trial of nonsmoking sections in ten restaurants. To our delight and relief they agreed, the ten restaurants were named, and the angry drone subsided. The City Council passed the remainder of our ordinance. Within a few weeks, smoking was to be banned in schools, universities, lecture halls, medical facilities


and transport services. It was a “Hallelujah!” moment. We were TTB – thrilled to bits. Trial by fire The trials at the restaurants had mixed results, but these were eventually almost unbelievably good. Only three of the ten actually tried nonsmoking sections seriously, and that description was too strong for one of them, the Howard Johnson at Fresh Pond circle. My family often had meals there, and more often than not the nonsmoking section was “closed”. The other two were faithful to the plan: a delicatessen on Massachusetts Avenue near Porter Square, and Legal Seafoods, a strange little restaurant in Inman Square. My family patronized both regularly and we were delighted at the strong enforcement of the smoking ban in small sections of both restaurants. (Nonsmokers could not be guaranteed much relief from the surrounding 90 percent of smoking tables, but at least we didn’t get smoke blown into our faces.) Legal Seafoods had many unusual features, one of which was that it printed no menus. The offerings were written out in chalk on a huge black wall. Young women would occasionally look directly at me and smile warmly, which delighted me until I realized that I was sitting in front of descriptions of delectable items in the menu. So instead of ten restaurants offering no-smoking sections we had just two, but they were successful. Patrons were grateful, and told the owners so. Legal Seafoods began increasing the size of its section beyond ten percent. We felt happy and vindicated. And then both restaurants burned down. Far be it from me to imply any cause-and-effect explanation. I know that the tobacco people are or were capable of any action that they thought would further their sales and profits, however many deaths were caused here and abroad. People familiar with the start of the Legal fire have told me that it was clearly an accident. My response is to point at neighboring towns where there is a brisk business in


faking auto accidents to collect sizable insurance profits. Whatever the cause, the delicatessen owner was too discouraged to rebuild, and retired. Legal Seafoods opened branches in Boston and Chestnut Hill and, later, elsewhere, and started with nonsmoking areas of around 50%, despite the absence of Boston ordinances requiring any nonsmoking areas at that time. The areas were again increased by popular demand until eventually the whole restaurants were nonsmoking. And there were usually lines of people waiting to be seated. The claims of the tobacco people that restaurant owners would lose business if they were forced to have nonsmoking sections were proven false. The end of the beginning From then on our progress seemed easier. We staged demonstrations outside Symphony Hall, Boston, protesting that the Pops’ concerts should be smoke free, and they soon were. The Virginia Slims tennis tournaments also attracted our demonstration gang and lots of favorable media publicity. A program on Channel Five called Five all Night Live asked me to appear to be questioned at some hour like 3.30 AM, and I welcomed it because I had learned that whereas one can write something ten or twenty times until one has eliminated all inconsistencies and has clear, logical arguments, one needed to make presentations many times for the same reason. There was another major advantage of appearing at Five all Night: one of the crew, Tony Benis, asked about our movement and joined it. He turned out to be a pearl of great value. Not only did Tony have youthful enthusiasm for the cause, but his position at a TV station meant that he got an early look at the advance notices from the Tobacco Institute of its plans. The earliest report he gave us was that the tobacco lobby had hired a woman pop star to arrive at City Hall Plaza at noon on a certain day to open a campaign in favor of smoking restrictions being lifted by the Boston City Council. At about 1145 we had a


considerable group of MASS/GASP supporters there ready, and in particular about ten physicians and surgeons from Massachusetts General Hospital nearby were there in their whites and with their stethoscopes. The media were also ready. When the star rolled up dolled up to the nines in her limousine and stepped out with her entourage, she and they were surrounded by a chanting circle of opponents and medical people. Someone reported that her lower lip quivered and a tear was seen coming from her eye. She was not able to give the smiling feel-good announcement replete with lies that had been prepared for her. Ready-for-framing certificates When a demand arose we would give a session of guidance on handling smoking complaints. One guideline came from Jeeves. My dad and I irritated my mother because we would sit in comfy chairs in the “drawing room” of our Boldmere Road house giggling over different books by P. G. Wodehouse from a set bought by my father from the local recycling store. I transferred advice given by Jeeves, Bertie Wooster’s “gentleman’s gentleman”, to his master on how to handle crises. “If I may make so bold to suggest, sir, when you are exercised, never make statements. Always ask questions.” This, I thought, was wonderful advice, and I was always anxious to pass it on. One day I was taking a transit bus in Boston when one of the passengers lit a cigarette. I made a statement. “It’s against the law to smoke in an MBTA bus!” I told him. He kicked me quite hard in the shin. So the next time someone lit up in a bus in which I was a passenger, I first asked him a question loudly: “Do you know, sir, that smoking is prohibited here?” And, as expected, receiving no response I addressed my fellow passengers: “How many of you would like to vote in favor of having this passenger continue to smoke?” Naturally, no one responded. “How does it feel to be selfish and stupid?” I asked


the guy, and sat down. Even if he continued smoking, I knew that I had won. To handle the problem of people smoking in committee meetings and the like, I sketched up some certificates surrounded with small images of cigarette packages and had them printed in deckle-edged thick paper. If possible I would be the first to arrive at a committee meeting, and would watch the arrivals very closely. At the first sign of a cigarette package or pipe being brought out I would shoot up my hand and ask “Madame chair, may I ask permission to present a certificate to Dr. Smelly?” And the chairperson would look confused, but I would start reading it without waiting for a response. “The certificate reads “In consideration of the exceptional restraint and concern for the well-being of others, this considerate-smoker award is presented to Dr. Richard Smelly. May I sign it sir?”. Almost always it was accepted with good grace and a great deal of laughing applause from other members of the committee. We began selling the certificates at our stall, which by that time was situated in Harvard Square, Cambridge.

The (famous) Considerate-Smoker Award


Nonsmoking stinks! There were a few occasions when the considerate-smoker award didn’t work, and many other times when I found myself forced to join groups in which there were only one or two smokers. We used to sell bumper stickers, buttons and ashtrays that proclaimed “Smoking stinks!” and this slogan gave me an idea. I set out to find how I could buy synthetic skunk oil. Before I located any I was on a two-week hiking vacation when one of my fellow hikers proclaimed “This is my last day of work! Tomorrow I’m retired!” A question I like to ask people seemed appropriate here: “What’s your racket?” and he replied “I’m the chief chemist of Monsanto. I had some accrued vacation time.” “Wonderful!” I cried. “Please tell me where I can buy synthetic skunk oil.” “What on earth do you want it for?” he asked. “When I’m in a place where some smokers insist on their right to smoke, I want to be able to agree and to state that I also have the right to stink the place up!” “I have something better than skunk oil” he said. “Ammonium isovalearate! Air-conditioning installers use a crystal or two to detect tiny gaps in their ducts. It smells like a combination of athletes’ feet and limburger cheese. And if someone continues to smoke, the cigarette or pipe tastes awful!” I procured some as soon as I could find it, confirmed that indeed the stench was indescribable, and also found that it was an authorized food flavoring and was therefore quite harmless in the tiny quantities that could be inhaled. Very carefully and lovingly I packed some into tiny vials for use of my responsible friends – irresponsible uses would obviously bring great discredit to the movement. Air battles Before I had a chance to use the stinking stuff I had the happy chore of accompanying our son John, then about eleven years old, to some friends in Brittany who had invited him to spend a week or two with them. To save money I booked us on


an MIT charter flight to London. I usually had a lousy time on flights, particularly long ones, because of the bad cabin air, but this time the counter people offered us smoking or nonsmoking seats. I was overjoyed. The flight was operated by Dan Air, a British company. We boarded at about 1 pm and eventually were moving slowly over Logan Airport’s bumpy taxiways to the runway. John turned to me. “Dad: what are the chances that a tire will burst as we taxi?” he asked. “A thousand to one chance” I said. Then I began calculating that I had done a great deal of flying for many years without experiencing a tire burst, particularly one on taxiing. “Correction!” I said. “Ten-thousand to one!” Just then there was a loud crack, and the plane tilted slightly over to one side. The plane turned slowly around and returned, and the voice over the speaker system told us that there had been a tire failure. It took many hours to get fixed, which seemed to indicate that Dan-Air’s credit wasn’t very good. (Much later we were at the Dover ferry to take us to Calais, and John asked me “Dad, what chance is there of the ferry sinking – NO – DON’T TELL ME!”) Eventually we took off and reached cruising altitude. To my horror and disgust there were people all around lighting up cigarettes and pipes and even five cigar smokers were not too far in front of us. I stood up to ring the attendant’s call button. Sometimes I’m convinced that British cabin attendants are recruited from frustrated kindergarten teachers. Along the aisle sailed a battleaxe of a woman. “Sit down sir!” she yelled. ”What do you want?” “We were offered seats in the non-smoking section, and this doesn’t seem to be it. Could I please be moved to the non-smoking section?”. “There is NO non-smoking section” she shouted. “I’m very sensitive to smoke” I said “and I will have to take my smelling salts. They do make the atmosphere rather unpleasant for others.” And I pulled out my unused vial of ammonium isovalearate and poured a little into a saucer. “Put that stuff away” the attendant commanded. “Please


fetch the captain” I asked. I apologized to the people nearby, but they all said that they too had been promised non-smoking seats. I got some of their names and knew that we had a cast-iron case. It took the captain about twenty minutes to come towards me. “Are you the ring-leader? Put that stuff away or I’ll have you arrested when we land at London Airport” he stated nastily. “All right, Captain” I responded. “But I should let you know that I will sue the airline for breach of contract.” He grunted and left. On the return trip a week later a sympathetic cabin attendant told me that during the whole of the trip out there were seats forward in which no one was smoking, and that I could have one of these. I thanked her and took one. John was still in France. The air was pretty good, though still somewhat smoky. Soon after we leveled out an attractive young woman threw herself into the seat beside me and said “What a relief! I’m dying for a smoke!” “Young woman – I have bad news for you!” I said, and summarized the story so far. I also asked her what her racket was. “I’m an (she might have said “the”) attorney for the airline!” So I told her that she would be called upon to defend the airline. We had a friendly attorney among our band of brothers in MASH-GASP, and he started on a case against Dan-Air. As I suspected it didn’t have a chance, and it soon settled out of court. With the proceeds a folk-singer among us, Stephen Sedberry, composed and recorded two songs; “How I choke when I smell smoke!” and “The smoky subways of Boston”. We had records pressed with the two songs and sold them happily. A declaration of victory From then on it seemed that we had one victory after another, as town after town enacted more and more restrictions on smoking. Eventually (in 1985) I consulted with my committee, declared victory and resigned from my positions. Others enthusiastically took over (under the leadership of Dr. Blake Cady) and organized further gains. I confess that some


times I thought that they were going too far in having smoking banned totally from buildings. A Japanese visitor was alleged to have asked why there were so many prostitutes in Boston. Asked for an explanation, he remarked that everywhere he found attractive well-dressed sexy young women smoking in doorways, and surely that was the universal sign of prostitution? Looking back from a delightful retirement in which I can’t find time to accomplish all that I want to do, I find it incredible that I devoted so much time to the nonsmokers’ rights battle when I was teaching four or more courses each year at MIT, trying to write books, writing a heck of a lot of research proposals and running a few research programs, and also trying to be a family man. But the effort certainly improved the well-being of many sufferers, including me, and it was delightful to have one’s campaigns so sincerely appreciated by most people. And at the same time they were fun!

Ellen’s view of her husband lecturing at MIT in totally smoke-free conditions.


Chapter 14 THE MEN’S KICK-LINE AT MIT, 1994 - ? Some of this book has been about battles that I have had, mainly with men. In some of them I emerged victorious. In the following accounts, of a long campaign to help a young and totally blameless person who was targeted for virtual elimination by MIT tyranny, and of my most serious and by far the longest battle, rather like the Thirty Years War, are of times when I lost repeatedly and decisively. It makes me anguished to report these. But I think that it is important that I do. This book is about my life, and these are important components. Besides getting them off my chest, they reveal something about the inner workings of a great university. They illustrate yet again how power corrupts.. In the same way, the public looks at great universities as high-minded principled havens of peace, culture and brilliance, where professors earn Nobel prizes and produce a steady stream of scholarship and advances in science and medicine. It may be surprising to learn that they, too, are full of snarling, lying cheats, capable of great viciousness, a pattern that in some ways is not far removed from the behavior found in Mafia clans. Since I wrote the preceding paragraph, the “Penn State Abuse Scandal” has engaged the attention of the nation. The following is a summary from comments on National Public Radio by Bill Chappell. “Former Penn State defensive coordinator Gerald "Jerry" Sandusky [has been charged] that he sexually abused 10 boys over a 15-year period. Sandusky and his attorney have maintained that he is innocent of the charges, which stem from a grand jury investigation. The former coaching assistant says he merely "horsed around" with the boys, all of whom he met


through his Second Mile charity. Penn State University fired long-time coach Joe Paterno and president Graham Spanier on Nov. 9 [2011], four days after Sandusky was initially arrested. Athletic director Tim Curley and a vice president, Gary Schultz, are accused of perjury and failing to report suspected child abuse. Both have stepped down from their posts." This came as an extraordinary revelation to me. The accepted reason for the Penn State scandal was that football was so powerful that it had to be protected without question. People who were informed about strong suspicions of sexual abuse of children simply ignored the problem. MIT does not have a sports program that can compare with that at Penn State. But it has academic and research stars, who occupy exactly the same protected status, as you will realize from the following. What happened at MIT is as bad as, in some ways worse than, what happened at Penn State. No one that I know of has stepped down or has been fired for the abuses I report here and in chapter 11. In the following accounts I have referred to many MIT people by name. They will be unknown to any readers who are not in academia related to MIT. Those who are at MIT will, I believe, want to know who did what. Most older hands at MIT will know most of these factual accounts. The Grinnell case in particular has had a complete website that Jim Grinnell and I put together with help from students whom we paid. The website contains, or contained, full references and copies of correspondence and other documents. The website has been available at intervals over the last few years. It has always been shut down soon after we have found a new site, but no one has challenged a single detail, nor has anyone taken out a suit against me. I have gone to court to testify against MIT (and, in my proudest moment, was ordered out of court by Judge Hiller Zobel under threat of imprisonment, in front of MIT’s attorneys). Even judges tend to kow-tow to MIT’s prestigious lawyers. An advisor tells me that this might be a modification of legal doctrine called “academic


abstention”. I have also complained against these same lawyers to the Board of Bar Overseers, recommending that they be disbarred because of multiple misrepresentations, but this board is also allied with the local legal establishment and the MIT lawyers were not disbarred, an action I believe they fully deserved. This case is one in which I was asked for help by a junior colleague, Jim Grinnell. Many others have asked me similarly for help in my many years at MIT, although no case has been as shocking to me as this (apparently not shocking to the MIT establishment). I have became more circumspect in my support of apparently mistreated people. I have never found that Jim Grinnell was anything except an honest and effective instructor who was horribly victimized by MIT. A second account following the Grinnell case is about the kicks by MIT at your humble servant.

The Grinnell case This is a nasty story of how an innocent person can be destroyed at MIT. Here is some background. In 1981 Jim Grinnell, a cheerful and competent junior-high-school drafting and woodworking instructor, was hired by an MIT mechanicalengineering colleague, Woodie Flowers, to teach engineering drafting to M.E. undergraduates. There was no mention of his teaching engineering design in his appointment notice, and he was patently unqualified to do so. He had a small room next to mine, and I came to admire his work ethic and cheerful outlook and his enterprising efforts to get his senior colleagues involved in the modern world of computer drafting. A year or two after he was hired I became aware that he was being required to teach a section of an engineering-design course (of which I used to be in charge and which was known at that time as 2.70) and that he didn't want to do so.(Flowers had taken the course over from me in about 1974.) I learned later that Grinnell had been assigned to


help another faculty colleague, David Gossard, teach a laboratory section of the course. Grinnell found this so far outside his capability that he had the guts to arrange a meeting with Flowers, Gossard and the then department head Herb Richardson to discuss the question. There was general agreement that Grinnell should not be asked to teach 2.70 again. I took over the course for a year while Flowers was on sabbatical, and I didn’t ask Jim to help. However, after Flowers returned, he again required Grinnell to take a section of this engineering-design course, every year. Grinnell's physician wrote to Flowers asking that he be taken off teaching 2.70, but his entreaty was ignored. I tried to talk with Flowers, who adamantly refused to discuss anything about Grinnell. Student suicide This was an extraordinary situation. Grinnell was completely incapable of giving the students the engineering guidance they wanted. The students’ evaluations at the end of every course were savage. (They could be excused. They or their families were paying around $25,000 per year for what they thought was going to be the best engineering education in the world. Why was Flowers willing to sacrifice the students’ education just to persecute Grinnell?) When I have done my best in a class and I get one nasty comment among many favorable ones in the student evaluations I get quite depressed. Jim Grinnell had an unrelenting series of totally negative comments. Jim tried to leave MIT. He applied for several jobs, and I wrote recommendations when he asked for them. I was very complimentary, and couldn’t understand why he didn’t leave. When, much later, I asked him, he said that his supervisor Flowers would not send a recommendation, or did so too late. At one point in 1988 a former student of Jim’s phoned him several times for help, but Jim was himself too depressed to respond. The student took his own life. Jim blamed himself, driving him further into depression.


Complaints to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) In the fall of 1988, I learned much later, Jim Grinnell made the first of two complaints to OSHA about the poor safety standards of the workshops in mechanical engineering. Grinnell was formerly a high-school shop teacher, and was shocked at the low safety standards at MIT. He said that he had made many requests for safety improvements to Flowers and others in authority, who did little or nothing. Then one of Grinnell's students received a deep cut producing nerve damage when working on the band-saw; Grinnell felt that he had to take action and reported MIT to OSHA. He said later that Flowers was so angry that he "went ballistic". When little was done to improve safety despite his continued recommendations and requests, Grinnell made a second OSHA complaint in May 1992. Well before this time, when I joined the faculty in February 1966 and was given supervisory duties over the shops, I too was appalled at the lack of safety. I instituted many safety measures, attracting the scorn and derision of the then foreman of the shops, “Tiny” Caloggero. After my two-year stint in this position, safety was again virtually forgotten, and the shops returned to their disgraceful state. So I could fully understand Grinnell’s concern about the lack of safety and about his recommendations being ignored. Nastiness over drawings The OSHA complaints overlapped another significant event. In early 1992 Woodie Flowers was about to go on another sabbatical. He and I had been working with others on a plan to improve the Dickensian mechanical-engineering workshop area in the basement of our building, “Building 3”. Flowers asked me to keep the remodeling studies going. He said that Grinnell had some good plans and that I might ask him to share them with us. In August of that year the new department head Nam Suh asked


to meet with the committee working on the workshop remodeling. He and they authorized me to phone Grinnell about doing architectural drawings. I did so. Grinnell said that his drawings would need complete revisions. I wrote to Suh on August 17, and asked him to authorize payment of $2000 for Grinnell to do this work during his summer vacation. The following day, August 18, Suh wrote to me: "Let's go ahead and get the project started." Jim Grinnell finished the drawings on September 15 1992. I wrote to Nam Suh and to Hank Morgan, Suh's assistant, requesting payment. Grinnell also asked for payment. Grinnell and I continued to work on this project, because different people wanted changes. When he hadn’t been paid by December, Jim wrote again to Morgan, who replied, denying him his agreedupon summer salary. I urged Morgan to talk with Grinnell. He would not, stating that Grinnell was a twelve-month employee and therefore did not merit further pay for summer work. I told Morgan that I always understood Grinnell to be a nine-month employee, and therefore eligible to be paid for work during his vacation. I asked Grinnell to talk with Morgan, but Jim was so upset that he said he could not do so. I then asked him to go to the M.E. Department HQ and ask for confirmation of his ninemonth status. It is incredible that Morgan and Suh would take this approach, given that Grinnell's records showing that he was a nine-month employee were within Suh's office. Grinnell had been paid for summer work in previous years. It is also incredible that they would lie so steadfastly over the relatively paltry sum of $2000. Why were they so insulting and nasty to a junior employee who had always done his duty -- just out of vindictiveness because they were angry at the department being reported to OSHA? Grinnell continued to work on the remodeling assignment, spending far more time than was originally committed. Some time later, Suh used a drawing that seemed to owe a great deal to


one of Grinnell's drawings when making a presentation to the Pappalardos, who were prospective donors. When I asked Suh about this, he denied that the drawing was Grinnell's. (The Pappalardos did make a substantial donation for the remodeling work of the basement lab - it became known as the Pappalardo Laboratory, and Woodie Flowers became the Pappalardo Professor.) You will see below that Suh was accustomed to lying brazenly when it suited him. In February 1993 I wrote rather strongly to Suh and Morgan about the lack of payment to Grinnell, and the full amount was subsequently placed in Jim’s account, without notice or apology. Grinnell asks for help These events had receded into the past when, in 1994, close to the time of my retirement from the full-time faculty, Jim Grinnell asked me for help. I wrote to him that insofar as he was having problems with Woodie Flowers it would be difficult. I considered him to be a friend, and our wives were friends. Nevertheless I would try to be fair. Lies and perjury Jim then sent me a deposition that Flowers had written and signed. I read it with mounting concern and amazement. It contained at least four falsities, which made them perjuries. It made me sit up and take Grinnell’s situation seriously, and I let it be known that I was going to help him. My next cause for amazement was that the MIT legal establishment tried to bully me totally without legal basis. The chief of the MIT legal office phoned me to tell me that “as an employee” I may not help Grinnell except through MIT lawyers. I told him that I was not an employee because I was retired, and even if I were an employee I would help someone who had been victimized. The lawyer then phoned my department head, Nam Suh, to get him to stop me helping Grinnell. Suh asked me to see him. He trotted out more extraordinary lies: he told me that he had been


outstandingly generous to Grinnell, who had repaid him by breaking into headquarters and stealing his records. And Suh’s sidekick said that Grinnell had lied. I came from that meeting in a turmoil: was I trying to help someone who was far from what I believed him to be? After two months of trying I located, in a distant place, Julie Drennan, who looked after the records in HQ when Jim was trying to see them. . She wrote that she had told Grinnell that he could look through his records (after she checked to see if there was anything confidential) and that he could use the copier because he was not allowed to remove any of his records. She stated that Suh later told another person in her hearing that Grinnell had broken into HQ and had stolen his records, and she told him that this was incorrect. Subsequently Suh repeated the lie, despite this correction by Drennan, that Grinnell broke into HQ and illegally copied his records. I went back to talk to Suh about these lies. He asked “Who told you that?” “Julie Drennan” I said. “She was no good – I fired her” he responded. But he didn’t fire her. She left in good standing to have a baby, and subsequently returned to work at MIT, for my suite of faculty. The lies were, obviously, incredible. But apparently the MIT administration believed everything he and Flowers stated. Tyranny Thus began for me an introduction to nothing less than a tyranny against Jim Grinnell, cruel, highly wounding, evil and petty. The actions taken against Jim were nasty enough that he ended up in psychiatric hospital for long periods, and he has been classified by the Social Security Administration and MIT Medical as 100% disabled since June 1994. Jim had to sell his home because of either gross errors or dirty tricks by the MIT administration which stopped first his pay and then his medical insurance. When he tried to find out why these awful things had


happened, he was told that MIT could not discuss them unless he fired his lawyer. He did, and was henceforth defenseless against these arrogant and mendacious MIT attorneys. Jim’s wife of 29 years left him at the recommendation of an MIT counselor, who, Jim thinks, was influenced by the lies of the lawyers and of Jim’s supervising faculty. I was so appalled that I took his case to ten senior people at MIT, including the president. Not one would undertake an examination of the case, apparently because they believed the department head's lies and Flowers’ perjuries rather than my statements of facts. The alternative explanation is that they wanted to protect MIT’s reputation, even if an innocent person and his family were destroyed. The lead MIT attorney also agreed to see me, and stated that MIT would go to arbitration as Grinnell had requested many times. I was delighted, and thanked him. But the months went by without action. We realized too late that he was merely wanting to hold us off until the statute of limitations allowed Flowers’ perjuries to go unpunished. MIT's reactions have been similar (but, in my opinion, worse) than those of the Catholic Church and of the U.S. Air Force Academy in their sex-related scandals. This case has been greatly complicated by the extraordinary activities (many of which have seemed to me to be unethical, mendacious or worse) of MIT's attorneys. Its lead attorney taught a course on “Termination at will in Massachusetts”, which accurately indicates his specialty: getting unwanted employees fired. Except that Grinnell was not fired: he was held for torture and he was destroyed by degrees. A principal weapon of the administration was to take an extraordinarily long time to respond to any inquiry, until the attorneys could triumphantly pronounce that the deadlines set by the statute of limitations had passed and that the case was now moot.


This case is a horrible example of the mistreatment of a whistleblower and of the abuse of the substantial power of senior academics in a great university. The men’s kick line had kicked Jim Grinnell very hard. But I do not consider the case yet closed. It is sometimes said that academic politics are intense because they are about trivialities. There is nothing trivial about ruining an honest, capable and cheerful person’s life and leaving him a solitary wreck. Now on to a sequence of events affecting me personally.

The Wilson case In June 1989 my anger at successive mistreatments at MIT (see chapter 11) boiled up to the point that I had to release the head of steam. I wrote to my department head and discussed the problems with him. MIT department heads are not chosen for their management ability. Occasionally someone with striking managerial skills is chosen to lead. One I remember well at MIT was John Vander Sande. I had the pleasure of reporting to him (he was then associate dean of engineering) when I had some role in a coalition of seven universities working on improving undergraduate education. He was delightful to meet with, humorous, non-pompous, listened attentively, summed up the situation accurately, and could come to good decisions easily and quickly. I found an opportunity to comment on another aspect of his character in a meeting of a dozen or so faculty. “John” I said “I observed you recently acting so strangely that it might be called weird. Please explain yourself!” The room fell suddenly silent. “What do you mean, Dave?” he asked, a little nervously. “A couple of times I have found myself following you as you left MIT. You drove perfectly: you signaled every turn, you stopped at stop signs, you gave way to pedestrians and bicyclists. This is so completely contrary to the general practice around the Boston


area that is has to be called strange.” I enjoy complimenting people in this way. The faculty present were highly amused. They also were appreciative of John. Outside MIT he had also started and ran a couple of successful high-tech companies. I can understand why they were successful. I have often wished that he were running for president of the US. The department head with whom I had to deal about my own problems was not of this ilk. Talking with him about the departmental machinations was rather like chatting about the international debt situation with a teenage soda-jerk at the local McDonald’s. I told him about the several disruptions that had seriously affected my career, forced by several mendacious or highly misleading department heads, the refusal to allocate a laboratory to me, and the persistently low salary I was given. He seemed completely uninterested, and offered no redress, including no improvement at this late date on the laboratory ban. When he did nothing, I instituted a grievance procedure against MIT. Much of the following comes from my grievance complaint. I have related in chapter 11 how Ascher Shapiro started this seeming vendetta. Here’s a short version of what I told my department head about subsequent events. Keep your tissues handy: strong men can weep at tales of deception and intrigue like these. Summary of Dave Wilson’s difficulties at MIT The problems that I had at MIT soon after coming on the faculty in 1966 impelled me to take leave on an “Urban Fellowship” that resulted in my interest in policies and legislation. Here I need merely to pick up after the episodes related earlier. Briefly, I was hired to be an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT working and teaching in my field of turbomachinery. However, a new department head, Professor Ascher H. Shapiro, refused to allow me to work in that field or in my sub-fields, heat transfer and fluid mechanics. He required me


to work in other areas. Later, however, he asked me to be acting head of the Gas Turbine Laboratory, but lied several times about the transfer of the GTL to another department. After several weeks, Shapiro acknowledged that the GTL had in fact been transferred to Aero/Astro department, offered no apology for his repeated lies, and later had the unbelievable nerve to criticize me for changing fields. (Much later he became extremely friendly, as if I were a favorite son. Exactly the same happened to another department head, Herbert Richardson, who enthusiastically misled me and screwed up my career. My wife Ellen, a superb tennis player, reports frequent similar behavior by opponents who cheat against her when she, Ellen, does not protest. They then, after they have unfairly won, treat her as their best buddy.)

The denial of a laboratory As related elsewhere, in the spring term of 1968 after I returned from my period as an Urban Fellow and was contemplating what to do with my last nine months at MIT, Dean of Engineering Gordon Brown asked me to head a summer study on solid wastes. (He had seen reports of an undergraduate design class of which I was in charge and which had had some creative projects in urban cleanup.) The summer study was so successful that I was awarded some major research grants (as were others in the group). One publisher asked me to write and edit a book about our work, and later another, Van Nostrand Reinhold, persuaded me to put together a major handbook on the topic (part of which I had to write). I was in demand to be on local and national commissions, and to contribute to symposia, meetings and TV appearances. Presumably as a result of this general activity I was, contrary to my agreement with MIT, considered for tenure. This is something major at any university, but particularly at MIT. Once given tenure one is established for life unless one commits some truly shameful act. Tenure safeguards academic integrity: one can tell the truth about


anyone, including one’s bosses, without fear of dismissal. (One can also abuse this trust, as you have learned already from this litany of horrors.) After what I had been through I had no wish to stay at MIT, and wrote a letter to state that I did not want to be considered for tenure in a place that allowed the lies and deceptions I had encountered. I gave the draft to my laboratory head, Eddie Taylor, someone I honored and loved. He said “Dave, why don’t you send this after they’ve offered it to you.” To my amazement I was awarded tenure. At that time my home situation was one that made leaving the Boston area just about impossible (my wife Anne was seriously ill), so I accepted it with appreciation. For a considerable period after this I had research underway in the different laboratories of four colleagues. At one time I had 25 research and project students reporting to me (far too many!); and there were two semesters when I paid 90-percent of my salary from my research grants, although I was teaching four courses a year. (The proportion of one’s salary that one can allocate to research is normally a mark of achievement that is rewarded. Not, however, in my case.) The department head refused to allocate any lab space to me. Our group needed to put together a refuse-sorting plant on the components of which our students were working. I was told to use an extremely dirty corner of a sewer-gas-plagued basement of the Gas-Turbine Lab (GTL). next to a demonically noisy air compressor. The gas gave many students in my group continual headaches and sent my faculty collaborator to the hospital. I had to use a large part of my research funds to enclose the space, totally contrary to accounting policy. Not long after we had completed this rebuilding effort and demonstrated an amazingly successful plant (chapter 11) the GTL asked for the space to be returned. As if on command the basement flooded, and our beautiful apparatus was bobbing on the filthy water totally ruined. We vacated the building.


The carts carrying the large items (e.g., bottles, bundles of newspapers) sorted from refuse would pass over three sensors in succession, from which a computer could make an accurate designation. When the carts passed over the appropriate hopper the lower doors would open, delivering the contents to a hopper.

I continued to press for laboratory space of my own. There was a completely unused large-enough lab in the basement of the ME building 3 . I was told that it was allocated to a student rocket society from the Aero/Astro department. I argued that if the group was not using the lab from one year to the next (I used to lock my bicycle outside it and could see that it was never


occupied, nor was the position of anything inside, including old coffee cups, ever changed) that I had the greater right to it. The then-head of the ME department, Herbert Richardson, agreed to help me to get it transferred for my use. The negotiations took many months, and earned me some unpopularity in Aero/Astro, but eventually it was agreed that the lab should be given up. In the final meeting, an Aero/Astro faculty member asked why I was excited about the lab when I was not going to get the use of it. I stared at him in disbelief. He told me to ask the ME administrative officer Bill Westcott. I did so, and Westcott confirmed that I would not be getting the use of the lab. I had been set up by him and Richardson. When I complained vigorously to Richardson he refused to give any satisfactory explanation. He was one of those to whom I had gone when he was my division head to ask for help in the GTL affair: he refused to offer help, advice or encouragement. I have no idea why, but I offer some speculations below. He was another department head who, after double-crossing me and further damaging the remnants of my career, began treating me as if I were his closest friend. When I came to M.I.T. I was known for being a pretty good experimentalist. Having to work as a second-class citizen in labs allocated to others was extremely limiting. Every time a research program finished, my apparatus had to be broken up almost immediately. My carefully acquired tools and instruments were taken over by others. When I applied to a government agency or a company for funding for experimental work I was frequently visited by people who wanted to see “my” lab. I had none to show, and consequently the funding was usually denied. In some desperation I took on work that, in happier circumstances, I would rather not (e.g., the development - highly successful - of a process to skin sharks on which my friends in Sea Grant, MIT, wanted me to work).


Return to gas-turbine studies. When Eddie Taylor retired fully from his active status as head of the Gas Turbine Laboratory (GTL) in 1969, he asked if someone would like to continue to teach his two graduate courses. No one wanted to. Jack Kerrebrock was head of the laboratory, and with his stated encouragement and goodwill I took over Eddie’s courses. I found myself teaching most of the GTL graduate students. I asked Kerrebrock each semester if he wanted me to continue teaching the courses, and he said he did. However, soon after restating this he introduced a course on the same general topic (gas-turbine-engine design) but tailored more specifically to Aero/Astro. I lost the GTL students but seemed to keep the numbers up from graduate students in ocean engineering and mechanical engineering. I was on several national commissions and a major Department of Defense panel because of my gas-turbine work. Eventually I brought together my notes on the much-modified courses into a textbook that was published in 1984. It was well received and was used in at least 46 universities. I began again to submit proposals in the gasturbine area and was funded in several small studies. However, every agency and firm I approached was funding something in the GTL, so that I was often regarded as an unwanted competitor. A new and friendly head took over the GTL and later was head of the Aero/Astro department, Eugene Covert. He phoned me on October 24, 1980 to say that his lab. had an idle helicopter gas turbine that I might like to use. I expressed my great appreciation and said that I would propose a study using it. It was ideal for an experimental investigation on which I had long been very keen, and Gene Covert’s offer was like an answer to prayer. I was thrilled to bits. He asked to be kept informed through copies of my proposal and of other correspondence, which I was happy to do. I was awarded the requested grant in March 1981, amazingly quickly, and accepted the application of a


brilliant doctoral student, Tom Wolf, to work on the project. But when I phoned Gene Covert with the good news he told me that the engine was no longer available. He was absolutely adamant that nothing could be done to change the situation. The result was a total fiasco. Tom Wolf and I scrambled around trying to find a similar engine, without success. We then found an unsatisfactory substitute that took about a year to acquire. Again I had to fight for lab space, and was eventually allocated a cell in the GTL that had not been used for a long time. But after we had installed the engine in the cell, Wolf realized the degree of its unsuitability and quit. He had already lost two years of his life with little progress towards his PhD. The GTL later insisted that I remove the engine (which we had to sell for about one percent of its value). The whole affair left a reservoir of ill-will between the Aero/Astro department, particularly the GTL, and me. An offer from Britain At some time in this period I was asked by an academic friend in Britain (D. B.(Brian) Spalding) if I would like to be considered for a teaching job at Imperial College in London. I reckoned that it had to be better than what was happening at MIT, and agreed. Eventually some big shot from the college phoned to say that he was coming to the US shortly and would visit me. Then later he phoned to say that he was already in the US and wanted me to meet him almost immediately in New York City. I took the Eastern shuttle to NYC; the big shot talked about himself for almost two hours and then had to leave. I felt rather squashed. No letter of thanks or other recognition came. After a month or two I wrote to ask for expenses, which had not been offered. I was very poor, and the expenses were given a little grudgingly. After that, more months of silence. I assumed that I hadn’t made the grade, and redoubled my efforts to get research support at MIT. And then, after six months, I received an offer of


a chair! In Britain that means being a full professor in charge of a department or major research group. Unfortunately, not only was I in the starting phases of some major activities, but my wife Anne was again in a medical emergency in which there was no hope of moving her to Britain. I had to turn down the amazing offer. Salary. At a university one finds one’s salary in relation to those of one’s peers principally through joint proposals. I usually included some of my colleagues in my proposals because I enjoyed working with them and because they strengthened the team. It was obvious from the time I joined MIT in 1966 that my salary was considerably below (around one-quarter lower, which increased to one-third lower as time went on) that of my colleagues of similar age. I thought that I was being brought up to parity, but found in fact that I was continually falling further behind. By itself it didn’t worry me greatly – I have a simple lifestyle – but in combination with other insults, coupled with the fact that I had two children and a wife who needed expensive medical care, it rankled. Setting salaries is obviously an invidious matter, and I have some sympathy for those who have to do it. I have always beforehand left it to them to be fair. I can’t see how my treatment at MIT could be regarded as fair. I was being used. Why the treatment? Although I came to the MIT mechanical-engineering department after earning some major honors, I rapidly lost prestige because of what can only be called the “dirty tricks” of heads of the department and others. (Why did they pick on me? I have usually been a rather cheerful and well-liked person. I will hazard some guesses below).


There is no way I could be called a slouch. I have written and edited eight books, more I believe than anyone else in the department. They have all brought considerable credit to MIT. I taught far more courses and supervised far more thesis students than the department average. Alas, I supervised far fewer doctoral students than average. I couldn’t do more because of the devastating effects of the above events on my ability to get longterm research funding, vitally needed to support doctoral candidates. I repeatedly reached national prominence in the different fields to which I was forced to switch - to some extent in transportation, to a major extent in solid-waste management, to a considerable extent in two-phase flow in nuclear-reactor pumps, and in gas-turbine design. I have been a member of many major national commissions, something that can usually be taken as a mark of recognition of some standing in a field, and of many state commissions and panels. But supervision of doctoral theses is more important to the academic hierarchy. In my 28 years on the full-time faculty (plus one year as visiting fellow) I took only two partial sabbaticals, having been told repeatedly, when I asked department-head Herb Richardson, that I was too valuable to spare (my salary at this time was also well below average). I have been head of the systems and design division and its representative on the departmental steering committee for several years. I was undergraduate officer for ten years. I have been on what seems like far more than my share of major (and minor) committees: at one time when Richardson asked me to be on another, I said that I was on fifteen and declined to be on another. Possible reasons for the apparent vilification of my reputation. 1. Coming into the department with the identity of someone who worked in gas turbines was undoubtedly disadvantageous. In the history of the Gas-Turbine






Laboratory while it was part of the mechanicalengineering department (1946 to 1967) no junior faculty member ever, to my knowledge, received tenure. It was widely reckoned that this was due to the commanding position of the mainstream fluid-mechanics people led by Shapiro. (The work of the GTL has always been predominantly the fluid mechanics of turbomachinery.) I became active politically – especially after the GTL disaster. I took a leave of absence from MIT and worked as the only professional staff of a Massachusetts commission on the state transportation system. After developing, at Professor Joseph H. Keenan’s request, a new thermodynamics course (2.60) that integrated design into thermodynamics, which seemed to be going extremely well, I found myself removed from teaching thermo altogether by the new head of thermo, Jim Keck, who took over when Keenan retired. One reason for this could have been that at the weekly thermodynamics teaching meetings I found it impossible to remain alert, and contributed very little to discussions. Presumably Keck and the others concluded that I was not very interested in the subject. I found out a couple of years later that my problem was narcolepsy triggered especially by cigar smoke, and there were three and sometimes four cigar smokers at these meetings When I found that many others had similar sensitivities to tobacco smoke, I took the initiative in founding New England, later Massachusetts, Action on Smoking and Health (MASH), and helped to get passed a series of measures restricting smoking in public places, including MIT. These activities, that made me a hero to many, could have angered a few. At one time I rushed, perhaps too vigorously, to the defense of a colleague who had appeared on a panel at a technical meeting in my place and who had been insulted


by the appallingly incompetent and ungracious moderator. This person’s response was to write a vilifying letter, hinting among other charges that I was a communist, and to send it to the president of MIT and to the heads of several MIT departments, and to the heads of all government agencies with which he thought I would be dealing. The letter was shown to me by a friend after the then-head of the chemical-engineering department had passed it to him. My friend said that the letter was so extreme that everyone who received it would assume that the writer was demented, and that therefore I should do nothing. I have since felt that his advice, sincerely given, was not the best. Perhaps this letter is still festering in the files of various department heads and government project offices. 6. My bicycling and other activities in human power were used regularly by the campus news people to show that MIT has a human face, but they tended to obscure any other academic activities in which I was involved Closing comments on my problems at MIT When I was in industry and contemplated teaching I was told that academic politics were the most vicious variety known outside communist countries. I have to say that the reality far exceeded my rosy expectations. On the whole I have had superb colleagues and superb students, and I enjoyed the privilege of teaching at MIT. There is, however, a dark and disgusting side. As I collected this background I became again appalled at the record. Does everyone have the same experience? I know of a few who have been treated badly on one or possibly two occasions, but not repeatedly as I have. What have I done to encourage this evil behavior? I wish I knew. Here is a post-script, written at the end of 2013, at a time when I have had a kind of revelation. It came after several


horrible cases of young women who had committed suicide after appalling cyber-bullying. In the most recent case anonymous messages kept arriving on a girl’s computer urging her to kill herself by jumping off a building, which she eventually did. It was discovered that she had found out that one of the tormentors was her best friend. How could this person join a group of psychopaths? There seems to be something built into humans that persuades us, if we hear of people making appalling accusations of someone or some group, we say to ourselves “There’s probably something true in these, and I’ll be careful about the way I treat him/her/them.” I had been the victim of bullying by a succession of department heads who knew what Shapiro and his successors, for later department heads, had done to me, and they decided to continue to deny me what would normally be regarded as the rights of a senior member of the faculty. Then another possibility came to me. I have always wondered why Jews should have been subject to ghastly treatment for so long. Many years ago I read James Carroll’s “Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews – A History” (2001) in which he stated that the Emperor Constantine, in the third century AD, was looking for a group on which he could blame the slow acceptance of Christianity. He picked the Jews on a whim. They have been subject to bullying, general and often homicidal, ever since. A compassionate and honorable dean In my 1989 grievance procedure I found myself being judged by someone – Jack Kerrebrock, then acting dean -who was closely connected with some of the actions about which I complained. I protested vigorously. He passed me along to John Deutch, then MIT provost, who has also been head of the CIA. He didn’t believe that I had any case against MIT and tried to persuade me to take early retirement. I was in the mood to do


so, having seemingly failed my quest for justice at MIT, when Gerry Wilson (no relation), dean of engineering, returned from his sabbatical. Somehow he read my case on his first day back and asked his secretary to have me come to see him early the next day. Then she called again just before 5 PM to let me know that Gerry was coming right over then to see me. He did so; he spoke guardedly and diplomatically, but implied that he was appalled by my treatment, could not undo past wrongs, but would try to do what he could. He transformed MIT for me. I had the feeling that he had experienced some similar prejudice. I faced my last period of full-time faculty work with great hope and cheerfulness. Gerry Wilson would have made a very fine president of MIT. There is no doubt that he would not have allowed Jim Grinnell’s persecution to go on for year after year, protected by a lying bunch of MIT lawyers.


Chapter 15 HUMAN POWER AND BICYCLES This chapter is similar to that on nonsmoker rights in that it doesn’t follow any sequence in this book, but deals with a topic that has engaged my interest and enthusiasm over a significant part of my life.

SOME BICYCLE TECHNICALITIES How to become a guru While I was working at Northern Research & Engineering Corp (NREC), 1960-66, the latter five years in the US, I was feeling settled enough that I thought that I would bring over the small amount of savings I had amassed in Britain. The Bank of England thought otherwise. After I came over to the US in 1961 the (British) pound fell precipitously (there had to have been a connection) and currency controls were instituted to prevent people taking their funds out of Britain. I already felt guilty at abandoning Britain in her hour of need (although it was the underhand actions of a Brit that had precipitated the move). At some point in about 1966 after I had joined the MIT faculty I hit on an idea. I would offer some of the funds (not a king’s ransom, which I didn’t have, but five-hundred pounds, later increased to 750 pounds, worth a lot more in those days than it is today) for improvements in human-powered vehicles. It worried me that so few adults were riding bicycles in the US. I was concerned also that there were glaring deficiencies in modern bicycles that made using them more dangerous than they should have been. I wondered how to publicize the competition. A friend suggested writing to Fred Roberts, long-time editor of the British magazine “Engineering”. He loved the idea. During one of my trips to Britain he drove me to Wiltshire to meet Alex Moulton,


developer of superb motor-vehicle suspension systems and of the Moulton bicycle. He agreed to be a judge, and made several useful suggestions. The Liberty Mutual Insurance Company offered to donate an additional amount for a development in bicycle safety, and loaned a friend from the company to help judge the entries. On July 21 1967 Engineering came out with the cover entirely given to the announcement of the competition. I wanted to allow a full academic year so that schools and research students who might want to work on it had sufficient time, and we chose December 31, 1968 as the closing date. We encouraged people who intended to submit an entry to let us know so that we could communicate anything of interest. The people and groups who did inform us of their intentions rose rapidly to over 70 from six countries. I sent a first newsletter to all of them in September 1967 and another in May 1968. The winners were announced in the April 11, 1969 issue of Engineering, with a drawing of the first-prize entry on the cover (also shown below). It was a “recumbent” bicycle, as were several others. The designs were given a great deal of publicity in all media. The seeds of a new interest in recumbent (or “reclining”) bicycles had been sown.


The cover of the magazine Engineering, July 21, 1967


The winners announced in Engineering, April 11 1969 The top prize went to W. Lydiard for this enclosed recumbent bicycle

Frank Rowland Whitt One well-known entrant who was not, however, awarded a prize was Frank Rowland Whitt, the technical editor of a principal UK bike magazine and well-known bicycle historian. He wrote that he would like to meet me when I next came to London. He arranged the meeting at his London club, which was


a fascinating experience for me. I had never been to one of these crusty old establishments, seemingly bursting with footmen and butlers and smoke-filled lounges and at least one fine restaurant. Frank Whitt was a chemist working for a civil-service part of the military on chemical warfare. He was also a nice old bachelor, not at all the type I imagined would be working on such a topic. But there was no doubt that his passion was bicycles. His view, which was expressed also in his entry to the competition, was that the bicycle of that time had reached an optimum, almost a degree of perfection. The proof of this was, he said, that the bicycle evolved rapidly to close to its present form by around 1900, since when it had changed hardly at all. This statement made a strong impression on me. It was a long while before the penny dropped. My version of the earlier history is this. Bicycle racers disliked new technology. When the new tension wheels were developed by Eugene Meyer in Paris in 1869, wheels could be, and were, made much larger, eventually reaching over 1525 mm, 60 inches, in diameter. Racers who clung to their small-wheel designs could not win against other racers (often “upstarts”) with large wheels. Then the smallwheeled geared-up safeties were developed in the 1884-86 period, and, with their much lower wind resistance and greater maneuverability, they brought their riders victories over the high-wheeled “Ordinaries.” In 1888 John Boyd Dunlop reinvented the pneumatic tire (it was patented in 1845 by another Scot, W. R. Thomson) and riders on safeties equipped with his tires easily won against perhaps better racers on solid-tired safeties. A good racer dislikes being beaten by anyone, particular by an “upstart”. In 1900 the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) was established, and gradually the form of bicycles allowed for competition became fixed. A few innovations were allowed, generally those proposed by people close to the UCI. If an “outsider” introduced something radical, such as the recumbent “Velocar” of 1933 on which a second-rated racing cyclist beat the


world champions in several categories, the UCI would meet in some anxiety. In that case it pronounced that the invader, a recumbent, was not a bicycle.

Recumbent enthusiasm Well, you might say, that ruling applied to only a tiny proportion of the world’s bicycles. But racing was the only way a nonracing bicycle user could tell if something was any good. I confess to being of the same mind. People are always asking me if, for instance, the sometimes highly touted oval (rather than circular) chainwheels are any good. They change the speed of the foot around the pedaling circle, making it spend less time at the top and bottom of the stroke, for instance. I have seen the results of many tests of various patterns of non-circular chainwheels. Some show a slight improvement in the power output of a given pedaler on an “ergometer” (a pedaled machine that measures power output) and some show a slight decrease. My response is therefore likely to be what I believe to be the clincher “Never heard of one being used to win a race. If it were any good, racers or their managers would insist on using them.” The realization that an unfaired (i.e. non-streamlined) recumbent bicycle had in fact been used over various distances to beat the world champions of the day on their diamond-frame (DF) bicycles was a revelation to me. Only the UCI prevented the Velocar and its rider from being feted as champions. The reason for the negative vote has been reckoned to be that its developer, Charles Mochet , and its rider, Francis Faure, were not “insiders” to the UCI. There were, and perhaps still are, some hard feelings about this exclusion. But people have a right to choose their own rules for racing. There has undoubtedly been uncalled-for invective directed at the UCI for its decision. It would have been a good move at the time to set up an early version of the Californian International Human-Powered-Vehicle Association


(IHPVA), or perhaps to petition the UCI to set up special categories for unusual pedaled vehicles. So I began to be supportive of recumbent bicycles when I was interviewed on the topic of the competition. And that is the start of how I became a guru. Two events reinforced my guru-ship. One was started by Frederick Willkie. He was one of many young people who wrote to me about the design competition that I had organized. (He wrote in the fall of 1971.) He was different in that he stated that he was a Berkeley undergraduate (in a liberal-arts area) and was working in a bike shop to earn money. He also wanted to make a new form of bicycle: would I send him a design? Well of course I had to send him a recumbent-bicycle design. I also sent him some money for materials and asked that in return he let me know how it turned out. To my surprise and delight, Fred fulfilled completely his side of the arrangement: he sent me a well-written and nicely illustrated report on his work (June 1972). What was even more surprising to me was that he wrote that the bicycle had some good points, but it was painful to ride: would I send him a new design? I did, and Fred built it and rode it and sent me another report. He called it the Green Planet Special II, GPS II. He liked this much better than GPS I, and used it all over the Berkeley area and beyond, attracting a lot of attention and being photographed for newspapers and magazines. Some people started making recumbents, and it is likely that publicity of Fred’s exploits, or of the competition winners, had some influence on that development. Fred was what might be called nowadays a “minimalist”, and when he graduated he wanted to get rid of “baggage”. He offered to sell the two bikes to me. I was very hard up at the time, and felt that I could afford only the second bike he had built. I was also overloaded with MIT work. When the shipper delivered GPS II at our house I put it in the basement and forgot about it for


many months. In that period I was in charge of a course at MIT called “2.70”, very demanding of students and faculty. It had a major design project that ended in a one-on-one contest that was drawing crowds of students cheering their dorm or fraternity brothers and sisters. After that circus was over we had some smaller projects. For one of these in 1976 I presented GPS II in class so that I could challenge the design students to improve the design of the bike. At the end of the day I thought that I would risk riding it home. The normally undemonstrative users of Massachusetts Avenue repeatedly cheered and clapped and shouted “Excellent!” as I rode. I became charged up. I had a whole lot of changes I wanted to make myself. I brought the rear wheel forward a foot or so to reduce the heavy load on the puny front wheel, which I replaced with a much more robust front wheel and tire. And I made a new comfortable mesh seat to replace the hard-shell seat fitted by Fred. It came high up my back and also acted as the mount for a high flag. Behind the seat I made a large, light fiberglass “trunk”. The whole bike was sufficiently different that I called it the “Wilson-Willkie.”

The Wilson-Willkie bicycle, as photographed and published by the Boston Globe


An MIT news conference Only one student, Lee Laiterman, attempted a major revision of the design. He kept the recumbent pedaling position but had the drive go to the front wheel which was not steered, and had the handlebars connect to a steered rear wheel. He made a rig in which many design inputs were adjustable. Neither he nor I knew just how difficult it was to ride a rear-steer bicycle, but he could eventually do it pretty well. It impressed someone in the MIT News Office. This person arranged a news conference to display students’ work in August 1976, and very late decided to ask me to come with my recumbent too. We appeared in magazines, newspapers and TV. That was a large part of the reason for my ascension to guru status. One of the many people who called or wrote to me after that exposure was the president of a company called “Grandpa Brands.” He sent his son up to see me and my bicycle. The president was in his late eighties, not in good health, but very insistent that I design and have made for him a recumbent bicycle for kids. If he liked it he would have it manufactured and would give me a share of the profits. It didn’t sound too good to me. I and anyone who joined me in the project would do a lot of design and prototype work at no cost to “Grandpa” (as we called him). After that he could disguise any amount of profits as expenses. Nevertheless I did make a preliminary design drawing of a child-size recumbent bike and teamed up with some experts (see later) to make it. Grandpa was so persuasive that my new friends and I decided to go ahead with what we thought would be a low-cost prototype children’s recumbent. Unfortunately I was also convinced that a straight-line pedaling system would have major advantages, and my buddies spent too much time (as did I) making successive variations (as engineers are apt to do). We got it finished eventually and were rather proud of it. We shipped it down to Grandpa. Alas! Within a few hours of its arrival he died. We don’t think that he even saw it, so


that there was no connection between the bike’s arrival and his demise. His son and heir had no interest in the bike – the company’s business was in items like soap – and we asked him to ship the bike back.

The child's linear-drive bike with training wheels, ridden by John Wilson

The joys of publishing The second precursor to my becoming a real or imagined guru in bicycles and HPVs was put into effect by Frank Whitt. As we said goodbye to one another after our first meeting in London he suddenly drew out of the depths of his bag an extremely tattered brown envelope that revealed through its open end a mass of very scruffy paper. “Would you get this published for me in the US?” he asked. “Over here the publishers want everything in S.I. units, not British, and I don’t want to have to re-do everything! It’s a book on bicycle motion.” The train was leaving, and I had no time even to flick through the pages. When I did, it became obvious that no publisher would


look at such a disorganized set of rough notes, whether or not it used S.I. units. (I used and taught in Systeme International units, which are a rationalization of the former metric system of units.) There was a title page with “Bicycle Motion” over a sketch of something related to bicycling. In those days even a junior professor shared a secretary, and I thought that it wouldn’t be too much of a chore to write a letter and to ask the suite (and sweet) secretary to try to put the sheets into a good-looking binder and to send them to a publisher or two to be considered. Publishers in those days (around 1971) must have moved much faster than they do nowadays. The manuscript of Frank Whitt’s book got rejected very quickly, by one publisher after another. I believe that I started at The MIT Press. I went on writing letters to other publishers as rejections were received. After a year I reckoned that I had given Frank’s book a good college try, and I let him know that it seemed hopeless. Then something rather remarkable occurred. Frank Satlow, the acquisitions editor of The MIT Press at that time, told me that if I would edit Whitt’s book (which he had seen earlier) and add some of my own material he would like to reconsider it for publication. He would need a proposal. I began to look at Frank Whitt’s material in a new light. In my proposal I devised a new title: “Bicycling Science”. Frank Satlow liked it and gave the goahead. Frank Whitt was thrilled. Publishing complexity increases with length Writing a book is not the simple matter it appears to be. I wrote in the preface to another of my books (on turbine design, which I am sure most readers will have on their coffee tables) that the task has a difficulty that increases with something like the third power of the number of words. It is easy to write a perfect sentence, and not too difficult to incorporate this into a perfect page. Go on for ten pages, and when you read it later you will be amazed that you have referred to people and events by


different names in those ten pages. And so the problem gets worse with length. I remember writing a chapter of the turbine book and feeling that I had done a superb job. One of the flaws that appeared when I read it later was that I had used the symbol “h” for two very different properties in one equation. It was ridiculously confusing to someone trying to learn from the chapter, yet it had seemed absolutely straightforward to me when I wrote it. Anyone who doubts these rules has only to look at the Bible. It is very long and has had many co-authors. Parts of it are frequently quoted as absolute truths while other parts are quoted by others in direct contradiction. The complexity also increases with something like the square of the number of co-authors. Air-mail letters about our book were soon flying across the Atlantic. Frank could write two contradictory statements on a page, and when I would ask him which was correct, he would write a third, not in agreement with either. But eventually the book was published in 1974. It immediately ran into some very good luck. Philip Morrison, the (late) renowned professor of physics at MIT (I hadn’t met him at the time) and prolific book reviewer for Scientific American wrote a rather glowing review in that highly regarded journal. That brought it to the attention of at least thirty-five other publications, the book editors of which then felt it necessary to review it. Reviews are very important for books. Even in those days books came pouring out of publishers’ presses, far too many for even a specialized publication to review those just in its own field. The reviews of Bicycling Science were, then, of very great value. The book began to be bought at a far higher rate than The MIT Press (or I) expected. Some negative economics in publishing Students are always hearing from me about a book in which I was a junior author with three distinguished people from


Harvard. My part was on national and local energy and pollution policy, a topic close to my heart (as you will have learned if you read the chapter on Wilsonomics). The editor with whom we had to deal was extremely autocratic. She didn’t like my English. (I was shocked! Most editors think my English is just this side of being irreproachable. I’m very modest about it.) And I remember a problem with the title. The book was published as “The health effects of fossil-fuel burning.” No one wanted to review or buy it. If it had used the words “Acid rain” in the title, a hot topic at the time, it could have been a best seller. A couple of years after publication a window envelope came from the publisher with my address written on what was clearly a check. My fingers feverishly tore open the envelope. The words inside burned themselves into my long-term memory. To sales of book during preceding year: zero. Returns: 1 Royalty check: -$0.94 There was a note to state that I didn’t actually have to send the publisher $0.94, but the implied warning that the book would be withdrawn from publication was soon validated. “Bicycling Science” (BS) did not receive this treatment. Advertising people are always saying that even bad publicity is good publicity. James Curley was twice imprisoned for corruption in Boston, receiving a great deal of adverse media attention, and yet he was re-elected repeatedly as mayor, congressman and governor. BS acquired a cult-like status. The bicycle cavalcade from The MIT Press The MIT Press’s Frank Satlow was delighted. He published a series of bicycle-related books, including as a handsome reprint in 1977 BS’s illustrious predecessor first published in 1896 “Bicycles and Tricycles” by Archibald Sharp, an engineering academic in London. Shortly after this Frank Satlow asked us to work on a second edition of BS. We sprung into action. Every


engineer knows that her/his first try at anything is always in great need of substantial revision. We wanted to make many changes to BS. Alas, Frank Whitt suffered a massive stroke soon after we started, and he was able to contribute very little to “BSII”. As far as the book was concerned, this seriously affected a history chapter I wrote to start the second edition. By this time I had gotten involved in the writing of several books, and I always wanted to write about the history of the topic as an interested observer, not as an historian. In doing so for BSII I promulgated several myths. I had read about them in many books, so I thought they were accepted truths. I was rudely (but justifiably) awakened to the regrettable fact that very little history is accepted universally. In Britain Derek Roberts had founded a group of cycle historians now known as the Veteran-Cycle Club, and he began to produce correction sheets for each new book on bicycles that was published. These sheets have been collected into a small volume called “Cycling History - Myths and Queries” (1991). Alas again, he had to write a sheet on the “history” I included in a new first chapter to BSII. When a few years later The MIT Press asked me to work on a third edition I asked Derek Roberts and several other members of his group of historians to review the much-revised history chapter ruthlessly. They contributed a great deal. I wrote at the start of the chapter: “Those who are ignorant of history are not, in truth, condemned to repeat it, as George Santayana claimed. However, people do spend a great deal of time reinventing types of bicycles and of components, and one purpose of this necessarily brief history is to give would-be inventors a glimpse of some of their predecessors. Sir Isaac Newton said that we make advances by standing on the shoulders of giants, but we must first know that there were giants and what they accomplished. Another purpose is to kill the many-headed Hydra of bicycling myths. People invent these myths – for instance, that Leonardo da Vinci or one of his pupils invented the chain-


driven bicycle – for nefarious or self-serving or humorous purposes, and the myths are immediately picked up by journalists and enthusiasts and almost instantly become lore, however false. Historians repeatedly denounce the fakes, but the amateur historians continue to report them as if they were true. These people seem to practice a crude form of democracy: if they read something in ten publications and the contrary in one, the one reported most often is, they believe, correct.” I acknowledged the debt I owed to all the genuine historians whose help I had received and whose works I had consulted, and so far, so good! No correction sheet for Bicycling Science III has had to be published!

Better brakes on bicycles: wet-weather braking One aspect of bicycles that troubled me greatly was braking. Up to the 1970s almost all bicycle wheels had steel rims, and most brakes brought rectangular pieces of rubber against the rims. They worked very well in dry weather. In wet weather, however, the braking effect almost disappeared. The braking distance could increase four to ten times. The risk of being killed at an intersection or red light was high. I put the problem on my thesis/project list at MIT. A bright MIT student, Brian Hanson, used laboratory equipment to simulate wet-weather braking of a bicycle wheel, obtaining remarkable results. Hanson showed that the wet coefficient of friction was less than a tenth of the dry value with then-available brake pads. We tried every other type of material that we could get our hands on. We found that some brake linings used on aircraft landing-wheel brakes had only half the braking friction (when dry) of the standard bicycle pads, but suffered almost no drop in friction when the wheel rims were wet. The obvious next step was to double the force applied to the brake pads. It would have been easy just to double the leverage of the brake mechanism. But that meant that the brake lever on the


handlebars would have to travel twice as far to bring the brake pads or blocks up to the rim. (We couldn’t decrease the clearance between the brake pads and the wheel rim because bicycle wheels have a lot of wobble.) Normal human hands could not be doubled in reach. We held some brainstorming sessions to see how we could get around this difficulty.

Brake-pad-friction data taken by Brian Hanson and others. The vertical scale is the friction measured in wet conditions, On the horizontal scale is the dry friction. Note that the standard black rubber block has the highest dry friction but the lowest wet friction. We also measured a brake-pad material for aircraft landing wheels that had almost the same friction when wet or dry. We had to invent a new type of brake to use this wonderful material

It soon became obvious that what we needed was a mechanism that would bring the brake pads rapidly up to the rims at very low leverage and consequently with very low force capability. Then something would sense that contact had been made, and there would be a switch over to a high leverage. It sounds complex, but within a few days we had sketched all kinds of mechanisms that would accomplish this feat. One of us, John Malarkey, devised one using hydraulics. (Unfortunately he found later that someone had already patented this scheme.) Brian Hanson and I patented a simple mechanical version.


Hanson elected to do his masters thesis on the development of this brake as a working product. Then we tried to get the bicycle industry or the US government safety regulators (the Consumer Product Safety Commission, CPSC) interested. We had produced something that could save many lives at little cost. Brian graduated, was employed in another part of the country, and he allowed me to do what I thought best to get the brake adopted. Over the next ten years I put a huge amount of energy into this goal but almost everywhere I was met with indifference. I visited companies like Schwinn in Chicago and Raleigh in Nottingham, UK. After reports of the brake’s performance appeared in the magazine Bicycling an attorney petitioned the CPSC to adopt regulations to have the industry produce brakes that would match it. Foster-Miller Associates, a prominent engineering R&D company for which I was often a consultant on turbine technology, took over the campaign with some vigor, but also made no progress. The Positech brake Then Allen Armstrong from a two-man company called Positech phoned me one evening. He had heard of the brake. His company had developed a self-changing derailleur gear for bicycles. That made me perk up, because I had spent many months in 1947-9 working on this topic. In my concept the gear was going to be changed by cams triggered from one of the derailleur “jockey pulleys” or sprockets. I had machined a good number of the components when the Brush company awarded a research fellowship to me. I used to say that this fellowship stopped my budding career as an inventor-entrepreneur. Therefore I welcomed Allen’s suggestion of a meeting. He turned out to be a delightful person, full of ideas, highly skilled as an engineer and designer, and clearly of great integrity. (He still is.) Foster-Miller agreed to hand over the rights to the brake. Allen redesigned it to improve it considerably from the


version Brian Hanson and I made. It also looked better. He and his partner patented the new version and had some prototypes made, an expensive investment. They sent the prototypes to any company showing any interest. I remember demonstrating one to Raleigh people at their Massachusetts branch. I repeatedly rode with wetted steel wheel rims and braked to the point where the rear wheel would lift. That showed not only braking power but great control. The reports came back from the companies who tried the brakes themselves that the brakes worked very well, but they could not understand why.

This is the Positech brake, an improvement of the design that Hanson and I patented. When the brake lever is pulled the brake arms move together quickly because the leverage is over the small distance shown at the top. When the brake pads contact the wheel rim the reaction force locks the slider shown, and subsequently the leverage is over the large distance shown at the bottom.

A Japanese company that had tested the brake came out later with a poor copy. We had called it a “double-leverage brake” because it switched automatically from a low leverage to a high leverage. The Japanese brake built in two leverages with no control over when they occurred. So it had some virtues but it missed the point.


No company wanted to discuss taking out a license to manufacture the brake. It would cost only a few cents more than existing brakes to manufacture. The next time I was in Britain I visited Raleigh headquarters in Nottingham, and was entertained to lunch in a magnificently paneled directors’ dining room. Afterwards the engineering head told me rather languidly that they were not going to adopt our brake. They were pursuing another direction, presently secret. The new direction turned out to be that Raleigh, and the rest of the bike industry, was switching to aluminum-alloy rims. These do in fact give better wet-weather braking than do steel rims. But they bring with them severe problems. The pads and the rims wear extremely fast. If a piece of grit lodges in one of the brake pads it will cut a groove around the braking surface of the rim, producing a line of weakness. Bike tires are often made to run at over 100 psi, 7 bar, resulting in a huge outward force on the rims. Without warning the aluminum rims are liable to explode. At least six have done so on my bikes. If this occurs on the front wheel and locks it, the rider is likely to be propelled over the handlebars and to hit the ground head first. The results are all-too-likely to be tragic. By a combination of luck and more luck I have avoided this fate. One of Allen Armstrong’s Positech brakes was on the front wheel of my first recumbent bike (it had steel rims) for several years. It never needed a change of pads, and only once required a cable adjustment. The rims and brakes that the bicycle industry has produced since have been mostly extremely poor. My funny, creative and energetic wife Ellen, who rides a very expensive German bicycle on her visiting-nurse rounds, seems to be always saying “Honey lamb” (she is a Southern gal) “sorry to trouble you but I have no braking on either wheel.” This is the result of the rapid wear of present-day pads and aluminum wheel rims and the considerable difficulty in subsequent adjustment. On her previous bike, a prominent US model with Japanese cantilever


brakes, both she and our infant daughter Susan were almost killed when the brake cables broke on a hill, as described later.

This Shimano brake had the right-hand portion of the "straddle" cable bolted firmly to the top of the right-hand pivoting brake arm. The pivoting angle was certain to cause the cable to fail after a certain number of brake actuations.

The complete cure to the Shimano-brake problem: a curved washer installed under the clamping bolt that made the cable adopt a low-stress curvature. Shimano adopted this, though without acknowledgement (or payment) to me.


I am in danger of becoming bitter over the braking question! On to happier topics!

The world HPV land speed record Books and TV programs that show how apparently insignificant events can trigger great changes are fascinating to me. As I write this I have been listening to a program about the conquest of England by William of Normandy in 1066 AD. He amassed an enormous fleet of ships and an army of men and horses of a size previously unseen in history. King Harold of England was ready for him all summer, but word came that Norsemen were coming to attack the northeast coast. Harold made a forced-march with his army and totally surprised the Norsemen at Stamford Bridge. He beat them so thoroughly that this threat from the North was never to return. While Harold was dealing with this threat, William had been waiting several weeks for a favorable wind to carry his fleet to the south coast of England. It came just after the battle of Stamford Bridge. Harold led his superb but weary army southwards and almost despatched William and his army, but it was not to be. The change of wind changed history. The same small “nonevents” also change us personally. When I was invited at the last moment to go to an MIT press meeting with my recumbent bicycle it led unexpectedly to sudden enthusiasm for this type of conveyance, as related above. Using my imagination of what I would like in a future bike, I took a design drawing to a couple of frame-builders. The first said something like “I wouldn’t touch such a piece of nonsense!” The second, Richie Forrestall, said “I like this. May I show the drawing to my partner Harald Maciejewski and would you be open to the idea of us starting a company to make it?” They formed Fomac, Inc., made two bikes to my drawings, the one for Grandpa Brands and another recumbent (the Avatar 1000) for adults, and a third as an amalgam of my designs and their ideas.


The Avatar 2000 recumbent bicycle They called this last bike the Avatar 2000. (“Avatar” is the Indian phoenix, something rising from the ashes.) People loved it. Fomac was swamped with orders, despite charging around $2000 (after initially asking for about $1500 but finding that this didn’t cover their costs). It seemed that everyone wanted to write about it. One month we had a major article in the Christian Science Monitor and simultaneously a photo in Playboy (without, thank goodness, a model displaying her talents while seated on the bike). The popularity of the first edition of Bicycling Science led to an invitation from the University of Bremen to Frank Whitt and me to give a talk at the April 1980 International Congress on Bicycle Traffic, called “Velo/City”. Frank deferred to me and I accepted. Richie and Harald were enthusiastic for the idea that I would take over an early version of the Avatar 2000. The event was a marked success. The Avatar 2000 was beautifully designed and produced, with a lustrous black frame and buffed aluminum seat frame and fittings. The seat material was gray nylon mesh edged with leather for the strapping. The bike and I appeared in reports of my talks, in bicycle magazines and newspapers, and on TV in various places. After a gestation period of around nine months, almost exact copies of the bike began appearing in Germany and Switzerland under various brand names: we had not been able to afford extending our patent to Europe. A prominent fellow attender at Velo/City was Richard Ballantine, publisher of the British “Bicycle magazine” and author of respected bicycling books. He liked the Avatar, bought one, and put it on the May 1982 cover of the magazine (with a model, but she retained her clothes). The caption was “Bike of the future – Avatar 2000” .


The Fomac leaflet on the Avatar 2000


The Avatar 2000 makes big time

The birth and rapid growth of the IHPVA Recumbent bicycles and their riders are apt to be the subjects of some derision. However, two Californians, Chester Kyle and Jack Lambie, had independently tried to produce faster bicycles, and succeeded. They met by chance in 1973, exchanged views, and tested their designs in November 1974. They decided to form a group of like-minded people. This group held a rather light-hearted “First International Human-Powered Speed


Championships” on April 5, 1975. On March 26, 1976 the group was formalized into the “International Human-Powered-Vehicle Association” – the IHPVA. Chet Kyle was courteous enough to ask me to be a founding board member. The IHPVA was, however, almost purely Californian in location and outlook. It had the relaxed casualness coupled with the ability to unleash enormous energy that Californians so often demonstrate. The organization began to attract not just bicyclists and runners but motor-cycle and automobile racers. The enthusiasm was fostered by Kyle’s philosophy of almost no rules. Vehicles just had to be propelled by human power alone, without any form of stored power. Designers and tinkerers produced vehicles in which the rider(s) lay on their backs, supine, or facing down, prone, going headfirst or feet first, using just their legs, or legs and arms together, with two, three and four wheels, and with one to ten riders. The speed records relentlessly pushed upwards. A low recumbent tricycle, the Vector, began to capture the records both for the single-rider machines and for a faster two-rider version in which the rear rider sat low, back-to-back with the captain, enclosed in a beautifully streamlined bubble. Britain conquered again The enthusiasm for “open-rule” racing spread to Britain. Richard Ballantine entered his Avatar 2000 in the 1981 Aspro Clear Speed Challenge in Brighton, and in the races at the Goodwood GP circuit, and saw its potential as a speed machine. One of Ballantine’s fellow enthusiasts was Derek Henden. He asked if he could design a streamlined fairing for the Avatar. He made several, using such practical materials as the foam plastic for MacDonald’s coffee cups . Presumably the shape of the fairing inspired Henden’s group to call themselves the Nosey Ferret Racing Team. One of the members was Tim Gartside, an Australian former lawyer who had set up a pedicab service in


London and so developed strong leg muscles. (This is not the prescription for a racer, however.) He became the Nosey Ferret’s principal rider. (The team called the Avatar 2000 in its faired version the Bluebell.) Gartside began winning races in Britain rather decisively. In a race at Brands Hatch Gartside in Bluebell beat a US Vector, then the dominant HPV in races. Enthusiasm built to high levels. The team borrowed not only Richard Ballantine’s Avatar but his credit card to get to Los Angeles CA for the September 1982 IHPVA Speed Championships. On the second day of racing, in the 200-meter flying-start speed trials Tim Gartside propelled Bluebell to a then speed record for two-wheeled human-powered vehicles of 23.21 m/s, 51.92 mile/h. In doing so he beat the previous record holder, the Vector team, and the Easy Racer, which would subsequently establish many records. In the following weekend Bluebell and Gartside came in first in a pursuit race in the San Diego Velodrome.

Dave Wilson on the Avatar 2000 on Brattle Street Cambridge MA (photo by Richard Howard)


Fomac’s fast-fading fortune When news of these victories reached the Fomac group it brought about great excitement. We were sure that the phone would start ringing and major bicycle companies would want to start producing the Avatars. Not one tried to contact us. We started sending out news releases and we wrote to the principal bike companies offering to discuss possibilities. I don’t remember receiving even acknowledgments. What did happen was similar to what occurred after the Bremen Velo/City meeting. Copies of the Avatar began appearing in the U.S.. Many contravened our patent. I remember a Cambridge acquaintance asking me if he could take measurements of the bike. I refused, saying that the two people who produced the bike had mortgaged their houses and worked long and hard to design and produce the bike, and I had to respect their livelihood. I kept the bike locked in someone’s lab at MIT. Later someone in the lab told me that he had seen this same guy meticulously measuring every detail of the bike. Then I was told by others that he was selling plans for what he called an improved version of Dave Wilson’s recumbent. An MIT student was also in this plagiarism parade. Richie Forrestall and Harald of Fomac were philosophical. It made no sense to go after the copiers, they said, because they were all small business-people, very short on financial resources. If we tried to sue them we would bankrupt ourselves without doing any good. Fomac’s orders dried up, because anyone could buy a copy at half the price: these people didn’t have to spend eighteen months without income developing a product. Richie and Harald found that they were spending a great deal of time dealing with people who visited pretending to be interested in buying an Avatar but, they suspected, were more likely to be contemplating making one or getting into business themselves. Fomac quietly folded. We were all somewhat sad – but as compensation we had guru status!


Tackling the bicycle-theft problem After bicycling casually around Britain and Europe and Nigeria for thirty-five years or so without having a bike stolen it came as a rude surprise to have five stolen in fairly quick succession after arriving in the US in 1961 as a working stiff. All were locked, but the local Massachusetts bicycle thief was not delayed by more than a few seconds by cables and chains. Each time one was stolen I advanced up the scale of available lock technology. Losing a bike was highly irritating because I had developed a fussiness about bikes. I generally bought Raleigh Gran Sport “ten-speeds” in the Boston area, but I liked long cranks and high top gears and certain saddles and so on, and when someone made off with a bike it took me a month or two to equip a new bike the way I liked it. After bike number four was taken from outside my Northern Research office on Vassar Street, Cambridge, MA my boss Jack Rizika let me build a rather magnificent bike-storage locker on to the side of the building, taking some of the parking lot. We called it the East Wing. It took about ten bikes. No bike was lost from it to my recollection. But if I wanted to bicycle to a meeting or a meal somewhere the bike was as vulnerable as ever. The shots heard around the world My brain was peculiarly exercised by this theft problem. This was before the possibility of electronic wireless warning systems. However, I became intrigued by the idea of a thief making enough noise to alert me even if I was fairly deep in a building. Here’s what I came up with. First I took a sprung clothes pin and fitted simple electrical contacts at the normally-closed end. Then I could squeeze the open ends together to insert these ends between one of the tires and its fender (mudguard). If the bike were moved the clothes pin would snap shut and close the contacts.


A battery circuit then fed a voltage to a loaded starting pistol, which discharged with a loud crack, audible for a long distance. The gas discharge from the explosion went to an ordinary balloon, inflating it somewhat. It discharged through a police whistle. It couldn't fail!

The ultimate (?) deterrent to bike theft. If the bike were moved, the clothes pin wedged between the fender (mudguard) and the tire would be dislodged, and the contacts on its “business” end would snap shut. The solenoid would be energized and the trigger would be displaced and, simultaneously, the circuit would be broken. The hammer would hit the blank cartridge, and the gases would inflate a small balloon and start sounding an alarm on the police whistle.

Its first use was when I left my bike leaning against our house in Winslow Street Cambridge, a quiet residential street. I have always been an early riser, and on each of three mornings I forgot about my own thief deterrent. At soon after 6 AM I awakened my neighbors with the sound of a pistol shot and a police whistle.


It would have been possible to devise a delay system. But that wouldn’t help if someone innocently brushed against the bike when it was locked in some public space. Another good (?) idea bit the dust. A highly successful lock It seemed to me that a chain and padlock had a lot of unneeded metal. I worked on a single-loop large padlock. The single loop was of a high-quality steel called “drill rod” (at least that was its British name.) I could get it around a parking-meter pole, the bike frame and, if I removed the front wheel, both wheels. I never lost another bike. An MIT student did a bachelor’s thesis on finding an even better material for the loop. He reckoned that bolt cutters would not get through his “better” metal. But mine did. My first material seemed good enough. The MIT news hounds gave it some publicity. Soon after this a Michael Zane phoned me. He asked me if I planned to produce my new bike lock. I said that I was not a good entrepreneur and was too busy at MIT to do something like this. He asked me if I would mind if he produced it. I gave him the go-ahead. He started Kryptonite, which has done rather well. I didn’t even get a free lock. I’ve bought several Kryptonite locks of different types. The company has been sold a couple of times since then. The lock has been copied by many. I bought a dozen from a Taiwan company called, coincidentally, Wilson Security. I’ve proudly used them and handed them out to family and friends over the last twenty years. A depressing bike rack My activities on theft deterrents were getting me noticed (remember that all publicity, even unfavorable, is favorable) and in November 1980 Dr. Paul Dudley White, President Eisenhower’s heart surgeon and a prominent bicycle champion, invited me to join his Committee for Safe Bicycling, and the City Manager of Cambridge asked me to chair a bicycling committee.


An enthusiastic group came together and met at our house. One member was Dr. Cutler Delong West, an eccentric genius who made major contributions to Edwin Land’s Polaroid instantphotography process. Although he was quite rich he used to ride around Cambridge on an old clunker of a bike, picking up bottles and getting the deposit money. He smoked incessantly, which gave me one heck of a headache each time he came to the house, and I had to ask him to leave the committee because he said that he couldn’t function without smoking. In his will (he died soon after this time) he left a fund for good deeds, and I applied to it for money to put Frank Whitt’s bicycling papers on microfiches for libraries and researchers. Frank left his papers to me when he died in 1984, and they arrived from Britain in five stuffed-full tea chests. Having all the good stuff on microfiches was very useful. Frank loved making copies of items of interest he found in books and reports. He would then snip out the interesting parts and keep the rest of the sheet. It took me many months to go through this amazing collection, which was mostly in no logical order that I could discern. The committee worked with the city manager and the Cambridge police to devise leaflets for motorists and for bicyclists giving advice on road behavior. We designated good routes for bicycling through the city and had them marked and mapped. We had a field day and races and a parade. And we had bike racks put at many places in the city. The bike racks were of a new design that I developed. At least I hadn’t seen them before I worked on them. Previous bike racks at MIT and in Cambridge gripped just one wheel, frequently bending the rim. Thieves would detach the wheel and make off with the rest of the bike. The new bike rack held the bike by the seat tube, which in those days could be found on every bike. It was easy to put a lock around the frame and the rear wheel and, if one wanted, to take out the front wheel to have that within the lock also.


Ben Olken, proprietor of the famous Bicycle Exchange near Harvard Square was so taken with the racks that he wanted to go into business with me to sell them. So he would get orders for them, I would get them made by a local welding place, and I would deliver them and set them up. Ben didn’t like the idea of us having a written agreement. I found after the first sale that he had lowered the agreed price from $120 to about $80. It cost me $110 to have them made, so I was losing a lot of money and a lot of time. I begged to be excused from the business. The design has since apparently been widely copied. It seemed desirable to devise a better bike rack that made it more difficult for thieves to steal the wheels, and to allow bicyclists to carry lighter locks. (There’s a general rule that the weight of a bicycle plus lock is constant. If you have a really light – and therefore expensive - bike you need a long, strong lock. If you have a heavy old clunker you don’t need a lock because no one would want to steal it.) After surveying bicycles in bike racks I said to myself “Hey Wilson! The “bottom bracket” bearing (the one that carries the pedaling cranks) is in about the same place on most bikes. Also on most bikes the wheels are in so-called “dropouts” in the front and rear forks. If I can make a rack with something that hooks around the bottom-bracket shell and pulls the bike downward the thieves won’t be able to get the wheels out. And only a simple padlock would be needed to lock the depression lever.” The illustration shows what I came up with. By this time I had become hardened by the experience of having my/our bikes, brakes, locks and racks copied. It would cost a heck of a lot of time and money to patent the rack, and far more to take the inevitable copiers to court. The mechanism isn’t as universal nowadays because of the profusion of different types of all-terrain bicycles, but if any reader wants to use the design, go ahead with my blessing.


A concept for a bike rack that would protect both wheels and the bicycle with a simple padlock

Notes on bicycle failures When someone gets hurt after trying to break some record for descending a steep rocky hill on a bike I reckon that she/he knew the risks and was prepared to take the consequences. I am extremely troubled, however, by injuries and even deaths to people who are using a bicycle in a totally normal way. I have launched campaigns for these problems to be fixed, usually without obvious success. For instance, for some time I have been asking for the regulation of tire fit on bicycle rims. There is no standard anywhere in the world where this fit is now specified. If you have a flat in your front tire and if it is a loose fit on the rim you will almost certainly be thrown off. You might be killed. (I escaped narrowly on the three occasions when this happened to me.) This regulation would cost almost nothing and


would bring great benefits. (It is written up in an issue of Human Power, a technical journal that I used to edit.) Also I asked for there to be some regulation such that there would be a warning to a rider if the aluminum braking rim on her/his bike was getting thin. There have been many rim explosions (I have had six, all on rear wheels) which if occurring on the front wheel could lock it instantly and almost equally fast could convert you from a vibrant human being into a nearvegetable. (In this respect you are far safer on a recumbent.) And last I requested far better regulation of bicycle brakes, most of which, again in my humble opinion, are appallingly designed and consequently very dangerous.

DELIGHTS AND DANGERS ON THE BICYCLE Bicyclists get no respect. It is particularly during and after a long New England winter that I feel it necessary to complain about our automobilecentered society. I wrote the following to our local Winchester paper (The Star) under the title “Weird wheels in Winchester”. (I’ve edited and added to it somewhat.) “Winter is coming. The TV weathermen are brushing up their cold-weather vocabulary. It seems always to be directed just to drivers. "Keep that defroster going!" "It's mighty cold outside: this is a good day to start the car ten minutes before leaving!" Sometimes they use a little humor, introducing the painful picture of warm fannies hitting cold vinyl. It is enough to bring tears to the eyes of sympathetic fellow citizens. Drivers also become concerned about the well-being of fellow motorists. Many park their cars on or across sidewalks so as not to hinder the passage of moving vehicles. When snow comes they try not to put the snow cleared from their driveways into the road. Many prefer to pile it up on neighboring walkways.


On my way to work I pass a fair number of people ignored by the weathermen and of little concern to the drivers. Construction workers and people up utility poles are excluded from receiving advice on their response to the weather. So are the few poor souls who are backward enough to try to walk or to take the bus or train. In the winter there are few sidewalks that do not have small mountains of snow to be climbed, or have cars parked on them. Often the only place to walk is, therefore, in the roadway. Walking in winter is not for the faint-hearted. Even in the summer, walking has almost disappeared. We have neighbors, young and active in sports, who drive to visit us from about four houses away. In Winchester that means driving under a hundred yards. We had a neighbor, not in Winchester, who went one better. Monday to Saturday she would enter her garage from her kitchen, push buttons to open the garage door and to start her car, back out, drive forwards about fifteen yards, collect her mail from her mail box, and then reverse the procedure to go back into her garage. This behavior is regarded as perfectly normal in this country, whereas that of people who walk is slightly suspect. Others wonder if the walkers have lost their driving licenses from being arrested for driving when intoxicated. There are also a very few people who bicycle to work. There is no doubt about these: their behavior is definitely weird. And yet economists tell us that we taxpayers are subsidizing driving by at least a dollar per mile per vehicle in urban areas Lassoed on Mass Avenue I am a bicyclist. I found shortly after arriving in this country (in 1955) that bicycling by adults was regarded not only as weird but as un-American. I was biking back from a visit to friends in Concord, MA, along Mass. Avenue in Cambridge on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. The roads and sidewalks were crowded. A huge convertible passed me. In the back was a man


who, seeing me, stood up, reached for a lariat, and skillfully tried to lasso me. The noose of the rope fell on my shoulder, not around my neck. The man looked disappointed as if he had just missed a polecat, and coiled his rope up again. There was no horn blown by any of the surrounding motorists, and no cry of "Shame!" on the part of pedestrians. Just in case I thought that this bland acceptance of an intent to risk my death was an anomaly, a couple of months later a convertible full of teenagers came alongside me when I was biking in Boston; the driver yelled "How do you like this, bicyclist?" and jerked the wheel hard over so that the car swerved sharply into my path, bounced over the curb on to the sidewalk, and roared off. But I had good brakes and a fair degree of skill, and narrowly avoided becoming road-kill. A more interesting occasion came later when I was returning from Boston across the Harvard bridge. A sedan full of youths came alongside and tried to run me into the curb. I braked sharply and went around the offside of the car. They tried it again, and again I avoided being pinned. The third time the front-seat passenger flung the door open, apparently trying to hit me with it. This time I was trapped. They started spitting at me. Advancing on foot through the rain of spit, I put on my plummiest British accent and pronounced "You Americans have such a scintillating sense of humour!" There were a couple of seconds of silence, and then they all started apologizing, expressing their admiration for all things British. I have been hit nine times by motorists running stop signs or red lights or displaying road rage or unbelievable carelessness. I have had many bottles and other missiles aimed at me. I have been punched by passengers in passing vehicles, and have been pushed off my bike by someone wielding a pole out of a car window. And yet I have tried to bicycle as courteously as possible and to obey all laws. (In fact, I and some buddies formed a group of "Role-model bicyclists" a few years ago to try


to spread good bicycling behavior. Many bicyclists were delighted and anxious to join us, being ashamed at the discourtesy and lawlessness of many other bicyclists. The news media were totally uninterested. The movement died, because it relied on publicity. No one knew why we were wearing special helmets with distinctive badges. This despite the helmets being donated and presented by Senator William Saltonstall, in memory of his daughter who was killed while bicycling in Massachusetts. Ellen Wilson designed and donated the reflective badges.) Being courteous can be hazardous to one's ego and even to one's person. "No good deed goes unpunished." When snow narrows travel lanes I watch in my helmet mirror for vehicles coming up behind me and steer my bicycle into the deep snow to the side until the vehicle(s) has/have passed. Twice in a recent winter I thought that I was about to be thanked for these selfless actions. A small truck stopped as I was waiting off to the side up to my knees in a drift. I smiled, expecting a word of appreciation. "Thanks for saving the world" the driver yelled at me "but get the **** off the road!" The other time I was again waiting in a drift out of the travel lane, beckoning a vehicle approaching from behind to pass. But the driver stopped. Again I turned, smiling, to accept what would undoubtedly be an expression of gratitude. The window came down. The driver's hand reached up to scoop up and to squeeze a handful of wet snow into a compact dense ball of ice, and he fired it at extremely close range into my eyes. I couldn't see to get his license number. On a couple of occasions I have taken the perpetrators to court. Cynics refer to this action as another collision: this time with the US legal system. I experienced it in full measure. After a Belmont dentist in a Cadillac hit me from behind, paused while he observed me wriggling in the roadway, and then drove off, I persuaded the MDC police to find him and charge him. (I


remembered his plate number.) I saw a lot of him. We would meet in court, his attorney would ask the judge, who seemed to be an old friend and distinctly unsympathetic to bicyclists, for a continuance (postponement), and he would grant it, time after time. There was no more evidence to collect. They knew that I could not keep asking the kind Brit who had come to my aid in the road to take time off work repeatedly to testify for me, and eventually I let the perpetrator off. There are many more-serious examples elsewhere in the US. One judge let off a driver who acknowledged that she was searching for a tape in the back seat when she plowed into a family of four bicycling in the breakdown lane, wearing bright vests and carrying tall flags on a clear Sunday morning. All were killed. The judge seemed to think that it was the family's fault for being there. The message, therefore, is coming in loud and clear. If walking is un-American, bicycling is way-out weird. We should all be driving more, even though there isn't space for more cars, and even though inactivity-induced overweight and associated illnesses are described as epidemic in America. I have good news. I have been granted citizenship of this great country. All I need now is to get motorized. Then I can say "Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines! We're going to visit our next-door neighbors!"


The result of the ninth motor vehicle to hit me when I was riding in full compliance with all applicable laws (in May 2009, in Lexington MA). The drive apologized profusely, said he was looking the other way, called the police and did everything right after the one nearly fatal impact.

Respect for a TV person In fairness I should record what to me was an amazing encounter. One morning at around 0830 I was on my recumbent passing Cambridge (MA) Rindge and Latin school just before classes started, so that the sidewalks were full of students. One group of male teenagers saw me, and someone yelled loudly “Hey! Look at that jerk!” I pretended not to hear. There was a moment of relative silence, and then one of the others spoke up for me. “Shut up!” he admonished, “He was on TV!”And cheering broke out.


In the 1960s several members of Parliament rode their bicycles, and one could get surprising respect from, e.g., the doormen of prestigious restaurants. (Ellen’s view!)

Being on TV, then, can instantly convert one from being a jerk to being respected. That seems to be more than being awarded a knighthood in Britain. Nowadays I suppose that one would have to be on Facebook, YouTube or Twitter.

Biking in Britain None of the rather vicious assaults that I have encountered in the US has been tried on me during the approximately thirty years that I biked in Europe, Nigeria and Britain. However, in 2004 we three, Ellen, Susan and I took our triple tandem over to Cornwall UK to ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats in northeast Scotland. We found that conditions for bicycling in Britain were more hazardous than they used to be forty years ago. Here’s an account of the ride.


Our longer bicycling routes in Britain

End-to-end in Britain on a triple tandem: one-thousand miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats “I’m going to be fifty next year” said Ellen in the fall of 2003. “Let’s celebrate by biking across the country!” “Great idea!” I said, “so long as the country is Britain!”


There was a major advantage in choosing to do an “end-to-end” in Britain: Susan, our eight-year-old daughter, could come with us. We had a Thorn Triple tandem with kiddie cranks on the middle seat, and she had enjoyed several rides of up to 75 miles from near Boston to New Hampshire. It seemed possible. I had been a member of the (UK) Cyclists’ Touring Club, CTC, for a while, and I downloaded the scoop on the Land’s End to John O’Groats trip (LETJOG) from the CTC web-site. We were attracted to the idea of doing the trip on a conducted tour with an experienced CTC leader and a “sag” wagon to take the heavy luggage. But doubts began to surface. All the other people in the group would be on lightweight singles, while we would be on a heavy triple with our major load, Susan, adding 80 pounds of herself and at least 20 pounds of her share of the bike, and we knew that we wouldn’t be able to keep up with the crowd. (Up to this point when we took Susan on the tandem she just let her happy feet get carried around by the pedals.) Also the group would be staying at places like Holiday Inns, whereas Ellen had romantic ideas of staying in a castle or two.

David showing Ellen and Susan what he thought would be a preferred route from Land’s End to John O’Groats


So we printed out the guidelines of the B&B route. We ordered the recommended Ordnance Survey maps. The lowest fare for the time we wanted to leave, July 4 2004, was on British Airways. After trying to make reservations for five days, however, we gave up. One minor block was BA’s demand that I choose a title - Lord, Sir, Archbishop, Professor, Dr. and so on. I, Dave, am a failed Quaker, and I like the Quaker tradition of no titles. This radical point of view is not acceptable to BA. I gave up and listed myself as “Mr.” Hallelujah! On, I thought, to the promised land! But alas, no such luck. BA had security barriers against my two US and one UK credit cards that stopped our bookings - without telling us. We repeatedly thought we were successful but then found that no booking had been made. Phone calls to all possible BA numbers were to no avail. I put into action the Wilson emergency plan A: write a strong letter to the CEO. It was immediately acknowledged: we were informed that the great man would write to us soon. He didn’t. We didn’t wait. We booked on Virgin. Everything went smoothly although this airline, too, wanted to know what stupid titles we had so that no one would step on our delicate sensibilities. Britain didn’t seem to have changed much in the pomp area since I left 43 years ago, despite years of a Labour government.

Susan, Ellen and Dave at Land’s End, Cornwall, at the start of the ride, July 5, 2004


Land’s End launch To our surprise and delight Virgin loaded our long triple tandem in Boston with care and humor. (We did wrap it up pretty well, reduced tire pressures, turned pedals inward, lowered saddles and removed or turned handlebars etc.) It was in good shape when we arrived in London Heathrow around 2000 hours on Independence Day. We had booked a train from Paddington station to Penzance, the nearest station to Land’s End, for 0745 next morning and we didn’t like the idea of trying to bike into central London in the dark. We had another happy surprise! The express train from Heathrow to Paddington took our huge bike in the luggage car with no question or problem. We found a hotel near the station that was willing to have our tandem in the small foyer, we slept well, and found our reserved seats on the train and our reserved place for the tandem (which was more than something of a squeeze.) We arrived at Penzance at around 1330 in glorious weather, put the panniers finally into place, and biked the 12 miles to Land’s End to register for the LETJOG trip (one gets a certificate), to have ourselves photographed and to take off. The tail-wind tale I had promised Ellen and Susan that we would have SW tail winds the whole way, and so it was for the first afternoon and the full day that followed. We had reserved the first B&B so that we had to do no more than forty miles the first afternoon. Every day subsequently, once we had covered fifty miles or so, we enjoyed just looking out for B&Bs, which were plentiful,. We gave the responsibility to Susan, who also was allowed to stop at playgrounds twice a day. So to the cries of “Playground Alert!” were added (after 1700 hours each day) “B&B Alert!” Also adding to Susan’s entertainment and motivation was her bag mounted on her own handlebars in which she stored souvenirs financed by her daily allowance.


The countryside was stunningly beautiful, and the wind wafted us along - until the second full day. Then what was described as a once-in-twenty-five-years storm hit southern Britain, and we faced a northeast gale with trees and wires across the roads. The two young women behind me were amazing: they loved the challenge and never ceased to be upbeat and cheerful then and during the rest of the trip. The wind stayed northeast until we crossed the Scottish border two weeks later. Another challenge was the route. The CTC provided a detailed description of the lanes to take, but the description was not always totally helpful. For instance, right at the start it reads: [At]11.5 m NEWLYN Follow seashore road to PENZANCE Continue (tricky navigation) around the bay to MARAZION ...and GOLDSITHNEY After village bear R on lane. “After village bear R. on lane” We asked locals for advice on the “tricky navigation” part but were misdirected and lost the road for a while. Eventually we reached Goldsithney. In Britain one does not know when one has left a village, so “After village bear R on lane” is also tricky. There are many lanes. This time by luck we took the correct lane, because after an hour of slow travel in some uncertainty we arrived at Godolphin Cross, which was on the route. Later in the trip we were frequently lost. We found that a compass and a cyclecomputer reading in tenths of a mile were absolutely essential. A GPS system would have been a luxury, but in the first few days we would have appreciated it. In my youth I had biked all over Britain and Ireland among crowds of cheerful bicyclists singing out greetings to one another. Britain had changed: we saw only one or two touring cyclists, and none was going our way on any day of our trip.


Hills The CTC B&B route on LETJOG is very creative: it avoids all major towns. In Britain roads are designated as motorways (M1 etc.), two grades of A roads, shown on the maps as green for the almost-motorway level and red for the lesser A roads; B roads in yellow, and lesser roads and lanes in white. The B&B route is mostly on lesser roads and occasionally B roads. They have advantages and disadvantages. They do not have endless streams of nasty, battling heavy traffic. But British drivers are mostly highly skilled and like to go as fast as possible. The lesser roads are often no more than ten-to-twelve feet in total width. In the first two counties, Cornwall and Devon, the roads tend to be sunk between two high banks covered in thorns and wildflowers with hedgerows on top. One’s view is highly limited. But one can hear a car or truck screaming towards one from either direction, and we became practised at throwing ourselves against the lefthand bank to allow one of these speed demons to pass. (OK, they usually did stop and creep by with nods and grins, but a few passed at high speed, intent on getting to the meeting of the Dartmoor Hunt or the game of bowls in the nearby Bull & Dragon Inn.) Another problem of the lanes was peculiar to us. Cornwall and Devon have roads with very steep hills, some nearly 30%. But the maps didn’t mark hills on the lesser roads. Ellen and I could not keep the heavy tandem going up a 20% hill at more than 3.5 miles/hr, and I could not keep the bike from weaving at that speed. So we gave up trying to use the “granny” (super-low) gears and walked a lot. Promotion to “B” roads, then to “A” In avoiding the major towns the B&B route wiggles a great deal. Our total mileage for LETJOG was 1015 miles, including the reversing connections from the train at Penzance at the start and to that at Wick at the Scottish end. The crow’s-flight distance is


about 750 miles. That was OK with us: we did the trip for enjoyment, and we had a wonderful, magical time. But after the third day we did start taking the B roads when possible. As we went further north through Wales we began taking the A roads of both levels. In Scotland there is often no choice where there are no tracks across the mountains. Also we like towns. We enjoyed rolling into a market town, buying a newspaper to see how the Red Sox and Bush and Kerry were doing (rather hit-or-miss in most UK papers), having a high-calorie snack in a small restaurant, and chatting with the many people who overcame their British reserve to ask about the bike and our trip. (Ellen fitted horns to our helmets to get us noticed in case there was anyone who was visually challenged. She also equipped us with high-impact multicolored striped sweaters. Our three saddles carried our names on the kids’ “number plates” one can find in US gift shops.)

We visited Wells Cathedral


The “B” roads were best - mostly wide enough to allow easy passing by motor vehicles and not very busy. The “A” roads were scary at times. The trucks in particular would pass almost brushing our elbows and would then swerve into not more than a foot from the curb once past us. On several occasions on narrower roads I would wonder why we there was so little traffic and would look back to see several vehicles crawling behind us waiting for a safe opportunity to pass, even though we were as far to the left as possible. We would often signal a stop and wave them all by. The levels of road behavior and law observance were very high. We stopped to tour Glastonbury Abbey and Wells cathedral and Chepstow castle, after crossing the Severn estuary on a high, windy, scary bridge (most of the long bridges have a separate track for bicyclists and walkers). I had been reading “Life in a medieval castle” all about Chepstow, and it was very satisfying to see it up close. Did you know that many children in medieval times were betrothed at ten, married at 12 and the girls, if they survived child-bearing, would have had all their children by 21? It made biking a thousand miles seem like nothing worth mentioning. Only one flat tire delayed us. It was at the top of a pass in a windy rainstorm, and my two co-riders clustered around me to let the rubber solution get tacky before getting wet. We had an intermediate chain break near the top of another pass. Ellen was the only one with power, and she got us the 7 miles to the next town, Selkirk, where there was only one part-time bike repair shop. Luckily bicycle-repairman Bill was at his small shop. We bought a new chain and a couple of links. Bill gave us a small Scottish flag which we displayed proudly on the front bag of our tandem. Susan started pedaling, under inducements from Ellen, soon after we crossed the Scottish border, and put so much torque into it that one kiddy-crank kept coming off, despite my robust tightening of the retaining screw. The Thorn tandem


itself was flawless throughout, beautifully made, very stiff and responsive. Ellen and Susan made the bike come alive by giving it a name: “Cherry Bomb”. They felt she had a personality too, just as did her riders. They could then blame Cherry Bomb, e.g., for going so slowly up hills. We had a rest day in Edinburgh, going to playgrounds and museums and a wild-animal farm where we handled tarantulas and a boa constrictor, and we even went to the movies. By this time the ATM machines were giving us Scottish paper money, and we knew that, while we could use English money in Scotland, the reverse was not the case. After all, the act of union between England and Scotland was only in 1707. Some things take time. We often bought bread and cheese for lunch along the road. Susan repeatedly managed to collect a whole lot of wild raspberries for our desserts. We always found a restaurant for a large evening meal. And we always found B&Bs, even when we were getting a little anxious at 1930 hours and after we had pedaled 75 miles. One elegant hotel came into the distance as the sky was darkening. The clerk looked very grave and said “The only room left is our honeymoon suite, complete with jacuzzi.” We forced ourselves to stay there. John O’Groats We met a lot of delightful people. People get more hospitable the further north in the UK one goes. On our last-butone day we found ourselves in Helmsdale in Sutherland, Scotland, and tried at a house with a B&B sign. The woman answering said that the accommodations were full, but would we like her to phone someone else? And off we went to the nearby Old Manse, a gorgeous old house by a church, almost in the castle category and much more comfortable. Brigitte, our lovely hostess, was waiting for us with her two children, Noah and Paige. She offered to take Susan with them to the sea-shore


while we settled in. The next day, our seventeenth on the road, after a bountiful breakfast and farewells we pedaled the last 70 miles to John O-Groats, and there waiting for us with gifts and happy smiles were Brigitte, Noah and Paige, who had driven there to surprise us. We took them to dinner and hoped to see them here in New England.. An organization called Sustrans is trying to crisscross Britain with bike paths. We were able to take just the few that were available and going in our direction. When you, dear reader, go to Britain to ride LETJOG, there will be more bike routes available. Join the CTC (, get info on all routes, and have a wonderful time!

HUMAN POWER ON WATER, IN THE AIR, AND FOR TOOL USE Human water power: the TOW boats By around 1966 I was 38, I had been married three years, and I had also been hit three times by cars whose drivers had either taken their eyes off the road or whose judgment was impaired. My wife Anne asked me to find another way of getting exercise. I joined the Riverside Boat Club in Cambridge and was allowed to use a “comp”, which is a compromise between a lightweight shell and something heavier like a wherry. I was far from a hot shot on the water, but I enjoyed it enough to want something lighter and faster, in other words a shell. The cost of a new shell and even of a second-hand one was far out of my reach: I had just joined the MIT faculty as an associate professor at half the salary I had previously earned in industry. So I decided to make my own boat. The name “shell” refers to the very thin plywood skin of a racing rowed boat that is glued on to spaced wood frames along the length. “Single” shells, that is, shells for a single oarsperson, are about 9m (25 – 30 ft) long and 250-mm (10 – 12”) wide at the


mid-point. These proportions give the boat plus rower the minimum combination of “skin” (water sliding) friction and wave drag in a hull that must support 75 – 90 kg (150 – 200 lb.) sliding back and forth in sometimes choppy conditions. I wisely chose to keep these proportions. In other respects I broke all the rules of innovation, one of which is to change one feature at a time. I changed just about everything. The main frame in my design was composed of three tubes, halfinch diameter, of aluminum alloy (6061-T6, one that has good strength and very good corrosion resistance.) There was one along the keel and one each along the corner made by the hull and the deck (sometimes called the gunwales or gunnels). The cockpit had tubes bent to support the foot-rests (called “stretchers”), and others to form the “riggers” holding the oarlocks (swivels) considerably outboard, port and starboard. There were lengths of aluminum angle to act as the rails for the traveling seat. Where there were no other tubes to keep the three long tubes in place I bent lightweight three-eighths-inch tubes so that the three-tube structure looked like a crane boom. The student team making the first successful MIT human-powered aircraft had impressed me with their skill at binding tubes together with fine fibers and subsequently coating the tubes and fiber with resin. I tried to do likewise, though not with the same skill. I was happy to avoid welding, because the strength of aluminum alloy would be have been greatly reduced near welds, and I suspected that the corrosion resistance might also be lost. Epoxy adhesive was also proscribed. About a month after marrying Anne I came out with disgusting yellow sores all over my hands, arms and parts of my face. She thought that perhaps I was allergic to some cosmetic she was using. But it turned out to be the result of a crash program of pump development at Northern Research. I had used epoxy adhesives on and off for many years. I thought that I could cast the experimental pump rotors from glass-fiber cloth and epoxy, and was working


eighteen hours a day with epoxy all over me. One can go easy on some allergies, for instance by eating on a rotation diet if one is allergic to wheat: you eat it no more than once every five days, and it has little adverse effect. Epoxy, or its hardener “amine” chemical, is not so forgiving. Since becoming sensitized to epoxy I have had to be whisked off to hospital after small careless exposures to it. The boat was finished by foaming urethane plastic around the aluminum tubes, the foam being confined by the inside surface of a plastic waste bin, cut down its length and with the bottom removed. When the length of the boat was “foamed” and cured I sanded the hull foam by hand until it matched templates I had made. Finally I stretched a lightweight glass cloth over the hull, brushed polyester resin into the cloth and polished it. Shell production and sales Two MIT undergraduates, Phil Davis and William Zimmerman, saw me rowing my boat on the Charles River. They came to ask if they could make similar boats for sale. I said “Sure! So long as all I have to do with it is to give you occasional advice.” You will guess the rest. I was already overloaded with far more than the average teaching load, student-thesissupervision load and committee assignments, but I found that I frequently had to work until 11 pm every evening to help get the boats finished. We made about ten. To our surprise and delight they were snapped up, particularly by school coaches. One phoned me about three months after he had taken delivery of a boat to tell me that he needed a new seat. “That sounds like our responsibility!” I said. “How did it fail?” “It fell off when one of our guys was coming through the breakers” he said. “Hold on! What breakers?” “We were using it off shore in Maine” he said. No shells that I had heard of had ever been subject to that treatment. I charged him for the seat, and he happily paid. If we had continued producing boats we would have had to advertise


this account of surviving misuse. A student in another school hit a rock head-on. The coach brought the boat to me on the top of his car, something else that couldn’t be done at that time with a shell. My associates and I put it back in the mold, poured in some foam constituents, and produced an almost perfect repair rather quickly. Our company was called “Wilson, Davis & Zimmerman”, but Anne called it “Towboats”, TOW standing for “The other woman.” She didn’t like my continual absences, and neither did I. Davis and Zimmerman graduated, and about that time Martin Luther King was assassinated. I bought my associates’ share of the company, and gave the business, rights, tools, molds etc. to a group of black entrepreneurs who wanted to get into some form of manufacturing. I trained them in all aspects of the production and gave them the keys to our workshop in Somerville. Several months later the landlord phoned to let me know that he was putting all our production molds and jigs and supplies out on the sidewalk for collection by the Somerville PWD trash pickup. No one had ever come back to the place and no one had paid the rent. I rushed out to recover the stuff, but I couldn’t save the enterprise. The big ‘mo’, the momentum, was lost. No more boats were produced, although I gave the molds to other wouldbe boat producers some time later. Sticking it to Harvard Our boat was not a thing of beauty, but it was strong, stiff and light. I used mine happily on the Charles river for years. It led to what I like to claim, not too seriously, to be a major advance in human-powered boats. I used to get to the Riverside Boat club before 6 am on non-winter mornings (although I did break ice on the river on one occasion, something that one wouldn’t want to do on a wood shell). I learned the rules of the river, and relaxed dreamily as I learned the bends and bridges. As in most rowboats one rowed, or sculled, backwards, and I


became skilled enough that I did not have to be continually craning my head around to assure myself where I was. The Harvard challenge This happy scene was repeatedly violated, however, by the Harvard eights and their accompanying motor launches and coaches. They felt important enough not to have to obey the “keep right” rule, and would come barreling around a bend on the wrong side of the river, bellowing at me through a megaphone to get out of their way. After this had happened several times I felt irritated enough to add to my thesis/project list at MIT “Design and build a human-powered boat that, propelled by a single person, would be capable of overtaking the Harvard Eight on the Charles.” Some very fine students worked on this project, notably Brad Brewster, whom I directed to consult my friend and colleague Patrick Leehey. Pat had advised the US Navy on fast boats for many years. Brad came back enthused about the possibilities of a human-powered hydrofoil. He and I did some analysis, thought that it was feasible, and started work on making a rough design. The MIT magazine Technology Review asked me to write an article on developments in human power, and I wrote about our project (October 1979). Then I was asked to give a talk on this topic to a group of enthusiasts in California. At the evening dinner after the meeting I was questioned closely by Allan Abbott, MD, the association’s first president and holder of several speed records. While Brad and I were locked in New England ice as far as our boat was concerned, Allan and a very bright colleague in the IHPVA, Alec Brooks, designed and made a beautiful pedaled hydrofoil that they called the “Flying Fish”. With it they broke most of the single-person rowing records. The illustration showing Allan Abbott on the Flying Fish was on the front cover of Scientific American when it published an article that we had written on the general topic.


Allan Abbott on the Flying Fish hydrofoil. He, Alec Brooks and I co-authored an article on human-powered watercraft. Allan Abbott was the first president of the International Human-Powered-Vehicle Association, the first person to exceed 50 mile/h in a human-powered land vehicle, previously held the world motor-cycle speed record, is an MD who lived with the Masai, and is a dean and professor at the University of Southern California

Air power, human During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries individuals and small groups had tried to make an aircraft that could be flown by human power alone. Occasional promising hops off the ground were achieved. In 1959 a step-change in activity resulted from the offer of Henry Kremer in Britain of the first of many significant money prizes for developments in human-powered


flight. It was for a figure-of-eight flight at least ten feet off the ground around two pylons a half-mile apart. Many attempts were made, but eighteen years after the announcement of the prize a team headed by Paul MacCready in California was the first to achieve success in the Gossamer Condor. Kremer then offered a larger prize for the first human-powered plane to cross the English Channel. Among the many groups aiming to win that prize was a new generation of students and faculty at MIT. I contributed very little to the group, but in recognition of my guru status I was generously included in some of the meetings and particularly in the flight trials. These required something close to an absolute calm, and had to be accomplished early in the morning because Hanscom Field (Bedford, MA) was used by MIT and was also busy with military, research and some civilian planes. The phone was the only realistic method of assembling the required ground and flight crew at short notice, and the phone would ring at perhaps 0430 (AM) and the fast message would be relayed “Dawn patrol!”. I would jump on my recumbent bike and pedal the ten miles or so as fast as possible. Our plane Chrysalis was a biplane, not the ideal configuration but necessary because we were limited to a small hangar (and a monoplane would have a considerably larger wingspan). One day we were visited by Bryan Allen, the Gossamer pilot/engine. He was impressed by the performance of the propeller, made to the design of Gene Larrabee, an Aero-Astro faculty member. The MacCready team were having problems because their propeller was apparently so inefficient that pilots were able to stay aloft for only eighteen minutes or so before becoming exhausted. The MIT group sent their rivals a propeller design. It was reported that as soon as the new propeller was fitted to the Gossamer plane it was difficult to get the pilots to come down to earth – they were staying up for an hour or more. The new Gossamer,


called Albatross, was flown again by Bryan Allen across the Channel to win the second Kremer prize in June 1979. A photo of the MIT Chrysalis at Hanscom Field, Bedford MA is included in an earlier chapter. The (unknown) pilot is seated in a recumbent position. The plane was presumably flying just above the tarmac, because take-off and landings required people to run along holding the lower wings and tail. There were later Kremer prizes, some won by MIT and some by Paul MacCready’s Californian team and by others. The MIT biplane, the Chrysalis, suddenly became a recreational vehicle. Tens of people were allowed to fly it, including your humble and excited author. It was an unforgettable experience, taking off solo and flying over the Hanscom-Field runway in the misty early morning, with my flight instructor pedaling his bicycle beneath me, shouting instructions up to me. After the Kremer prizes were almost all won, the MIT team looked for another challenge. They chose to try to recreate the flight of Daedalus from Crete to Greece, or rather to the island of Santorini, a distance of 119 km. This amazing flight was achieved at the first attempt in April 1988. The MIT student-faculty team responsible for Daedalus came back to Cambridge. Some of the students visited me. “What should we do next?” they asked. The Du Pont company, having offered several prizes for land-speed records for HPVs, had agreed to offer one for the first single-person HPB (humanpowered boat) that could exceed 20 knots. I suggested that as a project. They became quite enthusiastic. After our second or third meeting I had to tell them that they had advanced beyond the point at which I could be very useful, and that they should try to persuade Mark Drela to be their faculty supervisor. Many years earlier Mark was an undergraduate on the Chrysalis aircraft with which MIT hoped to win the Kremer prize for the first human-powered flight across the English Channel. He is a


genius who excels at craftsmanship, theory, analysis and design, and is no mean athlete. He became a graduate student, earned his doctorate, and by the time of the Daedalus aircraft was an associate professor in the Aero-Astro department. The students and he did in fact build the world’s fastest HPB, a hydrofoil called “Decavitator” (using the air propeller off the Daedalus aircraft) and they won the Du Pont prize with Mark Drela pedaling. It could easily pass the Harvard Eight at full speed. The challenge was in effect won! No such race has yet been staged, however!

The "Decavitator" hydrofoil boat is being pedaled on the Charles river by Mark Drela. The low-speed hulls can be seen to be above the water surface. The hydrofoils supporting the boat are beneath the surface.

Human-powered tools Much of the following is shamelessly taken from chapter 11 of the third edition of Bicycling Science. In this section I hope to expand your experience, and perhaps to make you want to use, or even to design and make, some interesting human-powered devices other than bicycles. This aim has an obvious relationship to bicycling, which is an activity having a transportation component that can usually also be accomplished by the use of a


motor-vehicle. People in the developed world who choose to bicycle generally do so for reasons connected with their own health and well-being and that of the region in which they live, and perhaps out of concern for the earth as a whole. There are rather similar, but far more limited, choices that such people can make for mowing grass and clearing snow, for examples, and for recreational boating. The role of human power in the modern high-technology world has, alas, to be restricted. Only a very few enthusiasts bicycle across North America, Russia, Asia or Australia for pleasure. Although I am engaged in some advocacy for human power, I am not recommending that human power should be used for such prodigious feats as travelling across a continent, nor to clear snow from a supermarket parking lot, nor to cut the grass of a golf course. However, even in large countries like the U.S., over half the daily “person-trips” by automobile are of under 8 km, 5 miles, normally an easily accomplished bicycling distance by most people in most weather conditions. Likewise, most lawns and driveways are of sizes that can easily be handled by human-powered devices. The past enthusiasm for reducing what has been called “back-breaking” labor through the incorporation of gasoline-engine- and electric-motor-powered devices has led to an almost total neglect of efforts to improve human-powered tools. In consequence, there is today an unfair competition between highly developed modern electric hedge clippers, for example, and manual shears that have not been sensibly improved for a hundred years. Perhaps we need a new series of Kremer prizes for specified achievements in humanpowered tools.


My ideal type of mower – one sits in one place, pedaling and drinking cool beverages while directing the mower from the seat (redrawn for me by Aldo Spadoni)

Lawn mowers In fall 1972 Michael Shakespear responded to a suggestion on my project/thesis list at MIT that a pedaled lawnmower should be explored to see if it had advantages over a pushed machine. In a short bachelor’s thesis he accomplished a near miracle. In view of the extremely limited budget and time he had available, it was beautifully designed and executed. He and I were seen on TV mowing the grass of the Boston Museum of Science and elsewhere, and I and other “greens” used the mower at our homes for several years. His achievement might have inspired others. A commercial riding mower came on the market later using a vertical-axis high-speed rotary blade that, because of the power required for this type of cutter, made a slowly advancing cut of only about 300-mm width. However, it did cut long grass and weed stalks, often missed by reel-type mowers.


Michael Shakespear riding his pedaled lawnmower on Killian Court, MIT

Another type that would cut long grass was sold in N. America and probably elsewhere for much of the early part of the last century. A so-called “sickle-bar” or row of clippers in front of the wheels of a “push” mower was driven from a cylinder cam that would seem to have a high friction. This type of cutter has no intrinsic system of removing and collecting the clippings. A compact and stylistic riding mower with a central reel was built by Chris Toen in the Netherlands. Snow removers The use of snow shovels at the first snowfall of the winter always seems to produce reports of heart attacks. It is an example of a heavy task involving the use of the muscles of the arms and back, and of having the back bent uncomfortably. It would be better to use the big muscles of the legs and to have a more natural posture, which, combined, presumably would be less likely to over-strain the heart. It would be delightful to have a small lightweight device that, from leg operation alone, would scoop up a quantity of snow and project it in a desired direction,


as one does with considerable effort using a snow shovel. Nothing like that has been on the market, or even in the patent literature, so far as can be learned from searches that I and my students have carried out. My favorite tools are shown in the illustrations. The first of these is an old “push-plough” bought at a “garage sale.” I made and installed a fiberglass “blade” with a mild-steel cutting edge. Rather nastily I like to demonstrate that, on the asphalt surface of our driveway (about 50 m2) I can clear snow in about half the time taken by neighbors with similar driveway areas, using their engine-powered snow-blowers. Another illustration shows the Sears, Roebuck version of an old device sometimes called the “Swedish snowblower”. One pushes the handle while lifting it so that the blade cuts along the surface of the ground, and the snow fills the “bucket”. Then one pushes down on the handle while continuing to push forward, so that the device rides up over the snow on its round underside. It is easy to push heavy wet snow (for which the snow-plough is heavy work) a considerable distance over snow, which can be built into a long ramp, before dumping it.

Dave Wilson ploughing the snow on the home driveway


These are not machines that would be welcomed by the general public. We need better human-powered snow-removal devices, efficient, fun to use even for older and nonathletic people, and compact when stowed. The last illustration shows how much power can be produced by various humans, principally by pedaling, as a function of duration. Use this when designing your next human-powered device.

This device, which works well in heavy wet snow, is sometimes called the "Swedish snowblower" and was sold by Sears.


Human-power capability by pedaling as a function of duration. (From Bicycling Science, third edition)

My favorite possibility for providing uphill assistance for bicyclists (from Bicycling Science)


Ellen enjoying a ride in Elrey’s velomobile (Photo: Elrey Stephens)

Dave arriving home in January after misjudging the weather (Photo: Ellen Wilson)


Chapter 16 THE BIG BANG(S): EXPLOSIONS IN ENGINEERING The last two chapters are just collections of essays, included for amusement and, possibly, for asmall amount of instruction.

Big bangs: explosions! Explosions are fascinating to small boys. “Fascinating” is one of those words like “character” that can be used in two ways. My former mother-in-law Frederica Sears used to chortle about a politician whom she didn’t like: “He is a man with lots of character – all of it bad!” And if the politician would pronounce that we need quality schools, she would state “We’ve got quality schools! Low-quality schools!” So fascination to the young is that of a kitten exploring a new world. Fascination to the old can be that of a mouse finding a snake swaying in a strike pose in front of it. The bomb-maker With this preamble I have to confess extraordinary stupidity: I was a bomb-maker. Nowadays many people seem to believe that we are all too coddled. We look with amazement at tags stitched on to blankets with the warning “Do not remove this label under penalty of punishment” or something of the sort, and the label has a message similar to the probably apocryphal “Do not eat the daisies!” in a public park. When I was six or so I was given a chemistry set. I believe that it was utterly devoid of warnings. I state this because from an early age I was a person who obeyed orders almost slavishly. If there had been a warning against making bombs with this chemistry set I would have saluted smartly and said to myself “Yessir! Understood!”


This chemistry set had two components I needed to make gunpowder: potassium nitrate and sulphur. In addition I needed charcoal. I became rather adept at making charcoal. I read how to do it from a book that was definitely fascinating with a title similar to “What to do in your spare time”. I got to know every detail in that book. I cleaned out an old food can, one of those that used to carry Fowler’s Black Treacle, a type of molasses that formed a staple of my early existence. The can had a pry-off lid. In the lid I punched some holes with Dad’s hammer and an old nail. Then I took some pieces of wood that I produced weekly in one of my family chores: chopping up the wooden “grocery boxes” in which our provisions were likely to be delivered each week on the grocery shop’s delivery-boy’s bicycle. With careful husbandry each open box could yield enough kindling to start the daily coal fire in the living room. The amount of wood that I filched from this supply was negligible – just enough to cover the bottom of the can. The next step was to carry out what in technical terms would be called “starved-air combustion” or pyrolysis. I would light this collection of splintered wood and blow on it until each piece was truly flaming, then pop the lot into the treacle can and put on the perforated lid. The can would get rather hot, the label would burn off, but after an hour or so it was cool enough to open and there would be my charcoal sticks, ready to be ground up in a ceramic pestle-and-mortar, a prized acquisition I purchased early on. Then I could add some potassium nitrate and sulphur to the charcoal, mix it gingerly, and my buddies and I would put some on a flat rock, hit it with a round stone, and it would give off a very satisfying crack. It was obviously the real thing. In those days every small boy had a “cap” pistol, in which one could put round pieces of red paper that had enclosed a little black powder. This assembly was called a “cap”. Mr. Webb the tobacconist and toy-store owner down the street sold them. Or one could install a roll of notched paper


having the powder in a small circle between two layers of paper every 10 mm or so. Every time one squeezed the trigger the gun’s hammer came down on one of these circles, the gun would sound a loud crack, and the paper roll would be indexed along one notch. (Nowadays we like to keep toy guns out of the hands of children for fear that they will become gun-crazy and murderers later. For some reason unexplained to me, that would never happen in Britain. Nor in Switzerland, where every able-bodied man, and possibly nowadays woman, has a gun loaded ready, together with the Swiss Army Knife, to fight the enemy, and the gun-murder rate is one of the lowest in the world. When I was growing up in the UK there were around 110 – 125 murders per year for the country of 45 – 50-million people. In round numbers that was one murder per half-million inhabitants. When I first arrived in the US the rate was around forty times this, based just on the reported murders. There were said to be a large number that were not reported or discovered, given the horrible state of race relations then.) The chemistry set not only had no warning against making gunpowder. Neither was there any indication of the enormous difference between confined and unconfined explosions. My buddies and I became rather blasé about making explosions, so much so that when I announced that I was going to make a bomb there was only encouraging interest. My dad was a pack-rat, though not nearly to the extent that I am, and it was easy to find a short length of steel pipe – I think a piece of electrical “conduit” pipe about a half-inch in diameter – and a couple of old steel bolts. The first two I found would slide easily in the pipe, and it became obvious that this scheme didn’t work too well. I said that I would look for a fatter bolt that wouldn’t slide in the pipe. This I found one evening, and it was just right. I held the piece of pipe vertically on a flattish rock and the fat bolt over the end with one hand and pounded the head of the bolt with Dad’s hammer with the other. It became firmly jammed after about a diameter.


Excited, I sprinkled what seemed to be a little gunpowder in the open end of the pipe, put the sliding bolt gingerly into it to contact the powder, and decided to test immediately what would happen. Halfway up our back garden we had a trio of large high pear trees around a flat area that Dad had covered with pieces of flat rock set in concrete in a form that in those days was called “crazy paving”. On this we had a rustic table and benches so that we could eat outside in summers. It was already dark, and I shinned some way up my favorite tree – I used to spend hours high up it in the fall, reading and consuming ripe pears whenever I fancied them. When I reached what seemed to me to be a safe height I dropped my bomb vertically down on to the paving. What I expected was that there would be a noise louder than we had produced with stone-on-stone hitting of gunpowder. I thought that the upper part would rise a few feet. What actually happened was what seemed to be an enormous explosion, and something hit the tree hard enough to make it shake. I shook too, and came down the tree without the happy self-confidence of my normal self. There was no question, of course, of telling my parents or brothers. Early in the morning I went up to find the pieces of my bomb. What I saw gave me a shock: a deep foot-long groove in the tree’s trunk a few inches from where my head had been. If it had hit me it could have killed me or turned me into a braindamaged vegetable. I told my buddies about it with some bravado, but I didn’t try it again and warned my friends against it. My bomb-making career was over. Elsewhere in this tome you may have read about my efforts to reduce theft of bicycles, particularly of mine, by using blank cartridges. They involved semi-confined explosions. Undeserved punishment in the hills of Britain A great delight when I lived near Nottingham, UK, was to go hiking with my friends. There would be hikes most Sundays


using special trains that went north into Derbyshire stopping at all stations where hiking was possible, and I joined these whenever I could. There was a great deal of laughter and merriment in both directions. Sometimes we would hire a special bus to take us to places not reachable by the train. Nowadays people would probably go up in separate cars, and would miss a lot of fun. Whenever there was a three- or four-day holiday, such as at Easter or Whitsun (an obscure Church-of-England version of Pentecost) we would try to set up a hiking-camping trip. These would be more-serious hikes because we would have to carry tents, sleeping bags, washing, lighting and cooking equipment, food, water and seemingly lots of other stuff. That didn’t worry me because a duty of every young man is to show how tough he is. There wasn’t much lightweight gear in those days. I had made my tent out of parachute fabric, and it was quite light. The rest of my equipment, including the British Army rucksack, was appallingly heavy. On the second evening of one of these long weekends there were four tents, the other three having married couples. We were camped fairly high (for Derbyshire) at the edge of a group of trees. We made our suppers and told yarns for a while before turning in. The forecast for the morrow was not good. Sleep was never something in which I over-indulged, and I awoke early to a brisk wind and steady rain. As soon as it was light enough I went to some ecologically acceptable and private spot to have a rub down in the rain, and returned refreshed ready for the day. No one stirred for a hour or more. When the first one awoke he pulled his kerosene stove into the tent, lit it and made water for tea. Naturally I protested. “That’s against all the rules of camping!” I mocked. “All cooking and kerosene stoves should be outside the tent!” The others – in all three tents – took this light-heartedly, and all were supervising their roaring pressure stoves close to their blankets and clothes and tent fabric. I


proceeded to demonstrate how the job should be done properly. I had made a fabric-and-aluminum-spiked windbreaker for my stove. It seemed cozily protected, but repeatedly went out rather than roar into life. It was the turn of my buddies to mock me. “Give up, Dave!” they shouted. “Pull it into your tent and make yourself a good cup o’ tea!” My Primus stove had a circular brass kerosene reservoir out of the center of which protruded the screwed-in nozzle and above that the brackets to hold the saucepans. There was a circular depression in the brass around the bottom of the nozzle into which one poured some kerosene. Then some sort of wicking material was pushed into the small pool of kerosene, one lit it, and before long kerosene vapor would come out of the nozzle, It could be lit and would heat water pretty fast.

David after stove had sprayed him with flaming kerosene and before he pulled the wet tent down to douses the flames

My pools of kerosene had been lit about six times without the stove coming to life, and eventually I gave up. “OK”, I said resignedly, “You win”. I grasped the stove and brought it into the tent. At that precise moment there was a muffled explosion, and I was surrounded by flaming kerosene. It was all over the front of my face and body and seemed to fill the tent. I yanked the center pole of my little tent out to the side. The sopping wet tent fabric


fell down on me and on the flames and put them out in a couple of seconds. I lost my eyelashes, eyebrows and some of my thenluxuriant mop of hair on the front of my head, but otherwise escaped miraculously. The few burns on my face and hands were minor and healed pretty fast. When I examined the stove I found to my amazement that the nozzle was soft-soldered into the screw that went into the brass reservoir. Why the solder hadn’t melted on earlier occasions I don’t know. My buddies were glad that I escaped a worse fate, and there was much leg-pulling about whose fault it had been. I told the story to everyone who noticed my changed appearance during the next week. It made the whole experience worthwhile. A period of general explosions There was, it is good to record, a fairly long period in which I didn’t cause more explosions. For a year or two we lived in a time of huge explosions as Birmingham was bombed by the Germans and sometimes anti-aircraft guns would be firing from just outside the house. My brother Tom was a navigator in Bristol Beaufighters, so-called “night-fighters”, trying to bring down as many of the bombers as possible. Later when he was a Pathfinder in a Lancaster bomber he was shot down over Europe, a story that is touched upon elsewhere. Those of us at home escaped unharmed. Bombing in Victoria Square, Birmingham? After the Second World War everything should have been peaceful in Britain, but alas was not. In Palestine British troops and their families were the victims of attacks by Irgun and Haganah (Jewish resistance groups), and in Britain, our large red mailboxes suddenly started blowing up. We suspected Irgun and Haganah, but these explosions turned out to be the work of Scottish nationalists. (They objected to “EIIR” on the face of the boxes, because Elizabeth the first was not queen of Scotland.)


The Brits had been through a lot, but there was just a wee bit of feeling on edge, despite stiff upper lips. So when one afternoon after I had started at Birmingham University and was on my motor-cycle going slowly through Victoria Square near the good queen’s statue, there was a loud explosion that felt as though it had taken off my right leg below the knee, my first thoughts were that some nationalist group had planted a bomb in this significant place. My blood appeared to have been spread over the road to my right in a greasy looking pool. I jammed on the brakes to see if there was any chance of saving my leg. I expected that the ambulance people would be running to help anyone hurt. My left foot was on the ground, and I looked down to see the state of my right leg. My trousers were saturated in what I thought was blood, but my leg felt pretty good. Then I saw that a large-diameter steel cylinder on the right had split around the middle and was wide open. And all was revealed. I had bought a second-hand Royal Enfield single-cylinder 250-cc, supposedly ex-Army, and I loved it. To make sure that it would last for ever, I decided to fit a new Fram oil filter for large truck engines. I figured that it would never get clogged on my engine of no more than one-tenth the size of engine for which the filter had been designed, and modified the oil circuit so that the filer would be downstream of the little pump. The oil flow would, I thought, be very small compared with that in a large truck engine. Obviously I was wrong! The pressure must have increased to hundreds of pounds per square inch to have blown apart this steel filtercasing. I don’t know how I cleaned up the dangerous mess of oil on the road, nor how I got home. My engineering education had, however, been advanced by the blast. Another instructional escape had been unwittingly achieved.


The clock advances to when I was at Brush: I’ve described an exploding fan in chapter 6, under “the cooling-fan caper.” Another exploding fan! To have one fan explode may be considered bad luck; to have two has to be carelessness. The second explosion occurred about fifteen years later to a completely different fan. It was about five years into my teaching at MIT. I had taken over a graduate course from Eddie Taylor, who was retiring. I changed the title slightly to “The design of turbomachinery”, it being about turbines and compressors, fans and pumps. (The name didn’t matter much: at MIT almost every course and room are known by numbers, and this was “2.275”.) The word “compressor” is used both for the type of piston machine that pumps up a pneumatic tire, and the high-speed rotary device full of airfoil blades that compresses air at the entrance of a jet engine. This course and its companion “The design of gasturbine engines” dealt with the high-speed rotary devices, sometimes called “rotodynamic compressors.” For the first fifteen years or so of the courses’ development under my efforts I never used anyone else’s problems nor did I repeat any of my own. I was proud of having my own style of engineering problems in which often there was no “right” response. I asked the students to choose their own specifications or parameters. It was a lot of work to prepare for and grade the weekly assignments and the three quizzes per term, but it was worth it. When I taught 2.275 first in 1971 I was offered a gift for the assignments and some of the quiz questions. I was asked by a company called Air Cruisers, then a division of Garrett, to help them to solve a safety question. The company made the escape slides fitted in the exit doors of many aircraft, the one of concern for this job being the huge C5A. If an emergency evacuation of the cabin was required each available door was opened and a


cord was yanked to actuate the inflation of the escape slide. Packed inside each door was a bottle containing air compressed to well over 3000 psi (pounds per square inch) or over 200 bar. When the cord was pulled the air was admitted to a nozzle mounted in the middle of a rigid duct feeding air into the slide. The high-velocity air discharging from the central jet dragged along enough ambient air to inflate the slide. This system is in general use in various branches of engineering, and is called an “ejector” or “eductor”. Unfortunately, the inflation took between 45 and 50 seconds, and it was reckoned that when inflated each slide could take one person per second. If the cabin were on fire, for instance, and not all people could escape, the long inflation period could cause 50 people per door to be sacrificed (and the C5A had many doors). Being a turbomachinery enthusiast I immediately proposed that I develop a turbine driving a fan to do the job. The company didn’t want that: it sounded too expensive. I should work on improved ejectors. And I did. My basement workshop at home was converted to an ejector lab. A student did a masters thesis on a scheme that I thought might work: having two or three smaller ejectors in which the air would be admitted in short bursts in sequence. The ambient air would be acted on not by a shearing drag force but by the burst of turbulent air acting as pistons. This and other ejector variations showed some promise, but nothing sufficiently dramatic. The company wanted results soon. It gave me the go-ahead to work on the turbine-fan scheme just as I took over course 2.275.


The tip-turbine-driven fan. Compressed air was admitted to the supersonic nozzles at top right. They acted on the small turbine that can be just discerned around the fan, left. The fan ran in bearings in the casing, bottom right, with diffusing straightening vanes taking the exhaust flow. Another diffuser connected to the inlet of the escape slide.

At about that time GE was proposing a vertical-take-off aircraft that would have a large fan in each wing. Each fan was on bearings and was free-running except for the short-blade turbine around the periphery of the fan. The turbines were “partial admission”: that is, they were fed with compressed air from the main engine compressor over just a small part of the 360degrees. This arrangement was ideally suited to the slideinflation specifications. I went through the preliminary design work and fed pieces to the class as assignments and quiz questions during the term. I made drawings of the fan blades and of the turbine blading (it was a complete ring) and had a super machinist near Worcester Massachusetts make everything for me. I was able to bring the pieces into class a week or two after the assignments were set to give the students the impression that they were designing a real device.


The designed running speed of the tip-turbine-driven fan was 60,000 revolutions per minute (rpm), and I felt that I needed to use something more sophisticated than my basement. The Gas Turbine Lab was willing to have me use a small corner of one lab room. I made arrangements with Air Cruisers that in return it would allow me to buy an electronic counter that I could use to measure the rpm and that subsequently I would hand over to the lab in place of rent. I also hired one of the lab technicians to work out of hours to assemble the fan and test rig and maybe to help me run the tests. We are getting close, dear reader, to the fan explosion. Designing turbomachinery is, to me, very exciting because one starts with having to use fairly rigorous thermodynamics and fluid dynamics. Then the design of the hardware is highly challenging. The rotary and peripheral speeds are high, producing high stresses. Often the temperatures can also be very high, leading to high thermal stresses and reduced material properties. One often has to cope with high pressure forces, and the shaft-bearing systems are prone to develop various “excited modes” that might include destructive forms of vibration. This fan didn’t have a temperature or pressure problem, but I knew that I could not build up such a complex rotor in one piece. I had done my apprenticeship on Ljungstrom steam turbines, amazingly beautiful machines designed by the Ljungstrom brothers in Sweden. High-pressure high-temperature steam came into the hollow centers of two shafts and passed outward through blading that interleaved with counter-rotating blading on a matching disk mounted on the other shaft. The steam rapidly lost pressure and temperature as it flowed radially outward. Accordingly the rotor disks were made of three concentric rings, mounted on each other by a large number of closely fitting radial pins. These composite disks could expand and contract from rotation and temperature changes while remaining perfectly concentric. As I did my apprenticeship the


Brush company was making 50-MW turbines that could be started from cold and could reach full load in a few minutes, purely because of this beautiful design. Our competitors making axial-flow turbines of similar size had to have a gradual loading cycle lasting about four hours to ensure that stresses caused by one part of a solid rotor trying to expand were not too high.

The Ljungstrom legacy is evident in my design of a counter-rotating potassiumvapor turbine for a satellite with unstated but rather obvious purposes. The Battelle people for whom I was consulting became quite excited about this concept because it could accelerate rapidly without putting a torque on the satellite, and wanted to patent it immediately. But they didn't, and it was a long while ago, so I feel comfortable using it as an advertisement of my nerdiness..

The design of my fan was in some ways similar. The fan blades were bolted solidly to a hub rotor, in a way that we could change the blade setting angles to find the best angle for the duty. Then came the separate turbine ring, with a gap between its bore (i.e., the inside diameter) and the tip of the fan blades to allow the fan to “grow” faster than the turbine. And lastly there was a shrouding ring over the turbine blades that was supposed to


improve the turbine efficiency by guiding the flow and by reducing the stirring effect of open turbine blades. These last two rings were mounted on the fan blades with radial steel pins. My technician had to assemble this complex rotor. I explained it to him, inadequately as it turned out, and suggested that when he drilled the radial holes for the pins going through the turbine shroud and turbine ring into the fan blades he should put in spacers, called “shims”, so that the gap was the same all around the rotor. Unfortunately I did not say “Then remove the shim spacers for final assembly”. I thought that it was obvious that one should do that. Never make such an assumption! I proudly took the assembled fan to the lab, connected up the air supply and the test equipment, and prepared to give it a short warm-up run. There was a cheerful “whoosh” as the turbine brought that fan rapidly up in speed. I bent down to look at the revolution counter. I saw “60,000 rpm” a split second before the turbine ring exploded. It was not nearly as dangerous as the first exploding fan, but again my bending down to read the fan speed had saved any chance of my eyes being hit by pieces of aluminum spinning at over 60,000 rpm.

The assembled tip-turbine fan, with a long delivery duct in which I fitted flow meters and the like. When tested in the factory the outlet duct was only a few inches, ~100 mm, long.


The post-explosion cleanup It’s cheating to include too much about other aspects in a section on explosions, but you may find it interesting. Quickly I found that the shims had been left on the radial pins, so that a design intended to allow for relative expansion did not in fact allow it. The fan and hub were not damaged. My machinist was able to make a new turbine ring and shroud ring, everything was assembled, and three weeks or so after the explosion I had a successful run to full speed, 62,500 rpm. It could accelerate so fast that I reduced the number of supersonic nozzles feeding the air to the turbine rotor from four to two. Now it got to full speed in about a half second. The delivered pressure and flow were not as high as my design predicted, and for about four weeks I varied the angle of the fan blades and made other changes in my test rig to try to get up to the design specifications, without success. The boss at Air Cruisers was getting impatient, and ordered me down to give a demonstration before the assembled company two weeks later. This executive order scared me more than had the exploding turbine rings. No one likes being made to look like a chump. There’s an especial joy when a member of the intelligentsia is shown to have feet of clay. I try hard not to “put on dog” just because I’m on the faculty of MIT. I don’t call myself “Dr.” or “professor”, but the people I’m working with know that I’m from MIT. I spent the intervening two weeks trying to find what had happened to my beloved design methods without success. An early Eastern shuttle to Newark and a rental car got me to the Air Cruisers plant soon after 8 AM, and I was led to the huge test-lab area as if to a hanging. Just before 10 AM all the big shots arrived. The engineers and technicians were already assembled. I asked them to keep a safe distance, and said something about the device not working quite as well as I had hoped. The folded escape slide had been connected to the fan discharge and the instruments were all in place. I gave a count-down and yanked


the cord opening the valve on the compressed-air bottle. The speedup “whoosh” came fast, and then to my enormous gratification the escape slide leapt like a wild animal being rudely disturbed. Joy of joys! Within 4.5 seconds it was as tight as a drum! My device had reduced the inflation time by 90 percent using the same compressed-air bottle (which could now be made smaller). In a fiery crash of the C5A it is possible that 150 lives could be saved. The whole device could be made from injection-molding in some form of nylon, which would reduce cost and would be safer than one in aluminum. It would be good to record that I left as something of a hero. I’m sure that I was thanked. I left the prototype and drawings etc. The boss asked if I could lend the revolution counter for a few days, and I agreed. I left, and did not hear from the company again. It kept the revolution counter that I had promised to the Gas Turbine Lab, and did not pay my last invoice. I had been introduced to Air Cruisers by the Industrial Liaison Program at MIT, and I asked the program head for help. That’s how I was able to pass along the counter to the Gas Turbine Lab. and how I received my pay. Only very rarely have I been treated thus in consulting relationships, I am happy to report. Usually they start and conclude happily, as I will recount in the following cases. Explosion and near-explosions on the Hurricane Ride On Tuesday June 18, 1974 I was in my MIT office trying to catch up with the usual backlog of work when the telephone rang, and a Sgt. Jack Daley of the Boston Police Homicide Bureau phoned. I asked him what I had done, and he said that I was in the clear, but they needed me to solve something about the recent death of a young woman. The Bureau would pay me $30/hr up to a maximum of $500, and they would pick me up in the police cruiser at 0830 next morning outside MIT.


This was delightful, to be whisked off in front of the main entrance of MIT leaving people guessing. “Is Dave going to jail? Or advising Governor Sargent?” I was also anxious to know what I would be doing. Detective Jack Spencer was with Sgt. Daley in the car, and they began to give me a little information. There had been something like an explosion on a fairground ride in Charlestown on the previous Saturday evening. Many young people had been injured and one killed. The Homicide Bureau needed to know why the accident happened and whether or not there was any criminality involved. We were together seven hours that day, and we went everywhere at high speed, with sirens blaring and blue lights flashing if it seemed likely to get us somewhere faster. First a courtesy call to the superintendent of Charlestown police, and then on to the site of the accident. It was a desolate field, now cleared of the other fair equipment that had moved on to the next town on its roster, leaving the Hurricane Ride. We had at most three minutes at the site before a lawyer, straight out of central casting as a Mafia attorney, stopped us by waving a bit of legal paper that prevented anyone from examining the machine. The cops respected this legality, and whisked us up to Wilmington MA where they called on someone who owned and operated another Hurricane, and who, because all Hurricanes had been grounded across the state, was anxious to help solve the problem. He gave me my first inkling of what happened. It had become clear that the press reports of the machine increasing its rotation so much that people were flung out of the gondolas were incorrect. On the next day, Thursday, I had to give a presentation at a local conference on another topic, so the cops gave me Friday until 2 PM to solve the problem. They would pick me up from home in Cambridge at 0830 and have the machine available for my testing. (I almost didn’t make it, because I was hit fairly hard by


a car making an illegal turn in Central Square, Cambridge, but I survived much better than did my prized Moulton bicycle. The driver apologized profusely: it was the first time that anyone had apologized for causing me harm while he was breaking the law. He didn’t live up to his word to make restitution, but it was a good start.) On Friday the cops did me a great service: they brought along (for breakfast at our house in Cambridge) two designers from the company that made the ride. They had cross-sectional drawings that helped me hugely. I knew that their job was to protect their employer, and I didn’t expect much more help, but after a general but guarded discussion I set off with some idea of what to do.

My guess as to the mechanism of the Hurricane Ride. The gondolas were held by the pivoting brackets at the top left, and driven around by the hydraulic motor acting on a ring gear. When the gondolas rotated fast enough they would drive the piston below the port where high-pressure air could be admitted. This would cause the gondolas to be pushed upward as the piston was driven downward. On the night of the accident the compressed air was at three or four times its design pressure, and the gondolas were thrown upwards violently.


We arrived at the field at about 10 AM. The cops told the Mafiatype lawyer to get lost, and broke the locks and chains on the ride and generator truck with a bolt cutter. I put on my bright-red overalls so that my blood wouldn’t show. While the Wilmington operator was getting the machine connected and ready for the tests I made my first detailed inspection. I am not easily shocked, but one could not avoid appalled amazement at that ride. It wasn’t equipped with nearly enough safety devices, but those that were there had almost all been put out of action. I had learned that on the Saturday night there was a drizzling rain, and in the general unhappiness a fight had broken out involving the operator. He was taken to hospital and the machine was left running for an hour while a substitute operator was sought. The guy who was found to run the ride was inexperienced at just about everything. The delay was important because, while the gondolas on the ride (see illustration) were rotated by a hydraulic motor, the gondolas were made to rise and fall by compressed air admitted to a large central cylinder. It had become obvious that, with all the safety valves having been put out of action, the air pressure kept building up so that it was way over the safe level by the time the second operator arrived. There was a pressure gauge on his crude console that apparently was pointing to zero. In fact, it had gone right around the scale and was “pegged” against the “six o’clock” stop. So in the damp gloom he thought that the pressure was very low, whereas in fact it was appallingly high. So to prove my hypothesis to be correct, I had to let the pressure build up for longer and longer periods. The main large compressed-air tank was too close to my body for comfort, and a plate carried the label: “Safe working pressure 90 PSI; maximum pressure 125 PSI” By about 1115 AM I had the pressure up to 150 PSI, and I was getting considerably scared. A compressed-gas explosion is not pretty. Moreover all the


connections to the tank were crude pieces of ill-fitting steel and rubber tubing, liable to go off at any provocation or none.

The sequence of the accident.

The TV camera people and the print reporters were getting irritated at the wait. I was very gingerly increasing the pressure in 25 PSI increments, each one taking considerably longer to attain. At 1 PM the pressure reached 225 PSI, and the gondolas were showing signs of coming unstuck. I knew that I had one more chance. By 1.50 PM the pressure was 260 PSI, and I started the gondolas rotating until they rose to about a 45-degree angle. This was enough for the linkage to bring the big central piston to below the “admission port” for the compressed air, and I swung the air valve open. The gondolas flung themselves upward and


then came crashing down to near ground level before bouncing upwards. Again I admitted the high-pressure air, and this time the gondolas horrifyingly kept the high-speed upward movement until the arms reached their maximum travel. Then the gondolas were thrown violently inward, and it was grotesquely obvious that at this point all the unfortunate riders would have been ejected into the thrashing arms and steel ropes and spear-like stanchions. The video camera of TV-5 captured the simulation, I let the pressure out with enormous relief, and we all packed up and went home. Very luckily this case did not involve an explosion of the air tank, which almost certainly would have killed me instantly, but showed an explosion-like release of air into a piston that threw the ride cars around, injured several and killed a young woman. My report was finished on the following Monday, June 24, and I had to appear at a few hearings. One was before a senior judge, who was delightfully pleasant and tried very hard to understand all the engineering details. (My report stated that for the accident to happen, twelve contributing factors had to be present simultaneously.) Some other states wanted copies of the report, and some attorneys wanted me to be an expert witness in the cases on which they were working. I turned these down, but I did meet the firm that became my favorite litigation attorneys, Neil and Paul Sugarman et al, whose ethics and integrity made them a joy to work for. (See the next explosion case below.) Also a couple of months later I found myself playing tennis with a chap whom I hadn’t previously met at the courts. I asked him what his racket was (my way of asking someone’s work). He said “I’m a judge.” I told him how impressed I had been with a judge before whom I had to appear on a nasty case. “Which case was that?” he asked. When I responded, he said “So you were the guy!” – I had appeared before him, Judge (later Justice) Joseph R. Nolan. In a newspaper report about another case he handled the headline read “Here comes the judge with a heart!” He and I


played tennis in a group for many years. Among many other virtues he had a great Irish sense of humor. My tennis was remarkable for its clumsiness, and when I very occasionally got a winning shot over the net, Joe would boom out “David! I’m going to have your urine checked after the game!” As had become my practice I wrote up incentive draft legislation that would improve the safety of fairgrounds without adding to taxpayers’ costs. As usual the legislation didn’t get anywhere. The Holbrook explosion: professional rivalry Demands on one’s time at MIT are so intense and insistent that most faculty are reluctant to take more than a very occasional legal case. A colleague who did take one case after another and who was considered to be neglecting his duties was demoted. But once or twice I found myself on the opposing side to one of my colleagues. This was great fun. I had to show that if there were two expert witnesses from MIT, I was more expert than my colleague, and my attorney and her/his client had to be the winner! Stand by for a self-serving story! On October 22, 1981 there was an explosion at the Aerosol Research Laboratories (ARL) in Holbrook, Massachusetts that severely injured several employees. The company’s name made it seem as if it were a scientific research facility. In fact it was simply a small company that filled aerosol cans of the type used for hair spray, paint etc. Formerly the propellant used was Freon, a safe chemical used in refrigerators and air conditioners. However, brilliant research had found that it was not safe in the upper atmosphere, where it destroyed the ozone layer that protects the earth from intense ultra-violet radiation. Everyone was required to switch to other propellants that didn’t damage the ozone layer. There was a range of alternatives, all the viable candidates being gases like propane and butane, used in torches, grills and the like, and obviously highly flammable. ARL chose to use a variant of butane called iso-butane.


As with many so-called “accidents” (the Hurricane Ride above being an example) there were many causative factors, all of which had to be present for the explosion to occur. Thus I put ”accidents” in quotes, because one could state that the carelessness displayed in many if not most cases was so gross that the resulting disaster was almost certain to occur at some time. In the case of ARL the filling machines that were used for the injection of Freon were simply fed with butane, despite warnings from the filling-machine manufacturers that special precautions and servicing would be required. The butane liquid in a tank was pumped at high pressure through a rotating joint (the filling machine had cans around a rotating table rather like the barrel of a revolver). The rotating joint had experienced a lot of wear in the twenty or so years since manufacture, and it failed, resulting in a huge flow of liquid butane going into the cans before the intended metering was due to happen. A vacuum pump was used to empty the cans of air before they were filled with a small quantity of liquid butane, and the exhaust from the vacuum pump was unbelievably piped to a room with employees working on the cans, instead of being taken outside for safety. An electrician had been hired to replace a switch. He apparently saw the vaporizing liquid and pulled a switch. It was not a safe switch, and it triggered the massive explosion. The electrician and several others were severely injured. There were several law firms working for various plaintiffs and defendants, and I was hired by a Boston law firm in early 1983. After a couple of years of occasional discovery work I was handed over to the lead counsel, Neil Sugarman, The pace picked up. Neil and his colleagues were delightful to work for. They had absolute integrity, allowed me a good deal of freedom (many attorneys don’t), and prepared me meticulously for a deposition in January 1985. Depositions are part of the discovery process, are a bit like a trial without a judge or jury, and are carried out under strict rules, with one or more court reporters taking notes


on “shorthand machines”, and many attorneys and their expert witnesses around a huge table. I was being deposed. The Sugarmans held fast to the rule that I should make no notes, because they instantly become evidence that must be supplied to opposing counsel.) I remember being questioned closely, and at some point the principal opposing expert witness, Bob Mann, a colleague of mine from MIT, triumphantly made the claim that the leak of explosive propellant occurred because a repair technician had put in a washer that was not to specification. This would have let his company completely off the hook. I remember feeling as if I had been sandbagged, because I didn’t have data to prove otherwise. Working in opposition to such a person was guaranteed to get me on my toes. Bob Mann was a very accomplished engineer who had done a great deal for the blind and for other handicapped people. Most of the while he seemed to be angry at something or other. I used to kid him that he would fly off the handle if he asked what day it was and found that it was Tuesday. Collapse and settlement As luck would have it, I had popped into my briefcase a lowpower microscope recently given to me by the Japanese father of one of my students. (I told him that such gifts were highly reprehensible and could get me fired, but he insisted.) I brought it out, and my stainless-steel scale marked in hundredths of an inch. With these I could easily read dimensions to a thousandth of an inch. The washer was well within specifications! I passed it around the table with the scale and microscope, and the other side’s case collapsed. The lawyers knew that if they went to court the judgment against them could be huge, and accordingly they settled with “my side” for around $32 million. This sounds like a heck of a lot of money, but when divided among six or eight severely injured people and their families, and after the plaintiffs’


lawyers had taken their share – which on this occasion seemed to be well-deserved – it was far from excessive. My charges per hour were, as usual, well below those of the other expert witnesses, including those of Bob Mann (the lawyers always ask you to state your rates so that they can make you appear as a money-grubbing hired gun), and the Sugarmans were generous enough to give me a bonus subsequently. That was a first for me; I refused it, but they insisted.

Expert witness This next topic is unrelated to explosions except insofar as it relates to litigation. After joining the MIT faculty in 1966 I soon found that the average trial lawyer seemed to want almost anyone from MIT as an “expert witness” in her/his cases above all others. I began to accept occasional commitments to such cases so long as they served the public good and so long as I felt that I could do as good a job, or better, than anyone else. Some cases were highly educational for me and for my students, who seemed to delight in my disguised accounts of court-room shenanigans. An injured pedestrian An early one that educated me in another way concerned a pedestrian who was hit while crossing a street in a rainstorm. A driver turning at an intersection plowed right into him, badly injuring him. The motorist claimed that a contributing factor was that the windshield wiper that was fitted to his Rambler sedan was defective. It was powered by the vacuum in the engine’s “inlet manifold”, the pipe connecting all the engine inlet valves to the carburetor. In all piston engines the inlet valves open in sequence as the pistons are descending in the cylinders, and they suck much of the air out of the pipe, thus producing the vacuum. In engines with carburetors the engine’s power output is controlled by the “gas” pedal or “accelerator”, which opens a


“butterfly” valve in the carburetor duct and allows more of the gasoline-air mixture to be pulled in by this vacuum and to go to the cylinders. A sudden stomp on the gas pedal, particularly when the engine is “lugging” at low speed, could reduce the vacuum almost to zero, and when simple (i.e., having no energy storage or compensation) vacuum-powered wiper