I went back to London in September, 1949 to start my fourth year of college and my second year with Roger Sargent in our two room basement flat. Roger was busy designing a distillation column to add to the liquid air plant another Ph.D. student had designed and erected in the Cryogenics laboratory of the Chem. Eng. Department of Imperial College. I was busy with classes every day and we also went to visit quite a few industrial plants in and around London.
I still found time to play some golf and I was invited to play on the University team occasionally. Doris and I went to a lot of movies, theater and some college and university events. Doris was still going to the BBC each day and also went to some secretarial classes at Regent Street Polytechnic.
By this time, London was gradually getting over the effect of the war, but several food items were still rationed. Restaurants somehow flourished and we occasionally went to nice places in the West End to enjoy meals that we had never been accustomed to. We were too young before the war to go to restaurants and, with the rationing, we had never seen generous portions of anything on our plates. At my home in the country, we ate well as we had our own coop of chickens and game was easy to get from local farmers, but the nearest restaurants were in Peterborough five miles away.
Our final exams came in June and I remember being nervous night and day, worrying about results. Eventually subject by subject, they became available and I had passed, not at the top of the class, but in the happy and acceptable median.
Roger and I had been considering going on a trip to the Continent and started wondering if our girlfriends would come with us. Eventually, we broached the subject and we were happy to get an enthusiastic response. We then started planning together and we decided we could go for three weeks to France, Italy and Switzerland. The girls found a way to juggle their vacation time so they could be away that long. Shirley had a job getting her mother to reluctantly agree to let her daughter go abroad with two single guys and another girl of the same age. In 1950, not many people travelled to other countries as we now do and un-married couples never did anything like that, so it was a bit unusual.
When my father died, he left my mother with our 1938 English-built four door Ford Anglia car. This had an engine like a lawn-mower engine and was designed for English roads and English weather. My mother had driven, but she took driving classes and had begun to love her car. I hesitated for a long time before I could ask her if we could borrow it for three weeks. The only reason she agreed was because she, herself, would have loved to go on that kind of trip, and she said that she could not say no. I know how hard it was for her and it still bothers me, as I know it made it hard for her with no stores of any kind in our village, and only a bus service to the shops in Peterborough. (See My First Car in the “Other” category.)
Roger and I built a roof rack for our car. We used aluminum angle bars that were available in Roger’s lab and we used large rubber chemical bungs for the supports on the roof. We needed the roof rack because the car was small for four people and the trunk was small.
We planned to stay at college dorms but also were taking two tents and sleeping bags. We booked passage on the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk for July 24th with a return on August 15th. Our itinerary was flexible but we all wanted to go to Rome because there had been so much advertising saying that “All roads lead to Rome,” because it was Holy Year. Our car was hoisted by crane onto the ferry at Dover, but we could drive off in France. We were one of the first cars on which made us the last off.
This made getting to Paris and our first nights reservation for rooms at the Sorbonne before dark impossible. We headed out anyway and came to a hotel in a town called Pontoise. They had two cheap rooms and could give us dinner. This was our first meal and, to this day, I believe it is still the best dinner I ever had. The atmosphere was so wonderfully different and the people at the hotel treated us so nicely. We ate our dinner under lights hanging from trees alongside a lovely little river, the Oise. This was so romantic and it set our mood for the entire three week trip.
In later years, on other trips to France, we always stayed our first night at Pontoise. In the morning, we set out for Paris arriving at Etoille, the famous roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe, where twelve roads come together. We were, of course, driving on the right side of the road and had barely got used to it. The traffic there was crazy and all but us were driving at great speed. I think we went round at least twice before we could get down the Champs Elysees which we were aiming at.
We found the Sorbonne and got two rooms previously occupied by artists. Both rooms were small and looked as though the last event there had been a wild party. The food at the refectory was quite good and, more important, was cheap. I had not mentioned that in 1950, we were only allowed to take 50 pounds per person out of the country. Between the four of us, we only had a total of about 70 pounds, so we were planning to be stingy with our money.
We all four absolutely loved Paris and, with the help of Shirley’s guide book, we saw all the important places. We fell in love with Montmartre and ate most of our meals there, becoming addicted quite quickly to wine with every meal. We went to the Louvre and saw the Mona Lisa and went to the top of the Eiffel Tower. We had a short visit to Versailles which was not long enough to see everything. We were reluctant to leave Paris, but I, particularly, was itching to get to the Cote d’Azur and the Mediterranean, so we headed south. That’s another memory for another day.