Memory Eleven

It was September, 1950 and I was driving back to London in my own car, to start my post-graduate research in the cryogenic laboratory of Imperial College. I had just lost my mother, aged 54 and my father, aged 50, and I started wondering how long I had.

The first thing I found I had to do was to rig a parking light on my car if I wanted to leave it on the street at nights in front of the flat I shared with Roger Sargent. We had to have a light on when dark and the battery would not sustain the normal side lights for long. I made a timer with an alarm clock and could set it to turn the light off as soon as daylight came. It was a luxury to drive to college and parking there was easy.

I joined Roger working on the addition of a distillation column to the existing liquid air plant that had already produced one Ph.D. Roger had designed ingenious sampling devices to measure the composition of the vapor and liquid in equilibrium with it, at twelve levels of the column. I planned to use these to study the actual distillation so I set to to help him build them. We had an excellent workshop to help us with parts that had to be machined, but we had to solder or braze the components together and this was time consuming. This work took me well into 1951.

In March, I was invited to be the best man at the wedding of my best friend, Alan Francia. He was born in the next house to where I lived in Ailsworth, a small village in East Anglia, five miles west of Peterborough. We had gone to school together in the school in the adjacent village of Castor, and later, at Deacons School in Peterborough.

His wedding was in Northampton, 75 miles north of London and my girlfriend, Doris and I stayed in a hotel there for two nights. After the wedding, we went to Kings Cliffe, near Peterborough, to visit my Aunty Anne, my mother’s sister. While we were there, I realized that I did not really have a home any more. With this in mind, I proposed to Doris and we decided to get married in July. I returned Alan’s compliment and invited him to be my best man.

Back in London, work kept me busy but most of my thoughts were about the wedding. Doris’ church had been bombed in the war, so she stayed with her best friend, Pamela, who later became her bridesmaid, to establish an address in the precinct of St Mary’s church in Putney so we could get married there.

Francia.03a.The Wedding.London.July.1951 This was a low budget wedding (Doris even made her own wedding dress), but a whole bus load of my relatives and friends came down from Peterborough. We had a reception in a large room above the Dukes Head pub on the Thames embankment, near our college boathouse, in Putney. All of Doris’ relatives came and we had a big send-off in my car, with a horseshoe and beer cans tied to the back bumper. Going over Putney Bridge, I stopped and removed the horseshoe as it was doing damage. We headed for our first night at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford. On the journey, we removed the signs and decorations so we would not be recognized as newly-weds. When we checked into our room and looked out the window, we saw “Just Married” written across the roof of the car.

Leaving Oxford, we went through Wales, stopping one night at a town we could not pronounce and then went to Conway and toured the castle there. This was followed by three days in the Lake District with lots of walking and climbing. We then headed up to Scotland, to Glasgow and the Ayrshire coast, which has Scotland’s best weather. Going into the Highlands, we stayed two nights at the Hydro Hotel in Pitlochry which I had visited twice on golf trips with Dr. Hunt.

The weather was not good for sight-seeing but we got around quite a bit. We saw 3,457 foot Schiehallion which I hadphoto01 climbed on a previous trip. A tour up the side of Loch Lomond to Inverness was spoiled by rain but we got to visit a lot of great tea rooms. Heading back home through Dundee and Edinburgh was much nicer, and we stayed in “Auld Reakie” for two days. The whole trip took two weeks and we spent every penny we had. This was mainly caused by the best man failing to close the bar at the wedding as soon as we left. The favorite drink for everybody was gin and It (Italian vermouth), because there was a large number of these on the bill which Alan sent me.

We had one tragedy. Doris’ Aunt Alice, who had never before had an alcoholic drink in her life, went home to bed and never got up again. Doris’ cousin Frank referred to me as “the bloke who killed Aunt Alice.”

Doris was still going to work at the BBC and I was quite busy, except for occasional rounds of golf and a few College and University matches. Doris and I had moved into a furnished apartment on Seagrave Road, near Earl’s Court station which Doris used for commuting. Our landlord and landlady lived in the basement and ground floor and we had the first floor. Our kitchen had been squeezed into the landing between the first and second floors. You can imagine how small it had to be. Nevertheless, it was well equipped and we also had an outside balcony.

We had a good friend in the Canadian Air Force and he was doing aeronautical research for a M.Sc. degree. He was on our golf team and he used to get a monthly allocation of duty free liquor so we had a lot of golf team parties in our flat. Things were going well for us, with Doris’ paycheck and my army G.I. Bill equivalent, we began to live a little better. My money was to end in June 1952, and we wondered how we would manage, but that’s another memory for another day.

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