1946-50, Study and the Benzedrine pill

There is something seriously wrong with my brain, I have known it for years and first came across the trouble when I started the cram course preparatory to entering the Entrance Examination for Queen’s. I can’t be taught, I much prefer to read books and find out for myself. Whether, as I suspect, the droning of another voice hypnotises me, or whether I just nod off, all I know is I tend to get on better on my own. This attitude does not go down to well in academic quarters, for example, that paragon of all virtues, patience personified, that teacher above all teachers, Sophie, was a bit miffed when I found it easier to teach myself French than avail myself of her renowned accomplishments, although I did allow her to correct my exercises..
The guy I went to for a cram, who had a classroom over the Fifty Bob Tailors at the Junction in Belfast, was also none too pleased when another student and I started to teach him mathematics instead of the reverse. In Sophie’s case I realised that most of what I had to learn was pure memory and it was a waste of her time to sit at my shoulder as one would a child, revision is not like that. In the case of the Crammer, he was so far behind current day thinking in mathematics, he was practically using the abacus to calculate what we owed him in fees.
This other student was a real character, he was doing the same exam as I because he had been in the Naval Commandos and been demobbed at roughly the same time. We would only meet at the Crammers’ and then go for a drink afterwards. We discussed our relative careers at first and when that palled we worked at examples we were sure the Crammer was making a mess of.
Slowly the time drew near, we were both working hard and comparing notes when we met, and on one occasion he showed me some Benzedrine tablets he had which were left over from beach-landings he had taken part in. He was using them from time to time so he could study through the night without sleep. I warned against it without success, in my case I was merely resorting to coffee and tobacco.
The day of the Exam dawned and I entered the world of the university for the first time. We were to sit in the Great Hall, an old part of the building with darkened oak or mahogany woodwork, stained-glass windows and a gnarled, stained, wooden floor. The little desks were in rows in isolation. The atmosphere was what I had anticipated, austere and not a little intimidating. I think for the short time I was seated before we opened the papers, I was mesmerised just by being there, in a place I knew all my family in England would revere. Sophie had trod those boards two years earlier. We had been given examination numbers and when I looked across to where I expected to see my friend his desk was empty and stayed so. I found later he had succumbed to the Benzedrine and when he should have been at Queens he was in hospital. I have said he was a character, that is true, he was larger than life and when his name hit the headlines in Northern Ireland it only went to prove the point. Failing to get into Queen’s he had left and gone to the rigorous climes of Northern Canada and it was there he walked for days in the harshest conditions of blizzards and ice, without food, to fetch help when he and some of his work mates had been involved in an accident. The feat was so extraordinary it was even carried in the press here.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *