1946-50, The University years

FINALSIn second year we were tackling the more technical subjects and I had been persuaded to buy a text book which the others in our group thought was easy to grasp and a guide to what we were finding difficult. Lectures were never contiguous and sometimes we even had to walk down into the centre of Belfast to take other subjects at the Technical College. When these breaks came we would congregate either in the Union or a cafe in Town and there we behaved, not like students in the accepted sense, but like mature men at a club. By student standards we were mature. All had seen service either abroad or at sea, all knew we only had one opportunity and about half were married. Life was real and life was very earnest.
At one of these café sessions someone asked who had read what in the book we had bought. I kept quiet because I had read nothing, I had had no time. Each of the others said they had read this much, or those chapters, and then ensued discussions I took to indicate how much they had read. I felt left behind and rather stupid for being so dilatory.
When I was back at home I started a reading schedule which I hoped would bring me up to date and I allowed for the fact that the others would also be reading while I was doing so. Within a week I had read through about sixty percent of the book and considered I understood at least eighty percent of what I had read. This placed me ahead of the class work which meant that when it was broached I understood it that much better. A week or two later I raised the matter of the book only to discover that the whole thing had been a leg-pull and the others had hardly opened the book at all. I had to take the joke in good part, but what with Linda to amuse, house repairs and other responsibilities, the extra work had been a drudge and I was in danger of losing my sense of humour. It was then I realised that they had inadvertently been responsible for me reaching a standard which allowed me room to breath while understanding what was going on round me. On balance I think I had come off best.
There was a point where I thought I would be sitting my finals from a hospital bed. As usual the whole thing was like a pantomime rather than a sensible progression of events, but for a day or two it caused unbelievable consternation and worry. It started with a funny squeaking noise, which the family thought, was Lizzie crying, and one or other of the women would rush upstairs on an errand of mercy. I would tell them that it was my chest, I was a heavy smoker, but they chose not to listen and hurried off. After several days spent in useless running up and down stairs they believed me and insisted that I see the Queen’s doctor. It was the beginning of the first Term of my final year.
It must be remembered that I had had TB as a child, and was scarred on the top of one lung as a result, although at that time I was not aware of the latter. The Doc listened, pummelled, sent me for an X-ray and then, in his most conciliatory tones, weighed in with the glad tidings – I was at death’s door, needed immediate hospitalisation – soonest, must arrange to have my lectures notes sent to the hospital and sit the exams there. Panic set in, but I decided two things – I would get a second opinion and I would see the British Legion because I reckoned Soph had a claim if I snuffed it along the way – it was as serious as that!
The chap I went to for the referral lived in a dungeon on University Road, he was crisp, competent and looked at my chest in his own X-ray machine, which operated like the ones in shoe shops in the days before X-rays were thought to be dangerous. When they were removed I reckoned that a lot of the fun of shopping had been removed from children’s lives. It turned out that I was OK, just needed to cut down on the fags – cigarettes.
I have included these two stories to give a guide to the pressure we were under as ex-service students. Then came the finals in 1950 when I was really taken ill. We were sitting Final Structures, a subject most would be leery of, myself included. I had hardly sat down when I was struck with a blinding headache, I felt sick, and the pain was fierce. It was similar to what Willie described when she had a severe attack of migraine.
I whipped through the questions, decided what I could answer quickly, completed them in a way that was almost a shorthand and then put up my hand. I asked to be taken outside, to obtain a glass of water and an analgesic and to be allowed to walk in the fresh air for a few minutes before returning to complete the paper. The furore this caused was immense, and the little conferences which went on between the officials showed that I was probably a first in their experience. Fortunately they agreed and an invigilator and I patrolled the grounds for five minutes until the powder had taken some effect. I then returned and finished as quickly as I could and left ahead of the rest because the headache had returned. I passed, possibly more by luck, but I passed and that was all that counted.

Categorized as General

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