College Capers

STUDY AND THE BENZEDRINE PILL For years I have known I can’t be taught, I 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. My wife, a teacher of Modern Languages was a little miffed as French was one of the subjects I was to sit for the entrance exam, Demobbed, hoping to get into Queens University to read Engineering on an ex-service grant, I started the cram course. The guy I went to for a cram, had a classroom over the Fifty Bob Tailors at the Junction in Belfast. He was also none too pleased when another student and I started to teach him mathematics instead of the reverse. Learning French was pure memory, so a tutor merely had to mark exercises. 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 meet at the Crammers’ and then go for a drink afterwards. We discussed our relative careers 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 sat in the Great Hall, with darkened oak or mahogany woodwork, stained-glass windows and a gnarled, stained, wooden floor. The little desks in rows in isolation. The atmosphere was austere and not a little intimidating. I was esmerised just by being there, in a place I knew all my family in England would revere. My wife 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 to work in the oil fields, 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.

THE BOXING MATCH In second year, I offered an opinion, it always heralds trouble. The men were wondering what sort of show to put on, on Rag Day. Instead of just a procession, I suggested a static show, slap stick, to gather the crowds and collect more money, – provide ourselves with a captive audience. I was inveigled to join another ex-serviceman in An Olde Time Boxing Match. We were to wear combinations, I was to black my face and wear a Fez. I was six foot two of Great Mustapha. He was the British challenger – five foot nothing of cheeky chappy. We set off in the procession with our seconds and marched from the University to the centre of High Street. There was an open space left by the demolition of bombed buildings In the meantime some of the gang went ahead and set up a ring. The performance predictably followed the usual circus ring craft, although we were probably not as crafty. A lot of water was thrown about, punches were thrown and of course, Mustapha must-ave-a beating – which he duly received. To finish it all off, absolutely cold sober, but with adrenaline running high, I obtained a crate and, standing on it in the middle of the main thoroughfare, brought Belfast to a halt with community singing. I arrived home, soberly dressed, sat down for the evening meal when my Mother-in-law, told of how this idiot, standing on a box in his underwear and black face, holding up the traffic was conducting the crowd in a singsong. It was some time before I enlightened her who the idiot was. In the cold light of day and without the stimulus of adrenaline, I agreed with her, he was an idiot.

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