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The Ups And Downs Of Jeremy James

University of Otago, Dunedin: 2nd Year (1978)


My first year exam results came through and I had passed everything but not with high enough marks to get into Medical School.  Again my results had been erratic.  In Chemistry, which was my best subject, I had not got a high mark but in Physics I had done very well.  I enrolled to do a 4 year degree leading to a BSc(hons) in Physics but later in the year I changed my mind and opted to just do a 3 year degree and get a BSc without the (hons).  I also thought about studying Economics but I quickly dropped the idea as I realised I needed to concentrate on Physics and Maths.

In this, my second year at University, I went “flatting” with 4 other students: Jane Reddish, Judith O’Malley, Allan McRae and Murray Simpson.  I had not known them very well before hand, in fact I had not even met Jane and Judith, but as it turned out, we all got on really well.  Murray and Allan were a year older than me, but Judith and Jane were in my year group.  They were all doing accountancy and Allan, who was a very smart cookie, was doing a double degree of law and accountancy.


Our flat at 110 Clyde St, Dunedin.

Located very central to the University (picture taken in 2005).


Our “flat” was at 110 Clyde Street and it was one of two houses built at the same time, probably back in the 1920s, with the layout of each property being a mirror image of the other.  At the back was a communal area which was in effect shared by both houses.  In the house next door were Barbara May, Colleen McElrea, Barry Wells, Ewan Soper and Stuart McNamara.  Really we had a group of 10 and mostly we all got on very well, so much so, the following year Jane married Stuart and shortly afterwards Judith married Ewan.


1978: The back of our flat at 110 Clyde St.

Trevor (lying down), JJ, Jane, Judith, Allan, Colleen (picture taken by Murray).


In our flat, we each had one night a week, when we would take it in turn to cook a meal.  Allan always cooked meatballs and I always cooked roast lamb.  Murray liked cooking casseroles but the girls were a bit more adventurous and over the year cooked us quite a range of delicious meals.  Over dinner we would sit and chat about all sorts of stuff.  It was excellent with everyone having different opinions.  Murray, Allan and Judith were great but it was Jane who l liked the most.  Like me, she was also quite young, and so we had a sort of affinity but she already had a boyfriend, so nothing happened between us.


1978: Inside our flat at 110 Clyde St. JJ and Jane.


Allan has reminded me that the meals were pretty variable especially in the early days.  On one occasion I burnt the frying pan so badly that I had to take it outside for a good scrub.  Allan had gone to a lot of trouble to have special training from his mother and he feels that his masterpiece of meatballs (flavoured with tomato sauce), potatoes and cabbage, was the first meal that wasn’t burned and was reasonably edible.  I remember he was always very keen on tomato sauce, so we used to buy it in big bottles.

When I cooked my roast lamb speciality, I used to add all the vegetables into the roasting dish, the wider the variety the better.  For me, vegetables roasted in the lamb fat were absolutely delicious but there was one exception and that was one day when I roasted some brussel sprouts.  When I served it up I remember that Allan did not eat his.

I should mention here that electronics had been a casual hobby of mine for quite a few years and it was also part of the Physics curriculum.  In my younger days my interest had mainly consisted of dismantling radios but while I had been boarding at Collegiate I had actually built a stereo hi-fi amplifier, which together with a turntable and homebuilt speakers, I was able to use to play records.

Hi-fi systems and records were a big thing in the 1970s and they were very expensive.  Some of the students who had taken a working break for a year and earned some money, often had fantastic hi-fi systems, consisting of a whole rack of separate items and 2 massive speakers.  The whole system would look really impressive stacked up in the corner of the room.  My hi-fi was not in this league but it was good enough and I also had a tape deck on which we could play compact cassettes (CDs weren’t invented until 1982). 

Records cost about $6 each and this was a lot of money.  I probably only had half a dozen record albums.  In Whanganui I had started with ‘I Don't Know How To Love Him’ by Helen Ready (1971), ‘Ringo’ by Ringo Starr (1973) and ‘Yellow Brick Road’ by Elton John (1973).  I had since added ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ by Pink Floyd (1973), ‘Endless Flight’ by Leo Sayer (1976) and ‘Rumours’ by Fleetwood Mac (1977). 


‘Endless Flight’ by Leo Sayer (1976).



‘Rumours’ by Fleetwood Mac (1977).


The rest of my music was on compact cassette tapes, many of which were pirate copies that I had recorded myself after borrowing records from friends.  Compact cassettes were great, in that they were cheap, but the sound quality was pretty horrible, as there was this constant hissing sound in the background.  The other inconvenient thing about them, was that if you wanted to skip one of the songs, you had to click fast forward and then guess as to the best place to click stop, to try and find the beginning of the next track.  If you were really unlucky, the fast forward or fast rewind would all of a sudden come to a crunching halt and upon investigation you would find that the tape had got all screwed up inside the mechanics of your cassette player and everything was now a total wreck.  You then had to spend the next half hour carefully trying to unravel it all.

During 1978 we started to see clips of popular songs being performed by the various artists on the TV.  Our TV set was still black and white but nevertheless, having the experience of hearing and seeing an artist’s performance was fantastic.  Kate Bush released her song ‘Wuthering Heights’ and I remember seeing her doing these amazing cartwheels in a long white dress (I assume it was white as that was the colour of it on our black and white television set).  How she could do a cartwheel and still sing while she was momentarily upside down was completely beyond me, but it was fantastic.  I had to have the record, so I went down into town and splashed out another $6 buying her album ‘The Kick Inside’ (1978).  We were then all able to hear Kate Bush in our living room for the rest of the year.  



‘The Kick Inside’ by Kate Bush (1978)


Jane and Judith liked the album ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ by Meatloaf (1977) which had an incredibly fast moving rhythm.  Allan liked: The Beatles, Roy Orbison, Neil Diamond, Neil Young, Split Enz and ABBA. There were lots of fantastic albums and we would have loved to have owned all of them.  Other popular artists included: Simon & Garfunkel, Diana Ross, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Barclay James Harvest, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, The Eagles, Supertramp, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, 10cc, Genesis, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, Boz Scaggs, Steve Winwood, Boston, Blondie, Dire Straits, Gerry Rafferty, Joan Armatrading, The Alan Parsons Project, … etc. 


‘After the Gold Rush’ by Neil Young (1970).



‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ by Simon & Garfunkel (1970).



‘Trespass’ by Genesis (1970).



‘Everyone Is Everybody Else’ by Barclay James Harvest (1974).



‘Not Fragile’ by Bachman-Turner Overdrive (1974).



'Serenade' by Neil Diamond (1974)



‘The Hissing Of Summer Lawns’ by Joni Mitchell (1975).



‘The Roaring Silence’ by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (1976).



‘How Dare You’ by 10cc (1976).



‘Boston’ by Boston (1976).



‘Royal Scam’ by Steely Dan (1976).



‘An Evening With Diana Ross’ by Diana Ross (1977).



‘Bat Out Of Hell’ by Meatloaf (1977).



‘Animals’ by Pink Floyd (1977).



‘Chicago XI’ by Chicago (1977).



‘Steve Winwood’ by Steve Winwood (1977).



‘Deceptive Bends’ by 10cc (1977).



‘Even In The Quietest Moments’ by Supertramp (1977).



‘City to City’ by Gerry Rafferty (1978).



‘Parallel Lines’ by Blondie (1978).



‘Dire Straits’ by Dire Straits (1978).



‘And Then There Were Three’ by Genesis (1978).



‘To The Limit’ by Joan Armatrading (1978).



‘Pyramid’ by The Alan Parsons Project (1978).


(if you would like to see more album covers: click here)


Of course, at university, we could not spend all our time listening to music.  We continued to attend lectures in the day and in the evening most of us walked across to the library to do our study.  The library was heated so that was certainly an attraction but although you were not allowed to talk or make any noise, it always had a sociable atmosphere and it was a great place to meet up with friends.

The pub was also a popular place for socialising but the drinking age in New Zealand was 20 and I had not yet reached that age of ultimate responsibility.  I did go in a few times but I never felt comfortable as the police used to make regular visits and arrest any students who looked underage and I definitely looked under age.  When it came to a social life, I always felt a bit like I was on the outside.

Having completed the army basic training course, at Burnham over the holidays, I was now attached to the 4th Otago Southland Infantry Battalion.  We shared a large drill hall with the various other army units that were based in the area.  I was in the signals platoon, which was a small group of people who looked after all the radio communications equipment.  Our standard radio (AN/PRC-77) was the size of small brief case and was quite heavy (6.2 kg).  This technology has of course now been completely superseded but back in 1978 this really was something special as it used transistor technology rather than valves.  The unit covered the frequency range from 30 to 75 MHz, with an output power of 2W and had a range of about 8 km.  Playing with these was great fun and I learnt a lot about radio communications which, as it turned out later, was to prove very useful to me.

From here on, being in the Territorial Army, consisted of attending drill night for a few hours on Tuesday evenings and then once a month or so, we would have a weekend exercise.  These were all very enjoyable and at the same time we got paid money, which made it even better.

I had a bad experience with alcohol after one of these weekend exercises.  In general, I drank very little but on this particular occasion, after we had completed cleaning up all the gear and getting it packed away, a small group of us met up in the army mess for a few drinks.  I drank more than I should have, after which one of the other guys gave me a glass of straight vodka and told me it was water.  Of course, I did realise that it was vodka but I drank it anyway.  Very silly.  A few moments later I crashed onto the floor and vomited.  It was a pretty horrible thing to do to me but I suppose at least they cleared up the mess and took me home.  Jane and Judith thought it was hilarious and talked about it for quite a few days afterwards.  I suppose it was all part of growing up, learning from my mistakes, being more wary of other people and being more careful in the future.

Mid-year I was very lucky to get the opportunity to go on a jungle warfare training exercise in Fiji.  Unfortunately this was during term time, so it rather mucked up my lectures but I did a lot of work in the holidays to make sure I did not fall too much behind.  We flew to Fiji in a Royal NZ Airforce Hercules C130.  This was very different from flying with a normal airline.  There were none of the comfortable airline seats.  Instead we sat in simple webbing seats along the side of the aircraft and in the middle we had all our stores stacked up to last the three weeks.  We were all dressed in our army gear complete with rifle between our knees.  It felt quite surreal.



One dollar note from Fiji.


Living in a tropical jungle was fantastic personality building stuff and I enjoyed every minute of it.  One particular memory was doing a night exercise with an attack the following morning, the enemy being in hiding up on top of a hill.  At daybreak the attack started and for about 10 minutes there was hell and mayhem with bullets and grenades going off left right and centre (all blanks of course, so very safe).  At the end of this tremendous fire fight everything came to a sudden halt when the enemy called up on our radio and told us that we had been attacking the wrong hill.  As it turned out, we had spent the 10 minutes shooting at the other half or our own rifle company.  Afterwards I realised that in real wars most people probably have very little idea of what is really going on around them. 

Before returning home, we had a few days off to visit the duty-free shops in Suva.  In those days there were heavy import taxes on goods being imported into New Zealand but travellers returning were given a duty-free allowance.  This meant that within the allowance you could bring some stuff back and you did not have to pay duty on it.  I bought a portable cassette player and a watch, both of which, I in effect got for half price (half what it would have cost me in NZ). 


ASCO Clockwork, 17 Jewels, 1967. Seiko Digital, Quartz LC, 1978.


As I mentioned previously, I got my first watch back in 1967 when I was 8 years old and this was a clockwork watch which required winding up every few days.  Once a month I had to check my watch against the time given on the radio or the TV.  This was not a great problem as we all just accepted that synchronizing our watches once a month was part of the routine.  Digital watches had started appearing in 1976 and initially they had LED displays (light emitting diode) which showed red illuminated digits.  These watches were an amazing advance in technology as they contained a quartz crystal oscillator which was incredibly accurate and would keep good time over a whole year without needing to be corrected.  The only downside with these LED watches was that they were very expensive and the battery had to be replaced every 3 months.

By 1978 digital watch technology had advanced quite quickly and the latest products had LCD displays (liquid crystal display) which used very little energy and so the battery would last for a few years.  I bought a Seiko (made in Japan) with all sorts of amazing functions.  In addition to telling me the time, it also told me the day of the week, the date and month.  It also had a stopwatch, a countdown alarm and a 24 hour wake up alarm.  This was absolutely incredible.  On top of this, the watch was very well built and I think only cost a bit over $100.  By today’s standards this may sound very expensive but back then this really was a bargain even if it was expensive.

Shortly after we returned from Fiji, it was found that some of the soldiers had picked up a fairly nasty tropical bug and they were rushed off to hospital.  We all then had to be tested but I didn’t get ill, so luckily no problem for me. 

1978 was the year that the movie ‘Saturday Night Fever’ came out starring John Travolta and his two ladies Karen Lynn Gorney and Donna Pescow.  I didn’t go to the cinema very often but I did see this film and absolutely loved the music and dancing sequences.  Shortly afterwards we also had the musical ‘Grease’ again starring John Travolta but this time playing opposite Olivia Newton-John or as we used to call her ‘Olivia Neutron Bomb’.


1978: The dance drama film ‘Saturday Night Fever’.



1978: The musical romantic comedy film ‘Grease’.


I can’t remember much about what was on the news but this was the year that the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin made a peace agreement at Camp David, witnessed by the American President Jimmy Carter.

I was by now less active at collecting stamps but I do remember that 1978 was the anniversary of the founding of Stratford and the New Zealand Post Office produced a 10c stamp to mark the occasion.  The stamp itself, showed a stylized picture of the Stratford war memorial and up above it Mt Taranaki.  You are probably thinking why am I bothering to write here about a stamp?  Well back in the 1960s and 1970s I really did like postage stamps.


10 cent stamp. Centenary of Stratford (1878-1978).


Again at the end of the year, I passed my exams, so all was well and good.  In the summer holidays, I managed to get a job working in the Physics Department on a Wind Energy Resource Survey.  It had been assumed that eventually the country would start using wind power to generate electricity but one question was; how much energy was there in the wind?  To measure the wind, we had wind anemometers on masts at various locations.  My role was very much as an odd job person and I got to drive the Land Rover around to some very remote spots.

I should note here that in those days wind anemometers were mechanical devices with 3 small cups that rotated in the wind.  These aren’t so common now as sensing wind speed is mainly done by solid state devices incorporating laser technology.


1978: Tower at Rockland Estate, Central Otago. Great fun to climb.


One particular mast, was located on the remote Rocklands Station in Central Otago.  This mast was probably about 30m tall and had been built for us by the Electricity Power Board but of course it did not have any electricity wires attached to it.  There were 6 anemometers in pairs at three different levels and then a wind direction monitor on the top.  Climbing this tower was a great challenge.  A bit worrying the first time you did it, but after that you got used to the height.  There was no safety harness, so obviously you had to be careful that you didn’t fall off.  I remember the little platform right at the top, rocked a good few inches, back and forth, even in a light wind.  I had a great time being involved with this project and again I learnt a bit more about electronics.

The other thing that happened in the summer holidays was our annual army camp.   I went a few days earlier and helped to set the camp up.  One job we were given by the sergeant major was to erect two rows of tents, about 10 tents in all.  These were the old-style canvas tents with an A frame and a ridge pole.  We got stuck in and made great progress banging in about 20 pegs for each tent.  When the sergeant major returned later in the afternoon we were very proud to show him the results of all our efforts.  He stood at the end of the row and looked down the line and turned to us and said, they aren’t lined up in a perfect line.  You will need to move them all.

Bother!  We then spent the next hour removing all those pegs just so we could move each tent and position them in a perfectly straight line.  Then we bashed all those pegs back in again.  Ever since then, whenever I do anything where there might be some sort of a line, I always make sure it is a straight line.

The camp lasted about 2 weeks during which time we had various exercises.  One was live firing of a grenade launcher.  This was great.  It was like an oversize shot gun with a really wide barrel.  The grenade was fired out of the barrel with a bang!  From there it would make an upwards trajectory and and then drop down on its target.  Boom!!!  In this case the target was a 44 gallon drum on the side of the hill opposite.  We all got one shot each.  The reason this was a memorable moment for me, was that my grenade actually landed smack inside the 44 gallon drum and the boom was immensely spectacular as it blew the drum to pieces.  Everybody was very impressed.

It was also around this time that two girls joined our signals platoon.  They were twins, Jools and Lynda Topp and were about a year older than me.  They were a very happy pair and on a couple of occasions they played their guitars and we had a few good sing songs.  They had also been playing in some of the pubs around Dunedin and I remember Jools telling me that they had decided to move to Auckland because if you wanted to make a name for yourself in the music business then Auckland was where all the action was.  I understand that their musical careers really did take off after that and they have done very well.