The Ups And Downs Of Jeremy James

University of Otago, Dunedin: 3rd Year (1979)

 

Eventually the summer was over and it was time to head back to university for my third and final year, and we changed flats, moving to 83 Queen Street.  Murray, Allan and myself stayed together but Jane and Judith were replaced with Jane Wilson and Sue Dewes.  This last year was easy for me as I had by now completed most of my degree and I just needed to pass another two subjects (Physics and Maths).

 

Our flat at 83 Queen St, Dunedin.

About 5 minutes walk to the centre of the University (picture taken in 2005).

 

Study at university went well throughout the year with no major problems.  I went to my lectures in the day, lab sessions in the afternoon and most evenings I continued going to the library and doing all my assignments.  There were the various balls organised by the Halls of Residence and a few of us got together and attended the Arana Ball once more.  My memory is that this one was not held at Larnoch Castle but instead was held in a local hotel.  I can’t remember much about it but we have a photo.

 

1979: Arana Hall Union Ball (or was it 1978?).

Left to right: ????, JJ Heath-Caldwell, Diane Grieves, Murray Simpson, Jackie Harrison, Allan McRae, Martin Rudduck, Shirley Benning.

 

Another job that I had towards the end of a year was washing dishes in a restaurant.  This might not be the sort of job that most people would want to take on, but it was a job and it paid money.  This might sound a bit weird but as it turned out, I really loved it.  It was great to work with such a nice group of people and I often think of it when I’m washing my own dishes in the kitchen.  The restaurant was up on the hill and it was run by a Hungarian lady who must have been in her late 50s if not her early 60s.  I think her name was Marina.  She was a real character and loved to do things like getting dressed up as Father Christmas.  In addition to supplying food to the guests she did an exceptionally good job keeping them entertained.

There were a lot of dishes to sort out each evening.  As soon as the first course was completed, the dirty dishes started to come in and I had to work like the blazes to get them all cleaned and dried, as some of these items were needed later for dessert.  Then the main dishes came and eventually they were followed by the dessert items.  In between there was all the cooking pots to do as well.

One of Marina’s specialities was ‘Scallops Mornay’ but there were no scallops, as they were very expensive.  This wonderful dish was made by dropping some cooked fish into an old scallop shell and covering it with some grated cheese.  This was then toasted under a gill and before it was served up, a small piece of parsley was added to top it off.  Most of the guests in the restaurant had already started drinking and with slightly muddled minds and dark lighting, none of them ever knew any different.

Washing up all the scallop shells was usually left until last as these were very tricky to get clean.  The shape of the shell meant that getting the encrusted cheese out of every little indentation took a lot of scrubbing especially around the edges where the cheese had usually burnt in.  I remember late one evening, a few of the guests suddenly appeared in the kitchen.  They were very drunk and had come in to thank us all for such an excellent meal.  One of the lady guests spent some time telling Marina how much they had all enjoyed the scallops and asked her if she would let her know where in Dunedin she could source such delicious shellfish.  I always remember Marina’s face.  She hesitated very slightly but then quickly smiled, lightly touched the side of her nose with her forefinger and said it was a very secret supply and she could not possibly divulge it.  We all smiled.

Sometimes at the end of the evening there was a bit of roast chicken or cake left over, in which case I could take some of it back to the flat.  This was great but I never took any Scallop Mornay home with me.  In my mind I thought it probably wasn’t very hygienic reusing those old shells as you could never really get them completely clean.

After my final evening working there, Marina gave me a little envelope with a thankyou card and a five dollar note and wished me well for the future.  One of the other ladies told me afterwards that I had made a very good impression and that it was very rare for Marina to give anyone a going away present.  One of the others then chipped in and said, let's face it, before JJ came along Marina had needed three girls to get all those dishes washed up.  Apparently, I had saved her a fair bit of cash.

By now I was thinking about what I was going to do for a career, and I decided that I would like to join the army full time.  I attended an officer selection course at Burnham Camp, but I failed to be selected and so I felt quite devastated.  The course consisted of a series of team exercises, doing all sorts of complicated tasks.  These activities were all very challenging and quite a few of the candidates ran around like headless chickens trying to find a solution.  I tended to just sit there thinking and trying to figure out how to solve the problem but these were problems that could not be solved all that easily.  In fact everyone running around trying things was the right approach, as in most cases, a solution eventually emerged.

The candidates that were chosen were the people who ran around and made things happen.  I was not one of them.  I left feeling sad and dejected.  However, there is that saying that “every cloud has a silver lining”.

The following week I managed to find a psychology book in the library which was all about officer selection and personality traits.  Reading this book was to be a real game changer for me.  The selection process was very involved.  The first part of the selection process was to look at the candidate’s background and upbringing.  Top of the list; was there any family history of schizophrenia?  If your father had schizophrenia then there was a 10% chance that you would also get it.  Second on the list was a stable family background with a mother and a father.  By now I could see that I was not looking good.  Next after that was participation at school in team sports and other team activities.  It was becoming very apparent to me that I would never have been seen as a strong candidate.  Most of all, they wanted young people who could speak confidently and get on with people well.  Not me either.  Top of the list they wanted people who made things happen.  Well I thought I made things happen but obviously I didn’t.

As I looked back on my childhood, I realised that living out in the country (rather than in town) had meant that I had missed out on a lot of socialising and playing with other children my own age.  Being young and small for my age group, I had found myself to be hopeless at sport, so I had played very little of it.  Even worse, when I did play sport, I always lost and this had diminished any confidence that I might have ever had.  I could see that this was not my fault and it was not anyone else’s fault, it was just the result of a combination of circumstances at the time. 

The book went on to say that a person’s personality is pretty much set by the time they reached the age of 20.  After that, a person would certainly mature with age but their basic personality would not change very much.  Reading this made me feel pretty much done for but I carried on turning the pages.  The book did go on to say, that in very rare circumstances, if the young person could break away from his surroundings, experience overseas travel and get engaged in all sorts of social activities with other people, then it would in some cases be possible to develop their personality further.

It was at that stage that I realised I needed to get away and gain new experiences but most of all I needed experiences where I would meet lots of people.  I had to put my past circumstances behind me and I had to start making my own circumstances in the future.

Shortly after that I saw an advert on the Physics notice board about a British company called Marconi Radar, that was interviewing students with a view to employment in the United Kingdom.  Two men from the company were going to be in town the following week and would be conducting interviews with prospective candidates.  This looked interesting, not because I was super keen to join a radar company on the other side of the world, but I thought going for an interview would be an opportunity to practise my own interview skills.  I put my name down and the following week I turned up for my 1 hour interview.

The meeting was warm and friendly and the two guys from Marconi (Alan Horsnell and Ian Donaldson) told me that they were really enjoying their two weeks in New Zealand, during which time they had travelled around and had also visited a few of the other universities.  I do remember them telling me that they particularly enjoyed drinking the New Zealand wine.  As I was not expecting to be offered a job, I was actually feeling quite relaxed and relatively confident. 

We talked about my degree in Physics, which with the exams happening over the following two weeks, was now very near completion.  They asked me about my schooling and they were very interested to hear about my time in Bangladesh.  I told them a bit about my soldiering activities, my experience using radios in the army and my jungle warfare training in Fiji.  They seemed very pleased to hear that I had built my own stereo hifi amplifier but I didn’t tell them about my earlier interest in my parent’s old valve radio.  Before the interview had finished they offered me a job.  This was to be in their Field Services Department and my role would be to travel around the world building and maintaining radar systems.  I was a bit stunned.  My immediate thought was, perhaps these guys had been drinking a bit too much of the New Zealand wine.

 

British stamp issued in 1967 to celebrate the invention of radar in 1935.

 

I went back to the flat and told Allan that two crazy poms had just offered me a job where I was going to be paid to travel around the world as an electronics engineer working on radar.  His reply was “Wow! That is fantastic.  Are you going to take it?”. 

At this initial point, I was rather uncertain.  I had not expected a job offer and I had not previously thought of becoming an electronic engineer.  After all, I had been studying Physics, not Electronic Engineering.  I had however been thinking of going to the UK for a one year working holiday as there were various relatives there that I had never met.  My sister Hilary was away in the UK at that moment and because my stepfather Frank was working for Air New Zealand, I was eligible for a subsidised ticket but only until I turned 21.  After thinking it through, I realised I might as well take them up on their offer, as I had absolutely nothing to lose.  If the job turned out well then great but if it didn’t, I could always resign and look for something else. 

The offer in writing came in the post a few weeks later and I immediately wrote back confirming that I would be very pleased to accept the job.  I didn’t head home straight away though, as Jane had got engaged to another friend of ours, Stewart, and we were all invited to the wedding.  I had never been to a wedding before, so it was quite exciting, and I was very much looking forward to it.  Murray, Allan and I all got dressed up in our suits with highly polished shoes, ironed shirts and neatly done ties.  Everything at the wedding was lovely and of course we knew a lot of the guests, as many of them were our fellow students from Otago. 

I remember looking around, Jane was exceedingly beautiful in her wedding dress and everyone looked happy, but for myself, I felt rather sad.  I sort of felt that I would really have liked to have married Jane.  We had always got on well but nothing more than that.  At the reception I was surrounded by lots of fellow students, some of whom I had known for the full three years.  Now it was all about to change.  Soon we would all be going off in separate directions, to start new challenges and experience new adventures.  Very shortly most of the students would be living far away and I would be off to the other side of the world, which was about as far away as anybody could possibly get.

More good music came out this year.  Supertramp continued to be super and released their album ‘Breakfast in America’.  ABBA released ‘Voulez-Vous’.  Right at the end of the year Christopher Cross released ‘Christopher Cross’ and Pink Floyd released ‘The Wall’.

 

‘Breakfast in America’ by Supertramp (1979).

 

 

‘Christopher Cross’ by Christopher Cross (1979).

 

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

 

On the TV news this year, Margaret Thatcher became the UK’s first woman Prime Minister.  This was a tremendous step forward in the women’s equality movement but what made it even better was that she had achieved it, not by being a woman, but by being a lot smarter than all the male contenders.  A very sad event at the end of this year was the Mount Erebus disaster when an Air New Zealand DC10 aeroplane crashed in Antarctica instantly killing all 257 people on board.  New Zealand is a small country and so everyone either knew someone on that flight or had a friend who knew one of those who had sadly lost their lives.

The other thing that happened towards the end of 1979 was that both my grandfathers died in the UK.  Cuthbert Heath-Caldwell and Richard Jones.  I had hoped to meet them but this was not to be.

I went home and spent Christmas with my family.  In January I attended my last annual camp with the Territorial Army and after that I packed my things and set off for the UK.

 

NZ Army cap badge (RNZIR) and identification tags.

 

I was still 20 years old and probably rather young to be leaving university, let alone leaving the country.  I was about to start the next great adventure in my life, so I certainly felt excited, but I also felt a degree of trepidation.  This was going to be another period of rapid change in my life.  A few days later, I boarded a flight, which was to take me from Auckland all the way to London.  As I took my seat and did my buckle up, there was a slight flutter in my stomach and I felt a little bit like I was an astronaut, about to be blasted off on a space flight to the moon!  However, despite my momentary hesitation, I was certain I would survive, and my strong intention was that I would be back home in New Zealand the following year.

 

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