Memories of Malta

Fort Manoel in Gżira, Malta, 1880.

This is Thursday and I still haven’t written anything and in any case, with the way I have been feeling and the things that have happened, I can’t even remember what I was supposed to write about. However, this week has seen the Queen celebrate her 80th birthday, and being a true royalist I was sitting watching the film of her life. She is a few months older than I am and was always there when I was a child. The two little princesses were my favourite pair. No television in those days, but I used to keep a scrapbook and cut out every picture I could find of them.

Sitting watching the program, Paull came and sat with me and I started telling him different things that had happened to granddad and myself over the years where our lives had touched with Elizabeth and Philip and had just been telling him about our lives in Malta when he left me to my program. No sooner had he gone than Malta appeared on the screen and I called him back. He watched the program with and said Grandma, you should write about these things. You knew all about that, didn’t you, so here you have a few memories. Just a few, I won’t bore you too much.

P.O. Stanley Edward Taylor & wife in Malta, 1949.

Stan and I met at Royal Arthur, a shore base at Butlins in Skegness. The first time I saw him he was wearing a pink tu-tu and dancing with four other PTIs to the music of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Shortly afterwards, Royal Arthur moved across country to Corsham in Wiltshire. There were three huge camps there: The first was the Ship’s Company camp for the Wrens, sailors and officers. The second was the working offices and training camps where new entries were taken in and trained, and their instructors lived on the same camp with them. I was a writer pay as it was termed and our office was very close to the gym where Stan spent his time. Up the road there was another camp, Kingsmoor where petty officers took their courses and it was there that we first made contact with Philip. We had been told that Prince Philip of Greece would be joining us and none of us had ever heard of him. We honestly thought that he was to be one of our young entrants so we were absolutely bowled over when this handsome blonde young man whizzed through the gate in an elderly open-topped sports car. The first time my friend and I saw him we were just going through the gate back to our working camp when this old black car without even slowing down shot past us taking Jean’s jacket off her arm and leaving it in the dust. Now, Jean was a Hull girl and no-one did that to her. When he didn’t stop she took her shoe off and aimed it at him together with a load of abuse. The poor old jaunty was dancing up and down waving his arms and mouthing no-no-no. That was our first meeting with Philip. We would occasionally meet him at sports events and he met with us when we played mixed hockey. Rumours started to circulate that he was getting mail from Buckingham Palace and returning from London one day he had a slight car accident. It was reported straight back to the Palace and Elizabeth dashed out and got into her car and started off for Corsham. However, word was sent that she had to be turned back and back home she was sent. Later, of course, came the Royal Wedding and ten Chiefs and Petty Officers from Kingsmoor were invited to the wedding and much to their embarrassment were known ever after that as the bridesmaids.

Philip’s ship, the Black Swan-class Magpie.

The following year Stan and I were married and Stan was posted to Malta where he was the PTI for six frigates, one of which was Philip’s Magpie. Stan was based on the Pelican which wasn’t easy for sport with six ships to look after and as we were newly-weds he pleaded his case and was allowed to stay ashore with me, except when they all went on exercises together. The little ships had never been heard of in the Med sports before but he went from one ship to the other getting his teams together by means fair and fowl. He had more AN Others on his lists than actual names, but by the time he had told each of his boxers that it didn’t really matter as so-and-so was a better boxer anyway, he ended up with his teams and that year took every cup in the Med. I can still see him and Captain Bonham Carter standing behind the goal with their faces up to the nets calling come on, hit me, hit me, and seeing their caps go flying in the air with each goal.

Stan’s ship, the Egret-class Pelican.

We went out with the footballers that night, starting out in Sliema, but the boys got restless and wanted to go down the Gutt as the red light district is known, but couldn’t because they knew Stan wouldn’t let me go. He said “As long as I am with her she can go anywhere.” and off we all went to Floriana. I was very innocent in those days and watched a matelot dancing with a large lady in a pink satin blouse. After a quick glance at this pair I remarked to Stan “What a large lady that is!”, at which all the lads curled up with laughter. We then went on to the main Gutt and after a while one of the lads came to Stan and whispered in his ear, and Stan said okay and decided that it was time we got ourselves home, and off we went. The next morning there was an SOS from Philip: “What have you done to my crew? Get yourself down to the local prison and see if you can get them out!”, and that was when I learned that Stan had been asked to remove me as there was a fight brewing between the navy and the army.

Lt. Mountbatten with the Princess Elizabeth, 1947.

Elizabeth sometimes came down to Manoel Island when the boys were playing friendly matches. There would hardly be a soul watching and a matelot would walk to the side of the of the pitch with a wooden chair and a few minutes later she would appear. No sign of her detective though, he was always around watching from a distance, and in no time a little group of sailors would be standing around her chair watching the match. She always looked so happy in Malta. They were very happy days for all of us.

Must go, it’s bedtime.

Written 27th April 2006
by Pauline Taylor (1927-2018)
 
UPDATE (12th April)
The Lord Judge, Convenor of the Crossbench Peers, referenced his own Maltese memories in a parliamentary speech earlier today.

Pauline on Pooches

Pauline (88) grooms Monty (8), 26th April 2015

Great sadness can be experienced from quite an early age when small things are so important to us. The loss of a toy, the death of an animal in our lives. Most of us have buried our pets in the garden, I certainly remember burying a canary in a cocoa tin and putting flowers on its grave, soon to be not forgotten, but put to the back of our minds as a new pet takes its place.

Heartbreak (circa 2002)

Little old ladies are often stereotyped as surrounded by cats, and indeed my grandmother had many. She loved dogs too, however, and made many references to them in her writings. I present a compilation of them now, to commemorate those who could not write for themselves.

The passages are ordered by date of writing rather than by date of events described. Contextual notes are inserted where appropriate to avoid reproducing excessive prose unrelated to the topic. Occasionally I have corrected typos.

The dog was sitting all of a quiver, tail swishing slowly and tongue hanging from one side of his mouth. His eyes never left the two cats he had chased up the tree as he willed them to come down for another chase. But the cats stayed on their wide branches with eyes half closed and a smirk on their faces. They were content to stay up there all day if necessary, and would enjoy doing it.

The dog came dashing back having had great sport chasing the cat under the caravan and he took up his place under the tree. He was to have a long wait, the other cat was older and wiser and loved sitting up in the tree. He wasn’t coming down to be chased by a silly old dog – not for a long time anyway.

A Summer’s Day in the Jungle (Fiction) (17/04/2002)

I tried making the area smaller by laying the odd paving slab between the bushes but eventually had to admit defeat, and but for a small circle with a weeping willow where our first dog is buried, I gave the rest over to the couch grass.

The Garden (??/??/2003)

There’s the man who brings his very large fluffy white dog and grooms it in one of the lay-byes. There is white wool everywhere and once it blows into the trees it stays there for days. Couldn’t he bring a plastic bag with him?

The Dumpers (03/05/2003)

On Saturday once everyone had eaten, off they went well booted, scarved, hooded and gloved. Looking out of the window at the comings and goings you could well imagine you were in Eskimo land. Wherever they went they were followed by a sad looking dog with a football in its mouth longing for someone to kick it for him.

I went [shopping] via Clough Road and saw a flag flying saying Courts closing down sale. Well I couldn’t resist that and duly crossed the road and drove ‘round the back to Courts parking lot. Oh! Thinks Pauline, they must be going to have a caravan sale as there were about 20 lovely caravans set out around the car park. To my dismay there were 2 shaggy little dogs/pups with short logs shagging away in the middle of the park. Poor little strays I thought, must call into the dogs’ home as I am in Clough Road. Driving towards the main doors I parked my car, got out with a lot of difficulty only to find myself surrounded by a pack of yapping Jack Russells which should have been white but were actually a dark grey. They followed me to the main door still barking and there was a notice saying Store closed, nearest store Grimsby. To say the least I was miffed, Courts could have taken their flags down. I turned and made my way back to my car accompanied by the yapping dogs and noticed that each caravan had a kennel at the side of it and children and men were appearing on their doorsteps. That was when it dawned that I was in the middle of a gypsy camp.

Home – I was so pleased to see it as I always am. I was greeted by the dog with his football and pleading eyes, but my buckling legs hadn’t a kick left in them. Sank into my armchair, coat and all and as usual it wasn’t long before Simon arrived with a cup of tea. “Had a good day?” says he and when I told him of my day, his eyes rolled up and he remakred “Mother, only you could end up in the middle of the diddy camp surrounded by a pack of dogs. I bet you patted them all.”.

Half Term (16/02/2005)

From the docks we would drive home and dad would open his kit bag and spread the contents on the floor. Huge blocks of Cadbury’s chocolate, boxes of chocolates, boxes of lovely perfumes, and always from his cook a sweet bottle full of King prawns, and who got the first choice, why Twister of course – our dog. On his second night home, Dad was allowed to go ‘round the corner to the Fountain Villa Club, where lots of elderly ex-seamen gathered. He would take Twister with him, buy a box of chocolates and give it to the dog to bring home for us, and one again he got the first chocolate.

I am six years younger than my next sister and therefore was almost like an only child until I was 5 and started school at St. Mary’s, and spent my time with Twister our wire-haired terrier, and Billy our large black Persian cat. I must have been a pain in the neck to them as they were my only companions most of the time and I spent my time dressing them in baby clothes, sitting them on chairs to play schools and taking them for walks in my large dolls pram. That bit they quite enjoyed.

Early Childhood (29/09/2005)

I had Patch in my car who thought it was great but the heat was unbearable. There was plenty of shade for him under the trees and everyone took him for walks.

A young boy on the next stall decided to play with his football and Patch was there in a flash. Then the lad realised that if he threw the ball at Patch instead of past him, he would throw it back, they played for ages and gathered quite an audience. All I could think of was either patch would end up without his front teeth or with a flat nose like a peke.

Vintage Weekend (??/06/2006)

[Seals] still appear quite regularly and at the moment are regular visitors. There’s usually just the one who loves to tease the dog*. Patch swims out to him and when they are face to face the seal dives under him and comes up again behind his back. Patch gets tired long before the seal and has to give up and I really don’t think he has any ill intentions, he just wants to play with it as he does with all the dogs who come for their walkies. Most of the dogs’ owners soon get to know Patch and quite happily take him for a walk with them. Young Paull came in at the weekend and said “Grandma, you should have been up the end. There are two seals in the Creek and they are sitting playing on a piece of wood which looks like a tree trunk. They keep pushing each other off and as the log floats towards the mouth of the creek they push it back in again and start all over again.” Patch has been sitting on the edge all of a quiver but didn’t go in further than his knees. Probably thought two were too much for him.

Simon and Paull can’t resist buying ancient machinery… [the truck] was navy blue with a large RN and Royal Navy on its side, only does about 10 miles (or they are just telling ME that) an hour and the dog is delighted as he now has a vehicle he can ride on instead of being scrunched between Paull’s legs on the grass cutter.

Wildlife at Stone Creek (24/10/2006)

The fire brigade were here for 5 days slowly pumping water from the drains into the Creek. Simon, Paull and Monty joined them, taking cups of tea etc. and Monty left home completely, after all he lived on Battenburg cake with the firemen and not dog-biscuits.

Summer 2007 (27/09/2007)

I remember last year’s winter… there are bags of compost all over the place unused, one sack and loads of packets of seeds and bulbs lying around that never did get planted. Monty had a wonderful time as the plants in pots got dryer and he could just pull and the whole plant and bag of soil came out of its pot, and if they didn’t it didn’t matter, he just ate the pot as well.

Looking back at 2007 (17/01/2008)

A few days before Betty and Stan’s wedding, I was cuddled up in a big bed with Betty and another sister Dolly. Stan crept up the stairs and threw a little bundle on our bed and shot off before Mum caught him. That little bundle was Twister, a tiny wire haired terrier pup for Betty. He never did leave us as by the time the wedding and honeymoon had taken place when they tried to take him to their flat he cried so much that they had to bring him back.

I decided it was time to let [a beaver lamb] go as it was getting a bit rough down the front edges. My new neighbour begged it and was seen later that day parading down the street with her fur coat in hot sun and her pet Peke on a lead. It was obvious she felt the bees’ knees.

Last but not least is the beauty of the lot. My sister Ethel’s brown mink which was given to me when she died… The family came home for our first Christmas together in the UK and whilst we were busy getting the house we rented in Hornsea dried out, Peter, my eldest arrived with Sandra, his girlfriend, to give us a hand. Out of the blue Ethel arrived wearing the said mink coat and sitting on her knee was her beloved little brow spaniel. Sandra in all her innocence asked me who is that lady with the dog that matches her coat, you can’t see where the dog ends and the coat starts. Forever more to Sandra Aunty Ethel was the lady with the dog that matches her coat.

Coats in the Attic (24/01/2008)

*This particular seal is presumably the inspiration for Sammy.

Lament for Monty

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His temperament was steady, manner mild,
A marvel to all strangers who came by,
He warmly welcomed each approaching child,
Befriended anyone who caught his eye.

A dozen and two years he saw go past,
Entrenched he was in the roll of our kin.
So many of the clan did he outlast,
And many new offspring he welcomed in.

Towards the end of his long life we saw
His limbs were withered, his black fur turned grey.
It pains to grasp that one you so adore
Will in mere months decline and fade away.

Now snow falls thick above his once-warm head.
Here not forgotten, though forever dead.

UPDATE (21st February)

I have updated Homework Direct for the first time in well over four years to include the process by which Monty on the Green came about.

The Little Boat

The little boat was bobbing in the Creek. It was a very sad little boat, its paintwork was dirty, covered in mud from the winter. Its red sail had not been unfurled since its last trip out in the Autumn and no-one had set foot on its deck since that day. It felt dirty, forgotten and unloved. It longed for a sunny day to warm its decks again, it had been such a proud little boat once.

Then one day as it sat on the mud waiting for the tide to be deep enough to re-float it, the incoming tide brought with it a young seal. “Hello little boat” he said, “can I sit on your deck for a while, I have been swimming for a long time and need a rest”. The little boat felt a quiver of excitement as the first of the tide reached her hull and lifted her gently, and not waiting for an answer the seal jumped aboard. “Why are you so sad little boat?”, and the little boat told him how no-one loved her and how lonely she was without any friends. “I’ll be your friend little boat, what is your name”? “I haven’t got one really, they just call me the boat”. “My name is Sammy and I shall call you Fair Lady, though you don’t look very fair at the moment. You’ll soon look beautiful again, the spring is here and everything gets spring-cleaned. Cheer up little boat, I will come and see every day until your family comes back”, and the little boat felt so much better. A weak ray of sun hit her porthole and started to warm her cabin and Fair Lady began to feel alive again for the first time in ages. The seal lay on her deck and told of his travels up and down the river chasing the fish and how he liked to visit the quiet creek.

The next day was Saturday and Fair Lady was hoping Sammy would visit her when the tide came in. The sun was shining much brighter that morning and she started to shiver as in the distance she recognised a voice calling – “I can see the boat – oh doesn’t she look dirty and miserable, not like our boat at all. Can we take her home and wash her daddy?” asked one of the children and her little heart started to thump as she felt feet on her deck again. How lovely the thought, perhaps she would get a wash and her sails set and maybe even a sail down river. After looking her over, she suddenly felt herself moving as she was pulled out of the water and onto her trailer. The children were as excited as she was as finally she was attached to the Land Rover and started to slowly move from the boatyard. The ride was very bumpy over rough land, but that didn’t matter, she was being taken home and her family hadn’t forgotten her. She felt a thrill run from her keel to the top of her mast as her trailer turned onto the bridge and there was the house which called out, “Hello little boat, nice to see you again”, and the little rowing boats wagged their oars at her. She was towed into the field and parked by the tap. She was stripped down, her mast removed and then came that lovely feeling of clean water on her deck and a soft brush making her tingle, soap suds were everywhere and made her sneeze, but oh how she loved it. She had her keel painted with anti-fouling and was polished from head to mast top. Her brasses shone in the spring sun and her mast and sails which had been washed, were put back. That night she was taken back to the creek and launched on the incoming tide. With her family all aboard she sailed out of the creek into the Humber. She felt fantastic and only one thing was missing – her friend Sammy, But suddenly from her port side a voice called “Ahoy there Fair Lady, don’t you look great, I think I gave you the right name”. And side by side the two of them sped up the Humber and her heart swelled with pride and happiness.

Written 25th March 2007
by Pauline Taylor (1927-2018)

Kilnsea Sound Mirror

A year ago I and my parents attempted to reach the sound mirror at Kilnsea, but could not traverse the terrain. Today we made a second attempt, parking rather closer and walking in from the other direction. We found the large concrete concavity surrounded tightly by a primitive fence and dappled with lichen. The land around the fence is dense with weeds and getting to the mirror required a lot of creative stomping. There were some notice boards explaining the features of the landscape but they were few and far between. From some angles the structure appears merely to be a solitary artifice in the middle of nowhere. Still, at least there is no entrance fee.

The Hidden Heritage of Holderness

IMG_3432

This time of year, after the end of winter examinations but before the beginning of a new trimester, is rather uneventful as far as undergraduates are concerned. I therefore have the opportunity to leave my student dwellings and go home for a week. Today my parents took me on a tour of some interesting locations in the sparsely-populated parishes of South East Holderness. I had seen many of these locations before when delivering leaflets for the Hubb, but this excursion was focusing more on the historical perspective.

Our first landmark was the Gunpowder Plot sculpture, erected in 2013 in Welwick. The sculpture depicts conspirators Guy Fawkes, Robert Caseby, Jack Wright and Kit Wright – the latter two being brothers from this village. The work was unveiled by Graham Stuart MP, whom the plaque incorrectly styles as a privy council member.

Taking up the bulk of our day was the Church of St Helen, in the parishes of Skeffling (civil) and Easington (ecclesiastical). Constructed in the early reign of King Edward IV, it held regular congregations until last summer when, after several years of dwindling audiences, the Church Commissioners decided to close it down. Inside everything looks much as one would expect: stone arches, wooden pews, and haunting streams of sunlight through the stained-glass windows (this building has no electricity, though it does have candles and what looked like gas lamps.). Though nothing was obviously missing, one could sense from the thin layer of dust on so many surfaces and the abrupt skipping of years in the guestbook that this was no longer the centre of any significant activity.

The church contained a few references to the aforementioned Wright brothers, but what most interested us, given our association with the Tower, were the many monuments to the Holme family, both verbal and heraldic. The bodies of John Holme, Esq (d. 1744) and his wife Dinah, née Burgh (d. 1729) are contained here, along with those of two sons (Henry & John, the latter being rector of Brands-Burton & Barmston) and a daughter (Margaret, Mrs Thomas Reaston). Above these large luxurious engravings are several depictions, in varying states of repair, of the Holme escutcheon – Barry of six Or and Azure, on a canton Argent a chaplet gules. The most prominent of these is topped by the Holme crest – Out of a mural coronet Gules a hound’s head erased Or – and impaled with the arms of Burgh – Argent on a saltire Sable five swans Proper.

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There were many more references among the many dusty documents to the Holmes of various generations, though the task of constructing a coherent timeline is confounded by the fact that, like so many families prior to the nineteenth century, they frequently recycled the same limited pool of names and were not much concerned with consistent spelling.

Having left the church, we went in search of the sound mirror at Kilnsea. Constructed around much of the north east coat during the First World War, these large concrete hemispheres would focus the engine noise from approaching aircraft, so that advance warning could be given of imminent bombing raids. The mirrors were ultimately rendered obsolete by the invention of faster aeroplanes and later RADAR.

We did not make it to the mirror, however, because the intermediate terrain was not navigable. Much of the surrounding land has been given over to a nature reserve managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. To approach our target we had to troop over a lot of damp, thorny ground and long grass. Then there was the problem of the artificial lake. I walked along the full length of the narrow strait depicted above, but it did not quite reach the bank at the other side, and I judged the water to be a little over what I could reasonably ford – both in width and in depth. None of us wanted to risk spending the next few hours trudging about with mud-soaked legs and squelching boot-soles, so we gave up and turned back.

Our final stop, for a rather belated lunch, was at Spurn Discovery Centre. Opened ten months ago, this rather controversial building is the headquarters of the Spurn National Nature Reserve. My family have visited Spurn many times during my life, and on each occasion found it to be a slightly different shape. Coastal erosion here is very fast, due to the soft nature of the boulder clay, and the entire landmass moves two metres westwards every year. Nearly two years ago a major storm wiped out part of the road to the head, creating a tidal island. Some months earlier the trust abandoned attempts to preserve shoreline, instead planning to “let nature take its course”. Tourists are driven across the peninsula using a “Unimog” bought from the Dutch Army, but even that struggles to get across when it rains or the tide rises.

The café had a wide selection of reference books and memorabilia, most of which related to the birds and other creatures which inhabited the surrounding sand. Ornithology – despite what my name and logo may imply – is not my area of interest or expertise, so I have little to comment on these. I was rather hoping that there would be some material relating to the human history of the region, for up until the nineteenth century there were dozens of small towns dotted along this section of the coast, all now submerged by the north sea. If nothing else, I could have hoped to find some interesting heraldry somewhere.

 

Tower Talk At Haven Arms

Simon Tower

Tonight my father gave a presentation at the Haven Arms in Hedon concerning the ongoing restoration work at Paull Holme Tower, attended by the Hedon Viewfinders photography club and some extended family.

My father acquired the tower in the early 1990s, when it was little more than a pile of old bricks. My childhood was sprinkled with the occasional visit to this mysterious ruin, with its decaying castellations, its perilous stairs and its grass-covered roofline.

In this decade my father stepped up his efforts to effect a restoration, including opening the tower to members of the public. I was roped in to produce visual aids and, on occasion, dig out decades of dung from the ground floor.

In 2015 my father began efforts to produce a documentary series about the restoration, often enlisting me as cameraman. In 2017 we met with Estuary TV and secured a broadcast deal. At tonight’s presentation we were shown extensive clips from upcoming episodes.

The moment of triumph came late in 2016, when Historic England gave us a grant for the restoration work. Even so, the process of rebuilding took a long time to commence, due to seasonal weather difficulties, the need to produce a very specific type of brick, and unpleasantness from neighbours. The most significant changes have occurred since last summer, which annoyingly means that I was not around to see them. The tower now stands noticeably taller than it did for most of my life, for there is at last a roof as well as restored castellations. We also have a new entrance gate and gravel driveway for ease of access.

After the main presentation, attendees showed off their own photographs of the tower, some dating back centuries. There was even a brief discussion about my pet topic of heraldry, as historians tried to date the tower by the display of the Holme-Wastney arms surrounded by Tudor roses.

Though there has been much dithering with authorities, my father still intends to open the tower again once work is complete. No doubt I will be roped in to film that as well.

USEFUL LINKS

 

UCAS Day in Leeds

A laboratory, with polished wooden furnishings a scattering of computers and machinery.As my secondary education undergoes its final phase, the planning for the tertiary is well underway. Some weeks ago I submitted my application with the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). As I had applied to study Chemistry at the University of Leeds, I received a letter on 18th October inviting me to their School of Chemistry to be interviewed by one of their staff.

I had visited the same university eleven months prior as part of the Inspire programme, but on this occasion I attended in a personal capacity using private transport. Despite leaving home at 7 am, it was not until past 10 that we finally managed to find the arranged parking space, having lapped Leeds city centre at least once.

A large stone spire against a blue sky.

The funeral venue of Professor Charles Read.

My father drove me as he had his own business in the city: Last year he had become acquainted with Charles Read, with whom he shared an interest in sailing, and who had spent several hours of the early summer going through my Decision Mathematics papers – the mutual benefit being that I needed to pass my AS-Level examinations and he needed to practise the topics his future students would be using. Fifteen months ago Charles suddenly dropped dead while on a research visit in Winnipeg. Today my father needed to go to Leeds in order to collect some boat components from the late professor’s cousin. His most recent prior experience with the city had been to attend Charles’s funeral at the Emmanuel Centre across the road.

Arriving at last at the School of Chemistry, I and the other candidates were assembled in the uncharacteristically glamorous Chaston Chapman Lounge where Dr Warriner formally greeted us and then took us to a student-led presentation on the content of the degree and the opportunities it afforded. Particular attention was given to the industrial advantages of such a qualification, as well as to the potential for trips abroad (all for research purposes, of course).

A large white room with wooden chairs and green leather tubes across one wall.

The Chaston Chapman Lounge did not much resemble the rest of the School of Chemistry.

The next stage of proceedings was to take the applicants on a tour around the campus and the undergraduate accommodation. Much of the scenery felt oddly familiar from my visit last December – right down to the Christmas decorations. We were provided with a free lunch with the students before a second tour, this time of the School of Chemistry in particular. This section of the excursion was perhaps the most important, as though I have been sent on many university visits before it is relatively rare that I have actually seen inside the working areas. Here I was greeted with vast halls of laboratories, with pairs of undergraduates hunched over wooden desks in each alcove. Fume cupboards lined practically every wall. We also saw inside a more generic space – the lecture theatre.

The penultimate experience was that of a practical demonstration by Dr Bruce Turnbull. He explained how machines are used to arrange vast arrays of small chemical samples, allowing hundreds of experiments to be carried out simultaneously. To prove his point he had the device produce a map of the British Isles in the form of coloured solutions.

Dr Turnbull's automated laboratory assistant.

Doctor Turnbull’s automated laboratory assistant.

The final part of the event was the one on one interview with a member of the faculty. In my case that was Dmitry Shalashilin, Professor of Computational Chemistry. He had, in his own words, been destined for academia his whole life, having emigrated from the Soviet Union where his father had been active in the space race. After the boilerplate questions of what made me choose the course or study the sciences generally, he gave me some mathematical puzzles and then we hurried back to the lounge for the wrap-up.

I was assured by the current undergraduates that anyone who turned up to the interview was more-or-less guaranteed an offer. Three down, two to go.