Saturday, July 06, 2013

35 years ago

In September 1974, aged barely 18, I moved from Cardiff to London in order to start my university studies. My course was called 'a sandwich course in Food Science' - my father humourously put it that I was being taught how to make sandwiches. What this really meant was that the course was structured with one year of studies, six months working in the food industry, one year of studies, another six months of work and then a final year of study. The final term of the final year was spent in the laboratory, carrying out a research project. As opposed to most graduates, the graduates of this course emerged with both a degree and with valuable work experience.

My final exams had been in March 1978, after which I had a short holiday then commenced work on my project, trying to find new methods of detecting the chemical xylitol in food (with little success, I might add). I can't find my old diaries so I can't be specific about dates, but I remember that sometime in June 1978 I packed up in London and moved to my parent's house in Cardiff (not my childhood home). I would be there for only a few months as I was scheduled to emigrate to Israel in September. This had to be after my 22nd birthday which fell at the beginning of August 1978; this would mean that I would serve only 18 months in the army, whereas if I would emigrate before my 22nd birthday, I would have to serve 24 months. It was worth waiting for a few weeks in order to save six months of army service.

As a newly minted Food Science graduate with a year's experience, I was able to find a summer job in an analytical laboratory in nearby Newport. It wasn't a very demanding job: I remember that there was one lady who was occupied with water analyses and two men who were experts in coal analysis; I helped the chief analyst with the food analyses. 

Two analyses have stayed in my mind: one day, someone came in with a package of fish and chips and wanted to know whether we could determine how old the oil used to fry the fish was. The chief analyst and I sat on opposite sides of a table with the fish and chips between us. He ate a chip, I ate a chip. I said that the older the oil was, the higher the concentration of free radicals (this is what one gets when water molecules are placed in very hot oil; they are very destructive). I ate a piece of fish, the analyst had another chip. Basically we had no means of determining the concentration of free radicals, but we had to admit that the fish and chips tasted fine. We enjoyed our lunch.

The other event was when someone came in with about ten punnets of blackcurrants (or maybe blackberries); the person had spent a day on a farm picking (and eating) the currants after which he had diarrhoea. I was of the opinion that the diarrhoea probably resulted from eating too many currants. I think that we made a half hearted attempt at checking whether there were any pesticides on the berries but we didn't really have the equipment. I took the punnets home and enjoyed blackcurrant cakes for the summer (blackcurrants are one of my favourite fruits).

Every weekend I would take the train to London where I would spend a sad weekend in the commune where I used to live. Almost all of my friends had dispersed so there was virtually no one with whom I could spend the time, although it was still better than spending the weekends in Cardiff where I knew nobody. Also, most of my belongings had been packed up prior to being sent to Israel in a container so I had no books nor music. Thus I couldn't really occupy myself by reading or by listening to music; I think that I used to borrow books from the public library in Swiss Cottage on one visit then return them on the next visit.

I would eat Friday evening dinner with a religious family who lived nearby. The first time that I went, the father threw a piece of challa at me after blessing the food. As a veteran cricketer,  I caught the bread instinctively but I was very surprised. After I (and everyone else) ate the challa, they explained to me that the idea was that no words should come between the blessing and the eating; normally I would have said "thank you" after receiving the bread, but one does not normally thank after having food thrown at one.

I was saving the money from my summer job in order to fulfill the one dream which I had before emigrating to Israel: to visit San Francisco. In the middle of August, I flew from London to San Francisco. Whilst I can remember details about the flight (the first leg was from London to Newark, then a wait and finally a flight to San Francisco arriving at midnight local time, but 24 hours after leaving), I don't remember how I got to Heathrow. Thinking about it now, I probably traveled on the train from Cardiff to London the day before, then took the underground to Heathrow. I'll write about this at a later date.

No comments: