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SPIRIT OF DELIGHT: Part 1. Queen's College, Dundee

By Alan Craxford

Introduction

The Author

Alan Craxford, Site Administrator

This is the first installment of my second series of autobiographical articles. The first tryptich, which can be found at The Leicester Craxfords in the RED pages of the main web site, dealt with my early years, family home and school days. My intention here is to chart my progress from leaving school, through university, hospital training and my professional career up to the present day where I am on the verge of retirement.

I have frequently ruminated on the twists and turns that have marked my life and I have come to realise that it was often the choices that were not made which were critical in determining the particular path which led me to where I am now. It is also a constant fascination that several estuarial encampments have played significant roles in the life history of this land-locked son of Leicester. Why St Andrews? Why Orthopaedics? What was the attraction of Tampa? Why did I need a second degree? As I proceed I will try to answer some of these questions, at least to my own satisfaction.

I have broken this first chapter into two parts - and I am aware that had I posted them in the main website, the emphasis would have been different and the order would have been reversed. However as this magazine is about the '69 Year Club this is where we shall start - this piece is about my stay at Queen's College, Dundee. The explanations will have to wait for part two and beyond.

The Boys of QCD

Airlie Hall group 1966

Rear: Stuart Booth, Alan Craxford, Harry Brooks, Paul Freeman
Front: Stuart Frearson, David Wood, Morris Brown, John Torry (1)

It has to be said that in the middle 1960s we were confronted by a rather confusing and somewhat schizophrenic atmosphere in higher education in Dundee. From a historical perspective, Queen’s College, which had been in operation for nearly one hundred years, was part of the ancient St Andrews University which was based in a small town about fifteen miles away across the river Tay in the county of Fife. There is a brief account of this development in the companion article Town, Gown and Traditions: Then and now although as students we were not aware of what was going on behind the scenes.

By present day standards, the class which started its preclinical studies in 1964 (we were 100 in total) was quite small. However half the year spent the first five terms studying anatomy and physiology in Dundee, the other half in St. Andrews. This mix was made even more confusing as about half the class had already completed a first MB course and the other half, me amongst them, were direct entrants into the second year. It was not until the summer of 1966 that the whole class sat down in one place for formal teaching. By that time liaisons had been made and friendships forged, and there was still faces in the year which were unrecognized even at the time of our graduation.

The Campus: view from the south
Campus: view from the east

The QCD Campus (2): Left From the south; Right Towards the west

The campus of Queens College was compact, lying just to the west of town and sandwiched between the Nethergate, Perth Road and Hawkhill. Within this boundary were academic and administrative buildings, halls of residence and the students’ union. It was only a few hundred yards walk to the centre of Dundee and to a large degree this mapped the extent of my universe for the next five years.

The MedSoc scarf

Medical Faculty scarf

The first term was one of bewilderment and trepidation. In common with other establishments of higher education, the year began with an introductory week which was designed to set the new arrivals at their ease and an Events Fair held in the Students Union which aimed to get them signed up for as many extra-curricular activities and pastimes as possible. Within the first two weeks I was kitted out with my scarlet undergraduate gown, Faculty scarf, a shelf full of textbooks and a (genuine – not plastic) half skeleton housed in a stout cardboard box. I did not subscribe to any clubs at that time.

I learned the "Gaudie" after a fashion, joined the barricades on Gaudie Night but still had to sing the song. I lurched through the Hecklings ordeal in a daze. I was hauled into the Union hall by my senior man, a fourth year Medic called John Miller who was well known and very active socially. He had already been celebrating quite enthusiastically. With a full pint in hand, he leapt onto the table and announced “This bejant is my bejant”. I just stood there and watched. There was much cheering, and I was "in".

Airlie Hall

Airlie Hall, Airlie Place

Airlie Place today

House 16, Airlie Hall

House 16


Room 110, House 16

Room 110

I was allocated a place in Airlie Hall (see: Airlie Hall, Queen's College, Dundee), the single sex hall of residence in which I had stayed earlier that year. This was the oldest of the student accommodation areas and lay just to the west of the main campus. I was initially placed in room 110 in house 16. This was a ground floor dual occupancy room, large but sparsely furnished, with a bay window looking out over the street. For the first two weeks I shared with Graham Edlin. We were both new arrivals but it was soon discovered that he was a first year entrant and I was a second year. Consequently he was moved on to pastures new and I continued on in splendid isolation. Residents were drawn from all faculties of the college and this tended to dilute further associations within our own class. My own circle included medics, dentists, lawyers and engineers.

The following year I was moved to a room on the first floor of the main hall which looked out onto Airlie Place. It was tiny in comparison: narrow with a high ceiling and still sparsely furnished. The old cabin trunk doubled as a second wardrobe. That was where I lodged for the remainder of my stay. With full board included, catering was taken care of and at least it was warm. I make special mention of my across-the-corridor neighbour in latter years, Brij Maini, who was taking a post graduate course. We spent many evenings discussing a whole range of topics and issues over coffee. Tragically he contracted leukaemia before he was able to complete his degree.

The Geddes Quadrangle
Old Medical School building
The entrance to the Old Medical School

L to R: The Geddes Quad; The Old Medical School; Entrance

Not all work on campus

Those five years of my life seemed to drift by in a lazy haze. I could roll out of bed, snatch a quick cup of coffee and still be in time for a nine o'clock lecture. It was a quick jog from the back door of hall across the Geddes quadrangle to reach the old medical school. This was also the route to the rear entrance of the student union. In those days this still occupied the building that had once been a Victorian House called Ellenbank. Out front was a tree-lined triangle of grass which bordered the Perth Road. It was on these front steps that I exchanged a few words with Peter Ustinov at the time of his election as Rector. The main bar was a rough and ready affair with Formica tables and a rough stone floor which stretched across the front half of the basement. Its walls had been decorated by students of the nearby art school with a mural based on “The Peasant Wedding” by the dutch painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Also in the stygian gloom of this downstairs area was the snooker room. For one shilling an hour to power the overhead light this was a favourite place for Harry, Stuart and me to wile away an afternoon.

The old Students Union
The Old Students Union, 2007 (Ellenbank)

The Old Students Union

The mural in the basement bar of the Old Students Union
Bruegel - The Peasant Wedding

The mural (1967)(3) and The Peasant Wedding (4)

The corner table at the Queen's Hotel 2007

The corner table

While the union bar provided a cheap alternative source of a "quick half" our main watering hole was the bar of the Queens Hotel, a hostelry a couple of hundred yards east on the Nethergate. Licencing laws were rather different in those days. Closing time in Scotland was strictly ten o'clock and last orders usually meant a couple more rounds were bought in for the "Drink up". Sunday lunchtime drinking was the preserve of the hotel; the pubs staying closed. Although the hotel has since been refurbished and redecorated, the layout we found during our recent stay is still very similar. This became Harry's favourite venue soon after he arrived and he took up residence at the table immediately to the right of the corner entrance. He could regularly be found exchanging rounds, pleasantries and gossip with two of the locals that he had nicknamed Patch and Scratchy. As well as our regular group we often met up with lawyers Chris Morris (a passionate Manchester City supporter), Alison MacKenzie-Wood (who represented QCD on University Challenge one year) and Ian Fisher, a Liverpudlian I mainly remember as "Scaphe".

Directly opposite the hotel was one of Dundee's oldest structures - the Morgan Tower. For several generations the main building was occupied (and still is) by a pharmacy. Next door was Robertson's, a grocers and off licence of the old-fashioned ilk, a store which smelled of fresh-roast coffee and fresh-baked bread. On the counter were displays of cheeses and hams and hand-driven bacon slicers. It was the place where I was introduced to Baxter's Royal Game soup and it was my regular lunchtime treat to buy a tin, a crusty bun and a couple of slices of corned beef!! Next door again was Anne Grieg's the tobacconist. I smoked right through college (didn't we all?). These were the days before Doll and my usual choice of addiction was "Cool as a mountain stream" Consulate. I did try out a briar (and a particularly sickly vanilla flavoured mix) for a few months but could never get away with it.

Queen's Hotel, Perth Road
The Morgan Tower
Old postcard: Green's Playhouse

L to R: The Queen's Hotel; The Morgan Tower; Green's Playhouse - from an old postcard(5)

Continued in column 2...


Student finances were always precarious even in those far-off pre-decimal days. Fond memories tell me that you could fund a round of four pints (William Youngers was one shilling and eleven pence), buy a pack of 20 cigarettes, take your lass to the Golden Divans, have a couple of fish suppers and still have change from a pound note. Ah, the Golden Divans! There was an institution lower down the Nethergate called the Green's Playhouse - a 1930s built single screen cinema - the highlight of which were the rows of double "love seats" which could be found at the back. I saw Rod Taylor pilot "The Time Machine" from this vantage point. It ceased functioning as a cinema at the end of the 1960s and was converted into a bingo hall. It was severely damaged by fire in 1995.

And, talking of fish suppers, the only place to go was Greasy Pete's. This ramshackle chippy (which should probably have been condemned even in those days) on the Hawkhill, situated directly behind the campus, served up a steady supply of battered fish (cod, haddock), fish cakes, white, black and red pudding, haggis and quartered chicken to the student body. It was painted blue and cream and had room for about six waiting patrons to stand on the inside. Behind the counter where Pete, a balding portly man of swarthy complexion with a broad Dundonian accent, held sway were zinc baths full of peeled potatoes and already chopped chips. One night when seeing an Alsatian raise its leg against one of these baths, he was heard to remark: "Och, dinna fret. I'll drain the water before they are fried!". One of the highlights of my recent visit to Dundee was exchanging reminiscences with one of the guides at the Information Office in Castle Street. Her husband had been a student at the same time and this was an immediate, humourous and fond memory of the era. A contender for a Blue Plaque perhaps?

I dated a junior member of staff (not strictly according to the house rules!) for some time. When not on duty she lived in their own residence out along the Perth Road (on the corner of Glamis Road, I think) somewhere near the site of the present day Ninewells Hospital. She came from Forfar and had family in Kirriemuir where I had my first experience of the Ceilidh.

Hobbies and pastimes

Whitehall Street, Dundee

Whitehall Street today

I was neither "arty" nor "sporty" during my sojourn in Scotland. Despite the opportunities and profusion of courses I never succumbed to the temptations of golf - except once. Harry Brooks had brought a set of clubs with him and I accompanied him on one occasion to the nine hole course at Camperdown Park. My memory is of a deep excavation in the middle of the course over which you were expected to fire the ball somewhere around the fourth fairway. I was never able to get the ball off the ground even with a sand wedge: so I took the long route around the perimeter!

I wasn't much better in other directions either. Although the town had two football teams in the Scottish First Division in those days with grounds that are next door neighbours, I only went to one match. A bitterly cold Saturday afternoon (6) saw Dundee losing 5 - 2 to Celtic with ten minutes to go. That was when we chose to leave, only to miss the home side score twice more. On a more personal level I tried out once for a Sunday morning soccer team but was not invited back.

My early explorations of the city centre led me to two neighbouring shops in Whitehall Street (both long gone): Largs hifi and music shop and Cairdsport. I had brought with me a simple three speed record player and was an inveterate collector of 45s in those days. The passage of time was marked by new releases and the ever increasing list of titles.

The excesses of '60s youth culture (Mods and Rockers; Flower Power; the Summer of Love) seemed to pass Scotland in general, and me in particular, by. Apart from the booze and fags, the only time I came across "grass" was when it was demonstrated to us during a Forensic Medicine lecture. We avoided the streets at night where the favoured armament was the steel tail comb which had its handle sharpened. Our small group had a very wide musical repetoire from violonist "Whiggy" Wood playing "Norwegian Wood" in his subterranean lair to classical pianist Harry introducing me to the depths of Shostakovitch.

The Moody Blues in concert

Justin Hayward and John Lodge perform "Tuesday Afternoon" (7)

The Who in concert

Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend "Can't Explain" (8)

I recall summer afternoons sun bathing on the Airlie Terrace green to the strains of "A Whiter Shade of Pale", "Summer In The City" and "Waterloo Sunset". Memories of my student days are even now invoked most powerfully by short bursts of songs such as these. I was a late entrant to the gig scene (I've more than made up for it in the last fifteen years) but I remember being assailed at two Saturday Night Hops at the Students Union by The Dakotas - without Billy J Kramer (or was it the other way around) and Whistling Jack Smith. I particularly remember buying the debut singles ("Go Now!" and "I Can't Explain") of two newly appeared groups back in January and February 1965. It is of interest, to me at least, that both are still going strong (albeit with curtailed membership) and I am still going to their live performances.

A mahjongg hand

A good hand?

From what has gone before, the idea of me frequenting a sports equipment supplier might come as a surprise. However, nestled amongst the golf bags, skis and football boots, Cairdsport had an indoor games section. A couple of the things that I had brought with me that first term were the Waddington's board games Monopoly and Cluedo. There were many times during those winter months when these formed the basis of a convivial evening - so much so that the protagonists declared themselves to be members of the "110 Club". We became proficient at cards; bridge and canasta being the favourites. Added to that was an early and intriguing purchase of mine - a Mahjongg set. We were self-taught and the scoring, complicated at the best of times, was left on trust to me. Maybe we would not have survived in the heat of a Macau or Kowloon saloon but we saw the dawn come up on several occasions as a fevered game proceeded through the night.

I have always had a somewhat repressed creative streak. I will make brief mention here of a hall news sheet which I edited through half a dozen editions. The Airlie Morning Post ("TAMP" for short) was typed onto Gestetner stensils to create the production run. Although that venture was short-lived, I have dipped a toe into publishing on several occasions since then.

Soldiers of the Queen

Tayforth OTC building, St Andrews

Tayforth OTC HQ, St Andrews today

The War Memorial, St Andrews

The War Memorial

Along with several others from hall including Harry Brooks, Graham Edlin and Stewart Frearson, I was pursuaded to join the OTC, attracted by a few pennies remuneration to supplement our grants. The University of St Andrews Officer Training Corps was part of the Territorial Army and also affiliated with the 51st Highland Division. The QCD site was on campus on the corner of Park Wynd and Hawkhill where there was a training room, store, bar (we all vied for bar duty!) and garage. We were issued with a full kit including khakis, boots, mess tins and a kilt of Hunting Stewart tartan. In all my time at college I think I went to St Andrews on three occasions: two of those were for Remembrance Day parades when we marched from HQ along North Street to the war memorial.

It was soon confirmed what I already knew that I was not cut out for the physical rigours of the infantry. We were expected to attend for drill sessions and there were weekends when we were taken to the ranges at the Barry Budden training area near Monifieth for rifle practice. I can still remember the ringing silence and the pain over the clavicle from the recoil on first firing a Lee Enfield. "Don't caress it. Pull it tight into your shoulder, laddiee!!"

The highlight of the OTC year was the annual camp, attendance at which, along with satisfactory progress during term time, led to a cash bounty. The first annual camp that I attended was at Fort George, Inverness. Activities included a visit to Culloden Field and a march back to barracks (eight miles) and a weekend camp at Braemore near Ullapool featuring a cross-country hike over the 1084 metre peak of Beinn Dearg. Struggling across the loose scree in full gear, I did not appreciate the glorious scenery that the elevation provided but I was consoled somewhere near the summit by Sergeant Tully, the medical NCO, who was looking out for stragglers. This trip coincided with one of the hottest summers I had experienced and we measured temperatures of 104 degrees in the sun on a rest day in Ullapool. However, despite all this, I am still stirred by the skirl of the pipes and such tunes as "Barren Rocks of Aden" and "Heroes of Kohima".

Part of the training was theoretical, a series of lectures and seminars leading by a two part examination to the "Certificate B" qualification. This was special to the OTC and originally had something to do with the awarding of commissions to the regular army in war time (9). I never fully understood its purpose but you were given an extra five shillings a day once you had passed it. It is no longer used in today's OTC. (10). A part 2 ("Special to Arms") course and examination was also laid on at the Fort George annual camp although initially it was deemed that I had not been a member of the OTC long enough to take it. However, the powers-that-be relented and I was allowed to join in. After learning useful lessons ("Dig your latrines downstream of your water supply"; "A large dose of alcohol (whisky) is a prophylactic against nuclear radiation") I passed the exam. At the end of the same summer vacation I attended a part 1 ("General training") course and examination which was held by the University of Glasgow OTC. We were billeted at a barracks near Penicuik on the edge of the Pentland Hills. Classwork covered history, communications and tactics whilst the outdoor activities included orienteering. I passed that examination as well and so, within six months of joining, I had my "Cert B" which was duly noted in Army Orders.

The following summer, the annual camp took place in the Brecon Beacons, Wales and featured a night time exercise. The whole uncomfortable experience under canvas in bivouac tents was bevilled by continuous rain. After that my enthusiasm waned and the time pressures of clinical work increased and my association with the OTC ceased.

A taste of his own medicine

I escaped the ravages of student life relatively unscathed. In the early years, the combination of repeated exposure to viruses and cigarette smoking led to a recurrent and chronic sinus condition. A GP referral led me from out patient consultation to a few days sojourn as an in patient on the ENT ward at Dundee Royal Infirmary and an operation for the resection of a deviated nasal septum. I must have looked a picture with rubber bungs rammed in my nostrils.

I became a willing participant at our sister faculty, the Dundee Dental Hospital. I had been afflicted with a root canal abscess at the time of my O-level examinations which had led to the extraction of an upper incisor. Although provided with a single tooth denture, this was not compatible with adolescent bravura and the gap partly closed. I was initially lured to sign up by the carrot of free dental treatment and the offer of a place on a long term trial of an electric toothbrush (a great brick of a thing – think early mobile phones!) which included free brushes and toothpaste for two years. Fillings were replaced and having volunteered to act as a “teaching head” for the orthodontic department my gap was enlarged (four teeth were moved backwards with an appliance) and the space was filled with a bridge. Forty years later my Dundee bridge has stood the test of time and is still in place although the teeth that made way for it have long since gone!

Two minor inconveniences are worth a mention. I slipped down the steps into the basement of house No.10 where the washing machine was housed wearing carpet slippers, breaking my great toe. It has been stiff ever since! I came back from my sojourn in the Brecon Beacons unable to sit down for a week – with a thrombosed haemorrhoid!!


Conclusions

At the end of our time in Dundee our performance was documented and assessed by our peers in the '69 Club Year book. I was the author of Harry Brooks' entry and I am fairly sure that he returned the compliment to me. A single quotation "Rarely, rarely comest thou!" was attached to my entry presumably a perceived reflection on my appearences in class. I have said little about the academic side of my university experiences here but that will be the focus of the second part.

To be continued: Spirit of delight: Part 2. A tale of two cities


Acknowledgements

My thanks to Ken Freshwater for his encyclopaedic memory of the emporia and stores of Dundee of yesteryear.

Page added: December 3rd 2007
Last updated August 11th 2012


Comments and recollections

I did find the latest article very interesting indeed - I started working at the University around the same time you started your studies!! This has proved a trip down memory lane for me. I too remember well the golden divans at the Greens Playhouse and also found Monopoly and Cleudo a great pastime back in the late 60's. I think the Monopoly thing must be in the 'genes' - my younger son (now 27 yrs old) has had a penchant for the game over the years from early childhood through to adulthood also. I am looking forward to the next instalment.

Barbara Boyle, Dundee, Scotland. December 4th 2007

I have enjoyed looking at the photographs and reading your reminisciences. Lots of memories as, of course, our mutual paths were very close together.

Greasy Pete's was also a fond stop over - his name was Peter Cabrelli if I recall correctly - a good Dundee name. I still treat myself to a white pudding supper (for old times sake) when I get the chance in Scotland.

Lewis Reay, Portugal - December 5th 2007

Keep up the good work! A bit more about "Greasy Pete's". Don't forget he also sold 'Haggis pudd'n & chups'. The full range from memory was (all suffixed by pudd'n & chups!) black, white, red, mealy, haggis, sausage ....

Incidentally do you remember that up on the shelf at the left hand side of the counter there was a display of candles and matches because he used to sell 1 candle and 2 matches for a penny (memory plays tricks with the price - I will stand corrected!). When they didn't have a shilling left for the gas meter or the uluctrucuty meter they would buy a candle and two matches (in case the first one didn't strike or went out) so they could have some light!

I spent a year in a top flat in Airlie Terrace, one above the passageway which led through to the back/Balfour St/Hawkhill. It was hellish carrying things up and down all those stairs. My flatmates were John Torry and Iain Morgan. We used to do our grocery shopping in Robertsons. They were also the source of that cheap Yugoslav Riesling that was all the rage for parties.

Chris Morris, Walsall, England - December 6th 2007


References

1. "Group at House 10, Airlie Hall". (1966) Photograph courtesy of David Wood
2. "University Education in Dundee 1881-1981: A Pictorial History": Compiled by Michael Shafe: University of Dundee (1982)
3. "Students in front of the mural, Students Union 1967": Courtesy of Michael Bolik, Archive Services, University of Dundee. Photograph reproduced with permission and © D.C.Thomson&Co.Ltd
4. "The Peasant Wedding" - Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna The Bruegel masterpiece featured on Wikipedia
5. Green's Playhouse Scottish Cinemas and Theatres Project: Dundee
6. "Dundee 4 - Celtic 5": Saturday December 16th 1967: A football match remembered Kerrydale Street wiki
7. "Lovely To See You": The Moody Blues Live at the Greek Theatre, Los Angeles (2005): Image Entertainment DVD 82876 80606 9
8. "Live at the Royal Albert Hall": The Who. A benefit concert for the Teenage Cancer Trust (2000): MCY DVD IX0834MYUKD
9. "The British Army and the People's War: 1939-1945" by Jeremy Crang: Google Book Search
10. Personal Communication: Captain DJ Mulholland, Adjt/RAO/QM, Tayforth OTC

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