After leaving school (Greenhill Comprehensive, Tenby) in 1974 I went to Bristol university to study mathematics and physics. Looking back I can see that I was a pretty useless student. But I stuck it out with the aim of being a teacher. When the time came I thought it best to do something else for a few years before teaching. So I did something that my surprised my friends, I joined the Royal Navy (as an instructor officer). I have often said that joining the RN was one of the best decisions of my life, I went in as a snotty nosed 21 year old and came out a young man. Whilst this was not the best part of my life, I learnt a lot about myself in a very short period. The RN was a fantastic (but short) experience for which I have always been grateful. Today, 35 years later I still feel priviliged to have been allowed to (temporarily) join Nelson’s “band of brothers”.
On leaving Her Majesty’s stone ship in Rosyth I managed to get a Science Research Council grant to study telecommunications on a M.Sc. at the University of Aston in Birmingham. But the grant was only for 6 months and the M.Sc. consisted of 6 months academic study followed by a 6 month project.
I was suprised to find out that telecommunications was all about telephone networks. At first it was a little bit strange since I was the first person in the course’s 14 year history that was not sponsored by their employer. All of the other attendees were sent by one or other of the telecommunications companies of the day: BT, GEC, Plessey, STC,...
However I learnt about telephony, I became familiar with names and technologies such as: Alexander Graham Bell, Almon B. Strowger and his Strowger switched telephone exchanges, crossbar exchanges, reed-relay exchanges, electronic switches, even Stored Program Control switches.
Although my father was born and raised in Birmingham (Digberth Street near the Bull Ring) I did not stay with other Birmingham relatives, rather I lodged in Alum Rock and took the bus to the university (I think it was an No. 14). One day, sitting on the bus, it was a cold and wet winters day and I was wearing a brilliant almost Day-Glo red thick down jacket that made me look like a weird Michellin man, when it finally dawned on me that I was no longer in the RN and that I could relax, there was no senior officer watching me, I could laugh again. I had not realised until then just now much the RN had affected me.
Two of the guest lecturers are lodged in my memory:
His switching book is still on my shelf.
He simply mesmerised me. I think that he was in his 80’s when I meet him. Nobody, but nobody, has ever affected me as much as Sam. Enthusiasm, character, charisma and a simple love of telecommunications.
When the time came for the project the course leader (Dr Ron Brewster) obtained a industrial sponsorship for me to do a M.Sc. project. Sadly less than 4 weeks later that sponsor withdraw all of its university sponsorships in the UK and I was left with no choice but to abandon my M.Sc hopes and get a job. At this point I was head hunted by Plessey and ended up within 6 weeks at Edge lane, Liverpool as a System-X hardware design engineer.