Thursday, February 26, 2015

Where Are They Now? (Anyone Know?)

Official Wayne State College Bowl photograph.
In the early sixties the program managers at NBC figured they could swell their audience share with a show which pitted students from two universities each week, not in sports, but in brains. And it was a success. The show was College Bowl, sponsored by GE, and each week from 1959 to 1970 one school was knocked out and another took its place.

In 1968 Wayne State was invited to take part. We never knew what prompted the University authorities to decide that the perfect person to select and train the WSU team would be a member of the College of Liberal Arts who had arrived in Detroit a scant eighteen months earlier. Possibly it was because Ernie had become good friends with Sherwin Collins, the go-to man for the College who had the ear of the Dean. There was no shortage of knowledgable students from which to choose, but the trick was to pick four who together could cover the whole gamut of arts, science, sports, culture—and who would not fall apart at the sight of a camera. In addition they needed quick reflexes, because the first person to ring the bell in front of him/her would have the opportunity to give the answer. The College of Engineering supplied ersatz bells which were taped down to a table with duct tape for training sessions.

Here's a casual practice photo of the team of Chuck Zastrow, Dennis Staszak, Sanford Cohen and Joel Shulman, fingers at the ready. Ernie had John Gregg from the Communications Department to help him and I did my bit by sending down practice questions. That made three of us who knew next to nothing about Astronomy, Geology, Physics etc.

A week before the big day Brandeis beat the school against whom they were pitted, so we knew Brandeis would be our opponents. I don't recall the flight to New York, or the journey to the Warwick Hotel, but I do know that we were shepherded by Mike Sibille, the university PR guy.

I think we flew out on Saturday
morn-ing, which, accord-
ing to my note on the back of this photo gave us time for a visit to the Central Park Zoo. Those of you who know Kate may recognize her peeping through my large pink coat. My only explanation for the white gloves for a trip to the zoo is that this was the 60's.

In the evening we all went for dinner at Mama Leone's. The next day we prepared for the show which was broadcast live.

The WSU team was wonderful, but in the end they were no match for the seasoned team from Brandeis. We excitedly flew home after the show. The cameras had concentrated on the team, of course, but we knew there were occasions when they had been turned on us. Our friends and relations in Detroit and all over the country had been watching. We went straight to the friends with whom we had left eleven-month-old Al to ask their reaction.

The golf match which NBC ran prior to our show had run over-time and College Bowl was not broadcast.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

This Nearly Was Mine

The Oscars will be awarded this evening. As usual I will start watching the show and then groggily go up to bed half-way through, bored stiff. I have seen two of the films up for consideration. I love Turing's story in The Imitation Game, a mathematical equivalent of the puzzle classicists found in the decipherment of Linear B and I have written before about my interest in all books about Enigma. I can't say I have much interest in Hawking's exploration in cosmological inflation and quantum gravity. But as a person he is fascinating and therefore The Theory of Everything is equally fascinating.  What do these movies have in common? Cambridge University.

Turing's Cambridge of the 30's has obviously little connection with me, but not so the Cambridge of Stephen Hawking. There is a scene in The Theory of Everything pretty much identical to the one shown here which we took on a trip back to England (except the view in the movie included a random cow or two.)  My trips to Cambridge are because my brother lives just outside the town, not because of any nostalgia.

I came very close to that nostalgia. At approximately the same time as Hawking was riding his bike through the streets of Cambridge to his lectures, I was sitting the exams for Girton and Newnham. There was a general exam which required a precis of a long passage and a couple of essays to test our writing ability. For some reason I wrote on polar exploration. What a great job I could do of that today. At the time I think I had only heard of Scott's tragedy on his return from the South Pole. What could I have written? Instead of the question on eccentricity, I would love to get my claws into question 8, "Old People." Old people? What were you thinking of, Girton?  In addition there were chunks of Vergil, Horace, Livy, Cicero, Hesiod, Sophocles, Xenophon and Plato to translate into English and blocks of English to translate back into Latin and Greek. Joy of joys, I was summoned for an interview. By letter? Phone? I suppose today they tweet the applicants. Anyway, dear reader, I went.

I do not remember the interview. We must have had dinner in hall and I know I was expected to spent the night. I remember a freezing cold room in a stone building and making myself cocoa in an equally cold kitchenette.

I returned home, only to hear sometime later that G & N would not be requiring my presence the following year. Now here comes something which in future posts I will refer to as a Brian Williams moment, somewhat different from a senior moment. You will either understand or you wont. I am convinced that somehow, maybe even from the university itself, I heard I was next on the waiting list and that if anyone were to drop out, a place would be extended to me. It wasn't. I don't think I could have crossed paths with Stephen Hawking. He would have arrived to study for his Ph.D. just as I left.

The ambience of Cambridge is unique, and I like to think that this nearly was mine.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Two Hundred and Twenty Five Years

We first met in 1945. At least, that's my best guess. No pre-school in those days, just First Form at St. George's Elementary School in Freezywater, Enfield. Come to think of it, I doubt it was called "Elementary" School and "First Form" would have been reserved for Enfield County School (our high school). Yvonne and Diana on the left probably met a little earlier, living as they did in The Greenway, dark-haired Yvonne at no. 7, blonde Diana at no. 4. I lived on the other side of the Hertford Road at 27 Bedford Crescent. I don't remember us being in the same class together, though I suppose we must have been. All I remember of St. George's is sitting with Mrs. Wilson, the Headmistress, and knitting. I am sure we walked to and from school together.

After three or four more years at Chesterfield Road School (our middle school) all three of us passed the 11+. This showed we were in the top 33% of the population, but the streaming was not over. I found myself in the form designated "L" for Latin, a stream destined for university, the other two in "S" for Spanish and "DS" for Domestic Science. Don't ask. The streaming meant little to us and we much of our spare time time together, at  Brownies, playing tennis or taking long walks.

This photo was probably taken at Easter in the mid 50's. By this time we had all decided on a path in life. Or it had been decided for us. I would go into 6B Arts and continue on my path to University, these two would go into 6B Secretarial and become upper class secretaries. Both, I must add, would have been totally worthy University applicants and  they made up for that omission in later life.

Diana and I went on from Guides to Cadets, but when the Cadet summer camp in Cornwall was arranged, there were not enough of us going, so was invited. Here are the three of us on Porthcurnick Beach. Looks a little rocky!

Soon we all went our various ways. We all left England for various periods, we all married. But we kept in touch and the photo at the top of the page is from my visit to England in the 70's. Yvonne was living in Swindon, Diana in Eaton Royal where we got together, together with Diana's parents, for a lovely afternoon. 

Some time after that we lost touch. When people marry, change their names and move around the country, it is hard to find them again. The ace up my sleeve was Yvonne's brother, who for professional reasons was not too hard to find and who put me in touch with his sister, who had never lost touch with the third member of our trio.

They have both had more than their share of tragedies in their lives. By the end of April we will all be 75—that's almost 225 years of combined friendship. How nice, perhaps, if we could go back to St. George's and our days of Sir Brian Botany.