I left CVTHS in 1965 with a place at University to study Chemistry. I owe whatever success I have made of my life largely to the School, its Headmaster, Mr Kingsland and to two inspirational teachers: Mr Mayo and Dr Fisk. The latter because he ‘turned me on’ to the excitement of science and particularly Chemistry and the former because he tried to instil in me a love of the written word. Mr Kingsland’s contribution was more general and far wider; he simply showed those who wanted to see how to be ‘good’ people. I’m not sure to what extent he succeeded with me, but I am grateful that he tried.
After University armed with my degree, I did a year of teaching in Penge, which I enjoyed and if it had not been for a cleverly worded advert for a job at the Tropical Products Institute I might have remained a teacher, and who knows what I would be boring you with now!! But the words that caught my attention, in an offer for a job as a Higher Scientific Officer at TPI – which was part of the UK Governments Aid Programme – were, “may be expected to spend short or long-term periods overseas”. Actually I was not really expecting it to be true, but within 6 weeks I was distilling nutmeg and lime oil on the beautiful West Indian Island of Grenada, as part of a research programme to add secondary value to two of that islands most important crops and foreign exchange earners. I stayed there for nearly a year, married my wife of now 45 years, and It was just the start of a peripatetic career which has allowed me the privileged of working and living in some 30 countries around the world.
My next long-term assignment was to Paraguay where I designed distilleries for and carried out research into Petitgrain oil distilled from bitter orange leaves. Paraguay at that time – the mid- 70’s – was run by the fascist dictator, General Alfredo Stoessner, and was little known to most in the UK. It was and still is a charming place populated by the kindest, friendliest and happiest people you could wish to meet. During our five years there we made lifelong and true friends, learned to speak Spanish and visited some truly amazing places, such as the magnificent Guaira falls, at the time one of the greatest falls on earth, but which no longer exists as it was submerged as part of the Itaipu Dam project.
After returning from South America, I began an endearing relationship with Africa, where I worked in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania (including Zanzibar), Malawi and Swaziland. My role in each of these countries and indeed in all of the countries I worked in, was to use applied science and engineering to try to overcome some of the obstacles to development, faced by countries in what was then called the third world. This has now, I’m sure,been replaced by a more PC phrase but the huge problem of poverty in Africa and other countries still continues, and I fear my contribution, as honestly rendered as it was, made very little difference!!
Two further highlights of my career were a year long stint in the Chapare, the Coca growing areas of Bolivia, and two years working as a private consultant in the Amazon.
In Bolivia I was field director of a UN funded and designed programme to offer Bolivian farmers alternatives to the production of Coca leaves. As you can imagine these areas were very remote, few roads, no electricity, no telephone, no internet, little law enforcement and it had its dangers but I have to say it was the very best experience of my life!! At that time the wonderfully erudite and charismatic leader of the ‘cocaleros’ was the pullover wearing, indigenous rabble-rouser Evo Morales, and at the time I am proud to say I counted him as a friend. He had a penchant for Chinese food and we had several memorable lunches in Cochabamba arguing about the best ways to proceed. He only wanted the best for his then constituents, and although I am no longer in touch with him I guess he still wants the same for his now larger constituency!
In Brazil’s Amazon region, I worked in Rio Branco and Belem distilling piper species to extract safrol,which finds uses as a fixative in perfumes, in natural insecticides, and, to continue the narcotic theme, as a precursor for Ecstasy. This last illegal use caused all sorts of problems, as the British Government who were funding the UK/Brazil project were determined that there should be no possibility of any safrol produced as part of the project finding its way into elicit ‘molly’ production. It goes without saying that the Amazon was a truly wonderful place to live for two years or so and was a fitting end to my career!
In about 1996, Mrs Thatcher had ideas about the way the aid programme should be run and these differed somewhat to the my way of thinking and so I took early retirement from the Civil Service and I finished my working life doing private consultancies for the likes of the UN and the World Bank.
My wife and I have two sons who both have successful careers in graphic design; one lives in Wimbledon and the other in Australia. So we now divide our time between southern Spain where we have a delightful home in the charming village of Galera, Andalucia, Grenada where my Mother in Law still lives at the ripe old age of 90 and the Weald of Kent, which allows my wife to follow her passion for Cricket and especially Kent Cricket. I decided on retirement that I did not want to just end up as a ‘voyeur’, but wanted to get involved in things myself. So my wife and I have joined the choir in our Spanish village and I am trying to reach the level of competence needed on my Alto Sax to join the village band as well. Our Spanish friends are very welcoming and I am convinced that all the rubbish written about ex-pats living in France or Spain never being accepted is just not true!
When I was first working in Grenada in 1969, I wrote to Mr Kingsland to thank him for all he and the school had done for me. He was gracious enough to write back to me, pointed out some grammatical errors in my letter and threatened to pass it to Mr Mayo, but congratulated me on achieving some of my goals and urged me to continue my life with the ethics that CVTS stood for. I hope I have done just that!! I just wish I could write to them both now and Dr Fisk and tell them how much their efforts have meant to me.