08 May 2010


It has been a long time since I posted anything about my past - and the demands from my children for another post have been ... well, actually, there haven't been any.  But it is true that once upon a time they asked for these memoirs.  And it is true that to date they haven't risen up and cried, "Stop!  Enough!"

In addition to the odd circumstance intervening - like car accidents that could - God forbid! - still cost me something in the way of legal issues - I had, in fact, grown rather bored with the whole saga.  At least, I had grown bored with talking about high school.  So I have decided it is time to move on to University.

I said this in my essay on Newman and my becoming a Catholic:
I did have a faith, however. My faith was a faith in science. I don’t think that I am speaking metaphorically. I genuinely believed in the transcendental character of the scientific endeavour, almost viewed the society of scientists as a kind of church. I was a keen amateur astronomer. The emotions I felt when I heard that the Russians had launched an artificial satellite, Sputnik, in October, 1957 were very similar to those I had felt at that childhood Mass. When I went to the University of California (Los Angeles, then Berkeley), in 1960, it was to study astronomy.
This faith in science was the most formative thing in my mind, at least from my late primary school years.  I was certain that what I wanted to do in life was to 'be an astronomer.'  I had no very clear idea what that meant, but it was what I wanted - passionately.  And when I finished high school, the idea of a sort of gnostic secret society of scientists was still very real to me.

This idea of a Hermetic Society - the name comes not from the Greek word for desert (ἔρημος), from which we get the word 'hermit', but rather from the god Hermes, the god of, amongst other things, knowledge - the idea is very attractive and I was far from the only distant adorer of secret knowledge.  One of my favourite science fiction authors, Robert Heinlein, was perhaps the source of my faith.  In Between Planets, published in 1951, when I was 9 years old, such a society saves ... well, perhaps not mankind, but saves, at least, those who are fortunate enough to be members of it.  I don't know when I first read that novel.  I would be surprised if the full-formed idea of a scientific church came to me from my own imagination.

September, 1959 - May, 1960 was my last year in high school.  That was the year I took physics - and became, all unknown to me, a kind of protegé of James Anthony Rossas.  I also took what was known as 'advanced algebra' and trigonometry.  I was preparing for a career in astronomy.

I also played a solo in the concert band (orchestral group, but with woodwinds playing string parts) - the Siegfried horn call, and almost fainted from the effort of the final high C :-).  I was by this time quite serious about my music, playing first horn in the concert band, and trumpet/cornet in marching band.  This turned out to be fortunate for my plans.

I didn't know about deadlines for applying to Universities.

I can't remember the details now, but at some point Mr Rossas discovered that (1) I was determined to start my freshman year at the University of California at Berkeley in September, 1960, and (2) that I had not applied.  The deadline was past.

Poor Mr Rossas!  He must really have cared for me.  I don't what, exactly, he did, but he managed, on the strength of my cornet playing - the UCLA marching band could use me - to get the University of California at Los Angeles to accept a late application - and even to give me a $400 scholarship.

I worked during the summer of 1960 at the Stokley-Van Camp (now a part of PepsiCo - how the mighty have fallen!) fruit cocktail cannery in Oroville.  In September, I boarded the Greyhound coach for the 450-mile/725-Km trip to the Westwood campus of UCLA.  I felt as though I were going to Heaven.

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