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Picaresque recollections of previous festivals

Pauline Marstrand remembers personal highlights

Pauline Marstrand remembers personal highlights.


1948, Brighton

The President was Sir Henry Tizard. I was studying at Brighton Technical College for a degree in Chemistry with Physics, Zoology and Botany, awarded externally by the University of London. Science students were invited to volunteer as ‘runners’ for this first post-war meeting, and I was delighted to be allotted to GP Wells, as his father HG was one of my heroes. The only qualification was possession of a bicycle, and I spent almost all the time scurrying between the Dome, the Pavilion, the Tech and various hotels. I met friends of my late grandfather, the amateur naturalist and geologist EA Martin FGS, who worked with Bernard Shaw, Malcolm Muggeridge’s father and Croydon Mayor Keighley Moore to save Croham Hurst, near Croydon, from development. They were very welcoming. I attended the closing ‘banquet’ – mainly sandwiches, and a dance led by a local band. An astonishing conjunction of academics danced the Boompsa-Daisy, the Hokey Cokey, the Lambeth Walk, the Chestnut Tree and the Palais Glide.

1974, Stirling

The President was Sir John Kendrew. I attended Section X, which had been founded by JD Bernal, Peter Ritchie Calder, Solly Zuckerman and others as a general committee to hold more or less annual meetings during the war. When normality resumed they persuaded Council to reinstate it as a General Section, known as X, and able to arrange programmes on almost anything.  I was invited onto its committee in 1975.

1976, Aston

Section X had Chris Brasher as its President for the topic Science and Sport.  CB was very enthusiastic, but after about two meetings he became entangled with his new London Marathon (which he co-founded), and resigned.  Help!  Someone suggested a professor at Loughborough, who fortunately accepted.

1981, York

The Section X theme was nuclear power and nuclear weapons.  One of the speakers was David Owen, the Foreign Secretary, who was much in favour of continuing and renewing Trident.  He didn’t want to meet the press, and I spent much of my time heading them off. [I finally caught up with him as he was leaving, and interviewed him in his taxi on the way to the station. – Editor] I was secretary of X by this time.

I think this may have been the last occasion on which we paraded the streets in caps and gowns, watched by an enthusiastic gaggle of locals.

1984, Norwich

John Durant was Secretary of X. The theme was Science Fiction and Fantasy.  James Randi, the American magician, claimed to be able to produce any ‘magic’ tricks by material and explicable means.  He almost came to blows with some more romantically-inclined enthusiasts for the occult.

1986, Bristol

Sir Richard Gregory led Section X, on Perception and Illusion.  Dan Dennett took everyone out to dinner.  We had a moving eulogy for Alan Turing.

1987, Belfast

Jonathan Miller was President of Section X.  The theme was Humour.

We had on the committee a very lively and talented entrepreneur of science and the arts, Jasia Reichardt.  The only way we succeeded in getting JM to a meeting was for Jasia to invite him to her house in Belsize Park for breakfast.  Even then, she had to go and fetch him!  The breakfast was more memorable than the meetings:  asparagus and bacon, croissants, canapés, copious Rioja.

On the morning of the meeting in Belfast, JM appeared looking rather wan.  He was amazed at how uncomfortable the bed had been, and appalled by the queue for breakfast.  He booked into the Sheraton for the rest of the week.

1990, Swansea

Colin Blakemore was President of Section X.  The dinner was held at a place on The Mumbles, and CB carefully checked underneath and in the bonnet of his car for bombs planted by animal-rights activists before driving to and from the venue.

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Pauline Marstrand
Pauline Marstrand is a retired biologist and science policy researcher. She is a long-standing member of the British Science Association
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