Lab' Assistant, Unilever Ltd (1976-77)

I managed to get a job for about 9 months of my gap year, as a Laboratory Assistant at the Chilled & Dairy Products

of Unilever Ltd, at The Frythe. They moved to modern buildings on a different premises in the summer of 1977, so my contract was cut short - it was impractical

for me to travel by public transport to the new premises (though I did go there for a couple of weeks, as daily transport was available for a while). According to the Wikipedia entry below, during WWII it became a secret Special Operations Executive (SOE) factory known as Station IX. From 1946 it was

a commercial research facility for ICI, then for Unilever Ltd in the 1960s. I was there from autumn 1976-summer 1977, when it

closed. So it was still active in the 1970s. I remember seeing a sign for GlaxoSmithKline when I was driven past the bottom of the

driveway en route to giving a lecture to Old Welwyn Horticultural Society. It is now private flats.

My father (see: provided me with a lift to the bottom of the drive-way

each morning, en route to his work for Rank Xerox in Welwyn Garden City, from our home in Stevenage; I would catch a bus back to


I hoped to get a position more plant-related and had inquired at Rothamstead (see: though this was primarily

about research into agricultural crops, which was not really my line of interest. Whilst being a lab assistant was not a first choice, it confirmed that I

was not interested in working in laboratories as a career - at the Frythe there were staff with a wide range of qualifications up to Ph.Ds and those on their year

in industry within a four-year sandwich degree course. My gap year also proved invaluable in enabling me to re-take my Chemistry 'A' level, without which

I would not have secured a place at a leading university. The Chemistry department at Barclay left a lot to be desired. The Head was a really nice

bloke who ran the Go-cart Club (Hamilton the Formula One World Champion hails from Stevenage and started with go-carts) but his teaching was weak.

Only 2 in the class passed that year, the highest grade being a D (then the highest ever managed) - within the class were 4 pupils who got 3 A** in Physics,

Pure & Applied Maths; even allowing for their focus to be on the other subjects, something was wrong. I did a little revision by myself and got a C in the re-take,

thus becoming the highest grade achieved at that time. Shortly afterwards, a new Chemistry teacher, who was a Chemistry graduate arrived. Most of the staff at

Barclay did not have degrees when I started at the school but a number did take part-time degrees by the time I reached the sixth-form. I always considered

the Maths Department, Head Mr Pull, my form tutor for years 1-5, was an excellent teacher. He encouraged those of us taking Pure Maths 'A' level to study for an 'O' level in Statistics - understanding the basics of this subject has proven invaluable in life, as so few people have a decent grasp, "Lies, Damned Lies, and then there are Statistics".

I should be grateful for getting the post with Unilever - not too many comparable opportunities nowadays; certainly none of my three sons considered a "gap" year. Shortly after graduating, returning from my disastrous first expedition, I looked into studying for a Post Graduate Certificate of Education (P.G.C.E.) with a view to teaching Science at secondary level (Biology Specialist). I remember being interviewed at Bristol. Did not hit it off with my 'snooty' interviewer, who disapproved of me having had a gap year and participation is assorted clubs at university.