10 May 1948 – 14 September 1998
Reminiscences of Hazel - for Rob, Joshua and Zoë.
I first met Hazel in September 1966 at the start of the three-year Botany Degree course at the University of Southampton. About 25 of us started the course — a wide range of backgrounds and ages. There were two mature students [both over 30, which seemed very old to me at the time!], Bob and Mike , and a few in their early 20s, but most of us, including Hazel and me, were 18. In those days taking a "gap" year was unusual, so unless one was doing the Oxford or Cambridge entrance exams, which meant staying on for part of a third year in the Sixth Form, most people went straight to university after two years in the Sixth Form.
Hazel was taking Botany as a main subject, with subsidiary Geology and Zoology [I think]. I was doing the same except Chemistry instead of Zoology. So we met for lectures and practicals, though were in different halls of residence. From the start, Hazel was a popular member of the group, because of her great sense of humour, ready smile and a general air of ease and confidence. She usually had a joke at the ready!
A new combined Botany & Geology building was in process of completion when we arrived at the University. It should have been completed during the summer, but of course it wasn’t ready, so we spend the first few months of our Botanical studies based in the "old" Botany building, which was cramped but friendly. We were using pretty ancient equipment too, including antique microscopes which didn’t even have integral lighting! But when we moved to the new building, all the equipment was new as well, so we were suddenly very up to date. However, it was soon evident that the building had been completed in a rush, because all sorts of things did not work, or were in the wrong place. For example, many light switches were inside cupboards, presumably because the finishing had been mismanaged and the electricians had been allowed in before the carpenters! [I now realise that this was typical of the poor standard of building in the 1960s]. Hazel must take the credit for singlehandedly discovering another area where the finishing had been shoddy, which she did in a fairly spectacular way......
During the summer term of our first year we were all busy doing various experiments, summer being the busy time for practical work in Botany because that’s when most of the subjects are growing, flowering, seeding, being demolished by fungi etc. For some reason one of Hazel’s experiments had to be run over the weekend, so she had set it up in a laboratory on the first floor and looked in on it on Saturday morning, then left it to its own devices. The experiment had to have a continuous supply of water, perhaps for cooling, I can’t remember exactly. Anyway, perhaps due to some change in water pressure, or perhaps to some inattention to detail on Hazel’s part, the far end of the rubber tube which conveyed the water from the tap to the experiment became dislodged, and the tube flicked out so, directing the water straight onto the floor. By the time Monday morning came, the flood effects were quite spectacular. The first-floor laboratory was inches deep in water, and on it was floating a sea of vinyl floor tiles, which were discovered, unbelievably, to have been stuck down with water-soluble adhesive!!! And, of course, the ground-floor laboratory underneath was pretty soggy too. Hazel had definitely made an impression on the rest of the Department, and for the rest of her time at the University there were some members of staff who took a close interest in her experiments!
In the Easter vacation of our first year we had to go on a week’s geology field course. We stayed in one of the Halls of Residence at the University of Bangor, in North Wales, and every day had to go out looking at different rock outcrops in inaccessible places, mostly in the pouring rain. I can remember Hazel cheerfully carrying on, despite her leaking blue nylon anorak and soggy feet — but leading the rush for hot baths when we got back! In the Summer vac we had to attend a week’s Botany field course, at Dunkeld in Central Scotland. We were staying in a Field Study centre, which was run in what we thought was a very miserly Scottish way. It was uncomfortable and sparse, and — the worst thing — the packed lunches were awful. Incredible though it may seem, they gave us sandwiches with a prune-paste filling! There was a bit of a rebellion over this, but as I recall Hazel found it all very funny.
During our second year I saw a bit more of Hazel socially, because I was living in lodgings not far from Bassett House, where she was living. It was then that I realised how perceptive Hazel was. I remember her remarking once about a mutual friend’s strong housewifely and motherly tendencies. She could see that these tendencies were going to cause problems in later life because they would conflict with the other side of her character, which was career-orientated. Hazel was absolutely right about that.
At the end of our second year we had another Botany field course, this time in mid-Wales. We had to work in pairs, conduct a piece of research about the ecology of a particular area, and then present our findings to the rest of the group. In those days, unlike today, public speaking and giving presentations were just not on the school curriculum, so most of us had had little or no experience of giving a presentation. However, Hazel gave a hilarious presentation of her team’s findings. She held up a number of decrepit-looking bits of plant, mostly either dead or much fragmented, and with a superb sense of timing got even more laughs by explaining how, though they did not look it, these specimens were of crucial importance in revealing a complex ecological pattern previously unknown to mankind.
Because of having to devote the summer terms to practical work, Botanists had to take their final exams in March, and conduct a practical investigation during the summer. This was difficult, because no other students were taking their exams as early, and there wasn’t the atmosphere of heads-down learning that there was in the summer term. In addition, Hazel and a few others of the Bassett House crowd had become addicted to Bridge, and they use to spend long hours in the winter evenings playing Bridge instead of revising [I suspect they regretted it later on, but Bridge is very addictive .....].
Once we had completed the course at Southampton we all dispersed, and in some cases never met again, although I saw Hazel on several more occasions. Most memorable of these was a holiday we spent at Milford Haven, in Southern Wales, in 1970. We were invited by Mike to spend a week sailing his yacht [a 25-foot folk boat] in the Haven. Apart from Mike himself, there were four of us, Hazel, Jane , Peter and me. We girls were billeted in Mike’s caravan and he and Peter slept on the boat, arriving at the caravan in the morning and demanding breakfast, which we were not very efficient at making. I don’t think any of us had done much sailing before but I remember Hazel grinning and apparently confident at the helm of what seemed at the time to be quite a big boat, well wrapped up in her duffel coat, as we pounded across the choppy sea.
I saw Hazel occasionally when I was living in various flats in London — she would stay for a night if she was passing through. The last time I saw her was in about 1983, when she was on a visit to the UK from Australia and came here to Ealing for the evening. At that time my elder son, Richard, was two and going through a tractor craze. He enthusiastically brought his toy tractors for Hazel to see and I remember so clearly her rather embarrassed smile — she just didn’t know what to say to this strange small being. But, of course, that was before she became a mum herself.
Hazel was a warm and affectionate person and a good friend, and she is part of my happy memories of university days. Any of Hazel’s family are welcome here, so, Josh and Zoë, when you are older and do your "Grand Tour of Europe", and would like a billet in London, I would love to see you.
Christine Eborall [née Friend]
Christine was a friend of Hazel’s.