Ike becomes an academic in bacterial and viral genetics and his eventual early retirement to Ullapool

IG: Then I came out and for a little while had no job and then….

INT: How old were you at this time?

IG: I must have been 20/21.

INT: Yeah.

IG: And then I finally got a job in Ware at a firm called Allen and Hanburys; the oldest pharmaceutical firm in the country and I got a job in the chemical research laboratory as a lab assistant.

The firm eventually, while I was there, got swallowed up by Glaxo but I worked under a guy called Jan Gladditch a Polish guy, and he was the most gentle tolerant guy you could meet and in 7 years working for him we only ever had cross words about once. But he was the most tolerant guy of every nationality in the world.


INT: Where you still conscious you were German and you were Kinder?

IG: Just about.

INT: Did you ever mention it to people?

IG: Oh yeah, Jan Gladditch knew, he knew all about my background

INT: Yeah, and how about in school?

IG: Well they knew, I didn’t, in school I didn’t get naturalised until after school

INT: How did you find learning English?

IG: I don’t know, but I suspect like a small child, if you are amongst people all speaking English you absorb it. It’s not a, I don’t consciously remember learning English but in the end the only language I wanted to know anything about was English and nobody could persuade me there was any point in learning a foreign language which is why after 6 years of taking French I failed it miserably.


Jan was a lovely guy, he really was a nice guy. Just like the fellas here, everybody liked him; he just was a nice guy.

INT: So did he encourage you to take more, have more education?

IG: Oh yes, oh yes, and Allen and Hanburys did too. They sent me off to Hatfield Technical College to do the A levels again because I had only got one This time doing one day a week instead of 5 days a week I passed Chemistry, Biology and Maths the first year I took them very easily.

And then the college ……..


I slogged my guts out and up until Christmas I often spent the evening studying. After Christmas, of course I was married then, after Christmas I used to send my wife out with friends because I would not go out after Christmas at all and I studied every evening and two weeks, or three weeks before the exam I took two weeks off work without pay and spent everyday doing about 12 hours studying a day and then we did the finals and I went up with a very good friend of mine to look at the board.

They put the final results up, just your exam number outside Turner House and we went up there and if you had asked me I would have started looking at the bottom and I was told before I went ‘For God Sake don’t do that, if you go through all the pass degrees and you’re not there and then the lower seconds and you’re not there, you will start thinking you’ve failed so you go from the top’ and I got little way down and I got a 2:1


INT: Wow

INT: So you obviously enjoyed the scientific side of education.

IG: Oh yeah I was altogether going towards science, and with the pass degree, with the 2:1

I immediately got an offer from the college that they had got their first ever science research council grant to do a PHD and they offered it to me. And I was 29, I really didn’t know whether to take it or not. I been married for several years… no I hadn’t, what am I talking about? Yeah I had been married for 5 years.

I really didn’t know whether I should take this offer and I went to see Allen and Hanburys research director. I can only remember he was David somebody, nice guy.


So he led me, grabbed the letter, led me into his office I can still remember him throwing himself back in his chair, putting his feet on his table to read the letter and then he looked at me and said ‘If you don’t take this you must have a hole in your head!’ So I took it and that meant that I was on next to nothing, just a grant from 29 to 32.

Which I wasn’t pleased about but I took it and unfortunately they lined me up with an absolutely truly dreadful research supervisor and an even more dreadful subject. Frankly, if you are going to do a plant type PHD you should pick one where the literature goes back 10 years; to pick one were the literature goes back to the 1500s is frankly crazy.

INT: So what was your degree in?

IG: My degree was in Chemistry and Biology.


INT: Right.

IG: But this PHD that they lined me up for was quote ‘The experimental taxonomy of the Stellaria media group’. The Stellaria media is chickweed and the literature on chickweed goes back to the 1500s and so my head of department and the science department went to the academic board and asked for a grant for me to travel to Israel and Greece and Sicily and a couple of other places, to travel there, and he announced it just like that and the academic board said ‘What’s Stellaria Media?’ and he had to say ‘Chickweed’ at which point the entire academic board fell about laughing and I didn’t get my grant.

INT: Oh!


IG: So I then sent to the universities in all these countries, the guy at Kew Gardens had advised me and I sent just to Israel, Greece and Sicily and Israel and Greece turned me down but Italy who is a very poor country offered me a one month grant, a two month grant or a six month grant. And I said ‘Look, I’m only going for two weeks’ and they said ‘Oh well you’ll have to have a one month grant’

so I accepted I’ll have a one month grant and off I went. When I got to Italy, I hadn’t got the grant money


I went to Sicily and I was told ‘Go to the university and they’ll have your money’ and I found the university in Palermo and there was this lovely old guy as the prof who couldn’t speak English with a very sharply dressed young man who when I said ‘I had come to collect the grant money’ he said ‘No money! No Money!’ etc and just then an Italian priest came round the corner in the building and he said ‘Ah! The grant money’ and he went and fetched the grant voucher and I am still convinced that the sharply dressed young man was the mafia and he was trying to keep the money and it was very difficult to think otherwise.

So you can imagine what happened when I went to the bank to cash this voucher, I was looking nervously over each shoulder in case the mafia was around. They weren’t.


INT: So you, did you specialise in plants?

IG: Well I was…

INT: Biology?


So I applied for the assistant lectureship

I got the job as assistant lecturer and two years later became a lecturer and two years after that a senior lecturer. But by that time I was specialized in bacterial and viral genetics and since I was in the group of people, the microbiology group, and there was quite a number of microbiologists in there, my chance of getting any further than a senior lecturer was zero


They announced that Hatfield was going to be one of the new universities so it was going to be a polytechnic and we were a polytechnic for about 30 odd years and then they decided to abolish the polytechnic and make all the polytechnics university and just two months before I retired Hatfield became the University of Hertfordshire

They leaned on everybody over the age of 55 to retire early

My colleagues in the department said ‘Take the money and run!’ So I took the money and retired at 57 and I had always decided to move to Ullapool.

Listen to the testimony

Creative Commons

Unless otherwise stated, the content on gatheringthevoices.com is available to re-publish under the terms of the Creative Commons license.

Please check our Terms of Use for details on what is allowed when using our material.