EARLY MEMORIES: A smorgasbord of characters (3)

Ranked high in this collection is my Indian drinking mate. Tall, erudite, and wearing a cracked lens in his glasses, he was a natural leader. My other drinking mate was the gentle-giant mountain-climbing Austrian. We had some interesting discussions.

I remember standing up to the Austrian at about 2 am at the International Conference set in a small township. He had advised me to keep away from his mountaineering girl friend. With my nose at about his chest level, I threatened to hit him, as she was a friend of mine too. His advice came after he had seen me protecting the girl’s right breast during a post-prandial talk-fest. The next morning, as he left to do some shopping, he agreed to buy me a bottle of brandy for the evening – a true friend. Youth can be forgiving.

Back in town, at about 10pm one night, a Malayan friend rang me in great consternation. During an encounter of joy with his landlady, his sheath had become torn. “How” I asked. A “corkscrew manoeuvre” he replied. “Run for the hills” was the only advice I could offer.

In the guest-house I lived in there arrived a young Dutchman from Indonesia, which had just gained independence. He always wore a cravat. I noted that he sought my company. Indeed, I seemed to attract European immigrants. Did they somehow feel my interest in their background, and in what they might have to say?

Amongst these was a sad Yugoslav ex-soldier who had been separated from his family by the war, and never heard of them again. An educated Greek, who had escaped the takeover of his nation by the ‘colonels’ (I believe that is how they were described) and the Yugoslav were employed as filing clerks where I worked.

An escapee from Col.Nasser in Egypt (I came to know well a number of these escapees) cleverly became wealthy in Australia; but was then jailed. When in jail, he was reliably described to me as “living like a king.” On release, he then joined his wife in the UK “in her castle” (so reported the media).

Then, once a week for about a year, I spent an hour absorbing the knowledge of a learned anthropologist, who had escaped the Nazis in time. He couldn’t get a university position (so it was said) because he had not studied the Aborigines. He was an erudite man, who widened my perspective on psychology to take in anthropology.

My interest in physiological psychology was raised by a lecturer who seemed to spend all his spare time writing political letters to the press – which kept him in the public eye. I disliked him because he denied me an honours pass that year “because you are only a pass student.” I was studying full-time (at the expense of my sleep) while also working full-time; and the head of the psychology department was encouraging me to work for an academic career in his discipline.