Life since Birmingham and some reminiscences

for the 50th reunion of the 1953 Chemistry Class

Patricia (nee Gibson) and Peter Borrell


Dreams come true?

We could truthfully maintain that our years in Birmingham were the realisation of all our dreams: we found each other and, 50 years on, are still happily together, and still doing Chemistry together!

Recollections of Birmingham

There are so many things that come to mind about our time in Birmingham.

Cambridge, Princeton and Keele

On leaving Birmingham Patricia went to the Lister Institute but, after a year, took a job at the Colloid Science department in Cambridge, next door to the Physical Chemistry Laboratory where Peter had gone from Birmingham. This lasted until we started a family and took off to Princeton to spend a couple of enjoyable years in the USA.

We returned to the UK in 1961 when Peter joined the staff at the College in North Staffordshire which was soon to become Keele University. Later Pat joined Peter as his Research Associate and together we developed a technique by combining a microwave discharge with a shock tube to study energy transfer from the excited states of oxygen at high temperatures. We were also involved in photochemical and spectroscopic work, both classical and using synchrotron radiation as a source. While at Keele we were able to take sabbaticals in Ottawa, Paris and Göttingen. All this seemed set to continue indefinitely when, after twenty seven years, our lives suddenly changed.

Children and grandchildren

At Keele we had the advantage of a cheerful campus life and also were involved in looking after the postgraduates there. Our three boys grew up on campus and they each went on to study science.

Paul the eldest did chemistry but changed to computing after graduation and, having organised global services for Thomas Cook for many years, now runs a business services firm near Peterborough. He is married to Rosalind, who is busy with home start and they have two daughters, who seem to take to academic, sporting and musical activities with great enthusiasm.

Stephen our second is a metallurgist, who lives in Düsseldorf and sells anodised aluminium in the Far East (Japan, Korea, China etc.). The material is used principally as reflectors for lighting but a new innovation is to improve backlighting for flat screen monitors. Each of these takes only about 20g of material and he now supplies several hundred tons a year for this purpose! Stephen is married to Conny our German daughter-in-law who is a translator, and they have our two youngest grandchildren who are at Kindergarten and a Montesouris school.

Michael the youngest studied Chemical Engineering in Cambridge and joined Total Oil (Totalfinaelf). He has been in Buenos Aires as second in command of the operation there for the last three years. He is concerned with extracting gas and oil from the Atlantic off Tierra del Fuego but, since the financial crisis, has mostly been involved in the frustrating task of negotiating with the state and provincial governments over tax. He is married to his childhood sweetheart, Nicky who is a lawyer and they have three boys who are presently enjoying the cheerful environment provided by an American school, having been at school previously in Paris and Scotland. Michael now looks set to take over the larger Indonesian operation in Jakarta, so perhaps our annual visits will be to equator rather than to South America in future.

All change to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and atmospheric chemistry

In 1989 everything changed. Eighteen months earlier we had decided that we would remain at Keele forever and bought a house off campus in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Then with a nice combination of push and pull we found ourselves in the Bavarian Alps at a small research institute in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

There Peter was responsible for running a European research project studying the chemical transformation and transport of pollutants in the lower atmosphere, a topic still of much importance to our atmospheric environment. The co-ordinating of the project involving some 150 research groups in 30 countries seemed to suit us ideally and we found ourselves running meetings all over Europe, running a biennial symposium for 600 people and publishing the vast number of results in the "glossy blue" (as opposed to grey) literature. The first phase of the project ran for six years and the second has just finished another six years.

We retired at the beginning of 1999 but were invited to help run a subproject of about 40 groups on the determination of pollutants in the lower atmosphere using satellites, a thing that is now possible. This we are still doing although it may well finish by the time we all see each other.

Back to Newcastle-under-Lyme

Living in the Alps gave us the opportunity to indulge our passion for downhill skiing, hill walking and opera and, altogether, we had a wonderful 13 years in Germany. However about a year ago we decided enough was enough and we returned to our house in Newcastle-under-Lyme in June 2002. Since then we have been adjusting to life in the UK again and sorting out the garden. We now (at the time of writing) have a promising quagmire. Having defended the English weather against the Germans for so long, I have to say that it seems a lot wetter here than I remember!

Birmingham contacts

Enid (nee Bevis) is the only person from Birmingham that we have kept in touch with; she was our bridesmaid and we see her regularly. We have met Sylvia (nee Parkinson) a couple of times. We live not far from Malcolm and Rona Welsh but our paths don't cross much. Over the years, we have met very briefly Neil Atherton, Ken Murray and Peris Pritchard Jones but that is all, we believe.

An analytical circle

Looking back over what we have written, we both feel extraordinarily fortunate in the way life has treated us: with interesting jobs, a third of working lives spent abroad, and cheerful children now apparently happily married and in responsible jobs. We are very thankful for the start the chemistry course in Birmingham gave us.

And in a sense life has come a full circle chemically- while it is a far cry from the Hills analytical laboratories, we are trying once again to analyse chemical species, albeit using satellites, but with a lower accuracy than was expected of us in quantitative analysis!

Patricia and Peter