Who am I?

I was born 7th August, 1942 at Hokitika. The family moving to Rakaia in 1955, which led to secondary school at Ashburton High, thence to the University of Canterbury, where, because I had the highest mark in the Entrance Scholarship exam for chemistry, I was one of three offered the experimental BSc honours course.

I was always interested in theory, but I found the formal presentation of quantum mechanics unsatisfactory. I became attracted to de Broglie's pilot wave theory on the basis that it is easier to understand wave-particle duality if there is a wave and a particle, and this has guided my thinking of quantum mechanics. For my PhD, the offered topics had either been reported already or would patently fail so I was invited to select my own project. I chose the then-contentious topic of whether electrons in cyclopropane were delocalized. My experimental results were consistent with the fact they do not, and I concluded the unusual properties of cyclopropyl compounds arose from the energy-field relationships inherent in Maxwell's electromagnetic theory. Most chemistry text books assign these properties to electron delocalization, despite my case against this.

My University years also led to two other interests. I started writing fiction (Gemina) at the end of my first year as an undergraduate, but gave up after being rejected by three (!) publishers. I also took an interest in musical composition, and I was lucky enough to be permitted to sit in on a number of music lectures as a cultural activity.

I had post-doctoral positions at the University of Calgary (1967), the University of Southampton (1968), and the University of New England, at Armidale, NSW. On August 23, 1968, I crossed the border at Cieszyn to begin an unusual three days, more details of which are added below.  While in Australia, I became something of a bridge addict, playing with Don Stewart-Richardson, who was a mathematics graduate. We developed a new approach to bidding, based on applied set theory, and probably got unpopular for that. The issue always was, how to get the right player to play in the right place, and to make life as difficult as possible for the opposition. While in Australia, I also developed my theoretical work on chemical strain.

I returned to New Zealand in 1971, to work at Chemistry division, DSIR, to work on lignin chemistry, and thence to recycling and biofuels. I also married Claire Craigie in 1972, and we had two children: Helen (thence two grandchildren) and Roger. The wedding ceremony also included the only public performance of my music: two wedding marches and an interlude. My position as a potential expert in energy-related matters came to an end when the Motunui Synfuels plant was proposed. I opposed it as too expensive, and when this was rejected, I became an advocate for a project to make pyromellitates from the durene byproduct, which led me to set up Carina Chemical Laboratories Ltd. I made a few entries onto the TV show "Fair Go"; two examples included fire resistant plastics where I held a piece of home-made polyimide foam in the palm of my hand against a gas torch to show that fire-resistant foams were possible, and to show that a car manufacturer's claim that a bulge was not rust was false, I punched a hole in the "steel". That was my last appearance – apparently it was the Producer's car. A joint venture won the rights to the durene, $5 million was invested in plant design, etc, then the venture collapsed when the New Zealand Government, which owned the durene, elected to sell the fuels plant without the supply contract obligation.

In the wash-up, I retained Carina Chemical Laboratories Ltd and spent the following years on seaweed research until oil prices began to rise again, and have been involved in biofuels research again. I also returned to writing fiction, and after several attempts at getting an agent, have decided to self-publish ebooks.

A spotlight bio regarding my fiction can be found here.

The picture above is of me and Claire in our front garden, in better times. Claire died of cancer on the 16th January, 2015.

Czechoslovakia, 1968.

I crossed the border a little before noon, and I should have suspected something was wrong because the border officer was army, probably Russian, and he had no idea what to do with me. My Polish visa expired that day, and my visa for East Germany had expired a week before. The only way out of the iron curtain was through Czechoslovakia, so in I went. I stopped for lunch, probably at Frýdek-Místek, where there were a couple of tanks in the city square. Two Czechs wanted to tie a Czech flag to my car aerial, and as yet uncertain what was going on, I let them. Then I found out they were not Czech tanks. I drove to Olomouc and tried to find somewhere to stay, but no luck. I drove west at about 100 kph, hoping something good would happen, then it got dark. I came over a rise and downhill, to my left, there was something like a fire. There in front, there was something else. Suddenly, I realized: a tank parked in the centre of the road with camouflage netting. I evaded to the left and thanks to my youthful experience at driving too fast on gravel roads, I held it, sliding and spraying the tankers with gravel as they dived to get out of the way. I kept going until I came to a small town where the locals were turning around signs in the main street. They saw my flag and were only too keen to help. We went to a small hotel, and when the owner said he could not have me because there was a curfew, and nobody was supposed to have moved since yesterday, the locals told him to let me in or they would burn the place down. He let me in when I promised to sign in as if yesterday. I went back to the main street, where part of a Polish division ignored the changed signs and a young Czech trying to guide them down the wrong way. There was a gap in the Division, and here I made my only ever contribution to military history. How do you get the next lot to go the wrong way?

Next day I continued on my way, and stopped at  Hradec Králové, where I desperately needed more hydraulic oil for my clutch, which had begun leaking somewhere in Poland due to the cobbled roads. I got a litre, and continued towards Praha. I had passed a number of detour signs, then suddenly I had a problem: this detour was real, in that there was a riverbed but no bridge. Worse, Czech detours were huge; the sign was about twenty miles back and I calculated I would not have enough petrol to make it to Prague. There was nothing else for it but to risk all, drive down, gain as much speed as possible, and hope to climb up the other side. I did a quick route check on foot then restarted the car and went for it. After some seriously bad jolts, I just made it up the far side, where the road went through some trees and turned. When  made it around the turn, I found I was at the back of a Russian divisional camp. Now what?

I made it to the outskirts of Prague and could hardly believe my luck: petrol being sold. I joined the queue, and filled up. As I rejoined the Russian tanks appeared, and I headed a convoy on the main road into Praha. How to make the most of this situation?

Praha was in slight turmoil. After lunch, I watched a major protest walk into Wenceslas Square. Halfway across was a yellow line painted on the pavement, and a number of soldiers with submachine guns. As I left, the protestors had pushed forward and the guns opened up, and they did not use rubber bullets. At an information booth I met a family (from memory, Heitlegnerov, but the spelling is probably wrong) who had had a terrible time. Being Jewish, the father had been in the resistance and had lived in the forest all through the war. He campaigned to get the Communists into power, and since very good deed deserves to be dumped on, he was sent back to the forest to live in a hut with a mud floor for years. He had finally managed, in the "Prague spring" to get a nice apartment, and then this. His daughter, Alenka, was in England on holiday, so i got the job of smuggling out her favourite belongings, so she could stay there, and perhaps never see her family again.

The next day I drove south towards towards Linz. After  passing through České Budějovice, I saw two hitch-hikers, so I offered them a lift. They wanted me to smuggle them out, which was totally impractical, and to smuggle out a petition with something like a half a million signatures to be presented to the UN. I made them get out about a quarter of a kilometer from the border, and drove up. There was a  thorough search, during which my passengers walked through the border, but the guards missed one place. Where would you put it?

Accordingly, I got out of Czechoslovakia, well, sort of, but I still had to get into Austria. What could possibly go wrong now?

Answers to these questions below.
 

(1)  Get someone to stand out in the road and point the correct way; the invaders will not, and did not, believe it and will follow the signs. There was a further split, which occurred when there was a gap, then the next part of the division arrived. The leading truck was unsure, stopped, then flung his truck into reverse, forgetting he was towing a major artillery piece. The window of the following truck was smashed, the driver was badly shaken and the crowd roared. This division was eventually split into five parts, and took about two days to regroup. This did not achieve much in the overall scheme of things, but it made some people feel good for a while.

(2) I tried to look as if I belonged. The average soldier is very short on initiative provided there is nothing obviously wrong. I drove very slowly and looked bored when anybody looked at me. At least it worked.

(3) Tanks do not have synchromesh. This tank was very uncomfortable at about 23 mph, so I hovered. His sequence of gear changes were made with major grating noises. The flag, and my being the cause of the tank driver's discomfort, led to my being cheered by tens of thousands for a number of kilometres.

(4)  While driving behind the Iron Curtain, there was no obvious places to deposit rubbish, so I had kept a big carton just for this. From bottom up, I had the petition, the oldest rubbish, the younger rubbish, and on top, the remains of the uneaten food I had brought. They ferreted so far, it got smellier, they stopped.

(5)  I got past the Czech border guards, but the Czechs got through before me and told the Austrian guards. I had to give up the petition to get into Austria, and they knew I had it. The two Czechs looked so triumphant; they had no comprehension of what Austria would do.