An important component of my enjoyment as a student at Canterbury University in the 1950s was being a resident at the Rolleston House (RH) hostel. It consisted of six old mansions - one the dining room and kitchen with the housemaster’s quarters upstairs, the rest divided into double or single rooms for about 80 students. A low slung ablution block/common room complex stood in the middle.
We were responsible for our own cleaning and washing, but meals were provided. RH revelled in a reputation for hard drinking and hard living as after the war it housed mainly ex-servicemen. Most students were engineers with morning lectures. I quickly established a pattern of studying during that quiet time. After lunch I went to afternoon lectures, spending time between them in the SCM den or having friends across to my hostel room for coffee.
The buildings were an electrical inspector's nightmare with illegal wiring everywhere. We were lucky, the place never caught fire as we boiled jugs and ran radios and record players. Circuit-breakers were no hazard to electrical engineers.
Such small illegalities were part and parcel of RH life. Once some housemen nicked an ancient penny-farthing from the museum across the Avenue. We took turns to ride it or fall off - one guy broke both arms in his involuntary descent - before replacing it. We talked of dismantling the famous museum whale skeleton and reassembling it in the university quad, but that remained idle chatter.
The dons would’ve had us debating Oxbridge issues. Our talk fell below that radar screen – mainly sex, rugby and in my case religion. Some of our most serious discussions were held in the steamy showers; somehow everybody naked took away class barriers.
Many of the students were from wealthy homes, they owned cars and lots of clothes. I realised the struggle Dick and Mum had faced as I listened to my fellows talk about their holiday activities – holidays in Fiji, beach-houses, all-night parties.
When bored with studying or arguing I could go the billiards room or table tennis, someone equally restless would welcome a challenge. I discovered chess - again usually another resident would be keen to have a game.