Ronald Basil Girdler

1925 - 2017

Helene Girdler

1927 - 2020

Johnson and Johnsons

After I had been at Johnson's for some months Alex suggested that I should have another go at the Intermediate B.Sc. exams at evening classes. He was doing an external B,Sc. degree at Birkbeck College in Holborn, and he persuaded me to apply there to re-sit. He took me along to the interview, where the Principal said that he thought it unlikely that I would be able to cope with what was normally a two-year course in the one year offered at Birkbeck. Alex pointed out to him that I had already done the course at school (a fact I had been reluctant to mention as I thought it unwise to refer to failure at school!) and the Principal immediately offered me a place. During the interim between my leaving school and taking up a place at Birkbeck the requirements for the exam had changed. Now only three subjects were required to be studied. However further difficulties presented themselves. At school I had studied 4 subjects all of which required practical lab work. In order to do 3 of these subjects at evening classes I would have had to attend 6 sessions (3 theory and 3 practical) each week. This was impossible as the college timetable was arranged in a way that did not allow for three practical subjects. I therefore had to rethink my programme. I had to give up 2 of the subjects I had done before and substitute one other non-practical subject. It was suggested by the Principal that I should do Maths, and that it was preferable to do Physics and Chemistry with Maths, So I would have to give up Botany and Zoology, the only two I had passed before, and do Maths which I had never liked. I was in something of a quandary but I was encouraged to continue by the family, Alex and my friends, and I finally decided to carry on. I therefore attended the college five evenings a week and every Saturday morning, beginning in October 1947.

This was an entirely new venture for me and I approached the first term with some apprehension. However I soon settled in and I even began to enjoy Maths for we had a very good lecturer and interesting company. I remember the Physics lecturer particularly. He was a man in his seventies with years of experience and tremendous enthusiasm for his subject.


In March 1948 a young man started work in the lab with me. He was 23 years old, had just been demobbed from the R.A.F. and was filling in time till October when he was to start working for a Chemistry degree at Imperial College. At lunch time on his first day at work the girls from other labs at Johnson's asked me what the "new boy" was like. I told them that he seemed very nice "but too keen on sport for my liking!" His name was Ron Girdler. We had worked together for some months when, in June, the British Industries Fair took place in Earls Court and Johnson's took a stand there. "Fanny" Wright had two tickets for the exhibition and asked us if we'd like to go on her behalf. We went on the Saturday, but I have to admit that I can't remember much about the exhibition. It was a fine day and we walked through the streets of London in a state of some excitement, At some point we approached a narrow street which had a row of bollards at it's entrance and Ron vaulted over them. I was very impressed by his athleticism. He hasn't changed much! I had hoped that he would ask me to spend the evening with him in London, perhaps for a meal or a visit to the cinema, and was very disappointed when he casually told me that he was taking his girl friend to a dance. I returned home feeling rejected and doubly so when Mum said that she hadn't expected me home so early.

During the summer of that year we began to go out together, and I found Ron very resourceful when it came to ideas for places to go. Of course we went to the cinema quite often but also we took long walks. This was something unusual for me in those days and it wasn't too easy to find places to go to, considering that we lived in the suburbs and had no car. However we used the buses and trains and went quite far afield. Ron managed to persuade me to ride on his tandem (I had never ridden a bike before and I certainly would not ride one now through present day traffic) and I sat on the back and did as little work as I could. On one occasion, perhaps during the following year, for it was cherry time, we went with two other young men from Johnson's, Pete and Eddie, to Maidenhead by train, where we hired a dinghy and rowed up river. I wore a pair of burgundy trousers which I thought were most appropriate for the occasion but the boys thought I was very daring as very few women wore trousers then. I sat in the back of the boat throwing cherries at the boys which they caught in their mouths whilst they took it in turns to do the rowing, The weather was glorious and it was a great day out.

At work we got on very well together, and we began to find that we had a lot in common. One morning whilst we were doing some titrations at the bench, Ron started singing to himself and when I realised he was humming the second movement of Beethoven's 7th, Symphony I Joined in with the second theme. Ever since then this has been "our tune". We also agreed on politics, both feeling that Socialism and later, Communism, are the only fair and just systems. Imagine our delight when a Labour government was elected in 1945, following the end of the war!

In September 1948 Ron left Johnson's to prepare for his University course, We met on Sundays only as he was working at his studies the rest of the time. His parents had no telephone so we were unable even to communicate during the week. He used to cycle to South Kensington to Imperial College every day a distance of about 10 miles. He wore a flat cap while cycling and he had to pass the School where Linda was a pupil. On one occasion he had to stop for the children to cross the road and Linda called out to him “Oh, Ron, you do look awfully silly!” an expression we have never forgotten.

In the meantime a new young man took his place at Johnson's by the name of Terry, who was also studying at Birkbeck College so we used to travel up to London together. At Birkbeck I met a chap who worked in a Hospital Lab. and it was he who introduced me to the idea of applying for a Job at the Belsize Park laboratories of the N.W. London Group Hospital Labs. I had by this time (1949) realised that there was no progress to be made at Johnson's, and I had to make a change.

In October 1948 Ron started his Chemistry B.Sc, course at Imperial College in South Kensington. I remained working at Johnson's and saw him only on Sundays. He was not on the telephone so we had no way of communicating with one another from one Sunday to the next. I had passed my Inter Bsc, at long last in the June of that year, having been unable to complete the examination the previous year owing to an attack of chicken-pox which I had caught from Linda, and which manifested itself during the Maths exam. During 1948, however, I had expert tuition in Chemistry and Maths from Ron and I felt much more confident when confronted with the exam papers. I was persuaded to take a Chemistry B.Sc. degree at Birkbeck and attended a few lectures before I became aware that I was not cut out for Chemistry, especially when I realised I had not understood a word of the thermodynamics lecture. However I met a chap there who worked in a Medical laboratory and he introduced me to the idea that I might enjoy working in a Hospital lab. He lived in Hendon and on fine evenings in the summer we would get off the tube train at Hampstead station and walk to Golders Green (the next station on the Northern Line) along the edge of the Heath via the Whitestone Pond, It was during these long walks that he described what the work consisted of and I eventually applied to the Group Hospital Laboratory in Pond Street, Belsize Park. I was taken on as a lab. technician and started working there at a salary of £8 per week, which was more than I had been getting at Johnson's. Because I had already got the Inter,B.Sc. qualification I was able to start at Junior Technician level rather than Trainee, and I was not required to take the first Institute of Medical Laboratory Technology examination. It was suggested that I might like to take Senior Tech, exam at some stage, but at that time I felt I had done enough exam studying!

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