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Abertay University Archives Birmingham Oral History
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Interview with Alexander (Sandy) Robertson

Alexander (Sandy) Robertson shared his memories of studying Mechanical and Production Engineering at Dundee Technical College, including his accommodation in "digs", and using early computers. He shares anecdotes about lectures and various lecturers during his time there.

0.00 Interview started
0.20 Studied Mechanical and Production Engineering – father owned a garage in Nairn
1.10 Showed us his certificate
1.25 Donald Macgregor, his friend from Nairn, did civil engineering
1.50 Things going on at the time - Vietnam War. NCR (National Cash Registers) laying off staff in Dundee
2.30 Talked about new technology that he used – showed a slide rule that he used as a calculator.
3.40 “Everything was new technology to me”
4.20 Funny memories – filling out form for new course, someone wrote “occupation - Poet Laureate”, so he was challenged to recite a poem to everyone else.
5.30 There were hundreds of engineers but they all had to do a common course in Chemistry. Chemists don’t normally do complicated formulae (unlike physicists and engineers), but one day when Dr Hargreaves did, the engineering students all cheered. Dr Hargreaves turned around and said “Don’t cheer! Just throw cigarettes!”
6.40 Tutorials – one student trying to impress his tutor, trying fancy equations to solve a problem – nothing worked. An old tutor in “Plus fours” (trousers tucking into socks) suggested using Ohms Law – “you’ve tried everything else, even though it won’t work you might as well try it.”
8.00 Meeting a support tutor, who asks the students how they’re doing. One student had no problems, but the support Tutor kept asking, “Are you sure?”. Eventually, in desperation – “Maybe you could listen to some of my problems.”.
8.50 1966 college computer. I remember a lab on programming the digital computer. Paper tape of an inch wide, punched with a programme. Basic stuff. Another computer we used more and earlier – an analogue computer. More of a continuous computer, plugging in wires to create circuits (like an old telephone exchange).
11.20 At Aston in Birmingham, he used a computer with punch cards. In early days in Dundee, the computer was huge – filled a whole room.
12.20 AR asked Stuart and Aaron if they used computers much. They used computers a lot – for technology, and English for example.
13.30 Societies – “I had friends that played rugby. I don’t remember being in any societies. We had parties, get togethers, played golf. Societies were not something we had in the 60s.”
14.40 Accommodation – we had to find our own accommodation. Stayed in a Church of Scotland Hostel on Hilltown. Had a cubicle. Amongst other people – bakers, plumbers etc. The baker made the porridge early in the morning – hard once they got to it. Then he stayed in an apartment (flat) with his friend Donald MacGregor, then he was in digs (shared rented accommodation) with a schoolteacher at Kirktown Secondary School, Miss Wallace – Kirktown won Top of the Form in 1967 – she coached that team. Knowledgeable person that helped him get through his final year at the College
17.20 Not been back in Dundee since 1970. He thinks the accommodation has changed. Courses have changed. Very different now.

Alexander Robertson