The name of my college in England where I’d studied to prepare for my GCE A-Levels was Blackpool College of Technology and Arts. To be honest, when I received the offer letter from the college to study in Blackpool, I didn’t have the faintest idea where Blackpool was.
If there was the internet back then, I could have just googled it. But this was the late 70s. So, I had to turn to the good old brown covered Atlas Untuk Sekolah Menengah Malaysia to scrutinize the map of Great Britain and search for the word “Blackpool”. I found “Blackburn” quite easily. But had no luck with “Blackpool”.
I concluded that Blackpool must have been just a small a town. And it made me wonder if the fancy-sounding Blackpool College of Technology and Art was actually just a so so college, housed in some unflattering old building.
So, when I eventually arrived in front of the college on 12 September 1979, I was pleasantly surprised to find such a handsome college with modern, purpose-built buildings. Upon getting off the coach that had taken us all the way from London, we were greeted by Mr. Singleton, the Overseas Students Coordinator who, after some brief formalities, earnestly reminded us that our course was to commence the next day, Thursday 13 September, at 9.15 am sharp.
The Blackpool College of Technology and Art was what they called in England a “further and higher education college”. The college was also sometimes called the Blackpool College of Technology, or just Blackpool Tech for short. It was founded in its current, modern form in 1965 with a main campus at Ashfield Road in Bispham, which was where I studied.
The college buildings were located in spacious settings, surrounded by lush green lawns and fields. There were five buildings altogether – six if you include the small Student Union Building. The tallest building was the seven-story Hotel and Catering block, or popularly called the “Hot-Cat” building, which housed courses related to hotel, hospitality and catering, the realm of one self-sponsored Malaysian student, Samad Wong . This was also where the student refectory was located on the ground floor, where my friends and I would go to have chips with baked beans for lunch.
There were three main study blocks and they were all three-storey buildings. These study blocks, together with the sports hall building, were arranged in a square shaped formation to form an enclosed area in the middle, something like a large courtyard with a very big lawn. The lawn was lightly landscaped with small trees and there were pathways cutting across the lawn linking the buildings together.
The study blocks were given simple names as Blocks T, G, and E. The T in actual fact stood for Technical, as in Technical Block. G was for General Block, and E was for Engineering Block. The main front entrance to the college was located at Block G. The entrance had a tall glass facade and a small glass door by its side just to the left which led to the foyer. Block G accommodated the main offices and the library. It was connected to Block T which was where most of our classes were held.
Directly opposite from Block G, just across the courtyard, was Block E. It accommodated engineering-related and other specialized courses such as quantity surveying for those doing the Higher National Diploma, or the HND. Somehow, I never once set foot in Block E. This was the domain of my flatmate, Hamidin, and our seniors Ahmad Said and Azman Zahari. The Student Union Building was located just beside the sports hall facing the side entrance to Block G. This was where I would sit down with Ghani, Hasni and Khalid for a drink after sweating it out with a game of badminton at the sports hall nearby.
To get to college, I initially used the bus with my flat mates Safie and Hussain. But upon moving house to Norbreck, which was closer to college, my flatmates and I walked the one and a half kilometre distance every day passing by rows of quaint houses which showcased interesting English front gardens that changed with the season. Absolutely a feast for the eyes. After a good fifteen to twenty minutes’ walk from Norbreck, I would arrive at the college and enter through the side entrance of Block G. From there I would usually head straight to the library to read the newspapers first. But if class was just about to start, I would go direct to class.
The library was a favourite retreat place of mine. It was here that I would spend my time in between classes to catch up with the news, read magazines or work on my assignments. The library had two levels, the main level and a mezzanine which was connected to the main floor via a spiral stair-case. If I didn’t want to be disturbed in order to concentrate on my work, I would usually take the stairs up and find a table in a nice little corner somewhere. It was pure bliss, and certainly perfect for catching a wink.
Oops, there goes my little secret.
Our classrooms were on the first floor of Block T and were located on either side of a corridor which ran the whole length of the block. For our physics lecture with Mr David Speight we used the theatre style classroom as it was a big class with thirty to forty students in all. But our Economics class with Mr David Swan was smaller with less than ten students at the most comprising myself, Nina, Aishah, Ghani, Shaari, Farouk, Hussin and three or four other English students. The Statistics class with Mr Jones was even smaller. For these two classes we used a small room with the standard classroom seating arrangement.
I remember the classes were bright and clean, and well provided with materials and teaching aids. The teachers were very experienced and so approachable compared to Malaysian teachers I might say. In short, the college provided a very conducive environment for learning. In general, we Malaysians were good students and attendances to all the classes were great. But the same could not be said of some of the English students, though.
For example, in the Physics class there were a couple of blokes who were habitually late to classes. One, by the name of Chris Wriggley, seemed to have never bothered to finish his assignments. This displeased the strict Mr Speight no end. But Chris always seemed unperturbed and might actually have enjoyed taking the Mickey out of the old man as well. It made me wonder as to why Chris had enrolled for the class in the first place at all. From his style of clothing, he looked more comfortable being with a group of Mods marauding the streets looking for fights.
Before starting on a new lesson, Mr Speight liked to stand in front of the class and handed back our assignments which had been marked. He would call out our names one by one as he handed the assignment papers and it was his habit to accompany it with snide remarks about our work. It was a big cause for anxiety for many, but also a source of hilarious fun in class at times. Amongst us Malaysians, Zulbahri Long, a chap from Teregganu was always being singled out for praise for his good work. Apart from one single occasion, I used to get loads of Mr Speight’s trademark sneers and scoffs. You just gotta love him, Mr Speight.
The sports hall was a great facility for indoor sports such as volleyball, badminton and basketball. I used to play badminton there. My regular partners in crime were Ghani, Hasni and Khalid. But I also remember playing with some seniors Ramush, Hasnan, Atok and Ahmad. Once, a few sisters over from St Annes joined in too. We Malaysians used to more or less hog the badminton courts. No locals dared to challenge us for a game because if they did, they knew that they were in for some thrashing on court. But there was one occasion when Hasni and our senior, Atok, were challenged, and lost. Gasp! Hasni must be having one of his off days, or sick or something. Apart from that blip, our record remained intact and we often left the sports hall with smug on our faces.
Although studies were our main pre-occupation, we never neglected our obligatory prayers, even while busy at college. We were lucky that the college administration had dedicated a room for this purpose on the third floor of Block G. As there was only one room, we had to take turns with the sisters to use it. But on Friday afternoons, priority would be given to us guys to complete our Friday prayers first.
The khatib for Friday prayers would always be one of us Malaysians but we were also joined by students from Jordan and Brunei during prayers. Being a bunch of young students, it might have looked like a daunting task to consistently undertake the Friday prayers, complete with the sermon and all. If I do say so myself, perhaps it was a testimony to our resourcefulness and understanding of our obligations that was slowly being instilled in our young minds that we persisted in discharging these duties.
After all – British education aside – a balanced development in life was still the underlying aim for every one of us. And Blackpool College had a big hand towards that.