Sex was simply ignored – except for a strange one-to-one interview, in fifth form I think, where the Rector perfunctorily, and with evident embarrassment, checked that we "knew the facts of life". Still, perhaps it is a little unfair, and anachronistic, to impugn St Hugh’s: there was precious little recognition of the issues throughout the subsequent five years I spent in major seminaries… But that aside, I believe I received a very good education at Tollerton. For A-level, after starting on the only three subjects then offered, Latin, English and history, I dropped the latter two and - the first student to do so - took maths and physics instead. I’d shown some talent for maths at O-level and taken general science (with still no lab!) in lower sixth. Fr Swaby’s excellent individual tuition guaranteed success in maths but I only just scraped a pass in physics, for lessons in which I had to cycle twice weekly to the Becket School in Nottingham.
The outcome was that, in 1959, instead of going on to one of the usual major seminaries, I went to Belgium, to the University of Louvain (now Leuven). Fr Sweeney had, evidently, heard that the philosophy faculty there had a "scientific" bias and thought that it would be a good place for me to do the mandatory three years of philosophy then required of all those heading for the priesthood. I cannot forget how he gave the news: both standing in the muddy "swimming pool" we students had recently dug. From there I went on to Rome for theology, but stayed only two years. But a by-product of these experiences, learning languages, determined a career in modern languages education – and a passionate interest in language generally, of which the seeds were sown, I’m sure, by the challenge of trying to impress Fr Sweeney in those Latin proses over fifty years ago…
January 2015: A friend from my time in Rome asked me if I knew anything about another fellow-Roman, Brendan Howling - who was also at St Hugh's at the same time as I (I see from my old Hugonian that he was organist in 1959). If anyone has any information about him, we'd be very grateful; please message via the form on the Contact page.