Monthly Archives: August 2013


Williams, that is, as a surname.

The first was a Miss Williams, teacher of English at Woodside Senior Secondary School in Glasgow, Scotland.    She is remembered by me, then a proverbial callow youth, as a glamorous personage;  even cloaked in the long black master’s gown of the time.   My recollection is confirmed by old school magazine photographs which I will not share here!

Moving ahead about six years, another of that name appeared on the scene –  Herbert H. Williams, Dean of Admissions at Cornell University.  I still have his letter of acceptance addressed  to  me In Japan where I was serving in the U.S. Army.    I was only three years an immigrant in my new country and was thrilled beyond belief at my good fortune.  The GI Bill in those days was very generous and covered more than half of expenses at one of the most prestigious colleges in America,  But I still had to make up a  deficit. 

Enter the third Williams,  David B., then Director of Financial Aid.  During my four undergraduate years, I earned  most of my shortfall in that office, helping other students get jobs on and off campus.  (David subsequently became head of the international student office where he did an outstanding job.)

I have to confess that the fourth is a bit of a stretch:  Ralph Vaughan Williams.  Yes, I know his name is an unhyphenated double-barrelled type.  But that Williams was a visiting lecturer and conductor while I was at Cornell.  Thus  I saw and heard the great man, a familiar name from childhood.    In the land of Copeland and Gershwin, I was proud of  my musical heritage in his person. 

The last of the name I can recall being eligible to be added to this list is Henry G. Willams, Director of State Planning, State of New York.   I was fortunate to join his office to participate in development of the new federal Coastal Management Program.  That marked the beginning of  a successful second career, this time in the public sector, in an unusual venture joining federal, state and local governments in efforts to improve New York’s 1,500 miles of coastal assets.  

So I thank all you Williamses for making my life more exciting and fulfilling!bb(Sorry Esther, Serena, Venus, Emelyn, et al.)






Since 2005, I have been rolled inside an MRI machine numerous times.   I don’t particularly mind the procedure: in fact I used to doze off until my sleep apnea related leg movements caused problems.    And I greatly benefited from the MRIs which identified on occasion places where my brand of chondrosarcoma has tried to establish  new settlements in my body.  (And here I must praise  the fine  doctors, amazing nurses, dedicated technicians, and all staff, from cafeteria cashier and up, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City for their professional skills and caring treatment of patients.) 

Each time I lay there, my prominent nose  a couple of inches from the ‘roof’ of the machine, I  listened, with earplugs in, to the fascinating selection of sounds.     So intrigued was I that, a couple of times I half-jokingly told the imaging staff that I was going to create a piece of  music – a concerto  or sonata – for MRI machine and other ‘instruments.’    

Tonight, I thought I might dust off the idea so I did a search on the web.    Several others have already acted on their response to the intense, repetitive, mesmerising sounds.  So far I have found two types of MRI-inspired musical efforts.  First,  synthesizing/bending of the sounds (  The other, for example, actually scoring the sounds for instruments ( or putting together a multimedia work (  I will continue the hunt, particularly for MRI sounds.  I have yet to track down the Sloan Kettering sounds.   But then their character will depend, I assume, on the make of device and  the technical settings.  (To my amusement, I have found that Siemens has a line of MRI machines with musical brand names  such as the Magnetom Symphony!)

Stay tuned – with your earplugs firmly inserted. 



Just read that New York City is to issue score cards for teacher colleges.  This in an effort to single out institutions whose graduates might not give the best value in city schools.  I  was reminded of a story a dean of a prestigious Midwestern university told me back in the late 1950s.  He said that if I looked in their library at the theses supporting degrees conferred by the school of education, I would find many spelling mistakes.   I took the scholar at his word and never did a survey of my own.  Of course, there was no spell check back then. But maybe New York City could do a spotcheck and use this additional measurement in its efforts ultimately to improve student  performance!


In the 1970s, I had a brilliant idea, as I was sure,  for a book.  But back then in the pre-internet age, for an unpublished writer, getting work in print was a daunting task .  I sent outlines to a couple of publishers but was turned down.  Then a  friend suggested  I contact a former mutual banking colleague who had married into the book business.  And so I sent my outline along to John Hawkins who was with Paul R. Reynolds, a leading literary agency in New York City.    I showed up on John’s doorstep one day, by appointment  of course.   Apologizing  for my ‘over the transom’ approach, I begged past comradeship in the halls of finance,  Then, as I remember, with a glimmer of optimism, I awaited his verdict on my proposal.  He was however not encouraging.  So I slumped  back in my chair.  On friendly and safer grounds, we turned to our  days at Bankers Trust and the crowd we mixed with. I told John that I had been out of circulation and had just discovered that the ex-wife of our mutual friend, Claude Lazard, was now a very successful author.  He laughed and told me a story of the one  that got away  (somewhat reminiscent of the recent J. K. Rowling  saga).

It seems that Danielle (then Lazard, nee Steel) had come to his office one day to discuss a book manuscript she had sent him.   Danielle usually seen in the chic uniform of a young well-to-do Manhattanite was garbed otherwise that day:  jeans,  flannel shirt and coiffure to match.    He told Danielle that he had read the book.    And as he put it to me, he gently suggested to her  that she continue in her enviable role as a young woman about town and cast aside any ideas about a  writing career.

Fortunately for her millions of readers; Danielle Steel decided  to  ignore his advice!

P.S. My book never got published. But I still have that outline somewhere. Anyone interested?


Just  a note to relate response from OUP to my query re use of material from one of their publications.  “

“Thank you for your enquiry. We are in the process of reviewing our policy on the use of Oxford University Press material appearing on open access websites.  At this point in time we would not allow copyright material to be included on these sites.  I will keep your enquiry in our files and be back in touch when our policy has been formulated fully.”  As a creator of copyright material, I appreciate and respect the OUP position.


Actually, this is strictly for people of a certain age from Glasgow – those who remember the tramcar, that beloved public transit vehicle.  Tramcars, or trolleys, are still in wide use across the globe.  But in the UK, they were deemed old fashioned and inefficient and in 1962, Glasgow’s fleet of over one thousand trams was the last system to be taken ‘offline’ in the country.  (Now, trams are making a comeback in  Edinburgh , at enormous expense.  Which just goes to show………)

Anyway, this is a bit of verse recollecting some of my own memories of that splendid ship of the lines, the Glasgow tramcar (with apologies for the misbehaving verse lines).


                                              Decimal points,             

                                                     Ration book points,

                                                     Are all very well for the file and the rank.

                                                     But the points loved best

                                              On the trams going west,

                                                     Switched them to Woodlands and Bank

                                                     Hand-changed points,

                                                     Automatic points,

                                                     It made no difference.  You see  

                                                     Just let the driver take a bearing

                                                     For the right turn at Charing,

                                                     From Sauchie and the Art Gallery.



                                                      All have their place in the firmament.

                                                      But the screech of the wheels

                                                      On the turns explains, Neil’s

                                                      Memories of points run to sentiment.

                                                      Neil MacCormick

                                                      c.  1980


In memory of all who did not miss the Forgotten War and died, were wounded, became prisoners of war and fought in terrible conditions.

A few days ago, I saw the headline:  60th Anniversary of Korean War Armistice.   I thought that it had all happened much further back.  But I was wrong. 

In December 1952, I finished sixteen weeks of infantry basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey.  There, with other draftees and young men who volunteered to serve their country, I learned the rudiments of the skills with which  I was assured I could protect myself and cause harm to the enemy.     The  Korean War had been raging for over two years so that there was no doubt who that enemy was.   Whatever we felt about our prospects, as young soldiers have probably done since the invention of war, we hid our fears behind our smart uniforms and newly acquired military bearing.

In 1952, the procedures following basic training seem now to be haphazard.  But obviously they worked.    Most of us were told at Fort Dix that  we were going to the Far East.    To get us on our way, we were handed travel orders and our own personnel folder, known as the ‘201’ file. The army then relied on paper 201 files for assignments and other actions.  The only unusual aspect at that time was that we carried our own personnel files with us   We were ordered  not to lose the documents and to hand them over at our next military post.   

Thus. after Christmas leave, I arrived at Camp Stoneman, outside San Francisco.  There I was immediately directed inside a large building.   Behind a long counter, army  clerks yelled at us to toss our 201 files onto the mass of brown folders which  reared behind them.  I watched as my 201 landed on top then slid down the slope to the latter’s temporary angle of repose (a nice term I learned in one of my careers).   That was it.  I had followed orders, done my duty, and delivered my short army life history.  And presumably the 201 would be perused, analysed and as a result, my fate decided upon. (Later, I met another draftee wandering around Stoneman who had managed to ‘lose’ his 201 file.  With any luck, he admitted with a grin, he would not have  enough time left in his 24 month tour of duty to be shipped overseas.)


After a few days, we boarded a troopship, the MSTS General Gordon, bound for Yokohama and two weeks later found ourselves at Camp Drake, Tokyo. Drake, like Stoneman, was a “repo-depot,” a center for processing the flow of soldiers to and from Korea and other points in the Far East Command. There we were easily recognized as raw recruits by the returning battle-worn Korean veterans on their way home. And many took great pleasure in regaling us with grim stories and warnings of what lay ahead for us in ‘Frozen Chosen.’ As I recall our reactions, we untried warriors pretty much just listened. There was no talk among us of the future. But inside, I am sure most were terrified. Those in charge at Camp Drake seemed to understand this. Because we were kept busy washing huge pots in huge mess halls or cleaning barracks while we awaited our fate. There was no sign of our 201 files anywhere. Maybe they all got lost en route from Camp Stoneman, I thought hopefully.

Periodically, we would be ordered out in formation to listen to the names of fellow soldiers read off to report for shipping out to Korea. Was there relief or increased anxiety when we were passed over and the formation dismissed? I suspect the latter. We drifted back to the barracks or made our way to the PX, awaiting the command to gather again in the company area.

That did not happen until the following day when we fell in, in probably militarily incorrect ranks – after all, we were close to becoming veterans in our own right – we were losing the basic-training-inspired awe of the First Sergeant. We waited for the seeming inevitable.

“OK, listen up. The following men are on local orders.”

Then my name and several hundred others were shouted out by the NCO in charge. A buzz went around the area. “What’s “local orders?” What does it mean?

Then we were dumbfounded to learn that “local orders” meant we were not after all going to Korea. Instead we were staying in Japan, assigned to the First Cavalry Division stationed on Hokkaido. That unit had been brought off the line after almost two years of hard fighting and needed replacements to build up its reserve strength.

Within a couple of days we were on a troop train heading to northern Honshu for a ferry ride and our final destination, Camp Crawford, outside Sapporo. En route, I had my last glimpse of my 201 file. During the long journey, in a very efficient process, First Cavalry Division staff went through the train interviewing each of us, referring to our 201 files as they went. Then they gave us our assignments.

Over the years since those events, I have often reflected on the moment when I tossed my 201 file over that counter in Camp Stoneman. What if I had thrown it to the left or right? What if I had arrived there ten minutes later? Then I might have been sent on a different troopship, one going direct to Korea.

While in Japan I had contact with only one of the many of my Fort Dix buddies who undoubtedly ended up in Korea. He was an army photographer. He never saw action. But in 1953, he sent me a letter he got from another of our basic training recruits who was serving on the front line. I have held on to it as a reminder of what might have been. And also as a testament to a brave young man facing danger yet sensitive enough to discern the tragedy of war for both sides in the conflict. Read the letter for yourself.