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Four decades ago – A Romanian in Britain (A Story from the Home Office website)

April 23rd, 2011 · No Comments · Books, Diary, Diaspora, PEOPLE, Reviews

A Romanian in Britain (A Story from the Home Office website)

I had started to study English as my fourth foreign language after German and French, which were both spoken in the family and Russian which was compulsory at schools behind the Iron Curtain. My native language was Romanian and long before I started private English lessons I had a cartoon-like impression of the British Isles from the plays of Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens, from the short stories of J.B. Priestley, the fabulous novels of Walter Scott‘s and from my bed side History of Architecture by Sir Bannister Fletcher. I also knew and admired Henry Moore whose exhibition was organized by the British Council in Bucharest. When I was a student in the 1960’s I was, of course a fan of the Beatles, although I had to keep this a secret from the Communist authorities who regarded the Pop Music as decadent. Well, I wanted to be decadent.

quote… within three months I learned to down eight pints of Newcastle brown Ale in one evening …unquote

Within three months I learned to down Eight Pints of Newcastle Brown in one evening

My first contact with Britain, was oddly enough with Newcastle-upon-Tyne and I was terribly excited to be the guest of the School of Physics, where I enjoyed the privilege of a visitor’s accommodation in a beautiful penthouse. This was all the more exciting as it was built by Sir Basil Spence an architect I much admired for his rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral. I could not understand Geordie being spoken in the pubs and did not know what a pint was and neither could I drink more than half a pint, but within three months I learned to down eight pints of Newcastle brown Ale in one evening. I found the inhabitants friendly, although being called a pet took some time to get used to given my stuffy Marxist upbringing: – well some people were more equal then others back home.

In Newcastle I was asked by the University Librarian what language we spoke in Romania and if we had a language of our own, so I decided to start a crusade in the form of a One-man Festival of Romania to proselytise the Geordies about the virtues of Romanian culture. This attracted the attention of Tyne Tees TV who interviewed me live and made me overnight an unwitting hero within two months of my arrival in town.

quote… My greatest trouble in England arose from my refusal to give up my Romanian nationality. In retrospect this may seem bizarre …unquote

In the meantime I got very worried about my finances, as the one pound a day grant was not stretching far enough so I applied for various research scholarships of which I got two in Canada and the United States and a Scholarship at Cambridge. I chose the latter because I liked the architecture and the gardens. I think I got the Scholarship against intense competition because I was quite relaxed about it as I could not imagine in my wildest dreams that I will ever succeed in being a postgraduate student at Cambridge, so I did not take my interview seriously and felt no angst about it.

Whilst at Cambridge I translated and published in Encounter Romanian poetry and wrote articles about Brancusi in the Cambridge Review. I also wrote the first bilingual French-English pamphlet with the History of Peterhouse, which was my College and I remembered asking my long suffering Tutor, who was a medieval Historian:

Peterhouse, Cambridge, College History by Constantin Roman

Did you wait 700 years for a Romanian to come along and write a History of Peterhouse?

In my second year I was elected President of the Graduate Society and managed to obtain new privileges, one of which was to be allowed to have the Society Dinners in the Combination Room. I also discovered in the College a portrait of Dewar, a scientist whom I admired in Romania and who was relegated to oblivion in the College cellars, so I granted him a place of honour in the Grad Soc Common Room, where it still hangs today (NB Since writing this piece the painting was moved to the first-floor stairwell leading to the Fellows Parlour).

My greatest trouble in England arose from my refusal to give up my Romanian nationality. In retrospect this may seem bizarre, especially that I was menaced on a number of fronts: by Securitate operatives masquerading as diplomats keen to end my flouting of socialist order and drag me back to Romania; by a prospective mother-in-law who refused to allow her daughter to marry me unless I accepted British citizenship; and by officials of the British Home Office who assumed that my desire to retain what I saw as my unalienable right of birth, my nationality, might stem from communist loyalties.

Afterwards Lord Goodman decided to champion my cause, writing to the head of the Home Office that I was a

man of impeccable character clearly determined to belong here and make a significant contribution to our national life.”

In retrospect I hope that I discharged myself honourably of Goodman‘s expectations as I gave generously my expertise in discovering oil and gas for Britain and batting for Britain abroad on the cultural and scientific front, especially in my native country – Romania.

The whole drift of this saga is best captured in memoirs recently published by the Institute o Physics in London  under the title Continental Drift – Colliding Continents, Converging Cultures.

Constantin ROMAN: A History of Plate Tectonics at Madingley Rise, Cambridge



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