The Third Year


The most memorable aspect of  my third years which was to influence my life was the Botanical garden which was my manual labour – Fr. Sebastian was he Junior master (he took me up to the monks wood to instruct me in casting a fly with a rod. However I never got into fishing though I tried on one or two occasion the latest being in 1993 on the River Tay near Pitlochriy with Charles Fothringham when I visited them on a round robin tour of Scotland.  But it was not the garden whose wall I built and whose grass path on top of the wall below the beech hedge – still there in 1996 – I made but the greenhouse which was the object of significance.  I wandered into it and discovered myself in Fr. Damian Webb’s world of time lapse photography.  This linked me up with Fr. Aidan Gilman and since he had not time or inclination at that  moment to continue with the timelapse. i got on  with it and  with his advice  made some short films – the growth of peas.  What I discovered was the gears of an aircraft mounted on  a frame with a motor and a clock. Instead of hand the clock had a disk with pins (different discs had pins up to 60 round the circumference. When these turned they pressed on a  lever which titled and  close the electrical contact with the mercury switch which started the engine, this withdrew the arm which reset itself by which time another mercury with on a lower arm had brought in the power to keep the motor turning. As the motor turned the gears rods on them pressed other mercury switches which closed the shutters, put on the flood lamps. triggered the cameras (gunsight cameras modified)(16mm), opened the shutters watered the plants, also aircraft pumps for fuel (did not work well because they got clogged up with the hard water) and then opened the shutters..  The whole place was  pandoras box of interest to me and associated with it was a n account with Kodak for chemicals and paper and film, plus a Bolex 1950s for taking film normally to join with the timelapse.  Fr. Damian had made a film of wild honeysuckle but it was lost when he sent it to one of his supporters, and there were other bits of film which I spliced together.  Damian had arranged an amazing photographic, metalwork, botanical, mechanical project, but it was just too complicated, to heath robinson to be a long term success, and he went on to other things which made it incompatible.  For me it was an entry into many different worlds, and Fr. Aidan and I took the whole contraption in abut 1960 to York where the British Association was meeting and w demonstrated it.   Later the advent of a single concept film the Technicolour 800 – a TV like projector with special cassette on which there was a 3min film (8mm) was an ideal associate with he timelapse world, and Fr. Aidan and I working with a contract from Longmans made a film of measuring the photosynthesis of plants by means of  radioactivity. This worked quite well with Edward Knight, brother of Andrew Knight who later became famous in the Newspaper world.   There were some rough remarks made around the procurators dept etc about Damian and how he spent some money given to the biology department, but when in 1995 his sister died and the money which came to the Abbey then made the whole issue seem very small.

Br. Matthew Francis was now an old man and he could be seen moving in a staccato fashion down the cloister with his tray of food and a fixed expression on his face.  He wanted to be left alone and not noticed.  He had come to us from Fort Augustus and had been a great friend of  Fred Wright (my Father’s eldest brother).  Whatever the connection between them, Fred’s son Richard said that when he was in the school Br. Matthew always cleaned his shoes for him.  In his last years, the younger monks encouraged him to come into the Calefactory, and he would come in on ferculum days and sit a the end of the main table. This was the time when the main calefactory table (later moved to the conference room and now back in the old Calefactory (2004)) was in the centre of the calefactory (now the reading room without the upper story) but was pushed to the West wall in the period of the 60s.  I used to seem quite a lot of him and chat about the past in his room which was  the second last one on the left in the New wing (now the infirmary).