Archive for November, 2013

Vacuum Is Space Empty Of Matter

Friday, November 29th, 2013

By David

We know the CEO of Auckland Swimming, Brian Palmer, is on his way. Excited by the prospect of new challenges he has decided it is time to move on. So what happens now? Are we going to see the Board of Auckland Swimming initiate a national search for a person of ability and talent? Will Brian Palmer be replaced by an equally independent and strong leader capable of planning what’s best for Auckland and skilled enough to guide the region in a positive direction? Is the current independent, strong role of Auckland Swimming secure? Is the Board of Auckland Swimming going to appoint a new CEO capable of protecting Auckland’s interests?

I think not. The days when Auckland stood up for what it believed and promoted strong policies appropriate for New Zealand largest city are about to end; “not with a bang but a whimper”. The departure of Brian Palmer will be seen by “Neville Chamberlin” Auckland Board members as their chance to change the nature and direction of the Region. Words like independence, strength, progress and courage will be replaced by cooperation, participation and sharing in a love fest of Woodstock proportions. Dynamic and sometimes uncomfortable leadership will be traded for the warm fuzzes. And Auckland swimming will be the poorer as a result.

Because the hyenas at Swimming New Zealand are circling. Miskimmin, Layton and Renford will see Brian Palmer’s departure as the opportunity of a lifetime. For them it is the opportunity of a lifetime. They won’t miss the chance seize control of New Zealand’s biggest region; to get their hands on Auckland’s assets; riches denied them while Palmer sat in the CEO chair. We are about to embark on a game at which the evil empire is expert.

My guess is that the conversations will probably go like this. “Teresa, it’s Peter here. So sorry to hear you have lost that chap, what was his name, Palmer? Just calling to see if Sport New Zealand can help. Certainly don’t want to get involved in your internal affairs. You know we’d never do that. But, while you are getting the mess you have sorted, we may have some interim resources to help you through.”

“Oh, Peter thanks for your call. That’s so kind. We are in a bit of a corner. What do you suggest?”

“Well Teresa I was thinking that perhaps you and Christian – you know Christian Renford the Swimming New Zealand CEO – could have lunch tomorrow. Get your ducks in a row. Oh, and don’t worry about the cost. In the spirit of our shared future, this ones on Sport New Zealand. What do you say?”

“Sound’s perfect Peter. I’ll be there. Where abouts and what time?”

“Sails Restaurant at 12.30, be okay?”

“I’ll see Christian then, Peter. Thank you so much. You are an Auckland life saver.”

And now let’s jump forward twenty four hours to a corner table in Sales Restaurant. It’s a sunny day. The window is open and a gentle breeze cools the warm summer sun.

Christian says, “Good to see you Teresa. We should have done this before. What would you like to eat? I can recommend the twice roasted half duck with herbed panisse, wilted greens, date & lemongrass relish and star anise jus. It’s delicious.”

“That sound lovely. Thank you,” says Teresa, beginning to feel more comfortable.

“It goes really well with the 1999 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs. Wasn’t it Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin who said, “It is vital to indulge in one’s passions, so long as they are shared with friends and family.”

I agree Christian. Auckland has been outside the Swimming New Zealand family for far too long. Palmer was a difficult person. What do you think we can do about it?

Well Teresa, Peter and I discussed Auckland’s problems yesterday. I’d like to make a suggestion. What say we slot Rebecca Turner into the Auckland CEO position as a temporary fix? Peter will cover the cost of her salary. Then, as a priority, we will conduct a review, by a member of the New Zealand Institute of Directors, to examine the scope and scale of managing the Auckland Region. We will then have a clear idea of what’s best for Auckland. What do you think?

“It’s a great idea Christian, but I’m not sure Auckland can afford a full review of its management,” says a concerned Teresa.

“Not a problem, Teresa. Sport New Zealand has got the cost covered.”

“Well then let’s do it,” sighs a relieved Teresa.

Three months later and the Auckland Review has been written. What does it say? With stunning clarity it recommends that the professionals at Swimming New Zealand should manage the affairs of New Zealand’s largest region. Having Swimming New Zealand and Auckland Swimming administration staff in the same town is an avoidable duplication; an unnecessary expense. It also recommends that Auckland’s assets with a book value of $600,000 be safeguarded in the coffers of Swimming New Zealand, the parent body. A Special General Meeting is called. The clubs are told that the Review’s recommendations must be accepted in their entirety; management and the assets or nothing at all. As Chris Moller infamously once said, “the reviews recommendations cannot be cherry picked.”

There is no option. The new Regional Constitution does not allow dissent. The vote of Auckland’s clubs is unanimous. In six months it’s all over. Swimming New Zealand control Auckland’s management and own its assets.

There it is then. The Swimwatch prediction of what is about to happen. But prophesying this outcome is not difficult. It’s the way Sport New Zealand does things. Just ask swimming, tennis, athletics, gymsports, surf lifesaving, rugby league, football and bowls. A first date excursion followed by the offer of a free review and Sport New Zealand wins. It’s a tried and true Miskimmin formula. It almost always succeeds in expanding the Sport New Zealand Realm. My guess is that it will work again. Auckland will be annexed to the evil empire. You see, this time Brian Palmer is not around to stand in the way, to defend Auckland and its assets.

At a Swimming New Zealand Special Meeting Chris Moller called on Brian Palmer to be sacked. Well Brian wasn’t sacked. He is moving on to bigger and better things. But now the people of Auckland are going to find out what it’s like without Brian Palmer around. And my guess is they are not going to like it one little bit.

When this or something close to this happens there will be no satisfaction in saying, “You read it first on Swimwatch.”

Brian Palmer

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

By David

Very few of us would confuse the small New Zealand town of Te Puke with the bright lights of Queen Street in Auckland. The Te Puke website promotes “easy parking” as one of the town’s key attractions. The current population of the “Kiwi fruit capital of the world” is 7150. If you drive 16 kilometres east from Te Puke on State Highway 2 and turn right onto Rotoehu Rd and drive a further 18 kilometres south into the New Zealand wilderness and at Jensen Rd take another right, about 500 meters along Jensen Rd, the first driveway on the left leads to a typical New Zealand farm house, nestled in a stand of protective trees, surrounded by acres of deep green farmland. Jensen Rd is heartland New Zealand. Well that house is where the Chief Executive of Auckland Swimming, Brian Palmer, was born and raised.

It seems the rural honesty of his home has shaped the man. When I arrived in New Zealand after eight years in the United States to start coaching at West Auckland Aquatics Brian Palmer had heard all the stories; stories of Toni Jeffs being sponsored by a strip club, of fights with Swimming New Zealand, of commercial turmoil and doubtful ethics. Palmer would have been excused for believing the very worst of people had landed in his midst.

However unlike Renford or Villanueva at Swimming New Zealand, Palmer didn’t sit in his executive office playing politics, talking behind closed doors, whispering in dark corners. No, Palmer picked up the phone and said, “I’ve heard a lot about you. Could you come over and have a cup of coffee so we can meet and chat about your new job and Auckland Swimming?” Immediately, Brian Palmer had a believer. Here was a person you could trust; someone who studied a concern first hand before forming an opinion; someone prepared to listen, a trained and disciplined mind.

That first impression has never been shaken. In the thirty years I’ve been involved in track and field athletics and swimming one or two officials stand out as exceptional; people like Jay Thomas from Florida and Arch Jelley from Auckland. Brian Palmer sits comfortably among the very best. In the short time I’ve been in Auckland he has quietly led a Castro sized revolution of change.

For young swimmers he introduced the concept of a Junior League. This blog is not the forum to explain how the Junior League works. But for excitement, involvement, participation, a sense of team and genuine fun Brian’s Junior League is the best I’ve seen. As a vehicle for introducing young people to swimming competition the Junior League is without peer. If all Brian Palmer had done in his time in Auckland was introduce the Junior League his legacy would be secure. But he has done much more.
The new starting blocks at the West Wave pool were bought and paid for through the efforts of Brian Palmer. New Zealand’s best swimmers striving to meet international qualifying standards have Palmer to thank for the benefit of modern starting equipment.

Brian Palmer has introduced major changes to Auckland’s competitive program. His goal has always been to improve the appeal of the sport to swimmers, spectators and media. I would certainly never claim that every change has worked. However kicking and screaming Brian Palmer has forced the sport in Auckland to critically examine its product; to evaluate the attraction of swimming compared to every other sport; to critically examine the performance of swimming.
Sport in New Zealand will never acknowledge the key role Brian Palmer played in bringing change to

Swimming New Zealand. Without Brian Palmer, Project Vanguard would be the reality of swimming in New Zealand. Without Brian Palmer the Chris Moller review would never have happened. Without Brian Palmer Renford, Villanueva, Lyles, Hurring and others would not have their jobs. As the catalyst of change Brian Palmer’s role was critical. The end result has not been what I wanted. I believe skilled Machiavellians took us out of the frying pan into the fire. I suspect even Brian Palmer would have preferred a different outcome.

Brian Palmer has improved the contribution of swimming to super city decision making. Actually, that’s not quite right. Before Brian there was no swimming involvement in the city’s decision making. At least now the voice of swimming is heard clearly on matters such as the access to swimming pools, the construction of new pools and the role of Council run swim schools.
Brian Palmer has also promoted a number of successful one-off events. The Night of Stars support for the Canterbury earthquake appeal was probably the highlight. A dozen Australian Olympic medallists accepted Brian’s invitation to spend a weekend in Auckland swimming and tutoring local swimmers. It was a major effort and a stunning success. In comparison, SNZ’s earthquake contribution of a few dozen unsold t-shirts looked pathetic and tragic.

No one will ever work as hard as Brian Palmer. At swim meets, in the office and on the telephone he is on call from 5.00am to 11.00pm. I know because I’ve called him at both those times. I’ve heard him criticised for the amount of work he does. They say he should delegate more. But that’s not true. He wants things done well and he’s prepared to do whatever it takes to make sure that’s what happens. And there is nothing wrong with that.

The first Auckland Swimming meeting I attended was to consider the Project Vanguard proposal. At the meeting one woman stood out for her sharp and decisive questions. On the way home I asked my companions if they knew her name. “That’s Brian Palmer’s wife,” they replied. Rossanna’s contribution to Brian’s work for Auckland should not be underrated. Neither should the involvement of rest of Brian’s family. I should know. I coached New Zealand’s fastest freestyle sprinter until Hayley Palmer decided to swim faster. I think an important part of Brian’s success as a swimming administrator may be because, around the dinner table, he has to answer for his decisions to an insightful wife and some talented performers. Oh, if only some of the rubbish administrators I have known had to satisfy the same audience. New Zealand swimming would be a very different place.

And now Brian has resigned. Auckland Swimming has just lost a good one; a very, very good one. New Zealand Swimming has also lost more than it appreciates. It is stunning to me how often New Zealand does this – loses men and women of real talent; Lydiard, Snell, Mansfield, Te Kanawa, Rutherford, Lovelock, Hollows, Clarke, Crowe, Campion, Tamahori, Hunter and Palmer.
But the positive in this case is the past three years. Thank you, Brian, for making this coach’s job easier, better, more interesting, more productive and more fun. I am sorry to see you leave. Godspeed in your next challenge.

The Public Purse

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

By David

I wonder how things are going over at Miskimmin’s Millennium Institute. Is the new coach, David Lyles, settling in okay? It can’t be easy. There must be some stresses and strains. After all Lyles came to us from years spent in China; coaching the disciplined sons and daughters of the People’s Republic. Auckland’s North Shore is not Shanghai. Oh, the organization Lyles works for, that’s Swimming New Zealand’s high performance (excuse the false advertising) institute, is fully state owned. That’s the same as China. But is the state owned sameness a problem for David Lyles. With the power and money of the New Zealand state behind him Lyles may feel that his Chinese coaching style is appropriate here. He would not be the first person to make that mistake.

Environment is important and David Lyles is a novice when it comes to New Zealand’s culture. Our values, visions, norms, working language, systems, symbols, beliefs and habits are unique. We perceive things, think and feel differently from others. Our culture affects the way we interact with one another, with clients, and with stakeholders. Has Lyles got to grips with all that?

I ask these questions because I’ve heard that the Millennium program may be having difficulties. It’s all good old pool deck gossip but is Lauren Boyle unhappy? If she is – it would be understandable. The way she’s been treated would challenge the patience of Mother Teresa. Coming from arguably the world’s best swimming program, Cal Berkley, to arguably the world’s worst must have been difficult. And then Swimming New Zealand provided Boyle with a revolving door of coaches; two Spaniards, two Australians and a pom. She must appreciate that all alone she is carrying the future of Swimming New Zealand on her shoulders. The jobs of Renford, Villanueva and a dozen others depend on how well she swims every day. Is this responsibility putting a strain on the relationship between Lyles and Boyle? Is the stress of it all beginning to unravel Swimming New Zealand’s carefully cultivated image? Many programs have come to grief for less. Certainly it is becoming difficult to see Boyle’s relationship with the New Zealand government’s swim team lasting another three years, through to the Rio Olympic Games.

But Boyle is not the only strange happening at the Millennuim Institute. I have mentioned before my concern that the boss of High Performance Sport New Zealand, Alex Baumann, arranged for his son to swim in the New Zealand Millennium program. Alex Baumann is Canadian. His son swims for Canada. The Millennium program is funded by the New Zealand tax payer to assist good New Zealand swimmers. And at that, it has been a stunning failure.  However it was built and is being paid for by New Zealanders to help New Zealanders. I simply cannot imagine why all of us are paying for a facility to help a Canadian beat our best swimmers. It gives the impression of a misuse of state funds. Certainly the presence of Baumann’s son in the Millennium program needed to be explained. I doubt that any New Zealander agreed to pay the huge cost of what goes on over in Mirangi Bay in order to improve the performance of the Canadian swim team.

The impression it leaves is worse when the beneficiary is the son of the guy responsible for handing out the New Zealand government’s money. Because it’s public money and because it’s the bosses’ son the need for an open explanation is critical. The perception of privilege at the New Zealand tax payer’s expense needs to be addressed.

Especially when I have just been told that Baumann has recently added his daughter to New Zealand’s state swim team. Like her brother, Tabitha a good swimmer. She has competed for Canada at a junior level. All the questions that apply to her brother apply equally to Tabitha. Why is she there?

We know she packed her fins and goggles and left the North Shore Club program. Whether the North Shore Club coach asked her to leave or she decided to leave or she simply could not stand the North Shore Club program is clouded in mystery. But, for whatever reason Baumann’s daughter needed to find somewhere else to swim.

It is difficult to imagine a young teenager wandering into New Zealand’s National Swim Program and asking to join David Lyles and Lauren Boyle for a bit of training. It seems more likely that Daddy made a phone call. How did that conversation go? Hey Renford, it’s Baumann here, you know the guy who provides the government’s money to pay for just about everything you do. My daughter needs somewhere to swim. Any chance of her joining the Swimming New Zealand team at the Millennium Institute?

Obviously I have no idea what was said in that conversation, or whether the conversation even took place. I do know that Canadian, Tabitha Baumann, has ended up swimming in a New Zealand state funded program. I have been told that she is struggling to keep up with the other swimmers. Is she out of her depth – excuse the pun? Is she in a New Zealand tax payer funded program because of who she is rather that what she is? Has birth been more important than merit? I do know that the impression her presence leaves is not good; not good at all. And in these sorts of things the perception that something might not be right is what’s important.

When foreign representatives join a New Zealand tax payer funded program and when the swimmers involved are the bosses’ children, then the New Zealand public and Swimming New Zealand members need an explanation. The circumstances need to be clarified. Everything could well be beyond reproach. But we need to be told that. Swimming New Zealand has just started publishing a newsletter that’s full of “feel-good” prattle. Melissa Ingram is the editor. She should use the next edition to explain something that really matters – like why we are paying to coach members of the Canadian swim program.

Ideas Above Their Station

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

By David

“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Three books, a series of recent events and some extraordinary memories have come together this week to remind me of these lines from the Kipling poem, “If”. The three books are all biographies – Rafael Nadal, Bear Grylls and Valerie Adams. Recent events include the sale of Air New Zealand shares and the rush by some to curry favour with the Millennium cult. And the extraordinary memories involve a departed coaching giant – Duncan Laing. These events and the lives of these people reveal the futility and wantonness of the Miskimmin empire; a world best described as a sounding brass, a tinkling cymbal.

I have already written about how Nadal chose to spurn a Millennium Institute type offer from the Spanish Tennis Federation. Sagely Nadal decided to stay at home with the coach he knew; the coach who had nurtured the talent that was now so prized by the state machine. I have also written about the pride Bear Grylls felt when he was selected for the SAS and when he stood on the summit of Mt Everest; pride that his achievements could not be bought, were not for sale, were paid for by toil, character, courage and personal sacrifice. This from a man born to privilege, educated at Eton and the son of a British Member of Parliament.

And now I read the following report in Valerie Adams’ autobiography.

In 2008 we organized a meeting for Valerie with Minister of Sport and Recreation Murray McCully. At the time she was waiting for funding, and having to pay for travel out of her own pocket, while she was preparing for an Olympic Games. Before the meeting I told Murray he’d hear some things he might find hard to believe, and he’d wonder if what he was hearing was for real. Sure enough, in the meeting he just looked at me and I said, “I told you.” He was great in helping us shape Valerie’s way forward.

With the help of others we arm-wrestled Valerie out of the system for her to be able to do it her way, so she could work out herself what was needed in order to win. She does know how to make a high performance program work.

What more does any swimmer in New Zealand need? The world’s best tennis player says the idea of Miskimmin’s Institute isn’t worth a pinch of salt. The world’s greatest explorer says Miskimmin’s millions can’t buy success. And now New Zealand’s best athlete; the world’s best shot putter, admits she went all the way to the Minister of Sport in order to get out of the state system, do her own thing, train her own way, steer her own course.

Any swimmer approached by the Millennium sect must consider the guidance of those who have a proven record of excellence. There is no one in the Millennium Institute’s swimming program that can hold a candle to the Resumes of Nadal, Grylls and Adams. Who would you trust? Those who for ten years have spent $16 million and returned empty handed from Olympic Games after Olympic Games or three world stars who have never failed to deliver at sport’s most stellar occasions.

When the Institute comes knocking the best thing any swimmer could do is “arm-wrestled themselves out of the system, to be able to do it their way, so they can work out themselves what is needed in order to win.” That quote might not be exactly Valerie Adams’ words but it’s certainly near enough.

But perhaps there is hope. If the government believes it has no business running a power station or an airline, then just maybe it will question why it should own its own Millennium swim team. It doesn’t do swimming at all well. Lyles and Hurring may be liabilities best owned by someone else.

Which brings me the memory of a New Zealand coaching giant, Duncan Laing. Now there was a man, who did it his way; who worked out for himself what was needed to win. And do you know what? He did it without Miskimmin’s advice or his millions. Like Jelley and others he was a humble thoughtful man who took on the world and won; something no one in the Millennium’s swimming program has been able to do. Something no one in the Millennium program will ever be able to do. Two pictures say it all really. The first is a picture of the hotel in Wellington where the pampered and preened inmates of Miskimmin’s Millennium program stay when they are in Wellington. This is how the website describes their accommodation.

The luxurious suite features genuine Italian leather and high quality N.Z. made furniture – a luxurious feel. The bathroom is of exceptionally high quality with deep full sized bath and separate shower. Ideal executive accommodation that also suits business and meeting needs.   

And then there is this next photograph. This is the unit Duncan Laing’s team frequently stayed in when they came to Auckland to swim in the National Championships and Olympic and Commonwealth Games trials. You may remember one of the swimmers on Laing’s team. He won a silver medal at the Barcelona Olympic Games and two Gold Medals in the 200 and 400 freestyle at the Atlanta Olympic Games. What a difference, don’t you think?

But you probably think I’m talking about the accommodation. No, not at all. I’m talking about the results. Right now private enterprise from a cabin in Henderson’s Tui Glenn has an Olympic record way out and beyond those who frequent Wellington’s luxurious suite with its genuine Italian leather.



The successful swimming world is turning away from State run swim schools at a hundred miles an hour. It is not hard to work out why. They don’t work. They breed arrogance and self-importance. They nurture failure. Independence breeds success. And independence tells you to protect your swimming career, to do your own thing, to stay at home with the coach you know. Just ask Nadal, Grylls, Adams and Laing.

School Reports

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

By David

A couple of months ago I shifted house. Inevitably that activity means I get to pack stuff that should have been thrown out years ago; my school reports for example. But before discussing the content of these works of art I must tell you that academically my high school years were a struggle. Oh, I passed the required national exams, but only just. School Certificate was close. To pass required 200 marks out of 400. I scored 212. I was credited with a pass in the University Entrance exam by beating the Head Master’s daughter’s boyfriend by one place in the internal exams. Everyone knew he was going to be accredited. Success in these exams really was a case of playing the man not the ball.

I think my academic struggles may have been caused by an unhealthy interest in sport. My main focus was swimming. Although I did all my training in the Hangaroa River I did win Wellington and Auckland Championships and competed with no success in the New Zealand Nationals. However, from a river it was probably as good as one could expect. Turning in the mud on either side of the Hangaroa River was not the best preparation for the flash tiled walls of Dunedin’s new Moana Pool. Outside of swimming I won a Hawkes Bay Secondary School Cross Country Championship and a provincial pole vault title. Every lunchtime and study period was spent swimming, running or lifting weights. Naturally, the physical education section of my school reports reflected my obsession – “Keen hard worker always well turned out” and “Always works well; keen on his training for swimming. Good effort” and “A good keen boy with above average all round ability.”

Sadly, the academic portions of the same reports were not as commendable. Some were very bad mannered; verging on rude. Take my Science teacher. He was a strict military type who ran the school’s compulsory army cadet program. I never took part in his wretched marching drills. Being quite an experienced hunter I was one of three boys on the school’s shooting team. While my mates were marching and standing to attention on the school’s back field I was target shooting at the town’s rifle range. I did wonder if the teacher’s comments on my science education reflected his frustration that I had skipped out of his private army. Anyway this is the sort of thing he said, “Very weak. Intensive study essential” and “Only fair must learn to concentrate in class”.

French was taught by a Welshman who had only recently arrived in New Zealand. Clearly he viewed Wright as his first antipodean failure. I desperately wanted to be good at French. However, the comments on my reports suggest I wanted to be even better at swimming. “A more serious attitude required” and “Weak” and “David must work harder”. I am sad that on my many trips to swimming events in France and Monte Carlo my high school instructor was not on hand to witness my, “Bonjour une miche de pain s’il vous plaît“ at the local bakery or my constant question of, “Où se trouve un bon restaurant“ from the ever helpful Christine in the office of the Canet aquatic centre. I’m sure my swimmers were impressed. But then they never knew about the flaws in my French education.

English was probably my best subject. I was taught by a character whose occasional irreverent and disrespectful remarks appealed to someone like me. Sadly, he would probably be fired today for the stuff he said. For some reason during a discussion on T.S.Eliot’s, The Waste Land, he told the class that the best place to have sex at Victoria University in Wellington was in an old graveyard in the centre of the campus. Evidently lovemaking there combined the forces of life, birth, death, ending and beginning in a peerless climax of emotion. A few years later I used to eat my lunch in the Victoria University cemetery and did wonder which graves had been witness to my old teacher’s physical and profound endeavours. He did cane me once when a paper dart intended for Morris Meha went off course and hit my English teacher in the chest. However, his comments on my reports reflected my greater interest in the subject he taught. For example, “Satisfactory progress” and “Fair progress for a moderate effort” and “Fair. Spelling very poor” and “Oral work good. Written only fair”.

And then there was history; taught by a young guy who clearly saw himself as an intellectual giant. In my final high school report he dismissed my academic prospects with this wonderful piece of prose, “A pleasant boy but an unsatisfactory student. David’s attitude to work (including his habitual lateness for lessons and with essays and his consistent failure to equip them, when they do arrive, with the fundamental scholarly apparatus) does not inspire confidence in his capacity to cope adequately with Stage1 (university) work in this subject”. He was wrong. I did cope quite well with Stage1 in this subject and Stage2 and Stage3 as well. Oh, and post graduate study in a closely related field. Perhaps he knew that writing some people off like that only steels their resolve to succeed.

And finally the Head Master’s Report summary. He never liked me. A fact that was not surprising. He was into music and the arts. I was a sport’s nut. His daughter applied for an AFS Scholarship to study in the United States and was rejected. I applied for the same thing and spent a year in Thorpe, Wisconsin, playing American football, chatting up cheerleaders, drinking root beer and eating hamburgers. The Principal’s displeasure was clear in his remarks on my reports. “Limited effort and poorly developed working habits” and “David must keep his sights on his future academic career” and “The situation calls for urgent effort” and “Results are still very marginal”.

You may be wondering what my parents made of this flood of bad news. I was lucky. They seemed quite relaxed; philosophical in a way that gave me confidence that when it was time for proper study, at a University, things would come right. And they did.