Bernard Brown

Bernard in 1963
Bernard on the school photo of 1963 while in the upper sixth form

Bernard was at Trinity from 1957 to 1964.  After leaving the sixth form in July 1964 Bernard attended London University and gained a degree and a PhD in physics.  He met Gillian, his wife at London University.  Gillian is from a Hertfordshire farming family, has a Ph.D in Zoology and teaches in Ottawa, Canada, where they both live. They have two sons, both of whom have now left home. Tom, the eldest completed a first degree in Physics, and switched to do a Masters degree in “Public Sector Management” He is planning to do a Ph.D. in sociology.  Ben, the younger, decided that University was not for him and came back to the UK after graduating High School.  He has progressed rapidly and is now, at 24, a senior project manager for a company based in Soho, working in the media post production industry.

Ottawa is the Federal capital of Canada. Bernard and Gillian live about 20 minutes drive from the city centre.  It is an attractive city with “Houses of Parliament” on the English model, including a version of ‘Big Ben’.  There are many museums plus theatres and a symphony orchestra with Pinchas Zuckerman as conductor. Canada is bilingual and because of this both Thomas and Benjamin went through “French immersion” teaching, i.e. all of their lessons such as maths, geography etc., were taught in French. Both survived and graduated High School as “Ontario Scholars”.  The language appears to be an advantage for Ben’s job, and will be essential for Thomas if he works for the Canadian government.

The government is the main source of employment in Ottawa with numerous buildings dotted around the city. Possibly due to the concentration of government labs, a high technology industry has sprung up, encouraged at one point by research grants.  This hi-tech industry was initially associated with defense activities but grew to become one of the larger nuclei for hi-tech within North America.  As with a number of comparable sites, the industry collapsed around 2002 but is now beginning to grow again.

Bernard came to Canada to work for one of these expanding companies as part of a career that has taken him to a number of different parts of the world:

Canada through the Seasons

We discovered quite rapidly that the weather in Canada was somewhat different to that in the UK.  We arrived in November and although it was possible to stroll outside for the first couple of days, it soon became uncomfortably cold.  We had not realized that cold weather could really be THAT cold.  We have since got more used to it.  At -15ºC you may feel your nose hairs freezing up, a quite novel experience.  At -30ºC it is generally too cold to walk more than a few yards.  Nevertheless, the first few winters were very full of things to do.  We learned to skate on Ottawa’s Rideau Canal (5 miles of cultivated ice) and then started downhill and cross country skiing.  Our two sons skied on Sundays and some evenings.  Efficient snow clearance and good car servicing is necessary to ensure mobility in all weathers, for leisure and work.  (We have our own petrol driven snow-blower for clearing the drive.  It is a similar size to a lawnmower and eliminates shovelling).

All of the photos in the photo gallery below reflect the four seasons.

Generally the snow builds up through the winter until about the middle of April when the weather warms up and the snow melts.  I always feel that it is a bit like a big switch as the transition from cold to hot is very rapid.  There is not much of a spring here: the snow melts and it gets hot. Plants appear rapidly from previously frozen ground.

Summers are often as hot as the winter is cold. In fact with high humidity they can be uncomfortably hot.  Many people here have cottages by lakes etc (we don’t), where they go for most weekends. We tend to stay at home and switch on the air-conditioning.  We do however have a pool, so in the middle of summer can dash out of the cool house for a swim, without staying around too much in the heat.

Strangely enough we do seem to get an autumn.  At least the leaves on the trees turn into a range of very attractive colours before they fall.

In true British style, Gillian makes valiant attempts to maintain a garden.  Due to the extremes of climate, this is more difficult than in England.  Our garden backs onto a wooded ravine.  We see quite a few different creatures, chipmunks, squirrels, ground hogs, rabbits, raccoons plus the occasional skunk and fox.  These creatures treat our garden a bit like a large delicatessen.  We have vines but the raccoons usually get the grapes.  Chipmunks like raspberries and squirrels eat apples.  The tomatoes seem to survive.  It must be that no particular creature favours them, or maybe they are sufficiently prolific that losses can be sustained. Lawns are hard to maintain here.  There are some grubs that live in the roots of the grass.  It is quite common for a raccoon to come along during the night and peel back the turf to get at the grubs.  Re-turfing of lawns is a common Summer chore.

We also see quite a variety of birds. In the autumn (the time of writing this), there are hundreds of Canadian Geese circling noisily around and moving into V-shaped formations ready for the trek south.  We get humming birds in the summer, which can be quite ferocious and may use their disproportional long beak to ram into other much larger birds (such as the oversized Canadian version of  robins) that may annoy them.  They behave a bit like small guided weapons, as they can hover and then suddenly move rapidly forwards.  In addition, one or more pairs of beautiful “Red Cardinals” now seem to stay around all winter. They have more than one brood each year and can sometimes be seen frantically encouraging the new offspring to move into the next tree.

In general Canada has been a good experience.  Both England and Canada have good points and bad.  As a country, though Canada is under-populated compared to England which now feels quite crowded.  Canada still has huge scope for development.  It is striking sitting on an aircraft from Ottawa to Winnipeg at night, that you can go a whole hour without seeing lights below.  Although in Ottawa we are actually further south than southern England (at the latitude of Milan), there are no major roads or population centers north of here. Lots of trees.

We often miss England but we will probably stay here in Canada.  We get back in the UK about twice a year.  It has to be said that the pubs in England are better than those here.  There are however a large variety of ethnic restaurants in Ottawa.  We get very good Chinese, Indian and French. Other ethnic restaurants such as “East African” and “Afghan’ can provide very original eating experiences but have not been compelling enough for us to return.

A number of people have commented about a trans-Atlantic syndrome: you work in North America and take vacations in the UK.  We have experienced some of that especially with ageing parents but have managed to travel around Canada and the US quite a bit Also the Caribbean is relatively close and we have had some good package breaks down there.

A warming trend seems to have been occurring over the past few years. The winters are not quite as brutal. Canada may be a net winner in the ‘global warming” stakes. We have to wait and see.

Bernard's Career

At university I gained a BSc and a PhD in physics and subsequently did Post Doctoral fellowships at the University of Akron (Ohio) and University College of North Wales (Bangor), in colloid and polymer science.

I decided to go into product development and was successful in gaining a job with Rank Xerox as part of the Xerox Research group in Welwyn Garden City.  Here we were engaged in developing new technologies for electrostatic printing.  This lasted about three years until the research lab was closed down.

After the Xerox episode I was fortunate to gain a job with a branch of Marconi also based in Hertfordshire that was starting to develop towed array signal processing systems to enable tracking of Russian submarines.  The work was quite mathematical and not at all like polymer science but I managed to make the transition and ended up running a group working on new sonar signal processing implementations.  Over the next eight years I worked for both British Aerospace and branches of Marconi on infra-red and sonar sensor systems for military applications.

An opportunity came up to work on sonar systems in Canada, which resulted in the family getting relocated.  Since being in Canada I have moved away from under-water systems and have been working mainly on RF systems for radar, communications and signal interception. 

During the past five years we passed through a hi-Tech boom and in common with a number of other people that I know over here, succumbed to working for “start up” companies that promised very good remuneration.  (One company paid me a lot to work in Winnipeg for a year).  I did really well on the up-side but in common with a number of colleagues was out of work for about a year when the bubble burst. Overall, I probably did slightly better than breaking even.  I also know people that made many millions and others that lost their life’s savings.

About a year ago I was offered and took another job with the company that brought us to Canada in the first place, this time to work on the development of communications intercept systems rather than sonar systems.  This is interesting work and I sleep slightly better at night.


The Tower Revisited  - The website for former Pupils of the Technical High School, Trinity High School & Trinity Grammar School, Northampton