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Copyright ©2017 by Alan Heaton

Alan Heaton has asserted his right under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

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ISBN: 978-1-86151-817-0

I dedicate this book to my wife Joy, for all her love and support and for sharing with me the bringing up of our special family. As my mother put it so well: "Joy is the glue that holds our family together”.

It is also dedicated to the memory of my mother, for all her inspiration and support.



Chapter 1 The early years, and the first television in our road

Chapter 2 Grammar school – academic failure and sports star

Chapter 3 Time to get a job

Chapter 4 Study, more study and getting married

Chapter 5 Carrying out research funded by NASA

Chapter 6 Starting an academic career

Chapter 7 Promoting chemistry to young people, and teaching in Malaysia

Chapter 8 Tutoring for the Open University

Chapter 9 Becoming a published author

Chapter 10 Industrial Fellowship at ICI

Chapter 11 My contributions to the Learned Societies in Chemistry

Chapter 12 Drama on a mountain peak

Chapter 13 Retirement, and setting up a BSc course in Oman

Chapter 14 The Sultanate of Muscat and Oman – a country like no other

Chapter 15 How chemistry transforms our lives

Chapter 16 Looking back on a full life


Do you believe that the chemical industry has had a negative effect on our lives? If you do, is that view a result of some of the sensational stories in newspapers about one of the rare chemical spillages or other disasters? Have you any idea what life would be like without the contribution of the science of chemistry and the chemical industry?

If you feel this way, prepare to be surprised, and perhaps to have your views changed.

The following is the story of a life spent largely in the world of chemistry, mainly as a college or university-level teacher. It is also the story of an ordinary boy, a child of the war years, who rose from an unpromising start, leaving school at 16, to become more successful and fulfilled in a career than he had ever imagined possible.


The early years, and the first television in our road

I was born on the 19th June 1942, in the middle of World War 2, at our house in Breckon Hill Road, Middlesbrough. My birth may have been hastened because the previous evening my mother had sat on the steps of Middlesbrough Town Hall watching German aircraft bombing the docks and lighting up the sky. Later I was christened Charles Alan Heaton, the first name after my paternal grandfather and the second after my father.

My mother, Enid Olga Heaton (née Reed), came from Middlesbrough and was a nurse. She had met my father, John Arthur Alan Heaton, when they were both assigned to an air raid shelter and first aid post in a district of the town called North Ormesby, she as the nurse and he as the police officer. He was born and brought up in Rudheath near Northwich in Cheshire, where his father spent all his life working for the giant chemical company ICI. I still proudly own the carriage clock which the company presented to him after 25 years’ service. My father was to go on and serve in the Middlesbrough police force for even longer – 30 years.

On 26th November 1944, my brother Russell was born. I have little recollection of my very early years except for one really traumatic event. At about five years old I was standing in front of our coal fire keeping warm when a spark or a hot coal set my pyjamas alight. Although my parents reacted quickly to put out the flames, my right leg was badly burned. I spent several weeks in hospital and remember the terrible pain each day when the dressing was changed. Even today I still have the scar from ankle to knee, an area where no hair ever regrew.

A couple of years later we moved to Downside Road in Acklam, a suburb on the outskirts of Middlesbrough. This was very handy for Whinney Banks Junior School, which I attended and where I played for the school football team. There was also a very large area of grassland behind our houses where we could play football or cricket every night after school. The most notable events at this time were the conquering of Mount Everest by Hillary and Tensing and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second in June 1953. All the neighbours, particularly the mums, came to our house to watch the ceremony since we had the only television set in the road – black and white of course.

In 1953 I passed the Eleven Plus exam, which qualified me to go to Acklam Hall Grammar School. On hearing this news I cycled several miles to the clinic where my mother worked in the centre of Middlesbrough to tell her the good news. But some weeks later I was dismayed to learn that I would not be going to that grammar school like most of my friends. It was only a mile from my home, but instead I was assigned to Middlesbrough High School in the centre of town. This meant a cycle ride of several miles there and the same back in the afternoon.

A couple of years later we moved to a house in Ashford Avenue, just a few streets away. This property backed on to allotments, which we referred to as the ‘pig alleys’, and for a short time my father raised a few pigs. After the butcher had dealt with one I well remember it hanging in our little bedroom for a few weeks to ‘cure’.

My father bought an early Ford Anglia, whose registration I still remember – ADC 477. His mother was horrified at the cost of it, but it did enable us to visit my paternal grandparents in Northwich during the school holidays. Since they lived in Cheshire each journey was a major undertaking and probably took six to seven hours; there were no motorways in those days over the Pennines. Nowadays the journey can be done in two and a half hours, assuming no traffic delays.

There was a small tributary of the River Tees a few hundred yards away from our house, and I look back with horror at the times in the summer that we swam in it. It was terribly polluted, but maybe the ‘nasties’ in it built up our immunity and helped us to enjoy good health. Tragically a youngster went missing in it one day and I remember police divers (colleagues of my father) changing at our house, and eventually recovering the body.

For my brother and me these were happy times growing up with parents who fully supported what we wanted to do. They both worked full time, so we had a young woman living in to help look after us and help run the house. This enabled them to purchase a caravan which they sited at Swainby, at the foot of the North Yorkshire Moors, and we spent many enjoyable weekends and holidays there.


Grammar school – academic failure and sports star

All my spare time was spent playing soccer with my friends, but I also had a paper round before and after school, which, ironically, covered the houses near Acklam Hall Grammar School. One morning I fell out with another paper boy and in a subsequent fight he swung me into the corner of a wall. I cycled home with blood pouring from a wound above my eye and mum had to drive me to hospital to have it stitched.

This love of sport and all the practice and skills development were to reap rich rewards at Middlesbrough High School. In my early years I represented the school in the town athletics championships. I became the 100 metres champion and also came second in both the shot put and relay. I was a member, and occasionally captain, of the school cricket team and we played schools as far away as Newcastle and Scarborough. The matches only lasted around three hours, with both teams needing to bat, and I was very proud of scoring 47 in one match.

In my final year a bizarre incident occurred early in the season. I was fielding at mid -off and had to move several yards to make a catch. Unfortunately my second-hand cricket boots had lost most of their spikes and I was slipping, so I had to dive full length and make the catch, so it looked quite spectacular. My ‘reward’ from the captain was to be placed at the very dangerous silly mid- off position, right near the batsman, in every match. This was to come up again in 2014 when a new member of my crown green bowls club in Heswall came up to me and said that he was from Middlesbrough and he remembered me being an excellent cricketer playing for the school team, as he also had done, although he is a few years older than me.

I also won the school tennis tournament in my final year, beating a classmate in the final. He was a better player than me and a member of a tennis club but with my ‘never say die’ attitude, I just kept the rallies going until he made mistakes, and he made many.

My greatest achievements were in rugby. I remember playing in inter -house matches at our school and on one occasion, when I was 13, being asked to play in the under-15 match. Playing on the wing, I was directly up against a member of the school under-15 team. Of course, at that age two years makes a big difference in size and weight. He ran straight at me, but I was determined that he was not getting past me and made a textbook tackle, bringing him down. I was really proud of this, but my arm and shoulder ached for a week afterwards.

Throughout my time I captained my year school team and my crowning glory was at under - 15 level. Here I was selected to play for my county of North Yorkshire in my key position of stand-off, or flyhalf, probably the most important position in any team.

Our first match was away to County Durham, which had a lot more schools and players to choose from. Early on I made a great break and found I had only their fullback to beat. He was big and I tried to run around him, but he tackled me. If I had been more experienced I would have realised that chipping the ball over him would have certainly led to a try. After that they pulled away to win 24-6. Next we were at home to Northumberland, but we lost 9-3, although I did kick the penalty for our points.

For the final match we travelled over the Pennines to Penrith to face Cumbria. It was raining heavily and the pitch was a quagmire, but we managed to prevail, with my penalty kick giving us a 3-0 win. Our coach kept from us until after the match the news that Cumbria had had handsome wins over the other two counties.

At 16 I turned out for the school first team, which covered 16- 18 year olds. We had some notable successes, including being the first team in three years to beat Coatham Grammar School in Redcar. I made the breaks and passes for our speedster to race in for three tries in our 9-3 victory.

On the academic front it was very different, and I remember our English teacher, Colonel Platt, calling me a ‘blithering idiot’ in front of the whole class when I was reading a passage to them and said ‘lions’ instead of ‘loins’. There was a teacher who had difficulty controlling us and someone put a snowball on his stool, which he duly sat on. Another teacher, who was just the opposite, threatened at one stage to ‘whack’ the lot of us. When we laughed he got out a sandshoe (trainer) and every member of the class of around 30 boys had to bend over in turn whilst he smacked our bottoms with it.

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