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News from Robert Lunnon (YG 1969)
04 June 2021
Robert Lunnon (YG 1969) has written in with an account of the 50 or so years he's lived after leaving Friends'. A shortened version of this account is in the newsletter. Old Scholars who would like to make contract with Robert, can find him using the 'Find Friends' function on the website. If you need your log-in details, please contact fsswosa@gmail.com.

Robert W Lunnon (FSSW 1962-1967) – the story of the rest of my life

I left Saffron Walden in 1967 due to family issues – my parents had been divorced in the early 1960s, but I left with nine O-levels. The most notable O-level was, I think, music – I was the only one doing the subject that year. If anyone has memories of a piano being played at the beginning of a 1967 O-level exam then that was because of me – I had to be played a piece which I had to analyse later in the exam. I have enjoyed music in many forms ever since and acknowledge the grounding I was given in Saffron Walden,

From there I want to Dame Allan’s school in Newcastle on Tyne but three years later I headed back southeastwards to a place at Trinity Hall Cambridge. I can remember going to see a contemporary of mine from FSSW, Mark Loveridge, who was just starting at Clare College. I studied Maths and Physics at Cambridge but in the early 1970s it was obvious that computers were going to play an increasing role in our lives. At that time a lot of computers were being used to put people out of work, and that sort of employment did not appeal to me. I became aware that the Met Office was using computers to generate weather forecasts and that triggered a lifelong interest in Meteorology. I got a vac student job at the Met Office on going down from Cambridge, did an MSc in meteorology at Reading and joined the Met Office full time in 1974.

In the late 1970s I had a spell working on secondment to the European Space Agency processing data from the very first METEOSAT (weather satellite). I was working in Darmstadt in West Germany and even today I get a bit excited when it says on the news “we are now going over to the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt”. There were a lot of American troups about (we were in the American Zone of West Germany) which was something I didn’t particularly like.

On returning to the UK I held a number of posts including a spell writing shipping forecasts. The challenge for us forecasters was to come up with a phrase which would trip up the BBC announcer. I came up with “Forth Tyne Dogger, South Westerly 4 to 6 but South Easterly 3 for a time in Tyne”. When the forecast was read out the announcer said “Here is the forecast issued by the Metgorgolical… Metlorlogical… Meteorological Office” but had no problems with the trap I had set.
In 1990 I took over running the Aviation Applications research group, a post I held with a small gap until retirement in 2010.

This in turn triggered an interest in aviation which has remained with me ever since. Early in my posting I visited The Air Accident Investigations Branch in Farnborough and was able to see the reconstruction of the aircraft which crashed at Lockerbie – the reconstruction was necessary in order to understand exactly what had happened. The aircraft had crashed due to a bomb on board – at the time there were negligible checks on the luggage passenger took with them. Although current security checks at airports can be very frustrating, the clever detective work following the Lockerbie crash and the rules which followed it ensured that flying is nowadays very safe.

The Met Office provides forecasts of wind which airlines use to determine what route to fly and how much fuel is needed for the flight. I was involved in checking the changes to the Met Offices weather prediction model and I am proud to say that there were no accidents due to wrong wind forecasts during my time in the job - we provided forecasts for 100,000,000 flights during that time. In the early 1990s there a few relatively close shaves!

During my last year at Saffron Walden I broke the record for the senior cross country course. The course started on the Avenue, within about 100 metres of the school buildings and headed south down the Avenue and then along paths which now have been lost in a housing estate. After the Copse we headed towards the Roos (a farm) then turned west along so-called 100 acre field (unusually big in the 1960s but probably much more common now). The next stretch was north along a path which is now called Beechy Ride, then a short portion along the B1052 followed by the “Chalk Steps” (a short steep path up the cutting of the B1052). It was then back to the Copse and then retracing our steps back to the start which was also the finish. I have described the route in detail because contemporaries may have fond (or otherwise) memories of running it: more recent students may be surprised/impressed by what we did for sport in the 1960s.

My running improved steadily thereafter: after Cambridge I ran competitively for GB four times, once in a marathon and the other three in road races of approximately 10 kilometres. I ran in five consecutive Olympic trials (from 1976 to 1984) but never made it to an Olympics.

The best way to keep fit in those days was to run to and from work and this I duly did. In 2003 the Met Office moved from Bracknell in Berkshire to Exeter in Devon and at this point I made a decision to cycle to work rather than run (easier on knees and Achilles tendons!). Devon has miles of narrow hedge-bound lanes which are great for cycling so now I have retired I cycle on these, often venturing towards (but not on) Dartmoor. Additionally I am a trustee of a charity which Is seeking to build a cycle path between Crediton (where I live) and Exeter.

In 1973 whilst working at the Met Office I met Joanna and we married in 1975. Zoe (1978), Hugh (1982) and Tim (1985) arrived in due course. Hugh works for American Express (cheap tickets to watch Brighton and Hove Albion, who they sponsor!) and Tim works for Virgin Atlantic (cheap tickets to the Caribbean and the USA!). Zoe works for the Faraday Institute in Cambridge – at the Faraday they study the relationship between science and religion.

Since retirement I have acted as a guide for the National Trust at Castle Drogo. Since 2017 the National Trust has operated a small hydro-electric power station on the river Teign which provides power to the Castle and visitor centre (a Francis turbine, for those technically inclined). I act as a guide for open days and for occasional guided tours. The turbine was originally developed in the 1920s but was idle from the 1990s to the restoration project starting in 2016. A lot of visitors find the walk to the power station (a drop of about 300 feet vertically) quite comfortable but then find it much more difficult getting back to the visitor centre!
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