From SCBC to Tromso, Norway

An interview with SCBC alumnus Nick Tyler.

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SCBC: You are an SCBC alum. When did you row? What did you win and what is your happiest memory from the boat club?

NT: I went to the fresher’s cocktail party … and never looked back.

SCBC was undermanned.  There were a few star oarsmen – Charlie Laurie rowed for Goldie and Mike Wells was a blue – but talent was a molecular monolayer (a phrase I learned in Part II Biochemistry).  So, I, a complete novice, ended up in the 1st Lent VIII.  Amazingly, I was selected for the 1st May VIII and, no less amazingly, we went up two places (bumped Clare I and Emmanuel I and got within a whisker of Jesus I, too). 

In my second year I was Secretary of SCBC.  Rowed in the 1st VIII in the Lents – grim – and in the 2nd VIII in the Mays – excellent!  We were as fast as the 1st VIII or, if we weren’t, there wasn’t much in it.  They had a wretched time; we went up a division and made five bumps. First oar.  Nice. I was Vice-captain SCBC in my third year.  We were 3rd fastest in the Fairbairns and won our oars in the Lents (bumped Downing I, 1st & 3rd I, Caius I and Clare I).  Second oar.  Nice.  The May VIII was the best I ever rowed in.  We made one bump and ended fifth on the River.  Very nice.

SCBC: Ice rowing is becoming more and more popular (link). Are you an active rower still? How do you stay in shape these days?

NT: I’ve hardly rowed since – though I have sculling boat here in Tromsø where I live – but those days were simply glorious.  Memories and friends for life. 

I stay in shape by drinking gin and tonic: haven’t had a single bout of malaria to date.  (Oh, summer fieldwork in Svalbard helps, too: we do a LOT of walking.)

SCBC: Can you tell us a bit about your work as a reindeer scientist?

NT: In my third year – now in Part II Biochem. – I met Andrew Laurie who was at Selwyn writing up his work on greater one horned rhinoceros in Nepal.  I was captivated.  Mammal ecology for me – and, having no relevant training at all, I was too ignorant to realise what impossible odds I faced in making a career in this field.

Incredibly, I found a project (population ecology of Svalbard reindeer) and money to support both it and me.  Even more luckily, I found a supervisor at Cambridge (Professor Peter Jewell) and so, having graduated in 1977, by 1979 I was back at Selwyn. 

Population ecology is NOT a topic for a PhD (unless you do invertebrates or small mammals and hardly even then) but no one seemed unduly worried as I kept on shuttling between Cambridge and Svalbard (except my parents, but they said little, bless them).  In 1985 I got a post at the University of Tromsø, wrote the last two chapters of my thesis here … and have been here ever since.  I love my work as I loved SCBC: quite different, both of them, but each is infinitely rewarding.

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The 1977 Lent Bumps crew with Nick (went up four places)

SCBC: How do you go from Selwyn to Tromso, Norway?

NT: Bicycle to Drummer St., bus to Heathrow and aeroplane the rest of the way.

SCBC: In your picture you are wearing a “1st May wrap”. What is this and would you like SCBC to reintroduce it?

NT: Wraps are big scarfs made of single-ply wool.  You’ll have seen them around the necks of blues.  Those persons who are awarded SCBC 1st VIII colours are entitled to wear a wrap: maroon for 1st Lent and Old Gold for 1st May colours, respectively.  Mine are treasured possessions.  A chum of mine had his car stolen: he didn’t care a fig for the car but he was bitterly disappointed to lose his wrap.  Some things insurance companies cannot make good.

SCBC: Finally, can you confirm that Rudolph and everyone is well at the Northpole? Are Christmas preparations well on their way?

NT: Well, the population of reindeer I study is now about 70% bigger than it’s average size when I started 37 years ago so, in a sense, they are doing fine.  In fact, that’s quite impressive because so many of the climate change enthusiasts predicted that winter warming would bring reindeer populations to their knees.  Hasn’t happened yet …

Thank you, Nick. WE WISH ALL SCBCS A MOST BLESSED CHRISTMAS!

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