“If I think back to TU Delft, I mostly think of student life,” says Cees Distelbrink (electrical engineering, 1958-1965) with a twinkle in his eye. Most of his memories, and the best ones, were of his time at Virgiel, then a real ‘boys association’. “Girls were allowed sometimes, but only at the official parties.” And one of those girls, Manon, would become his wife. They met later through one of Cees’ room-mates who played hockey for Virgiel’s HC Dopie team at the Groen Geel fields in The Hague where Manon also played. “So that’s how it happened.” While she did not study at TU Delft herself, she experienced student life close up through her husband.
Chickens on the kitchen counter and eyes in the pea soup
Unlike today, the landlady was an important aspect of student life then. Cees’ first room was on the Spoorsingel, at the front where a train thundered by every 15 minutes. After that he shared a room for one year with his younger brother at an ‘old granny’s’ place. “It wasn’t the cleanest of houses. Our landlady kept chickens that were free to wander around. If you wanted to fry an egg, you just about had to push the chickens off the kitchen counter.”
Granddaughter Anne Jacobs is a Master of Strategic Product Design and has lived in a student flat for more than four years. She shares it with seven others and there is no landlady. “It’s all about having fun. You can do anything you want and you may do almost anything you want. We give a house party every year.” Grandpa blinks. A party at home? That idea was knocked out of you in his time.
Anne: “And we eat together every evening.”
Grandpa: “That’s nice. And do you really cook?”
Grandma: “Of course they do, you saw the state of the stove didn’t you?”
Anne: “But we don’t have chickens walking on the kitchen counter!”
Grandpa: “Our kitchen was really small.”
Grandma “You never cooked! Either we had a takeaway Chinese meal or pea soup with eyes.”
Pea soup with eyes?
Grandpa: “There was a supermarket, De Landbouw, on the Kolk. You could buy a packet of frozen pea soup there. We once defrosted the soup and found an eye floating in it.” Grandma laughs. “I’ve never forgotten that!”
Cees and Anne are both members of the Virgiel student association and are keen rowers. Cees rowed at D.S.R. Proteus-Eretes and Anne at D.S.R.V. Laga. “I’ve never been really fanatical as competitive rowing is a top sport and I didn’t have the time,” says Anne. Her grandfather was initially more fanatical. “In my day the assumption was that rowers were men with huge muscles. Men that had to eat well. The competition rowers could start eating a half hour before the refectory opened. Shovel it in!” The other side of the coin was that the competition rowers had to be home by 10 o’clock in the evening. “If you bumped into anybody from the club, you could be made an example of.” Anne says that now “they’re still strict about this, but the competition rowers are so motivated that they are disciplined in themselves.”
‘Before the initiation started, the men had to shave all their hair off’
After nearly two years, Cees gave up rowing and spent his time at Virgiel. He remembers his initiation period clearly. “Before the initiation started, the men had to shave all their hair off and be completely bald. They were then the slave of the senior students for two weeks. You could only go home if you were given leave. Most of our efforts went into learning songs.” A song for every year was even composed. Grandpa Cees’ started with the words ‘Jaffa foetsie’ (Jaffa disappear) which referred to the barracks on the Jaffalaan. “Around that time (1958), the wooden classrooms were torn down and the campus – such as Anne knows it now – started to take shape. The building of the Electrical faculty started at the end of my studies. I still think it’s one of the most beautiful buildings on campus.” Anne disagrees. “I did a Bachelor of Architecture and the Built Environment and I think that the Architecture building is the most beautiful on campus. Especially the library. I’ve spent plenty of hours there.”
Grandpa Cees took seven years to complete a study that was supposed to take five years. “I’ve already said that I mostly remember my student life,” he laughs. Anne says, “to be honest, I think I’m going down that road too, Grandpa.” Grandpa replies. “But the study pressure on you is much higher. Society expects more and students themselves are very aware of what is on their CVs.” Anne agrees. “True. I did a lot of committee work when I was doing my bachelor’s. I even thought I was going crazy. Now, while I’m doing my Master’s, I’m prioritising it. I don’t even have the time to do extra curricular activities.” “But what about Virgiel? Don’t you have borrelclubs (social clubs that meet for drinks) every week?” asks Grandpa. “Not any more. If you really want to be busy socially, you join a fraternity,” explains Anne. “We used to have borrelclubs in my day,” says Grandpa. “My classmates and I hated anything that remotely smelled like authority so we set up our own group, De Blauwe Knoop (the blue knot). It involved a lot of drinking of course.”
In the genes
Cees and Anne rarely talk about TU Delft at family gatherings, but now the anecdotes are flowing. “I really like it that Anne is also at TU Delft, but what I mostly enjoy are our similarities. We both enjoy writing and love technology,” says Cees. Anne adds that “everyone goes to you with their broken appliances as you’re so handy!”. But Anne is also handy, asserts Cees. “When I was at your place this morning, you proudly showed me the coffee maker that you had fixed. You like it too!”
In the meantime, Grandma is listening with pleasure. She is happy that Anne is sharing her life at TU Delft with her grandparents. Unfortunately, Anne missed the last anniversary reunion at Virgiel but Grandma did go with her husband. She enjoyed being at the association again. “When the year songs were sung, I joined in. I still knew almost all the words,” she says proudly. “It was a fun time!”