I come from a working class background, and was brought up living in a two up two down house with 6 people sharing two bedrooms. I had a bath once a week in the tin tub hanging on the backyard fence. This was in the Docklands of East London in the forties and fifties, so as you can imagine it wasn’t particularly luxurious.
University was not an option, not really even ever thought of for working class people where I am from. Back then education was even more so than now the preserve of the privileged, so the prospect of attending university was never really an option in my head. So I did an apprenticeship, like most people I knew.
I’ve always had a passion for studying, but I progressed as a building contractor to eventually become a site manager instead, and then on to run my own construction business. I don’t want to give the wrong impression, I have no regrets about this, I worked hard all my life and am proud of everything I achieved. On retiring we moved to a smaller house that needed a lot of work, so this is what I’ve been doing for the past four years.
But history has always been a passion for me, and when two of my grandchildren went to university to read history I was delighted. I think this was part of what got me thinking about how I would have loved to have gone to university to study, to have gone and done what they’re doing. To think, to learn, to grow.
They were learning about new ideas that I wanted to explore myself, and then I realised I really wished I could have. But my family pointed out there’s no point in wanting, when I still could.
My granddaughter is extremely persistent and wouldn’t drop it, and so with her help I sent off my application. I wasn’t expecting a response – I’m a 74-year-old man who doesn’t have GCSEs or O Levels or A Levels or whatever else there is these days – I can’t keep up. So imagine my surprise when I was invited for an interview and then received an unconditional offer from Goldsmiths University in London. So, providing I get funding come September, I will be a fresher with the rest of them. At seventy-four.
Education to me has always been an end in and of itself, knowledge is the goal not some ulterior motive. You never stop learning, not when you’re fifty, not when you’re seventy-four, not when you’re a hundred and one for that matter. I don’t like not knowing things, the internet to me is incredible because I can find all the things that in the past I’ve had to search encyclopaedias for. I want to learn, and that’s what university is for. I want to keep my brain active, it keeps you young and open minded. You’re never too old, and if there’s something you want to do you better get on and do it, whatever age you are.
I don’t want to sound pompous or anything like that, but you don’t want to end with your life with ‘if onlys’, seize your opportunities, because there are so many out there right now. I would say don’t waste your youth, but that’s not how I feel, nothing was wasted – but now I can experience something new, learn even more. When I walk around London I see buildings I helped create, there are little parts of me everywhere. The evidence of my work for this city is there and I’m proud of it, and now the city can carry on teaching me more.