Every so often I spend my Wednesday afternoon with a dozen lovely people who are on the wrong side of eighty. When we are applying for grants, we call the thing we do together “oral history”. But when we get together with our two-gallon teapot, it just feels like spinning yarns.
Lately we’ve been talking about schooldays. For my elderly friends, university wasn’t even a smudge of a possibility on the horizon. Most left school at fourteen and took jobs locally. Their tiny wage packets were handed over to their struggling mothers.
All of these senior citizens led full working lives, many raised families and all live in modest comfort now. So why are my children and so many of their friends striving for university places?
But several of them tell the same story: “When I was nearly fourteen, the teacher called my Mum in and told her that I was bright and they’d like me to stay on… but we needed my wage…” Their voices trail away wistfully. Are they still recalling the ambitions they relinquished more than sixty years ago?
My daughter comes with me to oral history sessions. I hope that she will hear their note of regret and value the fabulous opportunity that university offers her and that she will spread her wings and fly off into the blue breadth of possibilities.