So it’s the day after my 68th birthday, and I’m thinking back on the past – as you do – and I thought I’d write a bit about my personal past. I was born during the war, in a city centre tenement in Edinburgh, with my father in Egypt with the RAF. He’d served his apprenticeship as a watchmaker, so the RAF had him making and repairing instruments for aircraft. My mother was left to bring me up, with the help of friends, aunts, and an Aberdeenshire-born grannie.
It was a working-class family, and it was also a strongly left-wing family. It won’t be a surprise to those who know the period and the people that, like most working-class parents, mine were ambitious for their children, and the route for that ambition, as so often in that society, was through education. So I was encouraged to learn from an early age. Reading by six, my mother took me to Edinburgh’s Central Library, and persuaded a reluctant librarian that although I was below the regulation age of eight, I could indeed read – demonstrating that fact with the aid of a Beatrix Potter book.
Study and hard work have been the guiding principles of my life since then, self-help and indepedent thinking the ways I’ve worked it through. I’ve got an Open University degree in maths and science, gained while I was working as a librarian in West Lothian, and, much later, a PhD from Strathclyde in information science, again done while I was working. Indeed I started my research when I was librarian with the British Geological Survey, and finished it as librarian at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, working on it most evenings and weekends over a six-year period.
Since obligatory retirement at age 60, I’m still working, and I often think I’m working as hard now as I ever did. I’m every bit as ambitious for my kids as my parents were for me and my siblings. And I’m still left-wing. Some things don’t change.