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Some progress

Some progress

Can you say a little about your background, and in particular the way it helped to shape your thinking?

I was born in 1953 and grew up in St John’s Wood in London, with two older sisters and one younger. My father was a doctor who trained as a psychiatrist and then as a psychoanalyst; and my mother also trained as a psychoanalyst, though she gave up work after we came along. I think they would have been described at that time as ‘progressive’ (a word that has since been hijacked and horribly misused by New Labour). My father was a great fan of Bertrand Russell, and they both read a great deal.

At school, I was what most people would call ‘thick’. I failed the entrance exam the first time, and then I failed an internal exam and dropped down a year; and so it went on. Then, when I was 16, my dad said to me: ‘Look, if you carry on like this you are going to have to get a job in the City and become a stockbroker’ (which in our family culture was a bit like saying ‘You’ll become a guard at a concentration camp’). ‘Or’, he said, ‘you can leave school altogether now and go and work on the railways.’

‘Or’, thirdly, ‘you can go to Cambridge. 'Which was a very strange thing to say, given that the occasion for this conversation was the fact that my housemaster had told him it was very unlikely I was going to get more than six or seven O-levels – and they would be very bad grades. As, indeed, was the case.

But strangest thing of all was that, having been given these three options, I just said, ‘OK, I’ll go to Cambridge.’ I suddenly started working flat out, and have really been working flat out ever since.

To read this article in full, click here.

Posted 11 August 2011


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