Today is New Year’s Eve. I have written elsewhere of the happy family Hogmanays I enjoyed as a child; the first-footing, the family gatherings around the piano and the White Heather Club on TV. As I turn over a new page into 2014, my final post of 2013 features an object that brings together 3 key themes of my blog this year: books, prizes, and my Dad’s centenary. This beautiful edition of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, which is kept in the Surrey regional branch of the Usmeum (Brother 1’s house) was awarded to my Dad by St John’s Boys’ school in 1925, when he was 12, for “General Excellence:”
I remember Dad telling me how thrilled he was with this book, enthralled with the adventures of Crusoe on the island. An imaginative, bookish boy who devoured adventure stories such those of Robert Louis Stevenson and Walter Scott, he was bright enough to win a scholarship to college but (like his brother John) had to give this up in order to work and support the family. So, at the age of 14, he became an apprentice watchmaker, and worked for the next 50 years. This book makes me think of the opportunities he could have had, and how different his life could have been; perhaps I would never have been born. How he was inspired to spend his life campaigning for socialism, so that all people could have those opportunities, and lack of money be no barrier to education. How the struggles of his generation succeeded in giving these opportunities to mine, who took them for granted, so they are now lost to the next. My nieces, his grandchildren, may never be able to go to college without accruing a lifetime of debt. I am so fortunate that the only debt I owe is one of gratitude, to my parents, for giving me these hard-won rights that they never had. I was able to go to university in my 20s just for the hell of it, and had a great time, but that degree has served me well in my subsequent career. Not the subject – I’ve forgotten almost everything I learned with such enthusiasm for my Religious Studies BA at Stirling – but the qualification itself, a certificate that has opened doors to jobs, postgraduate study, and a career as a chartered librarian. I wasted a lot of time in my youth, and Dad was gone by the time I eventually turned over a new leaf and became a responsible citizen in my 30s. I think he would have approved of my ultimate career choice. So cheers, Dad, and I promise to do more next year to restore those lost rights you fought so hard to give us. Here’s to peace and prosperity, health, housing and education for all in 2014.