Not all is good in the Aspie in the Family household at the moment. The passing of my nan last week has led to another swathe of unhappiness descending upon us. I console myself with the thought that she had reached a grand age (nearly 97) and that with her increasing fragility it was inevitable that this day would come. Even so her passing is sad, the end of an era as she was the last person in our family to have memories of the second world war.
She was an intelligent and strong minded woman, the only child of a first world war officer (who died in battle before she was born) and her milliner mother. She was fortunate to be born into a family with the means to provide her with a grammar school education during the 1920s and 30s. I always enjoyed listening to her tales about her school days and pouring over her old school photographs. Indeed so inspired was I that I couldn’t wait to move on to secondary school. I secretly hoped that my school would be similar to my nans and that I would get to study more interesting subjects than was taught at primary school. In fact one of my dreams was to study Latin. I’m not sure why eleven-year old me had a thing about Latin and can only assume that because my nan studied it at school and my grandfather taught himself the Latin names for plants that somehow it worked its way into my imagination. Of course back then I had no idea of the toxic combination of politics, class and education and assumed education was the same for all.
Five years later my dreams lay in dust. My expectations of school never materialised (there was certainly no Latin classes) and I ended up leaving school bored and frustrated. I look back at those days with a lot of sadness that so much potential in my year group was lost but back then (the 1980s) expectations were incredibly low. There was never any mention of University or aspiring for professional careers. We were expected to leave school and either enter the workplace or go to college and train for non-professional jobs. Everything was very much along class lines and whilst I ‘conformed’ and got a job I still felt weighed down by a feeling that I hadn’t proven myself. Unlike my nan I wasn’t proud of my education.
In time I was to rectify that and go on to achieve a first class degree in the social sciences, the first woman in my family to obtain a degree and the first to achieve a first. This may seem insignificant but for my family it was a big step forward as many of my other relatives had not been so lucky. Repression and poverty were prevalent in previous generations of my family which meant that a university education was just a pipe dream. Even my nan who was slightly better off than the rest didn’t make it; I don’t know why considering she was so bright. Perhaps the depression of the 1930′s and an obligation towards her widowed mother meant that university was just not possible.
Either way she didn’t go and neither did my mum and so I ended up being the first woman to have that experience. However, I often wonder if I hadn’t heard about my nan’s school days would I have ever got there? Would I have been like many of my peers who without question accepted their education? The chances are that without my nan inspiring me I wouldn’t have fought to reclaim the education that I had dreamed of for so long.
I have a lot to thank her for.