We take much for granted, and so gratitude is in short supply. Are we aware of the forces that shape our lives and others?
As a youngster from a modest background with a troubled adolescence – bright, hard-working, from a broken home, slightly wild and lost – I had no idea that my grammar school and sixth-form college, in a depressed working-class area, provided opportunities unavailable to many. Nor was I aware that fertile ground had been prepared at Hertford College to encourage applications from frankly unprepossessing students like me. I had no idea the extent to which, like Blanche DuBois, I depended on the kindness of strangers. My school principal Fred Bleasdale almost physically forced me to apply and the splendid Neil Tanner accepted me as a physicist, so I enjoyed the life-long benefits of the Oxford experience as a result.
Many years later, my wife unexpectedly met Neil and was regaled with several amusing anecdotes of my antics at Hertford. It seems he remembered his many students individually, which suggests he cared for us all. That’s an incredible legacy that the college should be proud of and continue to celebrate, embody and express. I hope some of that generosity of spirit and ethos of serving others has rubbed off on me.