The idea of going to university at all was strange enough; it had never been remotely realistic or relevant for anybody in my family. My mother certainly could not see the point and my father, who might have done so in a moment of sobriety, was dead. As for Oxford, that was just ridiculous; I’d never even met anyone who had been there. I’d hate it because my North London twang would just be derided by the public schoolboys. Anyway, if I needed a chemistry degree to get a decent job, why not study in London?
My form teacher gently suggested otherwise and a few weeks later with a mixture of misgivings, apprehension, awe and excitement I walked into OB Quad to meet Neil Tanner. I cannot honestly say that I immediately fell in love with Hertford or Oxford but I left knowing that the privilege of being tutored by people like Neil was something from which I just could not walk away.
The love affair with Oxford didn’t start until a few months after matriculation. In the first weeks the challenge of learning to learn rather than just being taught was unsettling. Some of the public schoolboys did indeed mock my twang; the chip on my shoulder probably didn’t help. Then Keith McLauchlan challenged me to think, and soon Oxford was opening up ideas, relationships and interests of which I had never even conceived.
Approaching 50 years later, I am nearing the end of a career of which I have loved almost every moment. I have been, possibly uniquely, chief executive of both a FTSE 100 company and a top ten charity and I know I have Hertford to thank for that and many other life events thereafter.