THE IDEA OF HOPE
Interview by Talita Cavaignac & Thomas Amorim
Could you tell us something about your background and how you came to study philosophy?
I’m a classic example of British post-war social mobility. I was born in 1952, and grew up in an aspirational working-class family—my father repaired teleprinters for the General Post Office, my mother was a school dinner lady. We lived in a suburb of newly built houses on the edge of Birmingham. From my parents’ bedroom window I could look across the fields to the church spire of the nearest country town. At eleven, I passed an entrance exam and won a scholarship to King Edward’s School, Edgbaston—academically the most prestigious school in the city. The school was rife with social snobbery, which was painful for an adolescent from my family background, but it opened windows onto new intellectual and cultural worlds. I’ve been coping with the ambivalence of that experience ever since. At seventeen—after an accelerated school career—I won an entrance scholarship to Queens’ College Cambridge. For a few months I taught English in a language school in a small town in Spain—an experience which left me with an indelible love of the country and its language—and I went up to Cambridge in the autumn of 1970 to read English.
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