7th July is almost over – it’s nearly midnight here – but before I get to the end of the day I just want to take a few minutes to reflect on where I was thirteen years ago today.
7th July 2005 was the day my Mum graduated from the University of Liverpool with a 2:1 in Philosophy and Irish Studies. A degree in pursuing your personal hobbies as I always jokingly called it. As a mature student she was approaching retirement when she started studying, and had actually finished working by the time she graduated, so it was never a qualification to assist in any career plans. She studied for the sheer joy of learning, of engaging her brain away from her job in Littlewoods call centre, and becoming an expert in the subject she was passionate about – Irish political history.
And she got a 2:1 – better than me or my brother, and certainly far better than would have been expected for the girl who “failed” her 11+ and had to leave school at 16 to get a job. She was furiously critical of the grammar/ secondary modern system for the rest of her life – feeling (probably rightly) that she’d missed out because of having a bad cold on the day of the 11+, having parents who (having left school at 14 themselves) weren’t savvy enough to play the system and insist on her getting a resit, and a shortage of grammar school places for girls in the north of England in the 1950s.
It took nearly the rest of her life to right that perceived wrong, but as soon as her children had grown up she was back at college, first to get a French GCSE, then maths the following year. That led to an access course, and from there to the University of Liverpool. Their affordable flexible degree programme for local mature students was what made it possible for Mum to afford the fees on a call centre wage. And it enabled her to fit in her studies around work, around health problems, around losing her own mother, and becoming a grandmother herself. It took her 6 years to get her BA, but she got there and on this day 13 years ago, all her family were at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool to see her graduate.
13 years ago today was of course the horrifying London tube and bus bombings that killed 52 people and injured many more. We heard the first initial news reports that something had happened whilst in the Philharmonic Hall, and were dimly aware of the tragedy unfolding 200 miles away as we did the obligatory photos in the sunshine and celebratory family meals and drinks afterwards.
It’s a horrible irony that I probably wouldn’t remember the exact date of my Mum’s graduation (I certainly can’t remember the date of my own) if it hadn’t been the day of a major terrorist attack. You can’t help but feel a little bit guilty about celebrating anything in the face of such horror – but to disrupt and rob us of normal life is, I suppose, exactly what terrorists want. This makes it a slightly odd day for me – on the one hand, I remember the events of 7/7 with sadness as we all do, but on the other hand, I also acknowledge that the same day was a good one my family. And I raise a glass, to our family’s expert on all things Irish who is sadly no longer with us. Nice work Ma.