I was the first person in my family to go to university. At the time, I did not know what to expect and to be honest I didn't make the most of it. I was disappointed by my head teacher's last comment on my school report - "He should have aimed higher."
I took it to mean that I should have aimed for Oxford where he had been.
As it was I went to Bristol, which had a name for taking Oxford rejects. Bristol is a fine university in one of the nicest parts of England and has had its share of Nobel prizes, but it also takes more than its fair share of Public Schools students - in England that means students whose (usually rich) families have paid for a private education.
When I got there I was overawed by these well-mannered young men with impeccable accents who knew how to behave in company. It made me shy and impaired my progress. I tended to become a joker, providing comic relief for the upper classes. Although, I could tell a good joke and write scurrilous verse, what endeared me to fellow students didn't wash with the academics. I don't think I ever quite shook off this reputation. One of my research fellows (now a distinguished professor) used to regularly scold me for my funny articles that I wrote for magazines like World Medicine.
I wrote a poem about ambition at the time, but in keeping with my task of revising my old poetry book I have brought it up to date and here it is:
Pushing through the holly-prickle teeth
of the quick, ambitious, climbing wind,
I trickle like a lock-gate shut beneath
the higher levels and the thicker-skinned.
I build my stickleback-nest short of where the best
grass grows, caught at not knowing who is known
and who knows. I am an item unaddressed,
tired of the mind and manners I have grown.
Those prison walls grow moss for mortar now;
the status of the prisoner: ‘long-unchained’.
To silver-spoons no need to still kow-tow,
that haughty hollowness was merely feigned.
A happy man must fit inside his skin,
content with his achievement and his loss.
If God and godliness are stored within
so much the better; all the rest is dross.
I Timothy 6:6