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   Andrew Bradford​

The story of Charlie and Kathy Bradford​

Reflections on being an undergraduate in my seventies

In July, just one month before my seventy-third birthday, I heard that I’d been awarded my BA in History from Birkbeck, University of London. A ‘second-class upper division’ (or 2.1) to be precise. So, my student career is over. I can honestly say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience and met many really interesting people of all ages who have come from many countries to teach or learn in London. How lucky we are to live so close to such a dynamic, cosmopolitan city.


Of course, the whole learning process was disrupted by Covid. In March 2020, towards the end of my second year, teaching moved online, and stayed that way until the end of my third and final year. I know that the teaching staff moved heaven and earth to make the process of mass online learning as fruitful as they could, but it’s just not the same from the student perspective. Online learning is a solitary experience. The main thing that you miss is chatting with fellow students before and after the lecture. From the teachers’ perspective, it must be even more frustrating as the teacher has so few body language clues about how his or her message is getting across. In theory, this year’s graduates should be attending a graduation ceremony in November, but we don’t know whether that too will be forced online. I will be really disappointed if it is.


In the first year of the course, students choose to study history by period, and there are nine periods to choose from, from classical times to the twentieth century, I chose to study three periods of world history covering from 1500 to the present day. My main interest is twentieth-century history, but I also thoroughly enjoyed learning about the early modern world (from 1500 to 1789), which is of course the period when Europeans first encountered other civilisations. Spaghetti Bolognese is a quintessentially European staple, but what would it taste like without pasta - from China - or tomatoes and chilli peppers - from the Americas - or basil - from Africa? What would be left on the plate?


In return for the indigenous Americans introducing us Europeans to tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, maize, and a whole host of other food staples, we gave them horses, which they found quite useful; but we also introduced them to measles and influenza, which may have killed more than forty million of them. If that wasn’t enough, we then sent thirteen million Africans to the Americas to be enslaved, but several million of them never arrived on American shores, because the journey was so dangerous. So much modern history is about slavery and genocide that it was a great relief to choose, as one of my second-year modules, a course called ‘Being Good in the Modern Age’ which is history of altruism and morality. This course began by examining why the Enlightenment philosophers considered kindness and politeness to be important, and went on to cover, inter-alia, the campaign to abolish slavery, the campaigns of the nineteenth century feminists, and, from the twentieth century, the disability rights movement, environmentalism, and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I think that if I had to choose the course that I enjoyed the most, it would be this one.


In the third and final year I wrote my dissertation. Those of you that are already familiar with my blog  will know that one of my interests is disability rights, and that I have written the life stories of my parents, both of whom were disabled by polio as young children. So, you won’t be surprised at my choice of research project, which was a study of the foundation of the British Polio Fellowship in 1939 and its work between 1939 and 1970. This charity was a self-help movement which in many ways was years ahead of its time; as most charities with this kind of ethos did not emerge until the 1960s. Writing a dissertation during various stages of lockdown is not to be recommended; the library that holds most of the relevant material for a dissertation about polio is the Wellcome Library in Central London, but at no point when I was working on this project was this library open to new readers. Other students will have had similar problems, so I guess we’re all in the same boat. Anyway, these are trivial problems compared to what many other people have had to endure during the pandemic. At least it was my final year of university that was disrupted. I feel a lot of sympathy for those eighteen-year-olds who had to endure the stress of the 2020 A-level examinations fiasco, and then go into a university hall of residence to be solely taught online. They deserved better, and it’s not the fault of the colleges that things weren’t better for them.


The question that I’m asked most often is what next? Am I interested in a master’s degree? I have to say that the answer is no. There is no government funding for the over -sixties to go further, and while there are scholarships, I think that there are many younger people who deserve them more than I do. I will carry on writing and start to update my seriously unloved and dated blog more often, starting now. But would I recommend going to Uni to other seventy-somethings. You bet I would! 




Blog

Review of BBC Three's "Don't Take My Baby" by Jack Thorne

Posted on July 21, 2015 at 5:25 AM

Every year, an estimated 3,000 children are removed from disabled couples in the UK by Childrens' Services. "Don't Take my Baby", first shown on BBC Three on July 20 2015, dramatises the story of one couple, Tom and Anna, as they set about the task of proving that they can be capable parents.


Tom (Adam Long) is partially sighted, as a result of an unnamed condition that he has inherited from his father, and Anna (Ruth Madeley) has a congenital muscle wasting disease. When she was two her parents were told she had two years to live, and now she still has two years to live. There is a chance that Dani (their baby daughter) could inherit one or both of her parents' conditions.


The play begins with Anna recording a video message for her infant daughter. We're not clear whether she's recording this message because she fears that Dani will be adopted against her parents' wishes, or because she fears that she will die before Dani has laid down any memories of her mother.


Video recordings are a common theme in Jack Thorne's script. We see Anna updating this message, we see Anna and Tom, as well as Tom's parents and Anna's mother being interviewed on camera by social worker Belinda (Wunmi Mosaku); as well as Tom and Anna being filmed by childrens' services while they learn how to care for their baby daughter. The whole process feels very intrusive and big brotherish. We wince when the well-meaning grandparents give honest replies to Belinda's questions that we think may not be entirely helpful to Tom and Anna's case. We share Tom's rage when Belinda calls at all hours of day and night to assess his capabilities as both Dani's and Anna's main carer. We wonder if he will go off the rails.


Anna's mum initially seems very distant from the couple, but we learn why. She was a single mum who brought up a severely disabled daughter who she was told would never survive infancy. When she heard of the pregnancy her first thought was that the act of giving birth would kill Anna.


But Tom doesn't go off the rails, and the couple convince an initially sceptical Belinda that they can, with the right support, nurture and care for their daughter.


My reasons for reviewing this drama is that sixty six years ago I was born the son of two seriously disabled people. My parents, Kathy and Charlie Bradford, had caught the polio virus as children, and I've told their story in my family memoir, "Live Eels and Grand Pianos".


So how is Tom and Anna's story different to Kathy and Charlie's almost seventy years old story? Kathy's mum, just like Anna's mum, was concerned that the act of childbirth could do her harm, she too took time to come to terms with her daughter's pregnancy. The topic of disabled people raising a family was newsworthy then, as it is now. Our family was extraordinary enough to be written about in The People and the Sunday Express.


Looking back, there is never a time in my childhood when there were no social workers around , but they were supportive, never judgemental. Mainly they organised assistance such as the twice weekly visits form the home help service who helped Kathy with housework, t It was a simpler age, and Charlie and Kathy and the young me never had the level of intrusion into their lives that Tom and Anna, and others like them, have today.


I understand why this level of intrusion is necessary but I'm really glad that it wasn't there when I was growing up and earlier, when my parents decided that they wanted to have a family. As Tom says in the drama "other dads with faults get to have a go, don’t they?”

 

Categories: Disability, BBC Three, Don't Take My Baby

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