Cllr Tom Roberts, Wivenhoe Town Mayor, 2005 - 06
I’m not normally
given to autobiography, but the outgoing Mayor, Peter Hill, has persuaded
me that people would like to know a bit more about their new mayor.
So, laying modesty aside, here is the story of my life.
When asked where I come
from, I usually answer that I was born in Hampstead, which has a certain
caché to it and it is actually true.
But the whole truth is that I was born during World War II and a
maternity ward had been set up in North End Hospital, Hampstead, and my
parents actually lived at Fortune Green - NW6, not the “sought-after”
NW3 where psychoanalysts and others with loads of money had established
themselves. My parents were
of humble origins and had little education. They had met as domestic servants working for the same
employer, and when they married in 1926 their then employer installed them
in the mews flat above the garage behind one of those charming Georgian
squares in London’s West End. Such
places now change hands for millions, of course, but then they were not
highly prized and still served their original purpose of servants’
quarters. My mother raved
about that flat till the day she died. My
father, as a chauffeur, acquired mechanical skills which in the 1930s
landed him a job with Unilever’s haulage subsidiary, SPD, a piece of
luck of much more significance than he would ever know.
He died at the age of 46, leaving my mother with three sons still
at school and the Unilever widow’s pension saw us all through.
I remember nothing of
Fortune Green: my family moved when I was two years old to Woodford, then
a leafy, though stiflingly dull, outer London suburb, but now well inside
the M25 and cut in half by the flyovers of the North Circular Road.
Its main claim to fame was that it was represented in parliament by
Winston Churchill, whom I did actually see on one occasion, during an
election, of course. He
wasn’t much of a constituency MP, so to have seen him once is
I left school at 16
with three O-levels and have had a series of jobs rather than a career,
though most of those jobs were intended to be careers when I embarked upon
them. I’m not sure why, but
some people find it difficult to believe that I was in the police force
for four years. I married at
the absurdly young age of 20, as a result of which I have two sons now in
their 40s. The marriage began
to go seriously wrong after six years and. ended after twelve.
At 37, having got a couple of A-levels at evening classes
(incidentally a much more arduous task than reading full time for a
degree), I was admitted to the University of Essex and eventually got a BA
in Art History in 1981.
So, I arrived in the
Colchester area in 1977 (not for the first time, but that’s another
story). I spent my first year
on the ninth floor of Tawney Tower looking out over the sewage works and
other notable landmarks, but in my spare time made excursions to this
place called Wivenhoe with its Arts Club and the Black Buoy.
The sort of accommodation on offer to second and third year
students in those days can only be described as grim and when, during the
summer vacation of 1978, I saw a dilapidated terrace house in Ipswich Road
offered for sale, whose roof at least was watertight, I jumped at it as a
better deal than anything I was likely to get through the Accommodation
Office. Little did I know I
was putting down roots.
I graduated in 1981, Thatcher had been in power for a couple of years and
unemployment was officially around 3 million, though in truth nearer
double that figure. Students
graduating at the normal age of 21-22 could not find jobs, and a new
graduate aged 41 did not get a reply to job applications, let alone an
interview. I had met my
partner, Dilly, in 1980, who had also just graduated and could not find a
job. We survived that terrible time on assorted temporary and
casual jobs. It all worked
out in the end: in about 1982 Dilly took a job at the University for three
months (which she is still doing!) and I found not regular employment, but
at least interesting temporary employment and freelance work began to come
my way. Somewhere along the
line I took a postgraduate qualification in teaching English as a foreign
language and I now have an eclectic mix of work including archive work and
some administration with a literary agent, a little bit of teaching,
correcting non-native speakers’ academic writing and the occasional
translation. Obviously, I
have a problem with forms that ask for “occupation” and give you half
a square inch for your answer.
In 1986, when
Colchester had become a much less pleasant town than it had been in the
1970s, we were fortunate enough to be able to buy a run-down former
council house in Rectory Road, Wivenhoe.
I have lived in many different places, of which Wivenhoe is
unquestionably the best, but 18 years is the longest I have ever lived in
one place. It is a lively and
caring community and I am pleased to do my bit to keep it so.
I served as honorary secretary of the Wivenhoe Society for six
years and a couple of years ago, when the Town Council was up for
election, I felt it was time I stopped just complaining about the way
things were done and joined the team.
As it happened, there were only 10 nominees for the 11 seats, so
there was no election and I was elected unopposed.
This fact still bothers me a little, especially as I am now Mayor,
but don’t despair: there will be an opportunity to throw me off the
Council in two years’ time.
Cllr Tom Roberts