About 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 cach� 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 remarkable.
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.
When 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