Mind the Generation Gap

Families always like to remind you how lucky you are to attend the University of Nottingham. They’re right too, the opportunity to spend three (or more) years studying a discipline of your choice at a world-famous institution is something to be appreciated. We may get to ‘come of age’ in a world of student loans and catered accommodation, but how did our parents and grandparents fare at our ages. How big is the generation gap really? We asked four Nottingham students what their family members were doing at their age.

Rosie, second year French and Politics student: “By my age, my nan already had three girls and was pregnant with my mother”


In the mid 60s when she 16 years old, my nan fell in love with an older boy. With no access to birth control, she quickly fell pregnant with twins whilst still unmarried.

After a very quick marriage my nan had two more girls. Unfortunately whilst she was able live a double life as a rock chick and full time mum, my grandfather wasn’t, so he moved to LA two years after the birth of my mum. My nan later met my granddad Mike, and together they raised the four girls. She later had a son too.

My brothers and I are the first to ever to go to university. I couldn’t imagine having a baby right now but by my age, my nan already had three girls and was pregnant with my mother. Things have changed a lot over two generations.

Emily Shackleton, third year English student


My grandfather, Jack Surgey, began training as a blacksmith at about age 19 at the Babbington Colliery in Basford when he wasn’t allowed to join RAF. The Second World War had just begun, and whilst quick to volunteer, he didn’t pass the medical due to ear problems.

My family for generations grew up and worked in Nottingham. Two of my great grandparents and my grandfather were involved in the mining industry. My grandfather’s job involved maintaining all the heavy duty equipment such as the railway, lifts and lift shafts in the mine.

During the miners’ strikes of the early 70s, he still had to go into the mines to ensure they didn’t flood- work that he wasn’t paid for and for which other miners spat on him and called him a ‘scab’. My mum was 12 at the time and remembers how appalling it was.

He still stayed at the colliery until he retired in 1986 at age 65, shortly before it closed.

Akos Pal, third year Pharmacy student from Romania: “My parents grew up on the other side of the Iron Curtain”.

My experience as a student differs from my parents’ in many ways. First of all, I grew up in capitalist, semi-democratic society, whilst my parents experienced the worst years of communism. Also, I’m studying abroad, which was something unimaginable for them.

At my age, my mum was a second year student at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy of Targu Mures. There were only 20 people on her course and they were the last cohort, since the Faculty of Pharmacy was being disbanded for political reasons.

She only had hot water for two hours every day, very little heating in the freezing Romanian winter and frequent blackouts. She was in her final year in December 1989 when the Romanian Revolution overthrew their Communist leader Nicolae Ceau?escu.

When I ask how her life has progressed since then, she says, “My life changed radically. Not just because of the change of regime, but also because I became a wife and a mother. It’s a whole new experience, which can’t be truly described – only felt.”

Kat Rolle, fourth year French and Politics Student: “My grandfather escaped from a POW camp in the middle of the night”.


When my grandfather was my age, he was a Prisoner of War (POW) in Alsace-Lorraine, France. He was captured in a forest in France when fighting against the Germans during the Second World War. Missing for ten months, he was later found by the Red Cross.

The were treated well in this particular camp. They were allowed to go out and work in a milk factory and receive letters from relatives. My grandfather was a boxer and used to fight in matches in order to get more food. He was relatively friendly with the German soldiers stationed there as he spoke German – they had no idea that he was Jewish.

My grandfather escaped the camp in the middle of the night. Also able to speak French, he was protected from recapture by a local French couple. He lived with them until the Americans arrived in Alsace-Lorraine and he was flown back to England by an American plane and reunited with my grandmother.

Antonia Paget, third year English student and Erica Macpherson, age 84

baba leopard 1

“The world I grew up in was very different to the world my grandchildren are growing up in today.

“I grew up on the Zambezi in Mozambique, and also in South Africa. My father was the managing director of the biggest sugar plantation south of the Sudan, and he ran the factory and the estate.

“We had a very different life to most living on the plantation. My mother had two pet leopards, given to us as gifts, one of which used to come into my room in the morning. I also had a pet chameleon. The Africans were scared of them because they thought they were evil. I was a horrible child, so I used to chase them around with the chameleon and place it on different surfaces to watch it change colour.

“I then went to art school in South Africa, and studied under a student of Matisse. I used to go home only once a year from school in South Africa to the Zambezi because it took a week to get there and a week to get back”.

Dylan Williams, third year English student and Helen Williams, age 84.


Helen Williams: “If someone was clever the family would have to pay for them to go to university, there was no help otherwise. I stayed in school until I was 16, but my sisters both left when they were 14 and went straight into jobs. Our father couldn’t have kept us any longer. He drove trucks for a living and we didn’t have very much.

After school I worked on the switchboard in a factory. It was a bit boring, although sometimes we used to have phone calls from abroad, which would be exciting. We’d mainly take messages, put out calls and send telegrams.

I got married on my 21st birthday. My husband used to work on the buses, so I met him there”.

Dylan Williams: “It’s always important to respect that people in your family haven’t always enjoyed the same opportunities as we do now. But the hard work that people like my nan have put in over the years is the main reason why I have these opportunities now”.

Additional reporting by Millie Cepelak

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