At 18, Ken went to University College London, where he studied philosophy. This course was a very personal choice. Brought up in a religious family, he had strong doubts about his beliefs and saw philosophy as a source of answers to some searching questions. He also believes that it helped him develop as a writer.
“There is a remote connection between philosophy and fiction. When you study philosophy you deal with questions like: ‘Here we are sitting at a table, but is the table real?’ Now that’s a daft question because of course the table is real. When you study philosophy however, you need to take that sort of thing seriously and you have to have an off-the-wall imagination. It’s the same with fiction which is all about imagining situations that are different from the real world.”
He became increasingly sceptical about the religion in which he had been brought up and at the same time, began to develop an interest in politics. In the heady atmosphere of a late 1960’s university, this wasn’t uncommon. The Vietnam War was under way – a war which most students thought immoral – and there were regular protest marches and sit-ins. There was trouble when the London School of Economics appointed as its head a man who had been head of a racially segregated university in what was then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Many students felt that a man who could be comfortable under the apartheid-style regime ought not to be head of a famous liberal college.
“Politics was discussed all the time. It seemed as if student protest was a world-wide movement – it was going on in the States and in Paris and Berlin. Although we were young and had the arrogance of youth, nevertheless when you look at the issues that we fought over, I think by and large we were right.”
At this time, Ken was not attracted by the formal politics of the British Labour movement. Like his fellow protesters, he saw it as far too right-wing.
A few years before, while studying for his ‘A’ level school exams, Ken had met a young woman called Mary. They had fallen for each other and were still dating when Ken went up to university. Shortly after, they fell pregnant. They married at the end of his first term and Ken’s son Emanuele was born in July 1968 – at the height of the student troubles.
“I felt doubly rich because I was having a great time at university and it was also tremendously exciting to have a little baby and take care of him. It’s not the kind of thing that you plan to do when you are 18 but once it had happened it was very thrilling. We loved him and he was very endearing. He still is very endearing!”
Ken graduated in 1970, and took up his first job…
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