Like most people I make a point of publicly claiming that I don’t have too many regrets in life. But that is the fattest of lies.
While I am too busy – either wiping backsides and falling out with my eight-year-old over my apparent inability to select the appropriate hairband – to spend that much time mulling over my myriad failures in life, the list of regrets is still a long one.
Ranging from ‘if only I had listened to Big Pete and lumped a ton on the 3.15 at Kempton Park a week last Friday’ to ‘I wish I could grow a beard that doesn’t make me look like Timothy Claypole from Rentaghost', my regrets tend to border on the edge of petty.
But as time passes, I have tended to find that the strength of some of these regrets diminishes, none more so than the doubt which gnawed away at me for years – my decision not to go to university.
Back in the mid-1990s, I was very much the odd one out in many of my social circles when I took the bold decision not to spend three of my formative years at former polytechnics in either deepest darkest Essex or the more genteel surroundings of suburban Surrey. Instead I went for what I then regarded as the grown-up option and went down the vocational route into the not-so-glamorous world of journalism.
So while my contemporaries were living it up largely at the taxpayers’ expense – this was before tuition fees – I was spending my brass not on Mad Dog 20/20 and Monster Munch, but on shirt and tie box sets from Burton. At the age of 19 I was paying my taxes and it wasn’t that long before I was grumbling about the long-haired layabout students who spent all day getting addled while becoming addicted to Diagnosis: Murder.
Deep down I was gripped with jealousy, not to mention a nagging feeling that I had made the wrong choice. As with many of you reading this, I have experienced some lows in my career which, as recently as five years ago, had me considering whether or not I should belatedly dip my toe into the waters of higher education.
But I have now settled on the fact that it is very unlikely I will ever get the chance to don a cap and gown because I am not sure whether I would fit in. I expect our seats of learning to encourage fierce debate, but student bodies are more likely to ‘no platform’ groups whose opinions they disagree with.
Such groups tend to be right-wing and, while I abhor any form of extremism, the best way to deal with numpties who hold such views is to challenge them. Cast your mind back eight years when former BNP leader Nick Griffin was given a seat on the BBC’s Question Time, amid a storm of public outrage.
The argument was that by giving Griffin and his goons the oxygen of publicity it would only succeed in making them stronger. In reality, Griffin was humiliated and torn apart by both the panel and the audience. It is no coincidence that their core support fell away in the years after.
I am with universities minister Jo Johnson, who wants to fine institutions who bar speakers who their students disagree with.
If we don’t teach our leaders of tomorrow how to challenge idiots with dodgy opinions, we could end up seriously regretting it.