At the age of 47 my grandmother had a sudden, massive stroke which left her paralysed and struggling to breathe. In the aftermath my mom was taken out of school, age just 15, to support my nan and look after her nephew. My mom vowed that her daughters would not repeat her own life story and that they would get the best possible education
This is how I ended up at the grammar school in Wolverhampton. The only problem was that we lived, quite literally, on the wrong side of town. It took two long bus journeys to get to school.
Age just 11, I would arrive home exhausted, with school bags weighing heavily on my back, homework still to do.
In the early months it was tough but I grew to be fascinated by bus-life. The muffled fights between friends and families and babies of all humours: grumpy, chirpy, irritable and charming.
Or old women carrying bulging bags of shopping, climbing steps with legs that didn’t want to work. Or young moms struggling to fold pushchairs in too-small bus shelters, a toddler screaming in one hand, a baby on hip.
More than anything I wanted to make Wolverhampton and places like it better. Fairer. Kinder. But how?
The careers quiz at school told me that civil engineering said that it was about making the world a better place. That sounded right for me.
A bursary helped me become the first in my family to head off to University. The time I spent on building sites was desperately lonely. I became focused on just getting through.
Then, in my final year I did a course which really excited me – on transport. I loved how it spoke so directly to social issues. I worked for over 30 years in transport both in the UK and in South Africa focusing more and more on roads.
I’ve had a full, varied career. I’ve worked with consultancies, government, universities, NGOs. I’ve helped to set up a research centre, a Masters program and an NGO.
I’ve always had an itch which couldn’t be scratched. Questions that couldn’t be answered. About engineering. About roads. About my role as a woman in all of it. Even after all of my years practicing as an engineer and transport planner, I still couldn’t really understand why roads were so unfair, prejudicing those who have the least, and also violent, embedding an obsession for speed.
Finally, in my 40s I decided that a PhD would surely help me resolve some of the questions about why roads are the way they are. To really dig deep I had to re-educate myself, this time by doing a PhD in the humanities.
It took me into places I have never been before – philosophy, sociology, history, anthropology, even feminism. It was like shedding a skin. A re-birth. And it took seven years.
I had floundered as a young transport engineer but could never put words on why. Why did engineering feel the opposite of socially just? Why are roads the way they are?
My book about this journey and what I’ve learnt along the way is now written. In 2023 I will look to get it published. I really hope it will help young women engineers to make the changes they may want to make in their workplaces or for themselves.
I’ve been told that the book is a great read for anyone who wants to understand more about roads, engineering or women-in-male places, without having to do all of that civil engineering and sociology for themselves.
Along the way I’ve realised that there’s some mystery, too, about how things get to be the way they are. This kind of stuff is difficult to put into words, but I’ve tried my best.
If you want to know more, please keep in touch. I’ll be keeping it real and telling what I wish I had known before, as clearly and as beautifully as I can.
Dr Kane is my first call when it comes to helping my listeners understand complex matters around our road transport system. She always elevates an interview above the initial angle, sharing knowledge and her passion for the field.Stephan Lombard, Radio Producer, Primedia Broadcasting