This was written and saved in 2015 – didn’t put it on, for some reason
Education is a wonderful thing.
In common with many Army kids of long ago, mine was varied, to say the least; eleven schools in all (including a month on board ship en route for, and later from, Singapore) gave me much experience of being taught. Not to mention absorbing the harder lesson of always being the outsider, the strange, awkward one. No change there, then, as some might say. At my final school, an old state grammar which gave pupils from a wide range of backgrounds a good all-round education, purveyed by teachers who wore black gowns of varying antiquity and states of repair, I was an indifferent pupil. Just enough to get by, and lots of looking out of the window. I mastered the art of getting good marks in exams, giving a whole evening (sometimes two!) to revision. To be absolutely honest, I didn’t deserve the results I gained; they were usually due to the triumph of smoke and mirrors, creativity (or bullshit, as some call it) over hard fact.
It was a good school – and yes, there was the mandatory inspirational English teacher, a beetle-browed Yorkshireman nicknamed Basher, with eyes like ice and a bellowing passion for his subject. I could have made so much more of my opportunities with his support. But my feelings of what is now called disconnect were not relieved by being so far behind my peers socially, most of whom were going out with boys when I was still making dens under the rhododendrons and pretending to be a pirate. My confidence wasn’t helped by wetting my knickers in the presence of the Bishop of Oxford on Founder’s Day, an incident which tormented my recall for years; I had simply been too embarrassed to ask if I could leave the assembly. Otherwise bright kids can sometimes be incredibly stupid.
After A-levels there was no thought of university; only top swots went on to further education, and I just wanted to get out, and off into the world, with not the slightest idea of what I wanted to do.
Fast-forward several decades, during which much experience (and material) accumulated. My partner and saviour gave me the proverbial kick up the arse – and confidence – to take a course to qualify as a fitness instructor, at a laughably advanced age. Take note: never let the numbers hold you back. If you think you can, you can. It was tough, but this time I was motivated, and a dozen years on I am still enjoying this unexpected mini-career. Even more importantly, she urged me to start writing my first book, and this I did, later going on to do the first of many open studies university courses, all on aspects of creative writing.
Of course, it’s not the real thing. I have neither the time nor the money to find out whether I could earn an MLitt degree. But the hunger for knowledge and improvement I feel is insatiable, and mixing with other writers and tutors nourishes my literary soul as nothing else can. Attending and participating in literary events has brought me lasting friendships, and the theatre of the fitness studio, choreographing and teaching aerobics, has increased my love of performance. This is particularly helpful for the readings I do at open-mic gigs and invitation events, which are numerous.
My current course, at Glasgow University, is the most difficult yet, and the most satisfying. It feels almost like a real undergraduate experience – except for the scuzzy living conditions and angst! I am accumulating credits which will eventually lead to a diploma, a very poor relation to a degree, it’s true, but still a challenge for a part-time student. Perhaps when I’m too crumbly to teach jumping jacks, grapevines and exercise with weights, I can augment my income by coaching writing groups. I say this as an optimist but also a realist. Writing is a passion and a commitment, but in these dark days for the arts, passion and commitment won’t convert to a living wage for most of us.
Education, however, is never wasted.