Monday, September 5, 2011

Learning the hard way

Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff

I mentioned a while back Linky Linky about starting a degree course at Leicester University as a 19 year old.  It was done in a bit of a rush because I’d very recently been thrown out of a different college. Thrown out is perhaps a little dramatic. I’d taken some exams at the end of my first year, failed them spectacularly, and then failed the re-sits later that Summer.

I’d begun a German course at Bangor in North Wales the previous October.  In hindsight I was far too immature to be given so much freedom all of a sudden.  It was only a few weeks after my 18th birthday and there were a few things going on in my home life which had not put me in a very happy place.  So here I was with a maintenance grant, nobody to nag me for getting drunk and coming in late, and tutors who didn’t seem to care much whether you attended their lectures or not, just so long as you got your assignments in on time.

I was fine with the German.  I’d always been good at it and I liked it.  It was the secondary subjects which I messed up.  I wasn’t uninterested in ‘Linguistics’ or in ‘Education’ (a sort of first year course for people wanting to become teachers), but I just couldn’t motivate myself to make any effort.  I did the bare minimum and when the exams came round I was found out. And then at the re-sits I was found out again because I’d assumed that a miniscule amount of revision back home would see me through.

My parents weren’t too pleased and I can’t say I blame them. They hadn’t enjoyed the same opportunities for a higher education, so they’d always put a big expectation on me and my brothers to go to university.  My Mum had been clever and studious at school but she was made to leave at the earliest opportunity by her parents who needed an extra wage.  For the same reason my Dad left at 14 to work on the railways as a ticket clerk.  He went on to better things later in life, but he did it the hard way.

My oldest brother Steve avoided university by deliberately failing his A levels. My other brother Dave was far more conscientious, a bit of a swot actually, and he sailed through it all.  I wanted to go to university, but unfortunately I just couldn’t get the balance right between doing enough work to get by and going out with all my new mates.

It wasn’t all drinking and late nights.  I joined a ‘Community Action’ group which did worthy things in Bangor; this included the writing and performing of a pantomime based on the song ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’, which we set on the island of Anglesey.  It was full of pirates, witches, corny gags and slapstick silliness, and we took it around hospital children’s wards, a home for young adults with learning difficulties and other such places.

When I went to Leicester the following year things didn’t get off to a great start when my brother was killed in a motorcycle accident.  That made me a little more serious about things, but I was already more aware of what was needed to avoid a repetition of what had happened before.  I wasn’t keen to fail again; even I drew the line at being sent down from two universities.

So while I still partied pretty hard, I at least had the nous to make sure I also did enough work to pass my exams.  I was not exactly a fully mature adult when I eventually got my degree, but I had at least grown up a bit.  Who says students don’t learn anything?
I got there in the end

No comments:

Post a Comment