Monday, 28 February 2011

Marble Halls and Polly Perfect

I have rather too many notebooks scattered around. Most of them make no sense to me, full, as they are with undecipherable scribble, doodles and cross-hatchings. But one turned up when I was looking in my box of diaries and I've decided to take an excerpt for your delectation. [with some editing of the many swear words]

Time moves so quickly for me that the recent past disappears into a pinpoint. Should I live long enough, say another thirty or forty years, I would remember that time with ease, even be able to put faces to the names I rediscovered in this little black book, but for now all that is left to me is the awful homesickness I felt; surprising myself with the intensity of it. I, who felt invincible surrounded by my loved ones was bereft and, I confess, out of my depth in the Halls of academe that I had so longed to be a part of.

The scene is Bath University, time, the summer of 2004 and I am attending the Summer School, an obligation for the points needed towards my degree. Only one other member of my group from home, John, is also attending, but he has quickly paired up with a younger more nubile woman with whom he eats, studies and plays.  The class has been divided into groups of four or five and our task, for the last day and the last session before leaving is to discuss various themes concerning the painting entitled  The Air Pump   by Joseph Wright of Derby       We got together in the bar after the class   and came up with the idea of trying to make it a bit funny by doing a University Challenge Skit...then they all drifted off and left me to work out the details.

Day 4  Wednesday: Well! it is 10.30 and I'm in bed. I tried to call you all but the men must be doing Kent League and the girls out? I'm finishing my Nachos and listening to my radio which I have amplified a bit by dropping the earpiece into an empty glass.  Had a good day today, finishing on a good note, literally. We had three sessions with David G. A full prof. I'm not sure that I remember much of what he said over the four and a half hours during which he covered History of Science, Religious Studies and History, but boy was he fascinating to listen to.
Had a baguette for lunch 'cos I could not face the food in hall, then the 3rd session and back here to rest up.
I think you will get a shock when you see me because I look awful, red puffy eyes and my feet and legs are swollen [perhaps I am destined to spend my life at sea level] Evening meal inedible. I won't bother to describe it but when the veg. alternative is better than the non-but not much-it tells you something.
Brilliant option evening of music, with our own tutor.

Lost one of our group, dear old Douglas-the note taker. He writes down everything that is said so we don't have to bother; just ask Douglas and he will repeat verbatim. It seems his wife was walking the dogs on some moor or other, fell and broke her ankle. She had to crawl for a mile to get help;at 68...tough old bird. Now we have to re-think our presentation.
Miss you, miss my bed, miss telly, miss dad nagging me,miss my garden [has it been secateur-ed to death?]
One more ya   XXX

Thursday: 60's day. 3 sessions on the culture and counter culture that began in the 60's. Martin Ashley has been a good tutor and today was very good too. Certainly made us think about what we're saying. If I've learned anything this week it is that one must formulate an argument before voicing it, make it a valid argument, and that it does not have to be right, only valid. 
Spent some time on the project [finally-all the others seem to have a life] I'm presenting the painting, it's form design genre etc. Sean the history, Richard philosophy and Pat the scientific. Any mistakes we will blame on Douglas' absence.  Musical show in the evening very good. Anne [the girl who can do no wrong..friendly, pretty, mother of four,]did four things; she sang in the choir, in a quartet and had a solo then was in a skit on 'The Importance of being Earnest'. She was very good, well, when your six year old reads 'The Lord of the Rings, your husband is a Queens Council, your diction is perfect, you sing and play the piano and cosy up to the tutors, oh, and read poetry aloud at option sessions, you are bound to be a leading light at AmDram.  {I cannot believe how bitchy I was}
John has a new girlfriend. I've never seen him so animated.
Home tomorrow. Yippeeee!

Day 6th. Friday:  So, the big day has arrived. An early breakfast with what passes for coffee [when I think what this summer school is costing..bah!] Then join the others in room 2-12. Bob comes in with a lectern, oh lord! and a slide projector. Can't get out of it now. First off is Lyn and her team...Chris tells us a bit about Ovid, how he pissed off Augustus and was exiled - rumour goes that he was shafting Gus's daughter. Then Lyn read her script-I was so nervous for her-no idea what she said. They sat down and we had 15minutes of discussion on Ovid. I tried to spin it out but Martin wasn't playing-we were next, we were up and we were for it.

I was the opener and I was feeling fine as I explained how we had planned a different format, something hopefully amusing but had been obliged to change our plans at the last moment. [not a flicker of sympathy from Martin]  but the moment that the curtains were drawn, projection light on  and the slide in to reveal that bloody picture I began to lose it. Two hours I had spent the night before writing my script. but I hadn't reckoned with the pointer. This was to be my tool, I could point out the salient facts. With it I would be a god, a tutor, in command. Was I heck! While using the pointer I couldn't be looking at my script and I sure did not know it by heart. So there I am, blathering on about 'Spatial plane' and thinking, what the ..... is that? I stumbled into the illusory plane, remembered the important triangle of arms, hand, head and eye and the meaning of the skull, remembered the names of only two of the ten characters and found that my writing appeared to have dissolved into little black splodges on all three pages.

I vacated the lectern and passed it over to Richard, who decided to stay where he was, abandoning the pointer-wise move considering the bad vibes. He did as badly as I. My performance had turned that vibrant man into jelly and he bottled. Pat saved the day. Cool, calm and collected she gathered all our disparate threads and wove them all neatly together, salvaging us from total humiliation. She sat down to mild, scattered applause. 
Martin spent 20 minutes on our subject and as he did my notes sprang back into neat sensible rows again and I was able to answer questions. 

Then it was the turn of Ann's group. Dear Polly Perfect, talented, never flustered, always cool, bandbox pristine under the roughest conditions. [Jealous? Moi?]

Wait till you hear this: She had gracefully accepted the music assignment that no one else wanted because it was too difficult. She had gathered her troops around her, [God knows when, what with choir practice, solo quartet and sketch practice] she produces an informative, brilliant explanation of this piece of atonal shit. She even discovered and proved a Jig in the piece that Martin, a music prof. had missed. [Do you hate her yet?] She's not finished; Graeme, with his osteoporosis and two walking sticks is  blessed with a deep Richard Burton/Anthony Hopkins voice, and he reads, nay, almost sings a poem entitled White Man Sleeps which is-bloody incidentally- the name of the piece of music. Where the hell did she find it? It was sooooooooooooo good. Martin said  many nice things after we had applauded and I was forced to admit that I was beginning to like the piece of music...she had made it accessible [did I tell you that the Paragon of virtue had copied out the theme and given us all a copy?]  After we had discussed the work in some detail I asked [shut up fool] if we could have the poem read again, and Graeme obliged, giving it even more wellie than ever.
'It is so very good' I trilled, 'Who wrote it, do tell?'
'Well, actually, said Graeme, looking very pleased with himself, 'Ann wrote it this morning, at breakfast.'
Did I walk into that?
Ann had her head coyly in her hands and whimpered 'Oh, please!'

Don't you just hate a goody goody.

The last couple of pages tell of leaving and then finally I sum up: I need people who love  me around me, I found out that much about myself. I love my family before anything, but I also love the challenge of learning, the stimulation of new thoughts.

I am still in awe of academia but I'll get over that [I never have] those who dwell in marble halls are just people-albeit with a head start on me. But I guess I'll give them a good run, even if I never catch up.


  1. Wow, your stories always captivate. Further education is good at any age. I could go to school forever, if it was free.

  2. I didn't understand half of that (I suppose it's like when I write about baseball, to you) but I still enjoyed it. You write so well, it's always entertaining, no matter the subject.

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  4. What a great find! I've always wished I'd kept a diary/journal -- it's the details you forget -- the spice of life and intensity. 2004 doesn't seem so long ago, but when I try to remember that year myself it's back there somewhere in the mists of my memory.

  5. Oh that Ann! There's always one like her, some paragon of accomplishment that makes the rest of us mere mortals green with envy.

    Love your writing!

  6. Sometimes a swear word can be just the ticket. I know I'm a little free with mine.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing your journal.

  7. You should have left the swear words in, especially if they were about Ann! 8-)

    Also, that painting is really fascinating - wacky and fascinating!

  8. You are so fabulous because you are so so human....detailing all our little ways and anxieties with humour...

  9. That makes interesting reading.
    Wish I had left diaries. (Well maybe it is just as well I didn't.... on reflection.)
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  10. Oh Moanie, you had me both cringing and laughing out loud reading this! Actually, I have it on good authority Polly Perfect is a boy-she, who plagerised everything she came up with on the internet.. (well, it makes me feel better, don't know about you)!

    My sister did an Open University degree, I can't wait to show her this post (grin)..

  11. You're a courageous woman--to brave the halls of academe at a "mature" age, to keep journals of your misadventures, to reread said journals years on, and to share excerpts here. Kudos to you!

  12. Big, big hug,
    thank you for sharing these notes with us!
    An even warmer hug
    from someone who feels about family and studying
    the way you describe in the next to the last paragraph.
    from the halls of academe,
    your devoted student,

  13. Greetings from Southern California

    I am your newest follower :-)

    I invite you to visit my blog and follow me :-)

    God Bless You, ~Ron

  14. Yes! Yes, I do hate a Polly Perfect - always have done. It's not what they do, it's the way that they do it. It's the insufferable smugness they exude because they know they're better than us. That's my excuse anyway. Can't possibly be anything so plebeian as jealousy, surely?

    I wish my journals held anything remotely as interesting as that!

  15. I had hurridly skimmed this post the morning you first posted it and decided after not understanding it, that I needed more time to let it sit on my non-absorbant brain in peace and quiet to get the whole picture. I did that today. The funny thing is....the way you felt about Polly Perfect she could do everything perfectly, intelligent, or gifted, really, that she was....that is how I feel about you. I am in awe of your blog posts....your ability to put on the computer screen words that put in my mind a picture so vivid that I feel I am there with you in that exact moment. I sincerely respect you. I know that wasn't your feelings about her...but you were there kind of competing with her, where I am just enjoying every word you put out here in cyberspace for us to read, then have it swim around in our brains and repaint those pictures over and over. I don't know how many weeks ago it was that I read about the day you had to share your little candies with all the other girls in the circle at the orphanage, but I still can see that picture you painted just as clearly as the day I read it. Isn't it funny that I can watch a movie, and cannot tell you about it in a week, but read your blog, and I can retell it over and over for a month. You truly are an incredible woman!

  16. Your posts linger in my mind as well, particularly the sweetie one, just the same for me as the comment above. Did you enjoy doing your OU degree? Are you going to do another one? There is so much in the world to learn about. My younger daughter was at Bath University- did you get a chance to look round the amazing city?

  17. Gaelyn: Thank you so much for your kind words. Those six years of OU [The Open University] a wonderful institution that gives anyone a chance to further their education without the usual high school equivalents] were some of the happiest and the hardest [intellectually] of my whole life. Sadly it isn't free, though it is for those with very low income-and they can even have a free laptop thrown in. What a country eh?

    Suldog: You are funny, but now I feel we are more even- I, for my part promise to keep trying to understand your enthusiasm for a game with such complicated Statistics. XXX

    The Broad: I kept a journal for almost thirty years; sadly most of them simply list day to day dullness, but they are wonderful for ref.who, where and what went on.

    Kara: So kind, thank you. There has always been a Polly Perfect in my life, but no I don't care. Guess I wasn't too happy in my skin in those days.

    Mollie: It's true...swearing is cathartic for me at times, and the times seem to be more frequent. Thanks for the visit.

  18. Marcheline: Oh I do so love your name. Thank you for your visit. About that painting, yes, actually I really liked it,it is huge, and so beautifully painted [I'm for realism] but like a lot of things I studied during my OU years, I found that by dissecting and analysing [especially literature] it became a chore and paradoxically, took away a great deal of the pleasure of the piece.

    Libby: Lord love ya and thank you for those lovely words.

    Maggie May: As I was saying earler, keeping a journal does mean, in my case, that two thirds of the entries will be :up late, dog vomited, baby wouldn't stop crying. Dot came for coffee. Made love. [not with Dot, you understand?]

    Shrinky: Thank you, good to know I made you laugh, is there anything better you can do for someone?

    louciao: Is that a Portuguese name? So happy to have you here, I checked you blog too. I not sure I'm courageous, I was a big soft crying ball of wetness every night, but it was the fulfilment of an ambition to be the first in my family to gain a degree and I finally made it at 70.

    Merisi: One hundred lines for sucking up to your tutor, then come here for coffee and a huge hug. XXX

    The Old Geezer: From one to another, thanks for the visit.

    Jay: I think all the PP's of the world cannot truly help it, being perfect I mean. I was the problem because I wanted to be her, to say the words that would turn the tutor's head my way, to be the brightest and prettiest and best loved.

  19. Leave it To Davis: I do not know what to say. I am flattered and a bit head in hands muttering 'Oh, please! rather like Polly Perfect. Is that how she felt, was she as surprised as I...did she, as I do, disbelieve? Truly LITD, I do not recognise the person you are writing too. I have spent my entire adult life trying to do better, in drawing, painting, writing, and, to my mind manage to do many things so-so, but nothing that sets me apart. That is not to say that you are wrong...only that I have always been unable to see my achievements as any better than average.

    Bless you, bless you and thank you.
    Please do not see this as false modesty, but merely me trying to keep my hat size.

  20. Sensibillia: How lovely of you to say such sweet things. Yes, I really did enjoy my OU years. I loved being a part of such a wonderful institution but no, I shan't be doing any more...I find it hard to retain information now,[one of the reasons why I write so much about the past, it is like yesterday for me-whereas yesterday is gone and forgotten] think I did it just in time. Had I started earlier I would have tried for a Masters.
    I have a photo of me, looking like the wild witch of the west, but with a blankly bewildered expression, wandering around the City on my one day off. I was crammed with words and images and believe me, slept like a dead dog every night.

  21. Moannie, this made me smile and laugh, but the thing that really caught me? The thought of munching on nachos in Bath. It's absolutely marvelous to sit around contemplating the huge array of cultural influences that Bath has seen, isn't it?

    So I started thinking about the Romans and couldn't help but envision a Centurion, lounging around the ancient bath house...a plate of nachos with liquefied cheese on them.

    I loved the post, but I thought I'd share the image in conjured simply because when I got up this morning, one of the last things I thought would happen? Envisioning centurions, lounging around, eating junk food and reading the 'net!

  22. Land of Shrimp: Now that would have made a super post, wouldn't it? And now I have that same image in my mind.

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  24. University of Bath, eh! Just down the road from me in Keynsham where Cadbury's recently produced wonderful choccies before Kraft got their mitts on them. Enjoyed this very much and it is a credit tyo you that you kept such a disciplined diary - unlike me!!! (lazy creature!)
    Always great to 'see' you ~ hope the hip is 'hip' ~ Eddie X

  25. The new hip is fine Eddie, but 't'other is wonky and now I can't raise my right arm past shoulder level..2£%$^&$**(" on getting old.

  26. Excellent as always. plus we're very proud of joseph Wright.