When I was young and still at school my greatest desire and ambition was to be a teacher. At the time, in the UK, one had to go to a Teacher Training College where one studied loads of educational subjects (child psychology, art, maths, a bit of philosophy, history, physical education, etc) and one subject in depth. Having failed some of my school exams, I failed to qualify for a place at a Training College although I was employed for a year by the now-defunct London County Council as a ‘pre-trainee teacher’.
If you’ve read my earlier posts you’ll know that I had my brilliant daughter without being married to her father which, in those days (1964) was a societal no-no, so I was busy looking after her with the help of my mother and sisters. I was lucky to have had her in London where people were a little more broad-minded than people in some other parts of England, where a lot of girls, who would have been happy to keep their babies, were sent off by their families to ‘mother and baby homes’, which provided a place for girls to ‘hide’ until the baby was born and placed for adoption. As a new mum I couldn’t go back to school to re-study for the exams I had failed, straight away and I put my ambition to one side – happily, I might add, as I enjoyed the job of looking after and bringing up my gorgeous girl.
Seven years passed. I was working as a secretary for a sign-manufacturer. The boss decided I would make a good salesperson, going out on the road to sell our signs to architects. He obviously didn’t know me very well as, at the time, I was very shy and unconfident (I still am in large groups of people that I don’t know). After a few months of being a ‘rep’ as well as the secretary, I was made redundant. (He wanted an excuse to get rid of me!).
About a five minute walk away from my work-place was Acton Town Hall which, at the time, housed a Teacher Training College named after a man called Thomas Huxley. I went into the college office and found that I was just in time to apply for a place for the next term and, that very day, to take a short exam. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have all the proper qualifications as I was considered a ‘mature’ student, had basic ‘O’ levels as well as French ‘A’ level and, happily, I passed the entrance exam.
I became a teacher and was employed as such for the next twenty or so years, in various ways – as a class teacher, as a ‘supply teacher’, as a part-time French teacher and as a Saturday morning French teacher for small groups of eight to ten year olds. I’m sad to say that I didn’t love teaching as much as I thought I would though there were some wonderful days.
After I started as an antique dealer I carried on the supply teaching as it brought in more money than the antiques but after a while schools started using agencies to find supply staff and I didn’t want to go on an agency’s books as I would probably have been expected to do more than the occasional day.
Having studied French in depth, I thought I’d like to get a degree in it as I hadn’t actually been to university. While I was still teaching I had done the ‘Arts Foundation’ course with the Open University and had enjoyed the challenges it set. A year or so later I signed up for a degree course in French with the University of Kent. The degree would take, I seem to remember, five years and I would go to their branch in Tonbridge one night a week for classes. I was thrilled!
I had thought the the Open University course was challenging but it was nothing compared to this! We had to read one full French novel a week, in French, plus pages of grammar exercises and learning new vocabulary. I enjoyed the reading, I enjoyed the grammar but I absolutely HATED having to speak in front of a large group of people IN FRENCH. (Again the shyness and lack of confidence).
What I didn’t know was that Judy, my sister who lived in America, would come home to die that year. I gave up the degree course and gave as much of my time as I could to helping by taking her to hospital appointments etc. After Judy’s death I didn’t seriously turn my thoughts to degree courses again. Julian and I carried on with our shop, I had a new grand-daughter on whom to lavish all those maternal feelings I still had, visiting her and her mum and dad in London at least once a week and, of course, there were auctions to go to where I could spend money on items I thought would sell in the shop. (I loved buying stuff I liked, knowing I would have to sell it at some point but having it to hold and look at for a while!)
Retirement and the seaside happened in 2005. Being quite happy with my own company I didn’t rush out to make loads of new friends but, as the years sped by, I joined classes where I used my brain, spent hours a week in the local swimming pool, meeting new friends, started painting classes again and met more new friends and convinced Julian that we needed to look into the U3A which we eventually joined.
The U3A – The University of the Third Age. If you are interested to know exactly what the U3A is, please Google it! I’ll tell you what it is, to me. It is a way of using my brain – at this moment I am attending a Latin group which is run by a member of the U3A and all my fellow ‘students’ are members, too. It is a once-a-week-for-seven-weeks course which will give us a taste of the language in a fun way (no Caesar de Bello Gallico or Vergil). At the end of the seven weeks I assume we’ll either be offered a further course or will be able to carry on alone. Perhaps there are Latin classes in the adult education centre….if I’m interested, I’ll find out!
I’ve also joined the Armchair Critics, a group of members who go to the local cinema (110 seats or thereabouts!), watch a film, then go off to a local pub to discuss the film and have a coffee or something a little stronger. Another of my favourite groups is the Lunch Group. A U3A member scouts out a good place to eat, sends out a newsletter with menus, a date and the cost and we send back our menu choice and a cheque for the right amount. This month we are going to a Greek restaurant in Ramsgate.
Julian is more gregarious than I am and is always out, painting or singing and last year he went to a four week drama course which is totally unlike him! This term he’s doing the History of Blues course which I attended last term and which is run by our next door neighbour who is, coincidentally, the husband of the woman who started the Armchair Critics.
I used to co-run a group of people interested in antiques and ‘collectables’ with my friend, Myrna. The first week there were four or five people who came but after that people dropped away and we gave that group up. There is a very successful Collectors Group run by my friend Margaret who also runs a few other groups. That’s the good thing about the U3A. You can do as much or as little as you want. You can run a group for small or larger groups about something that interests you, or about something you are expert at. You can eat with the Lunch group, do country dancing, join the gardening group, read poetry, write prose, learn about computers or – and this is more like me – do absolutely nothing for a while then find a course that interests you, spend a few weeks or months doing that until it finishes, then do nothing again for a while. I would like to run a group but I have no expertise (except, maybe, in old jigsaw puzzles) and, anyway, at the moment I am concentrating on Tai-chi (local adult education) Latin and my oil paintings.
So, I’m finally a member of a university – one from which I will not receive a degree, but from which I have made friends, learned smatterings of various subjects, seen films I might not otherwise have seen and eaten at some great restaurants! There are U3A groups all over the UK if you are retired and want something to do. (I’m not sure whether there are similar groups in the rest of the world.)