Wednesday 23 May 2012

Lonely at university?

Lonely at university?

This week I had a very thought provoking exchange of emails with E** about her time at university. For me the three years I spent at Nottingham University were unquestionably the happiest period of my life but E** had a very different experience. She wrote, “Most of the people on my course quickly seemed to form themselves into tight-knit groups from which I felt excluded. I always felt that I was only tolerated on the margins of their groups, just making up the numbers.” “I missed the supportive familiarity of E*** and all my other home-town friends and in the early days I didn’t make enough effort to seek out like-minded people.” “I had been very lonely as a foster child and it was horrible to find myself back in that position.”

E**’s story rather reminds me of Jenny N who was a Nottingham University at the same time as Claire and I. In the first year the groups for practical science were arranged alphabetically so I worked with Jenny quite a lot. Indeed, coming as I did from an all-boys school, Jenny was the first girl I had ever got to know reasonably well. But she was so painfully shy and, apparently, so disinterested in any of the social aspects of university life that no friendship ever developed between us. As far as I could see her life consisted of academic work and sitting on her own in her study bedroom reading magazines.

In years 2 and 3, I no longer worked with Jenny and as far as I remember I hardly spoke to her again. It was only by checking the back issues of the faculty magazine that I was able to confirm my very vague memory of her sitting next to me at the graduation ceremony! I can only hope that her life wasn’t as horribly lonely as it appeared to be from the outside.

NB - I am away next week so my next blog entry will be in early June.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

What happened next?

As a teacher and perhaps even more as a Chair of Governors I often became involved with pupils and families going through a crisis. From nowhere a name would suddenly get mentioned more and more frequently and Claire’s eyes would start to glaze over when I embarked on the latest episode in the long-running saga. Then just as suddenly it would all be over – the problem would be solved or delegated elsewhere and my life would return to normal.

But what happened next? Most of the time I didn’t know, or to be frank, I didn’t care. There were just so many half-remembered names and faces and I didn’t have the emotional energy to care about them all. But a few cases remain fresh in my memory even years later and it can be annoying and frustrating in equal measures when I realize that I will just never know what happened next.
How about the former student who came to a college reunion I helped to organize down in Somerset with her “sugar daddy” who must have been 30 or 40 years older than her. How long did that relationship last?
Or the care-leaver who I started working with at the same time as E and E? She was clearly a pleasant girl with a story to tell and, above all, she was urgently in need of adult support. But not, it appears, from me, because our email contacts gradually petered out over the first two or three months of the project and I haven’t heard anything from her for at least two years.
The saddest story is about Ruth (not her real name). She posted on a very well-known forum and, by chance, was the subject of the very first thread I read there. She was a student with an eating disorder and boyfriend “issues” and to my innocent eyes was exactly the type of person that the readers should have wanted to help. But sadly she was ignored by most of the regulars and sneered at by a few of the others. She posted a handful of times but then gave up and as far as I know never reappeared. My antipathy to that particular household name started then and continues unabated!

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Loking back at my school days (1)

Looking back at my school days (1)

I was asked only the other day what I thought were the biggest differences between the way schools were run in the 1960s and 1970s and how they operate now.

I think modern schools are far more accountable to the parents and local residents than was the case when I was at school. But it is more than that: modern schools seem to have the pupils at the centre of almost everything that happens. When I was at St Albans School (1966-1973) even the most basic, most sensible, most humane modifications to the way the school operated were viewed with deep suspicion by the Head Master. It was rather like being stuck in a bizarre time warp in which all the changes that had transformed British society since the end of the Second World War had never happened.

Purely in terms of the long-term effect it had on pupils the almost total lack of careers guidance was the strangest omission from the school curriculum. If you wanted to become a doctor or to join the Armed Forces you were well catered for. If your interests lay elsewhere you were pretty much on your own. St Albans was in the London Commuter Belt but as far as I can recall there was never any mention of careers in the City or in law or politics. All this meant that A level choices were made without any thought of what degrees and what careers would be rendered impossible by making wrong, or more likely inappropriate, choices when the pupil was a young as 15 or 16.

I was half way through my A Levels in biology, chemistry and physics before I realised that I would have been far better served by studying economics rather than biology. It was scant consolation when I realised that my preferred option would not have been possible since economics was seen as an “arts side” subject and mixing arts and sciences subjects in the Sixth Form was strictly verboten!   

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Mateo Castrillon 1993-2012

This week Claire and I went up to London to attend the funeral of my cousin Jane’s son Mateo. Mateo was only 18 when he was killed in a road accident so of course the whole event was very sad. We decided to travel up on the Monday which turned out to be a warm and sunny day in complete contrast to the previous day that was wet and dreary. The outward journey went smoothly but the first section over to Kidderminster was very slow and after an hour we had only done 31 miles. Not good when the whole journey was known to be 170 miles. Once we reached the motorway network (M40 and M25) our average speed substantially improved. We spend some time trying to remember when we had last driven on the northern half of the M25 and decided it must have been when we took Hazel down to Kent from Daventry during the industrial placement year she did as part of her degree. So a long time ago! The Premier Inn was rather soulless but conveniently situated for picking up my brother, my nephew and his wife on Tuesday morning so we could travel in one car to the crematorium. Poor old Stephen had had a horrendous rail journey up from Cornwall thanks to flooding on the line. Our new A to Z proved invaluable and we didn’t get lost once despite our unfamiliarity with east London. The service was by far the best attended of any I have been to and there were probably as many people standing as sitting. The service was entirely secular, very multi-cultural and with some of the proceedings in English and Spanish. The wake was in a nearby pub and we found the venue by the simple expedient of following the crowd. While of course the circumstances that had brought the family together were tragic it was somehow reassuring to see such a good turn-out from "Clan Nicholson". Rest in Peace Mateo.