A long, long time ago, I went to University. It was a disaster. Fresh with A’s in English and General Studies A-Level, and D’s in Politics and History, I went to Swansea University to read... you got it, Politics. Only when I got there, they had changed the course. So instead of pure Politics, you had to choose additional subjects in the first year. Unperturbed, I elected to take two History modules and one in American Studies. At this point I can see you shaking your head, thinking to yourself: why Jamie, why did you not change to do an English degree? I know, right?
So yeah, that was a huge mistake. I thought I knew it all, based on the first few lectures in each subject. Because, actually, I did. I’d taken Politics and History at GCSE and A-Level, I knew the basics. At no point did I think it would get harder. Well, I probably did, but by that point a self-assured apathy had already set in. Along with all the other standard problems faced by a teenager with depression and a naïve take on life-skills, living in a strange new city with new people and all that. I couldn’t control my depression, my inability to sleep at night, my inability to get out of bed before the afternoon. I couldn’t manage my time, my (ie. my parents' & Student Loan Company’s) money, to turn up to lectures. I was homesick.
I lasted nearly two years, and then because of being ill I started to re-sit my second year. But trapped in a vicious circle of needing a student loan to pay my course fees, not being able to get a student loan without registering for the new year, and not being able to register without being able to make the payment, I fell out. I dropped out. I was advised to go. I got right the fuck out...
So anyway, knowing that I’d always regret it otherwise, about three years ago I enrolled in the Open University, to read for a BA in Literature (finally picking the right course). And it’s great. The first year was the compulsory course An Introduction To The Humanities (no longer available) – a little bit of literature, art, music, history, theatre, architecture, history of science, all bases covered. The OU has a policy that you’re not allowed to name your tutors, a policy that I will keep. However my first tutor turned out to be a record producer that I had always wanted to work with, and I did, just not in the way I’d hoped for when I was still playing in bands. The final project, on the counter-culture movement of the ‘Long Sixties’ was so enjoyable.
After the first year, it’s a free-for all, you just have to pick courses in the English department which count towards your degree. I next took An Introduction To Literature (the only other mandatory course) – which covers authors such as Shakespeare, Aphra Benn, Austen, Dickens, Mary Shelley, Byron, Ibsen, Turgenev and so many more. I have never felt so exhilarated by the books studied on this course, even though I had read many of them before. I guess reading them in context with other comparative works (Literature and Gender, The Realist Novel, The Romantics) gave fresh perspectives on familiar writing.
And now I’m waiting patiently for two things – the mark from my Creative Writing course that I have recently finished (ETA I hope sometime in August), and the start of my Advanced Creative Writing course in September/ October-ish time. That’s kinda why I’ve started this blog really, one of the reasons anyway. Keep the old typing fingers and ickle grey cells ticking over. And if I write something I like, then it’ll go up, like the short story below that I wrote on Friday.
So yeah, I’m more than happy at the Open University, with its online discussion forums/ tutorials and CD/ DVD lectures. I don’t have to meet with or talk to anyone if I don’t want to, which I was in no state of mind to do so when I started. But the confidence it’s given me is unreal. Let me explain about that first paragraph. My English A-Level had a coursework component, in which I got virtually full-marks. Neither the Politics or the History courses did, which meant it was all down to the exam. I’m shit at exams. Dreadful. My memory isn’t amazing, I get what I now know are panic attacks (I had no idea what they were then), and I get stressed. Very stressed. I have been known to just walk out and get the bus home.
So despite being really actually quite good at Politics and History, I was doomed to fail, and exams at Uni were just as bad due to my now self-fulfilling exam-phobia. But now, thanks to the study advice from my second tutor, a wonderful poet living in mid-Wales somewhere, I took an exam, and passed. Hell, I did better than pass – I got a 2:1. And because of that I felt able to go to the physical tutorials on the Creative Writing course, and will go to the tutorials on my next courses as well.
I know a lot of these things I have achieved are because I’ve matured, I’m on the right medication, and most importantly I have an incredibly supportive wife, but I’m still not sure whether I would have been able to achieve what I have within the claustrophobic walls of a ‘brick’ university. So thank you Harold Wilson, Jennie Lee and to a lesser extent, Michael Young (as he is also responsible for giving us Toby Young...) – thank you for setting up a wonderfully supportive, accessible, and truly Open University.