Holly is just starting out as a student on our BA (Hons) Writing and English Literature degree at the age of 55, having previously completed the foundation year. Here she describes some of her experiences of being a mature student, as well as her inspirations and influences for taking the course.
“My two sons are the reason I am at university. They both achieved Degrees and Masters themselves, and encouraged me to have a go. This is my first try at university – starting at the age of 55… it’s never too late!
At the moment, I am waiting to receive my timetable and the reading list for my course, with growing nerves about whether I am going to be able to cope with the demands of swift reading oodles of books, given my preference for slow savouring when reading for pleasure.
From a practical viewpoint, I am so grateful that I had the buffer introduction of the Foundation course to ease me into university life, after being out of the world of full-time education as a recipient for so long. I have learned how to research and construct essays and am equipped with basic IT skills which were a mystery to me in September 2021.
The most valuable thing I’ll take from my education is the inspiring wisdom, enthusiasm and generosity of my fellow students. I have come to realise how blinkered my cultural upbringing made me. I have not a racist or sexist bone in my body, yet the world of my youth (the 1970s and 1980s) was inherently racist and sexist, with a strong patriarchal bias, all of which were taken for granted and accepted as the norm. This has led me to trip up time and again during the cultural modules of the Foundation syllabus, risking offence to my peers who, thankfully, have been tolerant, understanding and gently remedial to my knowledge and views. I still say “Good Woman”, “Good Man”, “Ladies” and “Gentlemen” as part of my habitual bonhomie, so apologise to anyone identifying in any other manner if you receive what is a well meaning term from me – old habits die hard and I like the respectful quaintness of these phrases.
I started writing poetry as a child. My first effort was inspired by watching the flames during the power cuts of the 1970s, when we used our coal fire and oil lamps for illumination and heat. About thirty years later, when I got breast cancer, I started writing poetry as a habit to vent the thoughts and feelings that my illness and treatment were provoking. Once my treatment had finished, I gave a couple of fundraising concerts for Macmillan Cancer charity, reading my poems from a booklet that was printed to support other victims and their families. The reception of those recitals and books, and the cathartic pleasure of putting thoughts onto paper, inspired me to keep writing.
At home, I write odes on impulse virtually every day, sometimes in response to correspondence or external inputs but usually just pen-held outpourings from my head. I have a children’s book in the final stages of creation, about my Mum and her dementia. I hope to publish it via Amazon’s online publishing outlet, which requires no financial outlay and offers it to a worldwide audience. I am also hoping that the Macmillan Cancer organisation might adopt my book of cancer poems as their own, to share for free as a resource for cancer victims and their families.
When I graduate, I would like to be a better informed and more accomplished reader and writer, and it would be good to get some of my writings published professionally. I have had some articles published, and a few little books printed privately, for local distribution as gifts or for charity, but I hope to be able to share my enthusiasms with a wider audience, maybe even earning a bit of money from it now and then.
I have just given up my part-time job in a children’s Nursery (I am too old and achy for that young person’s lark now) and would like to use my proof reading and writing skills to earn bill-paying pennies instead. I have advertised locally and am waiting to see what happens. I think that it would be interesting, and if I can help to reduce the amount of badly formatted, typo and mistake-infested written work in the world, that would be very satisfying. I would also like to help anyone with English as an additional language to gain confidence in producing written works. I greatly admire student peers who overcome the language barrier to gain knowledge and present their ideas in a tongue other than their native language.
My greatest inspiration was my English Teacher, Mrs Simpson, at Secondary School. She brought books and plays to life when she read them and had tangible passion for the subject that I found irresistible. I have been influenced by the expertise, experience, skills, and passion of others throughout my life, and would like to be able to pass on my love of English language, writing and literature to others, probably at Adult Education level.
My advice to others would be: never give up, everything has value, and nothing is ever wasted (although I have still never used mathematical matrices myself, horrible things!). Even the most insignificant scraps of knowledge, information and experience might come in handy at a later time. A lot of good and bad things have happened throughout my life and I have found that most of them had a silver lining at the time or later, either for me or for someone else.”
Read two of Holly’s poems below:
Such a strange mixed hierarchy here:
Burgeoning intellectual youth weighed with elders
Never destined to reach great wage potential
Or elevated social standing,
But validated by their workplace learning.
Pompous Jays can strut here,
Safely neutralised in an ethos of equality
Of moral and ethical objectivity,
Surrounded by computer hum,
Ripple of laughter, buzz of discussion
And soft-breath slumber.
Qualification gains entry at the door,
Be it to mend leaking pipes, tweak circuits
Or analyse the means of viewing life.
I sit at my lunchtime table and observe
All tiers at leisure, in down-time, between tasks;
Perhaps sharing ideas, maybe debriefing after meetings,
Relaxing with anecdotes and coffee;
And reflect on the strange, mixed hierarchy here,
Hopeful for expansion from microcosm to World.
In the Real World, real people are wounded,
Fearful and dying in wars.
How relevant is this miniature prism?
In the present, judgement may be “not”,
But it is cultivating minds and behaviour
Through experience and knowledge to acceptance;
To habit of critical questioning and rebellion;
Rejection of the fake while embracing change;
Emboldening adoption of 'different';
Allowing lion to lie with lamb
On equal terms.
I hold to my hopeful optimism, and sip cooled tea
Writing on the hoof
Such a variable thing,
The human leg,
Though following common lines.
Sometimes it is a grotesque thing
And, at others,
Has curves sublime.
Oftentimes, its solid form
Resembles elephant or tree.
In others it is green-stick thin
With knot nodules at the knee.
No matter whether long or short,
Gargantuan or sublime,
Painless, aching, stiff or agile,
I'd be sorely lost without mine.