This week, I'm one of 200 A102 Open University students, studying mid- Victorian Britain for the arts foundation course. We are joined on campus by the equivalent number of technology students, kitted out with anoraks to test water and look at rocks. I'm out to discover whether rumours of students indulging in illicit late-night activities at OU summer schools are really true. I'm studying the plight of the Victorian "fallen woman", so naturally want to compare and contrast the 19th century with the Nineties.
Art history lecturer Penny Muter makes the analysis of art utterly compelling, which takes some talent if you have ever examined Pre-Raphaelite paintings. She inspires me to take the organised trip to Glasgow's Kelvingrove Gallery to look at more paintings. Judi Leighton revises the music section, where luckily I'm teamed up with Kay, who got 100 per cent on her music essay.
Flamboyant Professor Marwick, in clashing Seventies garb and fuelled by red wine and ego, is already an A102 hero, as he presents the OU history TV programmes. By the end of the week, we are analysing quite complex primary texts. Philosopher Bernard Waites exposes how little the average group of students today knows about religion, and Bob Sexton tells us probably all we need to know about writing essays: "Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, and tell them you've told them."
Life is not all tutorials and evening lectures, however. I have a go at Scottish dancing for a mere 50 pence. I'm terrible, of course, but it doesn't really matter.
I seem to miss several of the "formal" events (trivia quiz and Seventies disco), as I spend most of my time just talking to people over the odd drink. As OU study is essentially a solitary pursuit, it is a good idea to chat with fellow students.
The most fascinating aspect of summer school is being part of such a strangely diverse group of people, often with seemingly little in common except A102. My tutorial group alone has among it a shy young Scottish custodian of a castle; a right-on black north London actress; a highly intelligent retired businesswoman; a retired lecturer in engineering, constantly worrying about the state of his deteriorating garden (some things have to go when you're studying); a sparky Norfolk housewife; and a "remote student" from John o'Groat's. The dynamics of our group are problematic, with one person dominating tutorials.
The climax of the week is a Victorian revue on the last night. Tutors and students present an evening's entertainment, including fiddling, a choir (which I join, because it looks like the least humiliating thing to do), witty poetry, and most of the tutors doing a turn. Some of the acts are in-jokes and somewhat surreal, such as a tutor presenting "Ruskin's wedding night", which consists of him waiting for something to happen. (Those in the know, ie A102 students, know that nothing happened on Ruskin's wedding night.) The highlight is course director Wilkinson, who turns out to be a Sixties heavy rocker on his electric Fender guitar. He says he's glad he plays a Fender, as it has a little dish scooped out at the back, handy for resting his stomach on.
I reach the end of the week completely exhausted. I've found no drug- laden orgies, as remembered from my college days in the Seventies. The Nineties reality is students engaging in dangerous practices such as Scottish dancing, queuing at the chemist for haemorrhoid treatments and wrinkle cream, and - even more scandalous - working. There is some good-natured noise in the early hours, but this is due more to the absence of soundproofing in our hideous Sixties breeze-block accommodation, than to shocking antics by the youth of yesterday.
I've taken in a lot of information and spent too many late nights staying up and talking. Bob Wilkinson's sage parting advice to all is: "When you get home, and you're looking completely exhausted, remember to have a good story." My story is that I've had a good timenReuse content