Thursday, August 17, 2006


The arrival on our screens of Big Brother signifies the start of summer. The arrival of A-level exam results signifies the end of summer.

So today let's just savour the A-level results on the news, as, for the twenty third year running, we see loads of lovelynice middle class girls with lovely straight white teeth, lovely straight glossy long swingy hair and lovely, supernaturally clear English rose complexions opening those envelopes and saying "Ohmigaaahd I can't beleeeeeeve it! Seven straight A's!!! I'm definitely in my first choice university ... I think!" with all the hugging and squealing. Yet again, those of us who can be classified as Academic Failures will wince and wonder if these girls will end up having dynamic exciting lives, or if everything thereafter will be a disappointment to them.

(lone, entirely mad reader who has actually read the archives says ... HOLD YOUR HOSSES! Oy, Betty, you old bag, didn't you publish a post about this exactly two years ago?

Betty says: yes, but I'm not above recycling my crappy old posts in this environmentally conscious age and nobody else read the fucking thing in the first place ...

I still stand by everything I put in that long, rambling, badly written post. Should we really set such stock by someone's A-level results? Is that the be all and end all in life - you are defined by your exam results, which university you went to and how much you earn?

In which case, I should obviously have topped myself years ago. With a paltry smattering of average graded O-levels and A-levels, a succession of low grade clerical jobs and no degree, I obviously have no quality of life worth living.

The weird thing about blogging is that most bloggers are ex-graduates and solidly middle class, which certainly makes me an outsider.

If you do fit into the ex-graduate category - any opinions as to whether education has made you a more enlightened person or not, and helped you in certain aspects of your life? Or were you disillusioned by the whole process?

Perhaps my lack of educational achievement has contributed to my bitter, cynical attitude. Perhaps a spell in university would have hardened my bitter, cynical attitude.

A word of warning though: please don't say "oooh, there's still time for you to become a mature student" or I won't be responsible for my actions.

Betty, old hockeystick, I cannot allow heresy to pass unpunished. The beginning of summer is marked by the arrival of Wisden, and the end by the last first class match of the season.
I say this out of love. I would hate you to be consigned to the 5th circle of hell because of hyperbole.
You've forgotten something important - the successful A-level candidates are also dressed in skimpy, spaghetti-strap tops that offset the contours of their unfeasibly perky breasts. This effect is further enhanced when they jump up and down in excitement.

When three or four of them go into a big, group hug, that's when the camera starts shaking.

Anyway. I'm glad, on balance, that I went to university, although I reckon I learned more from the weird and wonderful people I encountered in various bars and bedrooms than I ever did in the classrooms. In retrospect, I might have been better off going to a more urban institution (and by "urban", I mean in a big city, not the modish euphemism for "more black people", although that would probably have been good as well); and I think I should have taken three or four years off before I started, rather than one. But I have no complaints.

However, having met many people who have acquired good degrees from reputable universities, but remain stupid, insular, bigoted, vacuous and boring, I think the objective value of having a degree is overrated. If I were now in a position to interview someone for a job, unless it was one that required specific qualifications (law, medicine, etc), I would entirely ignore the academic bit of the CV.

So... it was worthwhile for me. But that doesn't prove much. Sorry.
This post makes me smile for several reasons. Partly because you capture the essence of what it is like to be truly free from the self-aggrandising nature of academia. It is a 'game' that is played out across the country. University can be a joy...can be a hateful place.

I enjoyed the freedom of being away from the crushing, terrible situation I had been in at home. I enjoyed meeting the people...but I couldn't bear the ones of my own age, except for about one...and ended up meeting up with all the cynical buggers, who were mature students. I loved 'em to bits. In fact...I married one of them! Well...he was from pure Romany working class stock...and he says now that he wonders why he went. It was quite funny to watch him tear into what he called 'the chinless wonders' (we are very different in many ways) and his threatening, dissenting voice was always a wonder to me. Kind of like a John Lydon with a bit of Mike Tyson thrown in. He went from 0-Joe Pesci in seconds. And we both felt that (like Tim) lots of people didn't really know why they were there.And they abused it. And that made me really sad...because I thought...well...some people would give their eye teeth to be here and you're just abusing it. And Marvellous Anthony hasn't really got a brilliant job out of it...he wouldn't mind me saying...he doesn't work at all. But...I think he does feel proud because he was the first from his family to go. And he knocked socks off the tykes that were naive buggers. Because...it sounds like a cliche...he had learnt it all already. From reading. And life.
And that's the most valuable thing of all.

And I suppose I see it from the other side too. I have qualifications...but...the most valuable thing I've done is read. To read is to read is to read. It's all about a system that recreates itself. We can all choose to learn if we want. But it does create a divide. And because you have qualifications doesn't mean that you can wear spaghetti straps...I can tell you! I can cover the whole of Mecca Bingo when I go, with my Bingo wings.

I always find your words very sharp. Very sharp indeed. Education does not make a person. It can help...but it never makes a person.
Excellent post Bettster (I seem to be saying that to a lot of people at the moment - what's happening? Am I going all soft or summat?)

A very good question, asked in nice, spikey style. Glad that someone still looks at things through the clarifying lens of class consciousness. My Dad was an engineer and my Mum did clerical work and then was an assistant at M&S doing their returns until she retired. It wasn't a remotely bookish house (unless Ian Fleming and Hammond Innes paperbacks are considered bookish) and I don't remember reading much as a kid. I tended to sit at the desk in my bedroom pretending it was a piano and trying to make up stream-of-consciousness ad-libbed songs that I would sing out to no one in particular.

My Mum I think was a bit more genteel than Dad (who spelt fifty fivety when he had to write a cheque [mum had refused as a punishment for something or other] and said pate as other people would describe a bald patch when he was talking about the spreadable meat paste stuff...)

After O'levels (5) and A' levels (B for art and 2 E's) I went to Art School for about 4 months before leaving in a trying-to-be-rebellious huff (well, it was the only thing you could do back then if you wanted to be in a band - we didn't have them 'Rock School things when I were a nipper. Thank Christ!)

From then, I was pretty much self-educated, really. I read a lot - really crammed in a lot of speed reading to make up for only having read books about The Beatles until I was 13. After that I broadened out and read books about David Bowie and the Rolling Stones. This book binge meant that a) I can't remember much about any of the books I read and b) I read a lot of stuff I didn't enjoy because I felt I had to read it because it was supposed to be good. But there was always the NME - which was the NME back then, not a bloody comic.

Then just as my first long term relationship ended, at age 29, I started a part-time degree course here where I work (which was then called West London Institute of Higher Education). I was lucky enough to have my fees paid by work, which made a huge difference, really. It was a modular one and a lot of the courses I did were taken because they were available at night, which was the only time I could do it. I really threw myself into it and did quite well. It was an intense period - work, study, work study and I *refused* to let my social life disappear so there were a lot of very drunken nights, chainsmoking and writing essays until 3 am.

To attempt to answer the question Betty, I'm really pleased that I did mine when I did and not at 18 - in fact, along side the blog and The Urinals, I think it's the best thing I ever got involved in, really. I think at the time I started it, I was a bit of a lost soul - I'd read a lot, but there was no real thread to hang all the stuff I'd read on - it was just floating around in my bonce and I think I was a quite directionless person because of that - and single (although I didn't really see that much action, which is a bit sad really. Batcherella: the student years, anyone?). The degree really did tie a lot of the things I thought were quite random and disparate together. I started to get very interested in Englishness, for instance, because I could draw on a lot of childhood memories of things that just seemed to have been swallowed up by 'progress' and all that Conservative/New Labour bollocks.

I was also very lucky to have a personal supervisor who was himself a scholarship boy who'd gone all the way up to MA level and was still very socialist/had not forgotten his working class roots etc. So, I think that friendship/tutorship helped because he encouraged me to follow my interests and I was able to introduce a lot of pop culture things into what was predominantly an English honours degree.

I'm prattling now, so to conclude: I don't think there's any substitute for native intelligence. You can be the best read person in the Universe, but intelligence without humanity and wisdom is worth squat. Where a University education is really good is in directing that intelligence.

My personal view is that people like myself who've come from, if not working class in a cloth cap and down t'pit sense, certainly ordinary backgrounds are actually the privileged ones. We have no vested interests in propping up the bullshit, do we? So we can see it for what it is. I have this saying that I keep repeating when I get embittered and that is "the first step towards freedom is realising the fact that you are in a cell in the first place. I think there we have the march on people for whose benefit the education system is set up who can't see the cell that's being built around them. If you ever do a course Betty, do it fulltime - I wish I had now, I'd have got a lot more from it.

I'll shut up now.

btw Hi Mollster.
...and hi Tim - such I long post, I'd forgotten you were here!
I'm a grad but not from a middle-class background. For me my degree was more about growing up and gaining independence than 'learning loads of stuff'. A-levels become more insignificant the more life experience you get. They feature nowhere on my CV and I only out the degree on because some parts of it (but not many) are relevant to what I do now and prospective employers might wonder what I was doing for a large portion of my late teens and early twenties.
I loved it at University. It's not hard work, but if you're a self-starter actually interested in your subject, it can be fascinating and fun. If you expect to be spoon-fed like people are at school these days, then you will drown in mediocrity.
Oh Christ - such long comments. I may have to write up a dissertation on the subject.

*burst into tears*
Vicus - in our house I know when summer is coming to an end because the husband starts worrying about which West Ham players are going to get stolen by Chelsea.

The Henley Regatta and Ascot were a bit of a letdown this year.

Tim - hmm, will be getting "jiggly excited pink faced teenage girls jumping up and down to A-level results videos?" searches on the blog now. Could do with boosting the stats though.

See, a lot of people have said to me that the social life side of things at university is the best side of their time there. All that stuff never appealed to me as an eighteen year old because I had the social skills of someone with borderline autism. I had a lucky escape.

Molly - well, I know a few people from working class backgrounds who've been to university and told me about the number of rich kids who would slum around for three years. The thing I've noticed about a lot of working class people who go to university is that they go in with all guns blazing about how they'll change their lives, and end up a bit disillusioned after they've worked hard for 3 years only to get a job that doesn't seem to suit the qualifications they've now got. I don't know if it's an underlying lack of confidence in themselves - a belief that they're still not quite good enough to achieve. Still, that's all guesswork.

Bob - I don't think my parents would've even considered the idea that I'd go to university. "Your year teacher says you are AVERAGE" they once told me. Nowadays the teacher would've been sacked and social services would've put me into care. I mean, look at how everyone boasts that their wunnerful children are sooo gifted these days ...

Actually, I know some mature students, and I suppose they do get more from doing a degree that school leavers would, putting more of an effort into the work (plus they're usually financially better off). Good luck to them - I know it's not for me.

Lost Boy - yours is a pretty sensible and realistic attitude. Thing is, some people don't seem to realise that going to university is part of the process of growing up. They think it is the be all and end all, and still talk about university days well into their thirties and forties which is a bit depressing.

Holyhoses - sounds as if the mature students have the advantage if you're right then.
I'm not university educated but people tend to assume I am because I've (gasp) taken the trouble to read a book or two in my life.

I would absolutely love to go to university as a (cough) mature (nothing mature about me) student, not to achieve any sort of qualification but to actually be able to spend time studying things I'm interested in, but... The problems as I see it are threefold: 1) The ridiculously stupid expense of it all; 2) having to actually choose one specific thing to devote your life to for a few years; and most importantly 3) the fact that you have to spend said number of years in the midst of a lot of people who delight in telling you how they got sooooooo drunk last night and that's why they're too hard and cool too read what they were meant to.

I'm not being flippant. The thought is horrific.

~ Russ L
Have you noticed that a lot of educated people are thick as shit.
Just a thought.
I think it depends on the reason for going to University and also the subject studied. It is common knowledge in my Accountancy institute that people with Accountancy or Business Studies degrees do on average less well in professional exams than people with irrelevant degrees such as Biology or English or some such. There is a rather archaic expression 'reading for a degree' which means that in order to study you are supposed to read a wide number of different views, including turgid prose in academic journals and rather than just regurgitating facts, use them as a basis to inform your own views.

However, I went to University at 18 and spent too much of my time becoming an adult rather than studying. I don't think today's eighteen year olds will have led the sheltered existence that I did, nevertheless I do think I would advise anybody to take time out. Not a "Gap Year" patronising the natives in Borneo, but a year or two doing paid work in a dead-end job. Then they'd come across people of all different ages, ambitions, life experiences etc.

But it does boil down to the individual. I think a lot of young people are conned into doing a meaningless course at a mediocre university when they would actually be far better off, materially and spiritually by learning a skilled trade. But I think the leaving home and moving to a different area can be a really enriching experience.

It also depends what gives life satisfaction. I've made the mistake of letting life revolve around work and that's not the key to happiness or satisfaction.
Enjoyed this one Betty. Exam system CRAP. University got me away from small town to city, but you did that anyway.
Julie Birchill is great on this i.e. Why be swotting when your hormones are raging etc...
Russ - maybe an Open University course would be the answer? There's the expense, and you have to combine studying with working and they seem to take years and years, but at least you don't have to do so in the company of students, which is a definite advantage. All that stuff about drinkig and partying 'til the early hours and getting the clap from some awful chemical engineering student that you'd never see again always put me off. Miserable old cow that I am.

Tom - a lot of academically sucessful people are very good at absorbing and remembering facts and that's about it. I can remember that the genuinely clever kids in my school were often frustrated by the school system and left at sixteen.

Gert - perhaps a year off in a job, as you suggested, is a good idea because in their late teens, people tend to only associate with those of the same age and background. It's really in your first job that you start to grow up because you start to realise that the world doesn't revolve around you.

I don't see the shame in people learning trades or taking up old-style apprenticeships, but anyone pursuing either would be seen as a failure, especially by parents who often think that it's important for their children to go to university and get a degree - any degree, regardless of whether it will help them in any way.

Kaz - I think Julie Burchill was in the right place at the right time with regards to how she got into journalism. Mind you, she was right about all the swotting. I don't think I had time to have any sort of rites of passage because I spent all my time doing bloody trigonmetry homework! Didn't even leave me enough time to think about David Essex, or D*** M*******, or James Hunt in those racing leathers. Bah.
My university years entailed a prolonged three year period of inebriation and malnutrition shivering in a house with five other losers. The squalid flat in Withnail and I was the Ritz in comparison.

You got a good job at the end of it. God knows why. Any ambition or desire to get up before luchtime was permanently enfeebled by the experience.
My parents were factory workers.
Big Sister went to teacher training college, the first of our family to stay at school after age 14. I failed the 11+ exam (at age 11 for the young people) and so it was ordained that I would never go to university. That really ticked me off.
I was offered a scholarship to drama school and took that because I could pass auditions.
I went to Poly (poor person's college) years later, on the strength of some poetry and proceeded to university through the trademan's entrance. It always felt like that. I dropped doctoral study when I realised I was bored and didn't have to prove anymore that I wasn't thick.
So I feel that I've inhabited both worlds untidily.
University to me was an interesting experience. In some ways it broadened my mind, learning to live my own life, although ironically it was filled with people who were more like me (middle class, white) than my more diverse secondary school friends.

Throughout my time there, I had the nagging feeling that I should be having more fun. Which isn't to say that I didn't have any. Just that I didn't have some road to damascus awakening of unbridled pleasure. Which is what I thought you were supposed to have. All part of growing up...

My course was alright. I did English. There were lots of girls on it. I read a few books. I got a 2:2. No one since has asked me what I got. I doubt they ever will. Far more importantly, I discovered radio, which is what actually gave me a career.

It also cost me a fucking fortune, being the first generation not to have any grant whatsoever. My pay packet will suffer well into my thirties as a result.

In short, overated, but I don't regret it.
Oh, and I hated 'studenty' students even then. You know the type. Those who use zaney antics and overly enthusiastic group participation as a substitute for a personality. Wankers.
Garfer - well, student lodgings. Fetid, damp, squalid. Most students seem to have bronchial pneumonia for three years. Serves 'em right I say.

Arabella - "I realised I was bored and didn't have to prove anymore that I wasn't thick." Wish I could convince myself that I don't have anything to prove to myself. If it happens, that'll be the point I'll realise that I've finally grown up (hope it happens sooner rather than later).

Del - being surrounded by students for three years who are supposed to be having a wild time indulging in all sorts of excess must be like having to endure New Year's Eve every day. You probably think that everyone is having a better time than you, even if they aren't.

Yeah, a lot of people were lucky to have gone through the education system during the days of student grants. Mind you, they were a load of bloody layabouts who should have gorn through National Service instead, what?
Repeatedly told by my Mum that Mr Fowler had mentioned to her that I was the brightest, most intelligent ten-year-old he'd taught in 30 years, it was felt that I was to be the first of the line to tread the halls of academe. Unfortunately, although I was genuinely bright, my strengths were art and a wayward curiosity. These are not the ingredients for a successful tenure at even the least imposing red-brick, let alone Camford.

I managed to discover rock and roll and then fall in love in short order. This played havoc with any thoughts of study. I had though, always wanted to go to art college and landed myself a foundation course. Good, as my sixth form choices had been art, French and biology. This wasn't out of choice as taking art buggered up everything and these were the ones that were interesting. Having got good O levels in them, I managed to spectacularly fail French and biology, not even gaining a second O level in them (does that negate the first one, I wonder?) so already I had started on my now familiar path of under-achievement.

Art college was a huge disappointment and the talent I had hitherto displayed seemed to desert me. I was good at life drawing and painting but I'd lost heart in all the other stuff and was having severe doubts regarding doing something involving expression on demand for money. Like, y'know. Art students never fitted in with the grand scheme (I went up in 1979, the bitch had started her plans) so our grants were even lower than all the others and to cap it all, they'd cocked mine up and managed to pay it all over the first two terms. Some rather over inflated travel claims and a receipt for the camera my Dad had just bought and a late-night (until 2am) job in a diner in Rochester, meant I survived until just before the final show when the lease on our house ran out and I buggered off.

Totally disillusioned, I gave up with the whole notion of art as a career. Tertiary education did nothing for me at all except set me off on a life of living right on the edge of penury. It also killed off my artist's ethic. I keep buying sketch pads but never use them and I think I regret that the most. Sometimes realising your dream isn't what it's cracked up to be.

I did like the idea of university though but I'm with others here in that I always was a bit of a fogey and hated students and studenty things. I wish I'd chosen something that would have allowed my curiosity to flourish alongside the creativity and wasn't so damned expensive to pursue. My family is still without a degree but I don't think they care anymore.
I went to university, did a degree which is completely irrelevant to how I earn a living, and left with a more misanthropic view than when I arrived; which, after having an expensive education which allowed me the opportunity to watch a lot of twattish and highly unpleasant sons of the professional classes, is saying something, as at eighteen I'd already decided that most of my peers were tossers.

Betty, your blog is ace, that's why I read it. The views of some of my peers, at both school and university, are bollocks. So I ignore them. Draw your own conclusion.

I could never understand all that jumping about shrieking shit with teenagers, even when I was one. Guess I always was a misfit.
Richard - I always had vague ideas about going to art college after all sorts of flattering comments from art teachers referring to my talent. Thing is, my parents were insistent that art college had nothing to do with Real Life, which, to them, involved me learning shorthand and typing, and, if I did really well at school, becoming, cough, splutter a "bi-lingual secretary". Only if I really did well, mind ... the thought of me going to university was impractical, as I was, in their words "too stupid for that".

I resented it at the time. But, you know what? They were right (apart from the bi-lingual secretary bit).

I'm sorry things turned out as they did for you - for a lot of people their dreams tend to turn sour at a very early age because of their experience in any sort of further education. Who knows what they really want to do at eighteen anyway?

Krusty - "I did a degree which is completely irrelevant to how I earn a living". Sounds like the outcome for a lot of people, which must say something about the value of university education (or lack of it ...).

As for the behaviour of teenagers, what can I say? One of the best thing about being older is not having to hang around with really young people anymore. Hah! What a load of miseries we are around here.
Betty - if you've read my latest entry you'll see that I got to rip into a wastrel teenager with gusto.

I'm pretty certain it was cheaper for the government in the late 80s early 90s to keep students at school than have them sign on. Making all the local polytechnics universities meant that that a huge number would also stay at home to go to Uni thereby delaying the date when they would have to fork out for housing benefit and stuff. 2 grand a year in grants against about 6 otherwise makes sense when there are no jobs. Then they had the bright idea of going the whole hog and charging for it at three times the existing rate!

Look at all those wanky degrees, too. How many health clubs with degree qualified personal trainers and parks with BSc qualified groundsmen does the country need?
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