Reasons to be cheerful:
1) We’re not schoolchildren at the turn of the 19th century, who were given nerve gas as it was thought to improve schoolwork.
2) We’re not schoolteachers at the turn of the 19th century, who were required to clean chimneys and not to smoke, drink or be professionally shaved in a barbershop. Oh and they could only go ‘courting’ once a week, twice a week if they attended church regularly.
There were plenty more reasons to be cheerful upon our return to college as we received lessons from the wider curriculum. First up was a music lesson. Inhibitions were cast aside as we joined hands, gathered in a circle and sang ‘Boom Chicka Boom’. Even the girl, who tearfully told of being asked to leave the school choir because her voice was too deep and to play the triangle instead, let her hair down for the ‘I can take my tea without sugar’ dance.
We couldn’t sing ‘Jump Jim Joe’ forever though, as we were due on the Geography field trip to the East End of London. We headed to an area described as being populated by the “criminal, vicious, lowest classes” or as the poet Charles Booth called it, a “stagnant lake of thickened putrefying matter”. We did get to see a moustache mug (a mug designed especially for people with moustaches), a gas mask for babies and I learnt a new word ‘ipsative’, but for a course costing £3,000 I was hoping for a visit to the Lake District.
Next up was a recruitment fair, where we signed up in the hope for jobs and joined the union. The recruitment agencies forewarned that only a third of us might find work in September. So, even if we can’t get a job at least we’ll be able to go on strike about it.
We ended with drama and played a game which involved insulting the person next to us, by referring to them as a kitchen implement. What should have been harmless fun nearly became harmful when one bitchy student called the girl next to her a ‘scrubber’. The lesson ended with us artfully putting on ‘Macbeth the Musical’ to the music of The Three Degrees.
If it all seems like frivolous fun, there is the ‘15,000 word backdrop’. That’s the total number of words required for our assignments.
A further reason to be cheerful:
3) We’re not students at the turn of the 19th century, when a fail would have had us marked out as “high grade mental defectives”.