lifelong learning

The nearby university is buzzing again. Thousands of young people in the park, the coffee shops (in my seat!), and the library. I don’t envy them. They have a lot of fun ahead, but ridiculous costs, lots of hard work and uncertain futures. Also, hangovers.

I came to Belfast as a student in 1983. I was anxious about leaving home, what university life might have in store, and about being in Belfast at all. We used to take the odd day trip to do the Christmas shopping, and stock up on that Boots soap that Herself liked, but I’d never been in Belfast at night. A country girl, scared of trouble, who took a long time to venture outside the university area.

The front buildings of Queen’s University are gorgeous, and the quad behind is somewhere I still love to sit. During holiday time it’s almost empty and I can see our younger selves charging through to lectures, the library or the union bar. The people I still see regularly,  the people I haven’t seen since, and all the others. It feels like a lot of my life was forged at this place.

There were no fees. For a brief period there were grants. Heady days of long queues to collect the annual student card and the grant cheque, and at the bank. Carrying bundles of books because we weren’t allowed to bring bags into the library. A well worn card index. Special classes in my final year to introduce us to computers. (Hello PC, meet speccy)

I don’t think students live in houses without central heating anymore. They probably don’t need to use communal showers in the students’ union. Many have cars. Even so. Despite the huge leaps in technology and the changes in scary Belfast,  I’m so glad I’m not starting off as a student on an arts degree now. I’m middle aged and cosy, and glad of it.


10 thoughts on “lifelong learning

  1. Takes me back … to 1960… aaaa. Didn’t know what a fee was, put my grant in a post office account, lived in a Botanic Avenue ‘flat’ with a shared bathroom, life is still an adventure for those at Queens now and us too. Keep writing these great posts, Elspeth

  2. Those are truly gorgeous buildings! I agree with your thoughts – those students are in a good and interesting place in their lives – and I have no wish to go back and join them.

    Funny song 🙂

  3. I had a grant too. Very different, more carefree days when one kept pasta in the cupboard because it was cheaper than potatoes and didn’t smell terrible after six weeks. I seem to remember living off fish fingers for the first term…

    Happy days. Rather be now, though.

  4. *Sigh* Colleges in my neck of the woods look like cardboard boxes someone riveted galvanized tin to and are “ornamented” with industrial looking art that I’m sure was scrounged from a junk yard. *Sigh*

  5. I got my degree through the OU and loved it, but I wish I had gone to uni back then. I want to do my Masters next, as soon as finances allow. I hope to do it at Manchester, so I will at least have half the experience.

  6. Unfortunately today’s Queen’s students are more anti-social and the bain of local residents in the Holylands through their heavy drinking and general uproar. How they manage to stay sober long enough to do their academic work I’m not sure.

    I also remember those halcyon days when I was an undergraduate and everything was paid for by the state including transport costs from London to my college in High Wycombe, Bucks. The introduction of tuition fees was a big step backwards.

  7. I stayed in Queens one weekend back in the early 80s, because I was at a conference there. Most of it is lovely, but as far as I can remember I stayed on the tenth floor of some really brick-like building – is that right, or am I mixing it up with someplace else?

    1. Halls of residence. Tower blocks, all looking at each other. A little pond. Milk kept cool by hanging it out the window. One shower per floor. The good old days

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