University challenge

Monday 2nd May 2011

WILL Hutton will be voting YES this week. As I don’t buy newspapers, it’s handy being able to read his column online.

He appeared at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature a few years ago. Colin Sell and I spotted him when walking past the hall where Will was doing a sound check.

“He’s come a long way from the chorus line in Little Arthur and the Evil Ogre,” Colin chuckled.

I’d forgotten we’d done that panto together. Colin composed the music. I was on the lighting crew. Several of the company now have Wikipedia entries. Peter won an Oscar for make-up on Lord of the Rings.

Admittedly, I look back on my student days through wide-angle varifocals, but it was an era of artistic risk-taking, of radical thought, cheaper accommodation, and grants not loans. Tutors espoused audacity and had confidence in our learning from mistakes. When faced with, say, a sit-in, only the myopic would miss the chance to debate causes, motives and ramifications.

Yes, I may have missed many a grand lecture on Sophoclean irony. Perhaps I should have read more set texts and spent less time playing snooker or wearing grease-paint, but, when Will Hutton describes the economy as ‘sclerotic’, I don’t have to reach for the dictionary. Nor do I berate him for using long words.

Besides… would I have developed lifelong passions in books, education, politics and social concerns, had I become a golf caddie? It was an option. If Bristol hadn’t let me in, despite the poor grades, I might have been over in Atlanta last month: considerably richer, decidedly poorer.

My younger daughter returned to university a week ago. Last night’s phone natter was mostly about her forthcoming dance production: working title The Barefaced Night. Choreography is more important than Classics right now. It would be a barefaced lie if I said she should work harder at her studies. The challenge of university is not merely to be awarded a serf-ticket of academic achievement.

There are times when I think BA counts for exactly that.

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