A Severed Head in the Wet Room?

September 12th, 2014Comments Off on A Severed Head in the Wet Room?

In late August I attended the 2014 Summer School of the North of England region of the U3A, at Newton Rigg College near Penrith. 100+ members attended, most from within the NW region, on a range of courses including Art, Music, Creative Writing, Geology and Digital Photography.

Our course had a challenging title. Labelled by our tutor ‘A History of Ideas’ we had been asked in advance to read a list of a dozen novels all published in 1961, ie at the beginning of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ in the UK, with Bob Dylan about to write ‘The times, they are a’changin’, with JFK becoming US President and the Berlin Wall going up. The books ranged from Ivy Compton-Burnett towards the end of her writing life, through Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene in their prime, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, John le Carre introducing George Smiley, and Alan Sillito and David Storey publishing the first of what was to be labelled the output of ‘the Angry Young Men’

Meg Shaw, our tutor, is a former national U3A Co-ordinator for Philosophy, and brought out the philosophical background to the time most skilfully, so that, for example, we could see the characters in ‘A Severed Head’ enacting Iris Murdoch’s own interpretation of the zeitgeist (she being of course herself a philosopher.)

All the 11 members of our group had to own up to being at the very least young adults in 1961: some still at school, some at university, some at work,
And some young parents at home. We typically had an introductory talk from Meg, broke up for discussion into smaller groups, reassembled and showed a quite consistent failure to reach consensus!

This nicely challenging intellectual activity was supported by good teaching accommodation and good organisation by members of the regional committee, with the evenings offering entertaining after-dinner speakers or a visit to the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick.

The big ‘but’ has to be that the student accommodation at Newton Rigg leaves a good deal to be desired. The study-bedrooms are very basic, and the bathrooms-cum-wetrooms so small that the need to brush one’s teeth shortly after a shower needed either waders or a power of levitation! If we hear in 2015 that the accommodation has been upgraded (as is said to be the intention) then I can warmly recommend the Summer School. Otherwise one might choose to stay off-campus, or perhaps instead to consider one of the national Summer Schools at Newport (Shropshire)or Cirencester.

Mike Lawton September 2014.

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