« No Dogs Allowed | Main | The Adolescent Years - 2 »

As Time Goes By, As Time Goes By: All My Eye And Betty Martin

Eileen Perrin recalls a frustrating afternoon of futile instruction on how to run a University of the Third Age course.

On a Spring day early in the year 2000, there I was in the confines of this bare Victorian-style schoolroom, for the third time in a row. The Harrow Education Authority gave us a four-week course on how to run a Harrow U3A group. Although mainly intended for group leaders, many on the course were already leaders.

Over the weeks I noticed there had been no evidence of marking a register of those attending. Since the first week the numbers had shrunk. Through the high windows I could see blue sky and sunshine - a day to be out in the fresh air. At the top of the flip chart was written the word ‘Motivation’ and a question was posed - ‘Why do ‘they’ come to our groups?’

The sheet was filled with a list. - Structuring group sessions -Planning a course - Adjustments - Organising discussions - Encouraging presentations - Absenteeism - and Awkward personalities.

Our would-be mentor is asking. “Do we want a break this afternoon?”

Well, I think it essential and say so, as I want to speak to some of the others hoping to run some new groups I might be interested in -‘Body and Mind in Harmony, Ballet and The Iron Age which is apparently something to do with better design and easier packaging to help the elderly cope.

It wasn’t to be. The smartly coiffured and sleek trouser-suited despot swiftly implied we had had it. There would be no break.
Round the outside edge of the room a line of long tables had been set in front of our extended circle of chairs, whose backs were to the walls. Referring to these tables she asked if we like them, or did they feel like a barrier.

Anyway, there I was, trapped behind the tables at the back of the room between our ex-Asst.Group Co-Ordinator and Sophie of the intended Body & Mind in Harmony group. I thought of f the information I brought for the packaging design person who sat by the door, trying in vain to catch her eye, thinking with regret of the little flask of coffee I brought for my proposed refreshment half-way through.

Why had I come again for a third time? I have always been a supporter of good causes, and - well, I thought good was going to come out of it all and perhaps I would be better able to help a new recruit.

This now seemed a forlorn hope as the newly-retired trainer of Harrow’s school teachers obviously felt she hold us in thrall and was giving it to us straight, with no let up for exchanging views with our colleagues. After eight years of running my writing group Write for your Life I had be3gun to wonder if I was doing things right.

Shifting my feet and settling back in the chair I began to write on my notepad. No, not the lists strung out on the flip board, but ideas I had in mind to suggest for a new group called Doing the Knowledge. This group would visit a specified area of London to research, presenting their results at the group's next meeting. I had headings: history, famous residents past and present, the origin of street-names, places to eat and the means of getting there.

Recalling this idea I feel sure it would be a great success, especially suited to Free Travel pass holders and those who like walking around London.

By this time I was convinced that the speaker, used to addressing young students in teacher-training schemes, was banging her head against a brick wall as far as we are concerned. She was being confronted by the fact that some 60 to 80 attended current affairs meetings which were frequently disruptive. I listened as she expounded theories for breaking a large group down, first into pairs, then fours, then eights, and finally with one in each group putting a point.

Incredulous - oh me of little faith – but can she not imagine how moving chairs around in such a large group, apart from the hubbub with everyone talking, would be sheer madness.
Not often considered is the fact that many people in the third age are hard of hearing and suffer problems when there is a lot of background noise going on.

My watch was showing 3.35 pm. She was now dealing with awkward personalities’ and there were more horrendous stories from current affairs group leaders.

So many other groups, of course, did not fit into the structured idea of ‘teaching’ and ‘taught’ and had no need of her illuminating methods.

At last I heared her say “It is 4 o’clock and we should end.”

She asked us to bring next week an outline structure for our course and a plan for one session.

I felt frustrated as I battled to worm my way out of the chairs and tables in a rear corner. By the time I reached the door my quarry, the design group, had vanished down the sunlit stair, perhaps never to be seen again.

Postscript, I went on to complete twelve years running the ‘Write for Your Life’ group in the front room of my own house and think we had some happy afternoons there.

‘All my eye and Betty Martin’ means ‘nonsense’ and is said to have originated among sailors.


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.