Monday, 8 October 2007

Back to uni at 55 (Well, almost)

My name is Peter Silverton. I’m a writer. I’ve been an editor. It’s what I’ve always done. Well, for a year right after university, I worked as a banqueting barman — lucrative, educative, basically illegal. That aside, my working life has been measured out in words, pages and by-lines. Now, at the age of 55 (well, almost) I’m re-entering the world of academia, taking a masters degree — and writing about it, here, week by week by essay by term by dissertation.

I live in north London. I have three children. I’m married to their mother and have been since not long after our second child was born. We have a dog. Sometimes I call him by my younger son’s name. I have an allotment, high cholesterol and too many CDs.

In September 2007, I started an MSc in Theoretical Psychoanalytic Studies, at University College, London — two years, part-time. More than three decades after I graduated, in psychology, in 1974, from Goldsmiths’, I’m back at university. I’ll be just round the corner from the elegant neo-Stalinist tower in which I crammed for my finals — and the ugly 1970s block from which my two oldest children have just graduated.

What will it be like to be the oldest person in class? How will it be studying with people younger than my children? And being taught by people younger than me? (I mentioned these worries at my interview and was told, basically, not to. But having been to a school where not calling a master ‘sir’ got you a Saturday morning detention, it’s hard not to.) Will I be able to keep up with the reading? (A cousin took an MBA a few years ago. She cheerfully advised starting my day at five.) How will I cope with a whole new range of vital etiquettes and protocols — essay-writing, departmental and inter-departmental status structures, citation checking, how the photocopier works, where my pigeon-hole is, which photo I should use on Facebook. Above all, will I be up to it? For now, I guess I can only tell myself what I so often tell other people under similar circumstances: if you’re not scared, you’re clearly not paying attention.

Why Theoretical Psychoanalytic Studies? What are Theoretical Psychoanalytic Studies anyway? And why ‘theoretical’? A short answer to the second question is easy: Freud and all that. So is the answer to the third: it’s an academic course, not a clinical training for analysts and therapists. Question number one, of course, is the toughie. Any answers are provisional, naturally, but I can have a go.
a) I hold to the view that if we fully understood why we were doing something, we quite likely wouldn’t need to do it.
b) It’s a resumption of my original studies. I set out intending to be a psychologist — until I looked at the length of the training and how little you got paid at the end of it. I went to university to study the human mind and found I was studying rats’ brains. Now I’ve got the chance to make that good.
c) I’m in a position to do it. I’ve got the time etc.
d) My wife has almost finished her MA (in Infant Mental Health — it’s a family thing). A little competition enlivens any marriage.
e) And finally, because time’s winged chariot is hurtling round the corner at me, wheels off the ground, horses snorting, driver’s whip cracking. I can, of course, continue to believe that, until proven otherwise, mortality is something that happens to other people. But I go to enough contemporaries’ funerals to know that, at the very least, I should cover my bets.