My old neighbour has come up with his latest scheme. I am glad to see that he is getting pro-active again as he has, in the last week or so, taken to beating Fianna Fail county councillors over the head with a battered and rolled up copy of Budget 2009. This latest stunt comes hot on the heels of his failure to get permission to breed Natterjack Toads last year in a bog hole close to his farm. So, in a way, I am glad to see him making the leap from toads to teaching.
Let me explain his latest plan further.
Many of you will be aware that there has been a significant increase in mature study in recent years. Perhaps I should rephrase that in case you think that suddenly all our youngsters have hit the books in a big way; there has been a significant uptake in study by more mature people in recent years. Only last week we had the story of somebody in their eighties getting a third level degree or something equivalent.
My old neighbour got wind of this and he began asking me significant questions about it a couple of nights ago, over our usual weekly cup of tea in my house.
‘What’s with this mature student malarkey?’
I explained how people of a certain age were returning to education to ‘better themselves’, some of them having left school at an early age. ‘You see’ I said as he listened carefully, ‘you don’t need any qualifications nowadays to get into college, all you need to be of a … eh … certain age group…’
I realised as the words came out of my mouth how uncertain I was of the age of this particular audience. But it did not matter, as I watched his eyes mist over and I knew, from past experience, that there was some mad plan formulating in his head. Eventually, he deemed to share his thoughts with me:
‘So you’re saying that, if I wanted, I could go back to school?’
‘In a word, yes. If you wanted, that is …’
‘Hmm, now that’s interesting. And, if I wanted, I could maybe become a teacher some day?’
‘Maybe. If you wanted. Or even a politician but I don’t think you need any official qualifications for that other than not having a father as you are always telling me’
He got up and paced the room, in silence, for a while. He stopped and turned to face me.
‘What I’d like to know’, says he after a pause ‘is where all these “mature students”, as you call them, were last week on the Day of the Protests? They must have been a bit confused, not knowing whether to protest against medical cards or against school fees.
‘I thought all those silver-haired devils were in that church in Dublin committing sacrilege by booing politicians over the medical card fiasco. But maybe there they were instead, lying down in the street with young ones a half … no, a third … of their age, protesting against the rise in college fees and the like.
‘Mind you, it all makes sense to me now. Shure, the young students nowadays wouldn’t have a clue how to protest, what with being born and reared in the good times. They needed a few old hippies and a 1980s PAYE worker to show them how it was done. That’s were the pension students came in, isn’t it?’
He was getting quite animated as he formulated his plan for his future career.
‘I can see a job for me in all this. Far better than battering politicians with bad paper budgets. I could become one of them mature students while still retaining my pension status. I could roll the two careers into one. Protest against the college fees in the daytime and against the hospital fees in the evening.’
‘And where will you get the time to study with all this protesting?’ I asked.
‘Yerrah, that would be no bother to me at all. Look at all the learning I have in life. Shure, it’d be a doddle for a wily old codger like meself. And I’ll tell you another thing, son …’
(It had been a while since he called me ‘son’ given his consistent insistence that he was not as old as he actually was; it seemed that that particular stance had now been discarded by the sprightly new mature student standing in my kitchen.)
‘… I’ll tell you another thing, son. This is no Johnny-Come-Lately they’re dealing with here. I’m in this for the long haul. I have plans. As soon as I get all my exams and am allowed to teach, I’ll set up my own school. I’ll be doing everybody a favour, seeing that they’re giving out about the sizes of classrooms these days as well. I could fix up that old shed I was going to use as a cafe in the tourist season a few years back … there’s a nice blackthorn hedge growing beside it for shelter too … I could call it the Hedge School …’