Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Stones, Bones and Bog Bodies

That was the title of a course at University of Wales, Lampeter which LEAPT off the page at me back in 1995/6. It was the little local free paper, and I was just leafing through it before I burned it. Back in 1970 I had read a book by P V Glob about the Bog Bodies of the Jutland Peninsula and it had fanned the flame of my interest in archaeology. Then the words turned up again . . . Little did I realize that those few words would be a life-changing experience. And HOW . . .

I phoned up, to find out more about the course. It was an ACCESS course. I wasn't any the wiser, but I signed up for it, as I had always been interested in Archaeology, and this was an Archaeology course, and with three young children, I was desperate for a bit of FREEDOM (Hah!) I didn't know that it was intended to put b*ms on seats in the Archaeology department. You can imagine my absolute SHOCK when I discovered not only was it a brilliant course - ably taught by Dr Jennifer Foster, whose name should be in neon lights in the Archaeology world because she was SUCH a good lecturer - but I was good at it. I could write good essays. Get good marks. WOW . . .

I found myself signed up to other courses to teach me computer skills, and general study skills, and also I had to choose a 2nd course, and I chose English Literature. I did well at that too and absolutely ADORED our study of Hardy's 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles', one of my favourite novels, and the Romantic Poets . . . I found myself, preparing in fact, to join a degree course in 1996. Double WOW! Me, who was always put down in school, enthusiasms squashed, marks mediocre (apart from English where I was ALWAYS top of the class, right through school). But which course to choose? I loved them both, but having discussed Eng. Lit. with my lecturer (another brilliant lady whose name now escapes me . . . blushes) she advised that there was SO much reading involved and as I had young children 10, 8 and 5 when I started, Archaeology might be the better option. That's what I took and with no regrets.

I loved my course, though it was difficult to juggle being a full-time mum with being a full-time student. I took to getting up at 4.30 in the morning to work on essays, as it was the only time I could guarantee no one would want my attention. Exam time was dreadful, but I muddled through. Field trips were wonderful and I visited the prehistoric and medieval archaeology of our part of Wales, frantically taking notes in pencil with my hand inside a plastic bag with a notebook in it to try and keep the paper dry. This is Wales, after all . . . I couldn't understand why the young students just stood around looking bored or half asleep - why DO the course if you weren't the least bit interested? I was fortunate that of the 12 - mature - people on my Access course, we ALL went on to the Degree course and formed a geriatric phallenge in the front row, all dedicated, all scribbling furiously, spectacles off to write, then back on to look at the overheads...

We went to Ireland on a Field Trip. I would never have visited it otherwise, and still have a vivid memory of a morning spent on the Burren, and Poulnabrone burial chamber, where visitors had made little copies of it on the limestone pavements surrounding it, like little echoes. We visited Newgrange: stood in a group at the far end when they put the lights out, and then recreated the mid-winter solstice, and the first pencil of daylight hitting the back of the tomb. I was alone - the other people disappeared - I travelled back through millennias of time and became one of the Ancestors.

Some of the essay titles we were given were like water-torture. I still have one noted down -

"Electric speed mingles the cultures of prehistory with the dregs of the industrial marketeers, the non-literate, the semi-literate and the post-literate." Consider this statement with particular reference to a single artifact. Bloody EEEEEK! I still didn't understand it when it was due in the next day, so that night, in desperation, I wrote about my house, how it had evolved over the years, with rooms altering in their uses and occupants. In my desperation, I did something right, and ended up with a First for the essay.

I travelled up to Scotland for my mandatory 2 week Dig, at Fetternear Bishop's Palace. I don't know how I stood the seperation from my children, especially when I had tearful pleas from my 5 yr old son, "Come home mummy, I miss you." I spent every night in my tent in tears. But it didn't affect him permanently and he is a fairly normal well-adjusted 17 year old now, and I still have a love of Scotland and Scottish archaeology.

I took a year writing my dissertation on the Equine Iconography of the Pictish Sculptures. I knew horses, I loved Pictish art (hell, I loved stones - still do of course!) The word limit was 15,000 - I managed to hide an extra 5,000 words accompanying the - many - illustrations and in Appendices. It was the outpouring of a lifetime's frustrated scribbling, and it got an Upper First (which was just as well as I think I did CRAP in my exams because everything seemed to happen together - dissertation checking, final essays and exams.) 18 months later I was amazed to receive a letter telling me that my Dissertation had been joint winner of the Royal Archaeological Institute's Dissertation Prize and I travelled up to London for the presentation with my personal tutor, Dr Penny Dransart, who had been such a staunch ally of mine at University. We got taken out for a celebratory meal in a swish Italian restaurant, so after all that work - at least I got a meal out of it!

So when I'm feeling a bit low, as I am at the moment, I blow the dust off my Dissertation and look at it - gosh, I REALLY DID write that . . .


Preseli Mags said...

Found you too! Actually I've been visiting your blog over the past couple of days, catching up on your posts and enjoying all the lovely photographs. xx Mags.

PS: We are working on getting transport for Itsy. We'll let you know when it is all sorted out.

Arlene Grimm said...

I love Scotland too Henderson roots are there. You have led an interesting life! And I enjoy your blogs as they are so instructive and fun too.

Bovey Belle said...

Maggie - your family has made me SO happy tonight, to know that Itsy is safe in her new home, and knowing that she is going to be much-loved and WELL CARED FOR (you know why I've used capitals on that bit!) See you soon.

Arlene - I don't know if you have ever visited Scotland, but it is a very special place. Interesting life - gosh, you don't know the half of it!

Thelma - details noted my dear, and will come visiting in the morning and get in touch with you. MANY thanks. More archaeology to come over the next few days as we've been down In Newport, Pembs today.

Mam said...

Jennie, you have much to be proud of. I know how terribly bright you are, but am happy to find out about the honors heaped upon you for your studies and performance.
I was a "mature student" too. In music/education, a double major. I had 2 children grown and off on their own lives, but still had 3 little girls at home. Fortunately I didn't have to travel much, occasionally for an out-of-town performance, but not often. My girls really loved my being in school - like we were all in school together - and still remind me of what a comfort to them it was to hear me practicing Mozart and such on the piano when they were in bed, until late in the night. I guess it lulled them to sleep.
Anyway, I wanted to say I know what it's like. There were other mature students around but all were studying in other degree programs. I was the "mom" of the music department there for a while.

Bovey Belle said...

Nancy - you don't know how close I came to pulling the plug on this entry, as I could hear "she's showing off" in my ear as I wrote it. It is something I was so happy doing, and the dissertation was the one BIG thing in my life (apart from a happy marriage and our children) that I was so proud of. So if it sounds like showing off - tough - it was me stating a fact.

I didn't realize that you too had been a mature student, nor in Music/Education. Bravo! There are elements of us which call to be satisfied and answered - I just wish I had been able to carry on and do an MA - even a PhD - but nursing my mum took priority and of course, I had no money to pay for continuing my education.

Keith and I have both said hang the fuel money, we are going to do a bit more exploring of our slightly more distant archaeology on a regular basis now. Yippee!