now i’ve got my second and third classes under my belt, and my first full week out of the way.. how am i feeling now?

Well.. much better, for starters! Emotionally, anyway. Physically is another matter – starting college for the first time in a long time is NOT a good time to develop a wracking cough/sore throat! – so i feel rather out of it, but emotionally i actually feel pretty good. proud that i made it through week one, that i got up on time every day (even though most days i hadn’t had anywhere near enough sleep, between nerves and this cough waking me up) and that i’ve been consistently studying most days, in one way or another, even though i’m feeling really awful at times.

Having said all that though… week one is the easy bit. and i know it.

Tuesday was … well. the class was good. the stuff outside it, not so good. The weather turned out to be really awful on tuesday, absolutely bucketing down with rain. To get to the college i have to catch 2 buses – one into city centre from where i live, which is a pay bus, the other is a free bus which just goes round and round city centre, linking various important parts. Get to the bus stop on time and the first bus goes shooting past – its full. I grit my teeth and feel my stress levels rising, and try to remain calm. then a second goes past, which is out of service. The third (by which time i’ve been waiting 20+ minutes), very crowded bus finally stops and lets us on board. Then, when i get to town, and try to catch the “free” bus – the first two i see (that go every 5-10 minutes) are full and just go on by. at this point i’m about ready to scream with frustration, but i finally get on one and make it to college, just five minutes late to meet the notetaker. No biggie, but in terms of frustration and stress, it was something i could really have done without.

The notetaker turned out to be a lovely lady by the name of Eleanor. we walked up to the classroom – a different one to Monday’s (in fact, i’m in a different room for all my classes), and its normally a lab. The room is set up with three round tables set around a central column with gas taps and electrical power outlets, which makes group work a little hard (the other rooms are set up in a sort of horseshoe shape). if it turns out to be a real problem i may have to ask if the class can be switched to another room. This class – which is Archaeology – is also taught by a different teacher, a younger woman, who is studying for her PhD. I won’t say what here, as its a fairly identifiable PhD and i don’t want to cause problems, but suffice it to say its something i find really interesting and plan to ask her about at some point. I didn’t on Tuesday because she was suffering from Tonsillitis, so figured the last thing she needed was me asking her extra stuff! Her teaching style is one i personally like – a mixture of her talking and group work. She got to know us all by asking us questions about archaeology, going round and making us all answer the same questions. questions like what we think archaeology is, what we want to get out of the course, that kind of thing. I was quite glad of it, because it gave me an opportunity to get to know my fellow students, and they all seem pretty dedicated to the course, all fairly hard-core history geeks like i am. There doesn’t seem to be anyone there just hoping to use the course to go to do something else, which is good. But the range of interests that people have within the history discipline is quite amazing. From maritime archaeology through to the aztecs and the incas, one woman loves Egypt so much, she’s spent all her holidays all her life out there, asking to join digs as a volunteer, that kind of thing, going to lectures at her local society, and now she’s retired, she wants to do a proper qualification so that she can do the kind of thing she loves. another guy just wants to work outside on the digs, can’t be doing with the paperwork or the conservation, just wants to excavate. “I know some field directors who are going to love YOU”, he was told!!!

The archaeology class is all about the methods of archaeology, as well as a little bit about the kind of things you can find. We won’t be getting to actually do any excavation ourselves (not arranged through the college, anyway) although i think we may be going up to Hadrian’s wall to Vindolanda, which is a large Roman fort that is currently being excavated (I say currently: its been under some form of excavation since the early 30s and probably has enough material there to excavate for the next 150 years!) as well as going to various museums to look at different finds and so on. But first, before we can do any of that, we’re covering the history of archeology. I’ve got my textbook (one of the two i have to get – the other one is a doorstop reference book, that every single archaeologist has, apparently, and new, costs £45!!! needless to say i won’t be getting THAT new), in fact, i have all four textbooks that i ordered from amazon on monday/tuesday afternoon now. One of them is a lovely 1939 hardback book that i may well keep after the course is over, just because its a lovely book. It smells like old books should, if you know what i mean! Anyway, the teacher is a good one, full of interesting anecdotes, and actually manages to keep on track (which the other one seems to have problems doing!), so i think i’m going to really enjoy this class. The notetaker for this class was absolutely essential as a lot of the time the teacher, great as she was, was talking really quietly (because of the tonsillitis), and i was struggling to hear her. I’m not overly worried, though, as at one point she seemed to almost shout – and then promptly apologised, saying she wasn’t shouting, but that was her normal teaching voice! To give you some idea though of the amount the notetakers are having to take down – the first set of notes came to 25 pages of A4 (when printed out), the second to 17 pages. that’s an almost verbatim account of everything that is said in class, as best as the notetaker can manage it.

The third class is on Near Eastern Archaeology (the first is on Ancient History – basically the romans and the greeks, in case you’ve forgoten). This is back with the primary tutor, who, like i said, has a problem staying with the subject. Its annoying, as there are one or two students who like to ask a lot of questions, not all of them pertinent to what we’re actually studying, and once the tutor is off on a track, he seems to take ages to come back to what we’re MEANT to be talking about. I keep thinking “SHUT UP!” to one particular student, which is a bit uncharitable of me, but honestly, he really does waffle. Even the notetaker agreed with me – another lovely lady by the name of Julia, who did medieval history for her degree, so not exactly someone with no experience of what a class at this level should be like.

I’m annoyed with the tutor for another reason too. Apparently there was an enrollment class on 3rd Sept which i should have been invited to. That class covered things like actual enrollment (i.e. all the paperwork) but also things like the structure of the Access course. I don’t mean the actual things we’re studying, but how the course works in terms of credits – how many credits you need in total, the breakdown of things like pass-merit-distinction, that kind of thing. These are all things i’m struggling to find out now. I don’t know why i wasn’t invited to the class – i do wonder, sometimes, if i hadn’t shown up that afternoon off my own bat to ask what was going on, if i’d ever find out that i had been accepted. Not only that, but my enrollment is now two weeks behind everyone else’s – and as a result, i won’t get my student ID card for several more weeks, at least, and without that, i can’t use some of the college facilities, like borrowing books from the library, or getting my notes printed out. I kicked up enough of a stink (nicely, though!) on thursday afternoon that someone on reception took pity on me, introduced me to the (very very nice) IT guy called Paul, who has promised to print out any notes that i need printing out (i’m referring now to the note taker’s notes, which get emailed to me after every class). i could do it at the local library, which is how i’ve done printing before, but when you think that the notes come to around 25 pages for each class, it gets expensive, really really fast, so i’m grateful to Paul for agreeing to print things out for me. (he even offered to find me a kindle, bless him, so that i could take the notes to class with me in an electronic form. I just said not to worry about it – i could take them in on my notebook, but sometimes, you want paper copies, don’t you?). Still, this whole situation could’ve been averted if the tutor had been a bit more on the ball.

Classes and bureaucracy apart though… the studying i’ve been doing at home i’ve been really happy with. It feels wonderful to get my teeth into something intellectual. I’m not just doing the stuff the class requires – at this point, the various classes require very little (we’ve some reading to do of a handout booklet that the main tutor gave us on both ancient history and near eastern archaeology, and some research to do on what an antiquarian was for archaeology)  – so i’m really taking the opportunity to get stuff done now that i won’t have time for further down the line, but that i hope will help me then when i really need it. Things like making a chronology of the dates in ancient history – at the moment, i couldn’t tell you without looking it up online when the Romans invaded Britain, for example, or when the Old Kingdom was in Ancient Egypt, and that’s basic references i should really know. Making that kind of chronology will help to settle that into my mind. Also making notes on the various historians/archaeologists that we’re coming across in class, the authors of the books i’m reading. what degrees they took, where, where they worked, what their research fields were, what are their motivations. One historian, for example, E H Carr, was fascinated by Soviet Russia, not to the point where he was an active traitor to the United Kingdom, but certainly to the point where he felt there was a great deal we could learn from the Soviet Union and tried his best to make that come about, and made himself somewhat unpopular in the process. I’m also making notes on the many history programmes that we recorded while we were in Germany – “Digging for Britain” was a particularly timely series, given its all about archaeology! – but also “The Normans” and “Norman Walks” – even though that doesn’t touch on this year’s study, they may well come in useful in future studies. “Egypt’s Lost Queen” on Channel 5 is another – before we went away i saw a series where Zahi Hawass, the head of the Egyptian Anqtiquities Service, was using DNA testing techniques to try to find out who Tutankhamun’s family was and what he died from (scans show he had a broken leg and the presence of malaria in his system, and the current thinking is that it was a combination of both conditions that led to his death). Egyptologists are not always 100% sure who various mummies are, and using DNA testing to explore the various family relationships is a fairly new way of exploring the past – a fascinating series, that saw the identification of Akhenaton as Tutankhamen’s father, Amenhotep III as his grandfather, the identification of the mummy of Queen Tiye, that his half sister was also his wife, Ankhesenamun, and that the two small babies mummified with King Tut were his two small daughters, who were miscarried.  “Egypt’s Lost Queen” is from the same team and i’m really looking forward to it. And then there’s the reading i have to do of the books – taking notes from those, and so on.

so all in all it feels like everything i’m doing is to do with history, and my mind is really just gulping in all this knowledge. Michiel is being a star in terms of supporting me – getting me coffee every morning that i have to get up, not talking to me when he can see that i’m occupied with studying, getting me cups of tea, cooking dinner occasionally – he’s wonderful, and i think he can see how much i’m enjoying this. I was *ready* to do this, i think, in a way that i just wasn’t before. I just really really hope i can get onto the course i want for 2011, because the prospect of studying this year, then having a year’s break, then gearing myself up to start studying again in 2012 after a year off really doesn’t appeal. But i’ll cross that bridge when i come to it.

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