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Adult Education

by northofeverywhere 

Posted: 03 June 2005
Word Count: 1012
Summary: Humorous viewpoint


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My grandfather used to say that you can never have too much information. Leaving aside the fact that he was quite senile and frequently confused me with his dead sister, Edna, it is essentially sound advice. I recall the time he tried to direct me to the village in France which he had helped to liberate from the occupying Nazis. He wanted me to locate a particular feature on the outskirts of the village, namely a tiny wooden footbridge over a stream on which he claimed to have carved his name. I sort of knew where I was going, but he reminded me that sort of knowing something might one day get me sort of crushed to death in some sort of industrial machine, and so we went through the directions again and again until I was as familiar with the village and its surrounds as I am with my own city.


To be honest this isn’t such a grand boast. I am comically inept when it comes to navigating my way from one place of reference to another, no matter how short the distance or how trodden the path. I’ve never been very good at map reading, or even realising why the line of traffic I’m following has suddenly peeled away to the left, leaving me to drift helplessly into the middle of an abandoned industrial estate, which is why I had recently installed a state-of-the-art satellite navigation system in my Skoda. But I knuckled down and studied the maps of Northern France regardless. As the man said, you can never have too much information.

Perusing a leaflet that came through my letterbox the other day ’ or perhaps it fell out of a newspaper and slid under the cooker, or was jabbed in my eye as I passed through the automatic doors at the supermarket, I forget now ’ I noticed that my local adult education centre is offering a 13 week course on barge painting. Just take a few moments to think about that, if you would. It begs all kinds of questions. Firstly, why barges? Are there great flotillas of unpainted barges chugging up and down the island's waterways, their pilots desperately scanning the towpaths on the off-chance that a qualified barge painter might be out for a stroll?

"Please, somebody help me! It's my barge, you see - it's...plain!"


At which a crowd might gather, murmuring darkly, looking helplessly at one another, before relief comes in the form of a calm, commanding voice from the rear: "Let me through, I'm a barge painter..."


Well it could happen I suppose, though it is about as likely as my Skoda ever again being worth more than its satellite navigation equipment. On first consideration it may seem a trifle eccentric to spend more than three months perfecting a craft for which there is very little demand. A much more practical option would be the Car Care course (9 weeks, concessions available). Even a modest knowledge of car mechanics will eventually stand you in good stead and perhaps save you a few pounds at the next service, though it won’t help you understand just why it is that you don’t see brown cars anymore. There just doesn’t seem to be the same level of necessity involved in learning how to paint a large sunflower onto the side of an inland water-going vessel.


But perhaps I am missing the point. I have just finished reading a wonderful book by Jonathan Rose called the Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, which explores the extraordinary culture of self-education (autodidacticism) among those who laboured in the mines, mills and factories of Britain from the late 18th century until around the time of the Second World War. Far from being the grim, soulless domain of the illiterate drudgery slave, many industrial towns and villages were home to thriving societies dedicated to self-improvement and the appreciation of culture. It is quite humbling to imagine scores of miners scrubbing off the dirt of a long, hard shift before gathering in huts and church halls to read Milton and Shakespeare, or to engage in lively political and philosophical debate, to play and hear music, to paint, to rehearse and produce plays and operas. I always thought I was making a great sacrifice by watching an informative wildlife programme instead of Eastenders, even though I had just spent a really tiring afternoon on the internet.


I can't actually say that I'm personally tempted by the barge painting course, nor by many of the other equally pointless courses on offer, such as Dried Flower Arranging (8 weeks), Creative Cake Icing (4 weeks), or my own favourite, the wonderfully useless Lino Etching (6 weeks), but you know, I may just throw caution to the wind and sign up for a basic introduction to Eastern head massage. I can’t think why. Perhaps it is because the more strange and wonderful subjects I discover there is to learn about, the more I realise how little I actually know about anything. Why, I think it may even be fun to learn for no other reason than because you can never have too much information.


As a footnote, I located the stream in France with its quaint little footbridge in no time at all, but sadly there were no initials carved there. Only then did I remember that my grandfather had spent the entire duration of the war in a TB clinic in Brighton. I believe it was actually Sir John Mills and someone out of Z-Cars who liberated that particular village in a little known film which also featured a young Kenneth Williams in one of his rare serious roles. I didn’t have the heart to tell my grandfather. Back at the nursing home I told him that his initials were indeed still visible after all these years. He was of course delighted.


’Excellent!’ he beamed. ’Now, sit down, Edna. I have another important mission for you. I need you to rescue my grandson Harry Potter from the clutches of the evil Lord Voldemort’’






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Comments by other Members



aliswann at 21:48 on 04 June 2005  Report this post
HAHAHAHA This is brilliant, laugh out loud funny and rushes along at a glorious pace. The MC takes the reader on a ramshckle ride through the discodent observations of their day to day life. Loved this bit:
"Let me through, I'm a barge painter..." Classic stuff.

So is this a shirt story or you looking to make it into something bigger? It certainly works superbly as a short, though I find myself very drawn to the MC and the granfather, I want to know more. Either way it is very astutely tied up at the end. Well done

aliswann at 21:50 on 04 June 2005  Report this post
Incidently, if you could write a 'shirt' story that I'm sure woudl be entertaining, I meanwhile did of course mean 'short'...

northofeverywhere at 16:57 on 12 June 2005  Report this post
Cheers :)

I write these as stand alone pieces but really have no idea where I could send them.

Thanks for the feedback though :)



neilwills at 20:26 on 14 January 2006  Report this post
Let me through, I'm a barge painter - very funny. tickled my funny bone.


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