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The Wife of Bath

The Wife of Bath

Margaret Hayward

Kate Brangan

I left school in 1967, when dinosaurs still roamed around. Although I was happy enough with jobs such as waitress shop—assistant, home help, I always wondered how I would have done had I had an education, as I was an avid reader and had an intense need to know more. I travelled to London Jersey and Holland, but finally came home to Ireland. I began my adult education at age 60! I did my Junior and leaving certificate and then followed a creative writing course and had some short stories published. I was accepted in the Open—Learning programme at UCD, and had enough points to start a degree in Literature and History.

The big day in 2017 arrived, I stood in Campus wanting to bury myself or at least wear a paper bag over my head. I hid my middle—aged self behind a tree. I had imposter syndrome. What was I doing here with these bright young people? Their youth shining through, with long hair, some streaked with blue and purple, wearing jeans with holes in the knees. They had the world at their feet, my feet had trodden another path, the path of life, and they had a few bunions. I heard their conversation ‘Wow that’s so not amazing’ I’m so not ready for this’. I finally crept from behind the tree, and thought about cutting some holes in the knees of my jeans, or perhaps a blue streak in my hair? I finally entered the lecture hall, and hid behind a pole at the back. Although I was mesmerised at the lecture and so happy finally to be in college, I still had a feeling of not belonging.

As time went by I noticed in tutorials that these young people were not as confident as they appeared. They blushed and were reluctant to speak. I didn’t blush at all and loved to ask questions. My mind seemed to have no bounds or limits to the knowledge I was soaking up. I often thought of my life as a home help in Holland to older people. I thought of the hoovering I had done for them. Probably miles of carpet! Now my mind was being stimulated with all this. I would sit in the lecture hall listening to Dermot Ferreter, feeling such elation at my changed life.

Everything changed about my feeling of not belonging however in an English Literature class. We were studying Chaucer’s, ‘Wife of Bath ‘and the tutor wanted us to put the story in a modern context, it was a contest with all the literature students She chose teams of students to work on this.

It was a great experience, I really got to know these younger students in my team. We had to meet quite often to work on this project. It was great fun, I simply got into the spirit of the thing, I was just one of the guys. We decided to do a radio podcast of ‘The wife of Bath ‘with a presenter interviewing the various characters. I played the nun who berates the wife as a scarlet woman. I mimicked her voice in a Margaret Thatcher arrogant and judgemental voice condemning the ‘Wife of Bath’ We were nominated for winning the contest but didn’t win, but we got a mention. As I sat in the lecture hall with my now, buddies, I felt an enormous amount of camaraderie. After that I joined the student at coffee breaks and outside of campus. I joined them if they sat on a bus I was on. I felt, I really belonged thanks to ‘The Wife of Bath’! In fact, I probably always did, ageism is sometimes in our own head, our own insecurity. I overcame that feeling of not belonging in UCD. My four years in UCD were the most revealing years of my life. I was so happy there, not only did I achieve my degree, I learned a lot about myself and others. I had thought I was mature, but I wasn’t, I grew up there. I lost my insecurity, I gained confidence as well as knowledge. I continue to take courses through UCD Lifelong Learning. Those four years were some of the happiest of my life, oh and by the way I never did cut the holes in my jeans or put a purple streak in my hair. I didn’t need to; I knew I belonged there anyway.