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Dressmaking, Peeping Tom, In Flagrante Delicto: More stories from the Adult Education frontline

A few of you kindly said you enjoyed the autobiographical piece about Adult Education I posted a little while ago. An obituary in today's Times got me thinking about other adult education experiences I have had over the last half century.


The obituary was of the television dressmaker, Ann Ladbury, who was the real deal in the 1960s, '70s, and early '80s. When I was Head of Service in Warwickshire for Adult Education, 1975-80, my Domestic Science colleague, Dorothy Tucker, and I arranged for Ann to come and do a demonstration one afternoon in Kenilworth. It was a massive success, with every ticket sold. We followed up with countless courses called 'Make a skirt/dress in a Day'. A programme which proved as successful as Ann Ladbury's own demonstration. Sadly no one today have posts like Dorothy and I had back in the day, as Local Authority adult education in Warwickshire, as elsewhere, has withered on the vine.


Actually, it was a dressmaking class, or at least I thought it was a dressmaking class, in Rugby that nearly cut my career short. I was in Rugby College of FE to inspect afternoon adult education classes. I boldly stepped into the 'dressmaking' class expecting to find an earnest group of ladies busily making dresses. Horror, I had unwittingly stumbled into the only brazier making class in the history of British adult education. Worse I entered just as the 'try it on and show the class' moment had arrived.


I also had an awkward near career ending moment in a South Warwickshire village where one winter's evening I had gone to inspect a yoga class. The class met in the Village Hall, the old Victorian Primary School. On arrival I found all the doors locked and not a light on anywhere. To make perfectly sure there was no yoga class inside I jumped up and down at the tall Victorian windows. I still saw nothing, and rather annoyed, there was a good football match on the television that evening, I went back to my car and drove home. Early the next morning, I was in my office in The Education Offices in Warwick when the telephone rang. It was the Area Principal for Adult Education in South Warwickshire. He reported that there had been an incident in a village yoga class the previous evening and what was he to do. The tutor had apparently reported that they had had a Peeping Tom the previous evening trying to look at them whilst they were doing their meditation. I assured him that in my experience these things never happened twice and to just ignore it; and, indeed, I was correct because a similar incident never recurred. [PS Dick, if you are reading this I apologise even if I am over 40 years late !].


Adult education is always a joy and always exciting. It is quite unlike the rest of education - more's the pity. As the News of The World used to boast 'all life is here'; from the College Principal who discovered the very proper part time German tutor in flagrante delicto in the college car park with a married student, through to a colleague, dressed in a very nice suit, who fell into a goldfish pond one dark winter evening trying to find his way into a school where adult classes were being held.


I had my own experience of sexual shenanigans when as Head of Adult Studies (no irony there) in a Lancashire College of Further Education, I went one evening to close classes down for the day in a college annexe. On arrival I discovered a young girl, about 11/12 years of age, hanging around. I asked her what she was doing. She replied 'waiting for mum'. Mum turned out to be one of my part time tutors. I said 'Oh, she should be finished by now, I'll go and find her for you'. 'Oh, don't', she said, 'the Principal is here and they usually only take twenty minutes'. I rushed away. Embarrassed? No, I needed to start the story on its rounds; the Principal was not a popular figure. In fact, he ........but that's another story for another time.


I would like to conclude by returning to Ann Ladbury's obituary. The Times reported that her great grandfather had been tailor to Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, and that her grandfather had fled to England in the 1890s to avoid conscription. I wished I had known that at the time. An opportunity lost, although I did meet once, at The City Lit (where else!) a student who had been a nanny in the Imperial Habsburg court.

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