The following piece was awarded first prize in the OU Students Association writing competition. The author, Samantha Holmes is from Derbyshire and doing her MA in Creative Writing.
Studying with The Open University is freeing. It’s all in the title. It’s ‘open.’ We’re not penned in by red bricks and morning lectures or afternoon seminars. Oh no, our schedules are wide open.
Type up those notes at 1am? If you like…
Look at your course materials before breakfast? Of course you can…
Write your TMA plan on your commute on the train? Do it!
Reply to your tutor during dinner? Risk your family’s wrath, and the start of a food fight rebellion, but sure, why not?
Grab a quick study break whilst the baby naps? You must…
We have so many options; we can squeeze every little drop of studying into the tiny gaps, nooks, crannies and crevices of our lives – it’s like a fresh orange squeezing out every last drop. Just as refreshing too.
So, life in Lockdown will be no different, right?
Stuck at home on Lockdown.
‘It isn’t ‘stuck,’ it’s having the privilege to be in my sanctuary,’ I tell myself.
‘Working from home’ is so much easier, I tell myself.
My morning routine is easier. I normally get up at six, inhale breakfast and throw clothes on (that hopefully go together) and shoes (that hopefully match) and drive to work to start work at 7:40.
Currently, I can read in bed until 8:15, whilst slurping my tea, chewing my granola – and be ready for my new working day at 8:30 in my study downstairs. (Okay, 8:34, okay perhaps 8:36… alright, sometimes 8:42…).
I’m a Teaching Assistant.
Literally speaking, I assist the teacher (and of course the students). That’s a little difficult when they aren’t in the same room as you, let alone the same town.
But, nothing’s changed.
I’ll create some resources and then do my OU work.
After being at my desk responding to emails, making some resources, phoning some colleagues, the last thing I want to do is sit at my desk and do Uni work. My OU evenings of study are now swallowed by my working day.
Swallowed by my need for a screen break (and a break from words).
Swallowed by that evil virus Covid 19.
It’s okay though, I’ll read outside lots. It’s like being on holiday.
The garden needs weeding. The decking needs painting. The patio needs cleaning. The neighbours need listening to (I’m very nosey!).
And I’m not the only one.
My course friend, Mary, has two children.
‘Nothing’s changed really,’ she says. ‘I only work two days; rest of the time will be study and kids’ time.’
Two days into Lockdown, she sends me a photo. She is reaching up to the cupboard to get those ‘emergency’ biscuits. Her toddler is pulling at her leg. She has a hand-shaped paint imprint on her bum, (that must have been the home-school art lesson then). I don’t comment on this, as I’m not sure she is aware.
The rest of the kitchen is no better. The dishes are modelling the Tower of Pisa, there is chocolate everywhere; her used-to-be white kitchen has a meagre shade of brown.
And this photograph is only taken because the seven-year-old was given Mum’s phone to ‘amuse her for ten minutes’ and clearly decided to start her early photographer career, capturing the freeze-frame masterpiece: ‘The modern OU Mum.’
As Mary sends me the photo, she tells me she is crumpled on the settee and was about to reach for the last biscuit when she discovered it trodden into the carpet. ‘I don’t know whether I’m more upset about the carpet or the biscuit at this point!’ she writes.
But it’s okay because nothing’s changed.
I decide (wisely) to not mention our course or her day job and lamely reply with ‘Ooh what biscuits were they?’
And we aren’t the only ones…
Bill, who has been studying with the OU for three years, is a few months away from completing his degree. He’s furloughed from his job in marketing.
He has a 37-and-a-half-hour week, normally stolen by his job, to study his OU course. Two TMAs and an EMA – no problem.
Nothing’s changed with his study – in fact, he’s gained time.
‘How can I study for my Computing and IT degree when I’m consumed with worry?’ he writes on the OU Facebook page for advice.
His wife has a heart condition, so they are currently shielding. Any risk of any kind of infection means she could take seriously ill.
Yes, he’s on 80% wages, but things will be tight. His wife is an art teacher for adults and even though she is doing some classes online, she’s not working much.
He hopes the government comes through and supports them.
He hopes his anxiety won’t escalate. His mental health can often be as fragile as his wife’s heart.
He hopes that they both stay away from this deadly virus.
He hopes that his neighbours continue to help them with food deliveries.
Quite frankly, he hopes his OU course will be the virus’ next victim. Sucked in by it until it disappears.
Yes, he has time to study. But things have changed. He is in a different world where study seems impossible as finding toilet rolls and hand sanitiser.
OU study has changed.
The truth is everything has changed. Our daily lives, our thoughts, our goals, our priorities have all been injected into the air, tossed about and landed somewhere else. Some of us cannot figure out where things have landed just yet. We hope our OU textbooks and laptops have landed in a place we can safely walk to on our daily, Boris-approved walk. We hope they land two metres away from anyone else.
We hope we can resume our studies.
And we all will in time.
But, for now, things have definitely changed.