If there is one legacy I could leave to my students at the University of Huddersfield, past and present , and indeed to young people everywhere, it’s to encourage the habit of doing one new thing every day. Of your life.
It’s been a mantra of mine with the Journalism and PR students (along with the dire warning that every time an apostrophe is misplaced, a kitten dies. Pedagogically unsound, but effective). It need not be a significant or major “new thing” but must be done consciously and with awareness. Choose a book from a different floor in the library. Go in a new pub. Use a new herb in cooking. Talk to a stranger. Listen to a new piece of music. Try saying a familiar phrase in a new language. Read a poem.
As a strategy for life, it encourages experimentation and observation, and the scale of such is unimportant. Those who want to be journalists need to be aware of what’s happening around them, to ask questions constantly. (Two men arrived in my street last week with surveying tools on a tripod. Why, I asked. They were from the Environment Agency, involved in flood defence planning.)
So every Monday morning I’d ask, what have you done that you’ve not done before. In term one, embarrassed shoulder shrugs and raised eyebrows. By term two they were having a go. “I went on a train to Liverpool because I’d never been there before” was one of my favourite replies. The student then went on to write a terrific travel piece about the experience. They began to acknowledge that they were developing into more rounded human beings, that their horizons were less narrow.
(I was always shocked by the sheltered lives that many students seemed to live. A great majority each year confessed that they had never been to a theatre. So it was built into the module programme; in order to fulfil the assessment criteria, they had to write a review of a theatre production. I made block bookings at the Lawrence Batley Theatre each October. What did they find more challenging? Barry Rutter’s Northern Broadsides’ fusion of the Brontes and Chekov’s Three Sisters, or Oklahoma?)
So as I step down from teaching after many happy years and many wonderful young people, here’s an example, a list I made on a recent visit to London. (I’ll be generous, and not mention the name of the show I left at the interval. It wasn’t a musical, by the way.)
Twenty things that you can do on a long weekend in London that you’ve never done before:
1: Go to a concert at the Royal Albert Hall
2: Watch a World Cup game at a pub in Leicester Square
3: Then eat at nearby Piazza
4: Leave a West End show at the interval, yawning.
5: Take a bus from Clapham Junction to Sloane Square
6: Talk to a 40-year-old parrot called Omar at a florists-cum-petshop on Tooting High Street
7: Get lost running round Tooting Common
8: Have breakfast with three wannabe actresses in Colliers Wood
9: Drink iced coffee in the basement bar of the Royal Court Theatre
10: Have Sunday lunch at the BBC – the Balham Bowls Club
11: Search for plectrons in Denmark Street
12: Read the Kent Messenger
13: Eat snapper
14: Shop at Wilkos at Tooting Broadway
15: Count the police on duty during a Free Palestine march near Knightsbridge
16: Watch a cellist busker outside High Street Kensington tube station
17: Test a drama student’s script reading in a Kensington bar
18: Travel by high speed train to Maidstone
19: Changing at Strood
20: Have a lift in a Mercedes sports car