Theatre Here is the story of how Shakespeare introduced me to a dear friend. As some readers will know for years I've been taking evening classes at the University of Liverpool. For a year or two I'd been studying writing (and doesn’t it show) and I was looking for a change, something less proactive and more to do with listening. I’d tried a general poetry course before, but it had been too general. So I glanced through the brochure and their was something which considered King Lear and Othello.

I’ve never got to grips with King Lear. For some reason, no matter which production I watch, I’m happy during the first three acts but the minute the old duffer stalks the moors in the storm, I’m lost. My brain stops working and nothing can pull me back. So I thought I’d do this course and get it out of my system once and for all. Then I’d have five weeks of coasting through Othello which I’d already studied at school.

I missed the first week. Something I seem to remember to do with work.

The second week I appear in the class room nice and early, twenty minutes to go before showtime at 7pm, plenty of time to find out from the students what I’d missed the following week (although the first lecture is always mostly administration, so I decided not much). I sit. I sit again. The clock on the wall is ticking towards ten to seven. Not a soul. I stand up I look about outside in case anyone is coming in the direction of the room. No one.

I sit down again. Then the door opens and a security guard walks in. He frightens the life out of me.

I ask him where everyone is or if course has moved.

“The course isn’t running. No one turned up last week.” He says levelly. “Can I lock up the room.”

My heart sinks. I’m still stuck with my King Lear block.

By now I’m in the corridor looking furiously through the course booklet looking for something else interesting in the building I’m in. The only thing listed is a “History of Popular Music”. Since my knowledge of any kind of music, like everything else is spotty at best I thought I might plug that gap. I dash over and sit down in the correct room.

I’m the youngest person there. Everyone else is at least twenty years older than me. The woman sitting next to me has a Beatles T-shirt, Beatles bag, Beatles pencil case, Beatles pens and a Beatles notebook. I almost ask her if she likes The Rolling Stones but think better of it. As always some people recognize each other so they’re chatting. The tutor walks in. I remember three things about him. He was wearing a general white and green rugby shirt; he’s bald on top but with a massive mullet at the back; when he spots me as a new addition he pats me on the shoulders from the back. This is creepy. I have y’know personal space.

There is an old style portable record player. Which then proceeds to ignore for the next fifty minutes as he talks about music pre-WW2. For some reason he decides to spend ten minutes of this chatting to one of the students about rationing. I’m not learning a thing. Damn. When the break arrives I quietly tell him I won’t be back. For some reason he doesn’t look dejected or rejected as though this has happened before.

By now it’s eight o’clock. I don’t want to go home, I still want to do a course so I know I’m going to have to take the unprecedented step of gatecrashing something after their break. I dash over to one of the other sites and stand in the entrance hall looking at the course board to see what is on there that night.

While I’m standing there, this talk, striking woman stands next to me. She’s obviously European, attractive in a movie kind of way. She’s standing very close to me, but for some reason the personal space issues are out of the window. From somewhere I still can’t work out I ask:
“Are you doing a course?”
“Oui.” She’s French.
“Which one?”
“Art, Beauty and Philosophy.” She makes each word sound French even though its English.
“Any good?”
“I think I’ll join you.”
She glances at me a little bit startled. Then nods and smiles. So I follow her up the stairs and into the classroom. I sit in an empty seat. Now I get an attack of the nerves as the rest of the class pile in. All are all looking at me. Especially the tutor. Unprompted I explain that I had been on another course but I didn’t like it and that this seemed interesting. She just nodded and gave me an application. I was in.

The course itself is mind bending stuff. I manage to take in if not necessarily understand most of it. But I’m enjoying myself and I resolve to come back the following week.

Afterwards, on other course people would automatically go for a drink. Not thing time. I asked the question but most wanted to rush home, especially the French girl who had inspired me to take up Plato as a replacement for King Lear. So I went home. Happy with the knowledge that I’d found a course.

Second week. Again the course is fascinating. Again no one wants to drink afterwards. There is one girl who a dawdle with as she waits for her bus. She’s pretty, and again European, although not sure from where. She says that she would go for a drink but she has a cold. But we chat until her bus comes.

Third week. There is tension in the course as its becoming abundantly clear that there is a man in the group who knows as much about the subject as the tutor and seems to be seeking to undermine her teaching. She’s too polite to tell him to shut up and go away, so we put up with him. By now I’d decided that there was no point asking anyone to go for a drink. I’m startled to find the European girl’s cold has cleared up and she asks me about going for the drink. I find out she’s Greek.

And that’s how I met the oft-mentioned Fani who’s been an important part of my life for the past four or five years. And we wouldn’t have met if I’d been learning about King Lear instead. This link sort of fills the gap in my knowledge, but I’m actually happier for it to be there. Reminds me that sometimes, learning isn’t as much fun as doing.

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