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Thursday, August 6, 2009

The School of Life

The other night, when I was checking out bands in the Camden district of London, I happened apon a shop frontage that piqued my interest, and made me take three steps back.

It was late, and the shop was shut, but above me was a swing sign with mustard color letters announcing The School of Life, and in the windows it had various philosophical posters, and claims for Ideas to Live By, saying;

Have you had one of those mornings lately in which you got up and wondered why you were doing a job that exhausted you or that you didn't really enjoy? Or found yourself spending the day running against the clock, too stressed to eat properly but not actually creatively challenged? Do you waste time brooding over unresolved arguments or feeling guilty for not being kinder to those in need? Do you notice your mind flitting unsatisfactorily from what the government should be doing about the world’s financial situation to what you are going to do with your weekend?

The School of Life is a place to step back and think intelligently about these and other common concerns. You will not be cornered by any dogma, but directed towards a variety of ideas - from philosophy to literature, psychology to the visual arts – that tickle, exercise and expand your mind. You'll meet other curious, sociable and open-minded people in an atmosphere of exploration and enjoyment.

This intrigued me, and though I had a long coach trip back to Oxford, it gave me time to think what this could be about.

I've always prided myself on getting this far in life, by a combination of Luck and daily attendance at the University of Hard Knocks.

At High School, certainly in my day, they didn't teach me anything about Life as Life, the nearest we got was a curious thing called Liberal Studies once a week, which was basically everybody talking at once, and me deluding myself I was the funniest guy in the world.

All the teacher ever taught us was, how to bet on horses, and the wise words that if a naked woman were to walk passed our window every day at 11 o'clock, by the end of two weeks we wouldn't bother looking. He also said that out of a class of thirty, that five of us would be dead by the time we were 25. He wasn't wrong, about all of it.

The rest I learned as I went along, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, till now the only thing I don't particularly know is where I'm going to drop dead myself, but as Woody Allen once said " if I knew that , I wouldn't go there."

So when I got through the homestead door, I checked out The School of Life, online, and quite an interesting read it made too;

It was started in August 2008 by Alain de Botton (born 20 December 1969) a Swiss writer, television presenter and entrepreneur. His books and television programmes discuss various subjects in a philosophical style with an emphasis on their relevance to everyday life

The School has a passionate belief in making learning relevant – and so runs courses in the important questions of everyday life. Whereas most colleges and universities chop up learning into abstract categories (‘agrarian history’ ‘the 18th century English novel’), The School of Life titles its courses according to things we all tend to care about: careers, relationships, politics, travels, families.

De Botton said in an interview "The idea is to challenge traditional universities and reorganise knowledge, directing it towards life, and away from knowledge for its own sake. In a modest way, it’s an institution that is trying to give people what universities should I think always give them: a sense of direction and wisdom for their lives with the help of culture.

So far so good, and the website certainly bears looking into. I'm a bit bemused by the words Sermon, and Psychotherapy, that keep cropping up, as these are two words that if uttered in any crowded English room will clear it quicker than if you said "I've got a nailbomb in my pocket."

Still it all claims to be non doctrinal, and while I can't say I'll be running along to join, as the thought that there is no substitute for experience keeps coming into my head..... I'll be reading some more of the typical "sermons" on Punctuality, on Frugality, Pessimism, Humor, Seduction and Curiosity,( all of which would make great chapter headings in a KMSA book,) and looking at their guides to the motherlodes of philosophical thinking.

Sir Dayvd (who should really start his own school of philosophy) of Oxfordshire


  1. This is a really intriguing concept. I'm visiting relatives right now and enjoying real life - trying to keep my virtual life minimal - but when I get home in a week and a half (or so) I intend to check that out.

    Lady T. of the real world

  2. If the link does not work, try

    Sir Bowie

  3. heh...where's hooky when you need him...Hooky!! come here this minute,...did you or did you not write to me this morning saying you'd changed the website address cos i had got it wrong!? and i apologied cos it was the early hours of the morning when i finished it... well it seems i was right

    it is

    mind you the other bit i mentioned was wrong so call it a draw by two people who couldn't proof-read to save their lives.

    Senor Dayvd ( who is writing too much...too fast these days ) of oxenfordshire

  4. The first lesson in the school of may be right even though others say you're wrong. The second lesson in the school of're usually wrong when others think you're right. The third lesson in the school of life...if you want something done how you want it you should probably do it yourself. The fourth lesson in the school of life...mistakes happen ALWAYS. The fifth lesson in the school of life...mistakes can be corrected.

    Everything is now correct according to the fifth lesson.

    Sir Hook the Professor of Life of Warrick

  5. Actually, starting a school of life under the KMSA heading is not a bad idea. Not a bad idea at all. Hummmm