When fresh horizons helped the healing process

12th September 1997 at 01:00
Linda Ali is about to leave home to go to university - at the age of 54.

She glances around her neat terraced house in Streatham Hill, south London, which she will rent out for three years while she studies history at York University, and admits to having mixed emotions.

"I'm looking forward to it immensely but also with some anxiety," she says. "It's new ground for me."

Linda talks about education with the passion of someone who has discovered the value of learning for its own sake. Undeterred by her advancing years, she wants to go on and teach after completing her degree.

But the journey back into full-time education has been much more than a change in direction for her. It has also been part of a healing process, helping her cope with unspeakable loss.

Her home is adorned with photographs of her daughter Julie, who died aboard the Marchioness riverboat, which sank after being struck by a dredger on the Thames in August 1989, killing 51 party-goers.

Julie was 26. She already had a successful international modelling career, appearing in glossy magazines including Vogue and Cosmopolitan. At the time of her death she was studying marketing and advertising.

Linda, a divorcee, says: "When I lost Julie, I lost everything. I couldn't bear waking up in the morning. I was just surviving."

Then two years ago she began a Fresh Horizons course at the City Literary Institute in Holborn, London. For two evenings a week she studied A-levels in English literature, sociology and history.

She chose the college because of its proximity to her work, and because of the teaching staff.

"There were some colleges near where I lived, but I didn't have faith in them like I did the City Lit - for all-round provision of expertise in teaching, and in the humanitarian way in which the Fresh Horizons lecturers cared for us throughout the year."

She'd done well at school in her native Trinidad. But she admits that at first, she found going back into education intimidating.

"I thought my gosh! The volume of reading I have to do! I didn't know whether I could concentrate on it. My concentration had suffered when Julie died. I had to speak to the tutors and said 'I don't know whether I can do it'.

"But as I got further and further into the books, there was no stopping me. Can you imagine that 18th-century Britain would have something that could keep you awake until the early hours of the morning?

"And the literature! Macbeth and Great Expectations - I did these books as a young girl, but no way could I have seen Shakespeare's wonderful writing with the same pair of eyes as a young girl as I can today."

Linda hadn't even entertained the idea of going to university. But halfway through her Fresh Horizons course, she lost her job as assistant legal manager with a manufacturing firm.

"I went on that course just for stimulation. But the moment I got the news that I was being made redundant, I felt there was absolutely nothing else for me. The one person who was central to my life was no longer here. I had so much energy and I felt I had a lot of skills and abilities that could be put to use. I felt I had to focus them into something.

"Now I don't know if I'm going down the right road, but I'm trying. And if I give up trying, I might as well give up life."

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