The woman who had a dream;FE Focus

6th March 1998 at 00:00
Majella Fiddes has spent most of the past 15 years studying. She has taken 22 exams, travelled miles to and from colleges, and often put in four or five hours' work in the evening - and worked full-time.

In 1983 she decided to improve her career chances. She was then a secretary and mother of young children. Now aged 42, Majella has finally realised her dream - she has qualified as a solicitor.

Now that she can relax again, she confesses that she hardly knows what to do with herself. "It feels strange not to have a book in my hand," she says.

She gives much of the credit to her husband John, a former fitter with British Rail, who gave up his own work to bring up the children. "I couldn't have done it without him," she says.

"I was 16 when I went to college. I actually wanted to be a journalist at the time. But I only had four CSEs so I did a two-year secretarial course.

"I'd been brought up to believe I was a secretary and that was all I was going to be. I had never looked at it as a career - it wasn't the done thing."

As a legal secretary in a small firm of solicitors she became an expert on house conveyancing. "I could see I was doing the job as well as the boss was doing it - and I thought why do I have to be second best?" When the chance of a correspondence course came up to study for legal executive Part 1 qualifications - the first step on the way to becoming a lawyer. Majella jumped at it, though not everyone in her family was convinced.

"I'll always remember my father-in-law saying 'you're going to do what?' I said 'I'm going to qualify as a lawyer'. I had three children under five and he told me I'd never do it. But if any man tells me I can't do something, that's enough for me."

At first she found studying by correspondence course difficult on top of work. "I knew nobody else who was doing it. You're very much in a vacuum - totally on your own. But I soon got used to the discipline, and John would nag me if I didn't.

"I used to come home, eat my dinner and be straight into my books for the rest of the evening."

She passed her Institute of Legal Executives Part I exams in 1987 and went on to study for Part II. But the death of her 27-year-old brother Paul Norris in a car accident in the United States in September 1991 set her back.

"I gave up studying," said Majella. "I thought what's the point - Paul had just got a first-class degree and suddenly he was dead. All that potential wasted."

Two years later she returned to her studies. By June 1995 she had passed all her ILEX Part II exams at Swindon College.

Later that year she won a place on a part-time postgraduate Legal Practice Course at the University of the West of England, Bristol, which she financed herself. She passed with merit and was finally admitted as a solicitor last November.

Over the years the family has had to make sacrifices. Living on one income meant they have never had a foreign holiday. And children Matt, 18, Nathan, 16, Nicholas, 15 and Joshua, 7, have grown up used to the sight of their mother with her head buried in books.

But, says Marjella, it's been worth it. Today the family lives in Braunton, North Devon, where she is a solicitor specialising in conveyancing. She has her own secretary now and drives a new Ford Ka, registration R90 LAW.

"I'm on the notepaper now as an associate solicitor. That's a big thing for me - it means I have done it. It's so nice - people ask you what do you do for a living. I'm a solicitor.

"Now I would perhaps like to teach law, to pass on what I have learnt to others, to give back something that I have taken out."

Martin Whittaker

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