On Preston platform, I did my soft shoe shuffle dance. No one cared, except me. And I didn’t care that no one cared – I’d always wanted to do it.

I’d also always wanted to know what Preston was like since Jethro Tull sang about it on Aqualung forty years ago. And now I knew; sadly, it’s pretty much what I thought it would be – a dump.

Leaving the station on a windy September afternoon, I went in search of the University of Central Lancashire. The young Asian man who ran the general store around the corner didn’t know where I’d find Corporation Street but did point me in the direction of the university.

Corporation Street is actually across the road from his emporium; I followed my map expecting to make light work of the fifteen minutes that my downloaded directions suggested the walk would take.

Preston, aside from being a dump, is also the world road-crossing mecca. To get from station to university would have taken less than five minutes were it not for the necessity to cross 27 roads. Perhaps there are so many roads because everyone wants to get out of the place.

I managed to find Greenbank Building, which sits – if not serenely -at least unobtrusively at the hub of a campus that is not as bad as some I’ve seen.

My meeting with Cathy Darby, the leader of the MA in Journalism went pretty well and, after an hour of chatting I was offered a place on the course. We talked about content, work placements and career prospects.

“Of course,” she told me with a refreshing honesty, “there are no guarantees that you’ll get a job at the end of it. Or even be successful as a freelance, if that’s what you want to do.”


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are the prospects of me getting a work placement?” I asked, “I mean, would my age go against me?”

“Not particularly”, she replied, “You just have to be determined and a bit pushy.” I reflected on this. “In fact, you have to be pushy in everything you do to be successful in this business.”

Pushy; you mean how Sean Connery calls the cat at bedtime? No pushy – as in you don’t take no for an answer. I reviewed my list of characteristics: grumpy, vindictive, intolerant, at times aggressive. But not pushy. Pushy was for people who were driven, thick-skinned, focused and motivated. People who

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weren’t lazy, and lazy was the last word I’d just mentally added to my lengthening list of unhelpful character traits.

This course is not for lazy people. People who can’t get up in the morning or do a five-day nine-to-five week with some weekend commitment and plenty of homework needn’t apply. A

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bit of a contrast to the last MA I took.

I cogitated on this on my way home: train from Preston to Manchester Piccadilly, then to Cheadle Hulme and bus to Bramhall.

At least this was the plan. Except that I went to sleep as the train pulled into a station – the sign read “…hulme” and I leapt from the carriage only to discover that I’d alighted in Levenshulme as the train left the station. Not the same thing at all, and several miles on the wrong side of Stockport.

And so I did my soft shoe shuffle dance on the platform at Levenshulme. Not because Jethro Tull had sung about it forty years ago, but because I had nothing better to do for fifty minutes until the Bramhall train arrived.

Other than to contemplate being pushy.

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