The Best Facecream in the world

On a beautiful summer evening I, aged 50 years stepped onto the campus for the first time. I was still getting over the fact that after attending, what I considered to be a disastrous college interview (on my part) I was actually offered a place at Birkbeck University to study philosophy. The desire to go and study at degree level was about to become a reality. Eek!

As I walked through the gates on the way to the main building, I was surrounded by seemingly self-confident people hanging out in beer tents, sitting or lying in groups on the grass and looking very much at home with university life. I wasn’t. I studied them with wanton curiosity as if they were some alien beings. It was as if I had daydreamed myself off course and found myself in a no go zone. I did not belong here. These beings were confident, knowledgeable, bright, popular and young. I was none of these things.

University life meant nothing to me; my youth was a distant land. My career was becoming non-existent and yet I was curious or crazy enough to keep walking and not run away. Putting one foot in front of the other I made it to the door. Yet when I got there something stopped me from going in. Curiosity raised its head again. I just had to have another look. A closer look at what could well become my fellow students or tutors. Best face the music I thought. Indeed music was playing in the distance. It was good too. The smell of food and the summer air reminded me of a festival and I was a dab hand at festivals. Despite my aging bones, I could camp down, rock and join the mosh pit as well as anyone. I saw some friendly looking faces so I smiled at them. They smiled back. Result!

This time, head high I looked around me rather than casting a shy, hunched glances. I noticed the sundial in the garden. I walked over to it. Its aged-green copper globe-lines reminded me of the one at Walmer Castle, Kent. The memory of a lovely summer holiday in Kent drifted in, when my husband took a photo of me standing looking through the bars of the globe. I felt a pang of sadness and joy. Sadness because it was the last summer my Mum was alive. Joy because I am loved so much by the photographer who gave me his full support in my mid-life choice to study. This, I decided was going to be my touchstone. The mark of energy and light that would signify the start of my journey and keep me focused. The sundial and I became the image I chose to be on my student pass and My Birkbeck Profile. Recently in a bookshop while showing my student card for a discount, one of the staff admired the image saying how happy I looked. He was right, I was happy.

Although scared, doubtful of my abilities and uncertain as to whether I was doing the right thing or not. However, I was smiling. For some crazy, mad reason that only the very young and the aging can identify with, I felt a smile in my head and a sudden lightness in my hormones. I jaunted over to the main door and went inside.

An hour later, nicely surrounded by similar eager, curious people that appeared to be of all ages and come from everywhere, I began to understand the true meaning of University. I got what Plato and Aristotle were trying to do all those years ago. It gave me joy thinking about shared knowledge and experiences and exciting to think of the discussions yet to be had. When the speaker on the stage asked us whether we would like to share how we felt about being here, my hand shot up. She nodded encouragingly at me and I heard myself say to the universe “It is the best facecream in the world, both inside and out”.

People clapped, they actually clapped. Judging by the response given, I guess a lot of people would agree that studying philosophy is a universal and intuitive thing in that it knows no age, ability or social barriers to studying it. The greatest learning has not only been from the excellent reading lists but the discussions and live conversations I had and continue to have with such a diverse demographic. I thank everyone as your knowledge and kindness like a good moisturiser has rubbed off on me and I feel a brighter and happier person from it.

So for anyone considering studying Philosophy, whatever your age or background I would encourage you to go on, dip your fingers into the creamy pot of knowledge, apply gently and absorb.

– Charlotte Daly, Philosophy Student at Birkbeck College


3 thoughts on “The Best Facecream in the world

  1. Dear Charlotte,

    Having read your blog I will now be transferring funds from my much underused face cream
    budget to my BBK finance account. So thank you for that. But I do have a question: Are you not concerned that creams and ointments can sometimes cause allergic reactions? Is all out philosophy so benign?

    Are there not times when the shear enormity of the things that we are studying – that is the universe and all its contents – can overwhelm?

    What about the problems that seem to have no answer – assuming we understand the question?
    What about those problems and issues that we cannot seem to understand however much effort we put into it?

    What if we take our philosophy too seriously? Might not that be a problem?

    Or can we “do” philosophy and still go home for honey and tea? Can we treat it as a hobby, or as an exercise in improving our skills in logic and argument, or as a way of accumulating useful knowledge?

    I have to say that I think you can do philosophy that way, but it would be a shame to do so. Its therapeutic and cathartic effect comes precisely from facing the most fundamental questions that humans can ever ask. And like a successful journey to the moon that means coming back safely.

    So maybe the cream effect is partly to do with that risk. And I suspect that it is a risk that none who have ever faced it would want to have missed.

    Thanks for your blog.


  2. Hi Martin

    thanks for your comments and questions, some of which I will address here:

    Yes I agree some creams and ointments may cause an allergic reaction, hence why it is always a good idea to test a little first rather than applying liberally. Similarly with personal opinion and knowledge-sharing, best to test your thinking and theory before applying it. Most colleges and university has taster days or open evening and these are great ‘tester pots’ before you spend time and money investing in something that you may not really need, want or get any benefit from.

    The best advice I got was at one of these open days (which my blog is about), where I began at some point in the evening to question whether I even needed to study philosophy at my age. So I shared my doubt with an existing student. His advice to me was “Well if you feel and think you are fine as you are, and have no need to question your thinking or how you are living your life, then don’t!”. Well, that got me thinking I can tell you.

    Likewise if you have perfect skin, then don’t mess with it. However, skin is sensitive and responsive to changes such as bad weather, bug-bites, climate change, stress and the odd over-indulgence. So once in a while it may need a helping hand to smooth out the irritation, the wrinkles and protect it from unfamiliar or harsh conditions. The skin analogy is a bit like life, in that every so often a bit of reflection, a fresh perspective and a challenge can make us open to addressing niggles and self-doubt, making us more resilient to negativity and trying to make sense of overwhelming situations and happenings. As Hume said on deductive knowledge: “we have no logical reason to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow”. He is right, there is no logical reason, there is no 100% guarantee. All we are left with it patterns, consistency and hope. So where there is an absence of a solid, valid, sound answer, it can drive us mad and prone to becoming sceptical about life, universals, external world, our knowledge and limitations. But that is where hope and the human spirit come into their own. As Hume said: “Be a philosopher, but above all be a woman (a human being)”.

    Can we take our philosophy too seriously? Might not that be a problem? – perhaps, traditionally male philosophers (normally men of status and wealth) have not been perceived or known to be happy/lighthearted people. However, I think modern day philosophers, especially working class ones have an advantage here. Given the majority of caring duties are undertaken by women and children (evidence shows this is indeed the case), then the balance between philosophically running a country, managing child/adult care, investing in career-development, changing the toilet-paper and doing philosophy leaves little time to sit around and be miserable about philosophical issues. In today’s normative and philosophical society, (gender neutrally speaking) it is more of a case of applying what you have examined and know into everyday life to make sense of it. In fact often the managers/heads of households (gender neutral) don’t have the luxury of sitting for hours like Descartes, Hume, Plato etc and dwelling too long on problems. Instead they focus on looking at context, solutions and practical ethics in order to test and communicate theories for bringing about positive change. So while modern day philosophers have no problem in going mentally to the moon and other possible worlds, or imagining riding on a sunbeam (like Einstein did) to test out theories of relativity and counter-worlds, neither do they appear to have any problems coming back down to earth and seeking fundamental answers, especially to the amazing questions that children tend to ask. These days we tend to call them teachers, parents and life-coaches.

    The soft face and hands that smooth and rocks the baby, also rocks the world. Therefore I suggest that a good philosophical ‘face/hand-cream’ is an asset.

  3. Dear Charlotte,

    What a great reply. I am moved. I feel that there is nothing I would want to add. I hope others come to read what you have said and are encouraged by it. (I was.)


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