I don’t know if it’s a sign of the economic times but suddenly everyone I know seems to be re-training. Steph has just graduated with an honours degree in art – after chucking in her job as a teaching assistant to go to uni in her 40s. Kim is about to give up a management position in financial services to go to uni to study English and Catherine has just finished training as a teaching assistant after leaving the clerical job she’d been in for years.

Jane is doing a Masters degree in business administration while working full-time as a sales rep, Kay, an estate agent, is studying sign language with a view to possibly making a career in communication with the deaf, and a former media colleague chucked in her job in advertising sales to study counselling and psychotherapy. I know two more people who have trained to be Samaritans. These are all women in their 40s or older but let no-one write this off as women of a certain age who can afford to mess about doing fun stuff while some beneficent male pays the way: they all have mortgages and bills to pay, some with no help from anyone else.

Sometimes this kind of re-jigging of one’s intellectual priorities does lead to career advancement. Steph, for instance, looks likely to get a teaching job out of the art degree; and I have another friend who trained as a journalist in her 30s – far older than the norm – and is now writing on a freelance basis about her specialism of wine.

And my little brother is currently training to be a stonemason, returning to his first love of the creative arts after finding his initial career in the corporate world unsatisfying.

But all this retraining is not necessarily because the people concerned have lost their jobs or for career development reasons, more because of a desire to grow and develop their personal aspirations and interests.

Having done an Open University degree in my 30s I know lots of other people who have studied for the sheer enjoyment and challenge of it – usually while working full-time.

One interesting fact comes out of these musings – with one exception, all these examples have been women. Are men just not interested in self-advancement, whether intellectually or career-wise, are they lazy, or can they simply not see the point of learning something new for the sheer pleasure of it?