Thursday, 23 October 2014

Pastimes Past

In the dark recesses of many lofts are musical instruments, hockey sticks, tap-dance shoes.
When did they get put there?
Often, the answer is during the owner’s time at university.
School days are packed full of parent-pleasing, CV building activities that get slotted into the routine.  Often Mum/Dad pays any fees, encourages practice, acts as chauffeur and proudly attends performances.
But one day, the youngster wakes up in their stoutly built undergraduate bed, nursing a hangover  and says,
“You know what, I’ve quite enjoyed playing the euphonium, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it, but it was really Mum’s idea, not mine. In fact, I think she projected all her own euphonium-playing hopes and aspirations on to me.  I’ve been living somebody else’s glittering dream.”
As they trudge to the kettle for their first cup of coffee, they realise that if they ditched the euphonium, they might have time for what they really want to do. 
Smiling to themselves, they cram the musical instrument as far into the back of their wardrobe as it will go, pack their fire-eating torch and box of matches into a hold-all and head off for Circus Skills club.

So it was with great pleasure that last weekend, Nigel and I went to Bristol to watch Perran in a performance of the Nutcracker, and discovered how much, after all these years he still loves ballet.


Friday, 17 October 2014

Downsize the house

Not really our house
Sometimes, during university term time, I walk into a bedroom and feel the fine strand of a spider web across my face.  It feels a little chilly and smells only of air-freshener. 
It makes no sense to pay a mortgage on space that we’re not using, so we’re downsizing  to smaller premises.  Friends who are a few years ahead of us warn,
“But they’ll come back – it’s tough to get on the property ladder nowadays.”
But we’re taking a calculated bet that not all three will want to live with us at the same time.  Risky, I know, but the parts of us that yearn to be greener are rejoicing.  We will consume less heat and take up less space on this crowded planet.
And the cleaning, the house maintenance, the lawn-mowing will all be delightfully lighter.
The to-do list pinned up in the kitchen could be halved, our free time doubled. 

We shall have less, but we shall be and do more. 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Count Your Chickens

Plans shift like the sands.
“Were we this bad when we were their age?”
Probably not, simply because before the advent of mobile phones, last minute changes tended to result in somebody being left standing on a corner in the rain.
On the positive side, you don’t even hear the term “stood up” so much any more because a person who has changed their mind about a date will often at least text rather than simply not turn up.
It is now so easy to change social arrangements that they swirl and shift like sands sculpted by the tide.
Having three young people in my family, I keep my diary in pencil only.  Who knows when staying in for a family dinner will morph into the youngsters going out clubbing until 3 am.
So when I heard that all three of them would be at home for a whole weekend, I did not count my chickens.  As it got closer to the weekend, those chickens were positively jumping up and down squawking “count me, count me.” Yet still I did not enumerate.
But actually, the weekend arrived and we reached the desired total of three chickens at home with us for one whole day.

It was lovely.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Family Walk

On a Sunday afternoon, I used to say cheerily to the twins,
“Who’s coming out for a family walk then?”
Neither was enthusiastic.  In fact, they’d do pretty much anything to get out of it, only just short of cutting their own leg off with a blunt handsaw.
The other day, I came in from work:
“Hi, would you chaps like a little walk in the woods?”
“Yep. Fine.”
“Sure.  Just a mo. While I put my boots on.”
What was going on?  Were they being ironic?
Sadly not.  It was a sign of the times – family walks are now in such shortage that it is possible to be nostalgic about them and to look forward to them as rare and special occasions.
Sure enough, we had a rare and special family walk and I took some nostalgic photos.

Maybe we’ll do it again during the Christmas hols.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Scottish Independence

Separation threatens.
I feel like a mother polar bear standing on one piece of an ice floe as her baby floats away on another. 
I recall the horrible time when Pascoe was only seven.  We were boarding a London tube train and he hung back.  Suddenly the doors shut and I was swept away. 
“Wait there!” I mouthed, and signalled through the window to my tiny son, his eyes enormous with fear as he was left behind on the platform.
And today?
In January, Pascoe went to Scotland to undertake his PhD, Edinburgh to be precise. 
He is asserting his independence as a young adult, living many miles from us.
His quest for autonomy is mapping precisely onto Scotland’s own rites of passage.
However, I have to say that although he enjoys substantial devolution, he has never attempted to cut all ties.  He agrees that our family, spread from Cornwall to London to Northumberland, to Edinburgh is better  together.
So Scotland, don’t go.  Don’t make me take a passport and foreign currency when I visit my son.
Stay with us.

Monday, 15 September 2014


All those worries we had about a year ago.
Would our twins feed themselves a balanced diet?
Would they attend all their lectures?
Would they hand in their assignments on time?
Would they resist getting completely slaughtered on the horrendous pressurised freshers’ drinking events?
Would they manage their finances sensibly?
You are probably expecting me to say that it was all fine, that they accomplished everything that we hoped they would.
But the truth is, I don’t know. 
I know they passed their end-of-year exams respectably, that they appear to be in good health and that they have good friends.
But the mistakes they’ve made, I don’t know about.  And that’s how it should be, surely.
The defining feature of being an adult is the power to decide who you enlist to help sort out your problems. 
There have probably been times when they locked themselves out, or were nauseous after one too many, or needed something to eat but their cupboard was empty.   Possibly all of these on the same night.
But they got through.
What will they do now in their second year?
Will they start to form ideas about their future careers? Will they take on new responsibilities within their universities?

I don’t know, and that’s just as it should be.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

And they’re off

As I write this, we’re driving down the M4 with a boot stuffed full of I’m-not-sure-what.  
Actually Nigel is driving, not me.  Typing on a laptop while coasting at seventy would probably be frowned upon by the traffic police.
Every so often, we pass a car where the back window is stuffed with duvets and cheap saucepans and a bike hangs off the back.
“There’s another one,” we chorus.
Another student going to university for the first time.  This is a big weekend for freshers.
Just a year ago, that was us.
Next year, we thought, we won’t have to take Perran quite so early because he’ll be a second year.
In fact, however, we’re travelling on the same weekend again.  I glance into the back of the car and catch sight of a brightly-coloured throw from Marrakesh, an earthernware plate from Spain.  Perran has had a good summer.
But although the car is very full of Perran’s belongings, Perran is not with us. 
He couldn’t wait to get back, and took the train earlier this week.  We’re just making sure his gear catches up with him today.

I guess you’d call that a successful launch.