Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Student Travel

This summer, Perran has plumped for travel rather than work experience.  He set off to Spain looking for a casual job.  In doing so he was unfortunately joining many thousands of Spanish people who are also looking for jobs, due to Spain’s economic down turn.

I have tacked a large map of Spain to the kitchen wall and whenever anybody reports hearing anything of Perran, I mark his rumoured location with a pin.
So far, I have reports of him from the following places:
Benicassim music festival

Why hasn’t somebody invented a GPS Teen-Tracker App for anxious parents?

Perran bought a cheap phone to take with him, but even so, communication is kept at a minimum, which in many ways is good as it means worry is also kept to a minimum, except for one occasion when there was a long silence. 
I checked with friends and family – nobody had heard from him more recently than five days ago.
When he finally replied to our anguished requests to let us know he was still alive, it turned out that, being unused to such a basic phone, he had not spotted that the memory had filled up and he was unable to receive more texts.

But later, my favourite text from him went:
“Off tomorrow to volunteer at a Hare Krishna, self-sustaining bio-farm in return for food and a place to stay.  You’ve just been out-hippied, Mum.”

Monday, 28 July 2014

Student Summer

There’s a clear agenda for student summer holidays. 
The most pressing goal is a holiday job to earn money so that there’ll be enough for the occasional night out next term (wry parental smile).
The next aim is to get work experience, or as it’s poshly known, an internship.  The student can start gaining CV points for their future career.
The third objective is to have an adventure, the kind of adventure that you can only have when you’re young and skint – after all, you don’t end up spending the night on the beach if you can afford a good hotel and you don’t accept a lift from a truck driver if you can afford a train ticket.

I know, as a parent, I should espouse the first two objectives, but there’s a part of me that most of all wants my children to have the third type of experience.  When in their lives will they ever again have such long summers?  And it’s also to do with being that particular age – if you set out one midsummer morning, you will meet other nineteen-year-olds to travel with, and older people will show you kindness.  Make the most of this charmed time.

Thursday, 24 July 2014


When Nigel and I were undergraduates, we made friends to last us the rest of our lives.  You know who you are.  Thanks for bearing with us.
One of those was Hugh.   
After university, we saw each other regularly including going to stay on the houseboat he was renovating in Cambridgeshire and where, for a time, the loo lacked not just a door but even a wall.
We got on well with his wife, Morag, and when kids came along, ours were a similar age to theirs.  In particular, Pascoe and Calum enjoyed making things together.  
Hugh’s work took them to Lyons where memorably one of our kids rode a bicycle down their apartment balcony (Why?) and knocked their carefully-aligned satellite dish flying.  How were they going to access BBC news now? 
But later, Hugh moved his family to “Silicon Valley”, California, (hopefully not just to avoid more home-wrecking visits from us, but for his work, designing microchips).  Hugh was no letter-writer and neither were we.
However, I’d thought we might catch up again now that we were becoming empty nesters.  It was on my To Do List.
But the other day, Morag sent us bad news.  Hugh had been overtaken by a fatal heart attack while out with his local hiking group. 

What can I say, except that if there is some dear old friend that you’ve been meaning to get in touch with, do it now.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Key

Often, the place where your child goes to university is a long way away; in order to deliver them there you will have driven several hundred miles using only your wing mirrors because the car is so full of belongings that the rear-view shows only a teetering heap of books about to fall on your child’s head.
So when you get there, you want to be able to pick up the key, and you want the key to work.

In early January, having driven to Edinburgh we called at the office where Pascoe had arranged to pick up his keys only to discover that it was so soon after Hogmanay that nobody had turned up.  It was raining stair rods as Pascoe ran from office to office. 
Finally he demanded that the accommodation department pay for a B&B for him until the key was supplied.  Magically somebody agreed to break into the office and extract his key.

When we dropped Perran off at Bristol in the heat of July, he picked up the key all right, yet when he tried to open the door, the lock revolved but nothing happened.  The office was now closed.  
Low on options, we stood on the baking doorstep with each family member in turn rotating the key.  Perhaps one of us had magic hands?
Then housemate Juliette arrived.  Would her key do better?  Nope.  Round it went without catching on anything. 
 After a couple of hours of phone calls and championship relay grumbling, we located the landlord and he came along. 
If he had complimented us on our sun tans we would have punched him.
His key didn’t work either, so he broke in.  It was disconcertingly easy.
For a moment, we were glad to be in the house, but the pleasure was fleeting.  It turned out Perran’s room was on the second floor and that was where all his things needed to be.  All his winter clothes are now in there, so let’s hope his key works in September.

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Friday, 18 July 2014


Today, I just squeezed on to a packed train to London.  I was crushed kneecap to kneecap with a bunch of other people… in the middle of a heatwave.  We eyeballed each other.  Either we could get tense and irritable…
 …or we could chat.
Luckily, three massive suitcases  on the floor created a slight clearing.  It turned out that two of them belonged to a family on their way to Istanbul and fellow passengers suggested they visit the Spice Market, the Blue Mosque.
But that still left one enormous suitcase unaccounted for.  A woman my age had her hand on it.
“Going somewhere nice?”
“Actually, there’s nothing in this suitcase,” she replied, “It’s empty.” 
People were listening now.
“My daughter has split up with her boyfriend.  I’m going to his flat to pick up her stuff.   Then I’m going to bring this case back on the train again, full.”
“In this heat?”
“What a horrible job.”
“Your daughter is lucky to have you.”

“These things happen,” she said.

When her stop came up, we all wished her good luck and watched her small figure trundling her suitcase resolutely up the platform.

I sometimes grumble about driving for two or three hours each way to shift the goods and chattels of one or other child at university.  I’m going to try to grumble less.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Bag of Poo

Not the best photo, but then the butterfly was up a tree.
On Saturday afternoon, some of our friends were at weddings, others sitting in their in their summer gardens. But Nigel, Carenza and I were traipsing round a nearby wood, carrying a bag of poo.  Or rather I was.   Carrying, that is.  And before you ask, it was horse poo. 
We were on a butterfly safari.  Why the poo?  Because, although we appreciate all butterflies, we were after big game – the purple emperor.  And the purple emperor lives in the treetops, only dropping to earth for especially tasty morsels like carrion or poo. 
We walked to a bench in the wood, laid out an enticing sample and waited.  We saw a red admiral, ringlets, meadow browns, hedge browns.  And a man, lurking in the bushes.  
After a while, we strolled on and laid out another poo picnic.  This time, we saw a small tortoiseshell, a green fritillary, two different kinds of skipper and a marbled white.  And that man, lurking in the bushes again.  Like me, he had binoculars round his neck.
“Are you, um, looking for wildlife?”
“Yes.  I’m here for white admirals, but I haven’t seen any yet.”
So there were white admirals about were there?   Not quite as magnificent as the purple emperor, but still a fabulous creature.
After an hour, all the poo was gone.  
In a slightly rubbish way, we decided to give up and go home. 
And there, above our heads, perched halfway up a hornbeam, was a white admiral.  For some time we watched it chasing other butterflies out of its territory, then settling again, on guard.  This spirited, rare butterfly was very nearly what we had come for. 

But more than that.  If I ever get so old that I don’t fancy taking a chance on carrying a steamy bag of poo round a wood on a hot day, the end will be nigh.  It will mean I’ve grown up, and I so don’t want to do that.  

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Black and White

“You’d better hang on to some of that old uniform,” I told Carenza.
That was a year ago when she was gleefully bagging up the whole lot ready to pass on to younger inmates, er, pupils.
“White blouse, black skirt – could be useful for jobs like waitressing.”
Or, as it turns out, formal exams and getting “trashed” afterwards.

(Apparently the pointy hats weren’t part of the uniform.)