Sunday, 30 December 2012

It's All Uncle Mark's Fault

Finally I get it – all the time the twins were filling out their UCAS forms, it was reminding me of something.  As they wrestled with their personal statements and I coaxed, nagged and threatened by turns, I knew that there was something at the back of my mind that was similar.  Couldn’t quite put my finger on it until today. 

It’s the Christmas thank you letters. 

“Listen, kids, if you don’t bother to thank Uncle Mark for the book tokens he won’t bother to send them next year.”

Rather like,

“Listen, kids, if you don’t hurry up and submit that UCAS form you won’t be getting an offer from Southampton/Bristol/York.”

So now I see where it all went wrong.  It was Uncle Mark’s fault.  Because, in spite of the fact that my procrastinating children quite often failed to thank him promptly, he went on doggedly and faithfully sending the very useful book tokens every year.
Obviously, a more hard-nosed attitude on the part of my relatives would have provided a better preparation for my children when they were writing their university applications – I’ll have to tell Uncle Mark that when I thank him for the nice novel he sent me this Christmas.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Falling Off the End of Time

I’ve been writing dates into my new diary (yes, I do still use paper – how can you faintly pencil things in on digital media?).  I marked in meetings, courses, weekends with friends, then I looked up school holidays. 
The twins’ Spring term starts on 7th January, and so on with February Half Term, Easter and Whitsun.  Then school breaks up on 19th July.  Irritatingly, I couldn’t find a date for returning to school in the Autumn.  I assumed it would be 1st September, so started to mark that in.  Then suddenly I stopped with my pencil in mid-air.  It didn’t matter that I did not know the correct date: after this June, Perran and Carenza would never be returning to school again. 
I felt my stomach twist.   I flicked through my diary – only one more music concert, two more school trips, one more one more dance display.  A whole way of life is grinding to a halt for me.  Sometimes  women who have been deprived of their own baby snatch another from a pram.  Will anybody notice if I steal a teenager so I can go on being proud at school concerts?

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Forgetting about University for Christmas

Perran and Carenza requested I bring back pears as part of my Christmas supermarket shop – I think they are indulging in festive, partridge-themed role play.

I can’t believe it - on Christmas Day we actually managed a board game like a proper middle-class family.  Should I see this Scrabble match as proof of our intellectual attainment, or is it just a reflection on the poor quality of Christmas afternoon TV?


We shan’t need to go outdoors for any more walks this Christmas – it was so muddy that we seem to have brought half a field home with us.


Carenza eats an unfeasibly large Christmas dinner and feels the need to lie supine on a cold floor.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Last School Yule

Already the music concerts are past their best for me: like overblown roses whose scent tells you that their time is nearly done.  Last year I thoroughly enjoyed school performances, knowing I had more to attend this year.  But in Year Thirteen  the picture has changed – for a long time Perran has been first alto sax in the jazz band, but now I see him stand aside for soloists from the years below.  It’s time for him to move on to a larger arena, but am I ready?

Today Perran and Carenza headed off in casual clothes for the last day of term – school charity day.  Once upon a time Carenza’s floor would have been littered with discarded outfits as she searched for something perfect to wear, but now, after so many charity days, the twins are blasé.  As Upper Sixth,  they and their friends are now poised at that delicate balancing point that they have striven for six years to attain – the top of the pile.  I hope they can find time amidst the celebrations and assignments of Year Thirteen to enjoy the fragile equilibrium before the summer arrives and they roll on again.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Losing Your Identity

Perran got an email from UCAS – “Something has changed on your UCAS application; please log in to UCAS Track to view the changes.”

I watch with my husband and Carenza as Perran scuffles through the papers on his desk.  That UCAS ID number that he’d intended to get around to filing later is now nowhere to be found.  He needs it to access Track.

“Of course, it might just be another acknowledgement,” says Carenza. “Sheffield haven’t acknowledged you yet, have they?”

“Yep, yep.  I know!” he flings an empty envelope sideways.

“Or it could be a refusal,” she adds.

“I said, I KNOW!” he growls, shoving an avalanche of prospectuses onto the floor.

The rest of us exchange glances and file silently from the room.

After too long, the door into the kitchen bursts open.  We look up warily, but Perran is beaming,

“Sheffield have offered me AAB!  I wasn’t expecting to get an offer without an interview.”

We stop pretending to wash up and make a celebratory cup of tea. 

“Could I perhaps make a note of your ID number now?” I ask.

“Oh there’s no need,” says Perran happily, “It’s on my desk.”

Friday, 14 December 2012

How to Make a Good Impression

“Stop fussing, Mum  – it’s just a little day out to Manchester.” 

“No it’s not.  It’s an interview. You have to make a good impression.   Do you have your railcard?”

“Of course.  What do you think I am?”

I think you’re the person who, last week, had to pay full fare to London because you forgot your railcard.  I manage not to say so. 

But then I notice,

“You’re wearing yesterday’s shirt!”

“Yep.  That was why, when you were asking me if my shirt needed ironing, I knew it wouldn’t.”

Zip it.  Say nothing.  Do not upset Perran before his interview. 

We live over a mile from the station; Perran’s train leaves in twenty minutes.  He is still barefoot.  I should offer him a lift, but run the risk of chewing his head off if I spend one moment more in his company. 

Instead, as I’m sure he is hoping I will, I drive his sister to school and leave him be.

Mid-morning I get a text to say he got there on time. Mid-afternoon, another saying that the interviewer had assured him that they would make him an offer - he is the kind of person they want.  Presumably, he did manage to get his shoes and socks on then.


Monday, 10 December 2012

The Harry Potter Effect

A postcard arrives for Perran this morning.  The lettering on it is silver.  Carenza and I look at each other - we should not read it, but who could resist?  It is an acknowledgement –  Thank you for choosing the University of Southampton.  
I tilt it so that the silver catches the light – it gleams magically.   Carenza shouts up the stairs,

-Perran, come down.  After all these years, that letter you were expecting from Hogwarts has finally arrived.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Is it an Offer?

When Carenza gets home from school, I tell her that a letter has arrived . 

- An offer? Is it an offer?

In fact it is from her head teacher congratulating her on a talk she gave on open evening.  I thought she’d be happy, but she says, 

- I thought it might be an offer. 

The following day, there is indeed an offer from Birmingham.  It’s their standard offer for history, but she’s as pleased as if they’d asked her for two E’s.  She is free to imagine a future now.  She can begin to see herself walking up to the great domed hall – although hopefully the Biblical flood we encountered on open day will have drained away. 

For the next two days, Perran’s normally excellent posture is slightly slumped.  Then, two mornings later, he bounds into the kitchen grinning - there has been an equaliser – he has an interview at Manchester.  Most universities seem to interview for maths and philosophy rather than straightaway making an offer.  Strange that some of the more introspective candidates get interviewed while gregarious humanities hopefuls receive their offers in silence. 

Just as with Birmingham for his sister, Manchester slips into being a favourite, at least for the time being.