Thursday, 31 January 2013


The twins have stopped scanning their email for messages from UCAS.  They now have as many University offers as they are likely to get. Each time an offer arrived, it was “Hooray” and a celebratory macaroon – it felt like actually getting the place.  As a result, some part of them is always absent, dancing into the vividly coloured future spinning out ahead of them.  In York or Bristol or Manchester, real life will begin.   After seven years, their school chafes a little, like an outgrown uniform.

But now, as the coursework demands to be honed and the A2 exams loom, it is clear that the final hurdles are the most important.

Theirs is one of the most assessed school years in history – from SATs at infant school, junior school and year 9 through to GCSEs in year 10 and year 11, then a large number of AS exams and extracurricular activities last year.  And this year, A2s and all the palaver that surrounds university applications.  They so deserve the partying that lies ahead.  I am praying for sunshine through the whole of July – a blue sky tickled by only the fluffiest of clouds.

Meanwhile, can they put their already-raw noses back to the grindstone one more time?

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Not so Cute

I am surrounded by towers of photo albums.  Preparing for the day when my twins turn eighteen, I have been assembling a photo-montage.  I was looking for cutesy shots to make their friends go “Aaaah.”  It has proved harder than I thought.  I have made several observations:

1)      Perran and Carenza only once smiled at the same time until they were about sixteen.

2)      In the coy, bath-time shots, the privates of at least one of them will always be on display, making the picture unusable in the current climate.

3)      In the new-baby shots, their older brother, Pascoe, looks as if he would infinitely have preferred a trike.

4)      Who was that man who seemed to be a close member of our family throughout the mid-nineties?  I can’t recognise him behind the beard.

5)      In the pictures of us with old friends who had babies at the same time, there is no hint as to the struggles about whose toddler wouldn’t eat their dinner, whose wouldn’t go to bed when we wanted grown-up time, and whose wouldn’t walk anywhere.  We are all smiling in perfect accord. Oh mendacious lens! 

And as if it wasn’t hard enough to find usable images, the printer has spat them out looking a bit purple.  I might just Google “Happy twins images” – all babies look alike to their eighteen-year- old mates, don’t they?

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Dead Pet

All day I have nursed a melancholy secret, but now Perran is home.  He is a man – he can share the burden.

“I have something to show you,” I say.

“Is it something nice?”

Damn – He thinks I’ve baked a cake.  I should have done – a lemon sponge might have been some small consolation for what I am about to show him.

“No,” I say as we go out into the garden, “It’s something sad.”

I indicate the pond.  There, floating, silvery, magnificent and quite, quite dead is our beloved Chris.

Oh, you might think – a fish.  Couldn’t you just have run down to the pet shop and replaced it?  Nobody would have been any the wiser.  So I should tell you that Chris is a koi carp of such dimensions that we used to have a bit of a Captain Ahab/Moby Dick thing going on.


“I’m sorry, son.   That icy spell.  He already had an ulcer, so maybe it’s good he died in his winter sleep.”

“Oh – I remember when he used to swim backwards for food.”

We stand together and share fond memories of happy times with Chris.  It takes about ninety seconds – he was a fish after all.

“Perran, what shall we do with the body?”

I shall draw a veil over the comments about batter, salt and vinegar.  Safe to say, I think we’ve out-grown pet funerals.  Just as well as I’ve no cardboard box remotely big enough for a coffin.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Late Start

It isn’t a good start to the week.  I wake with a man talking to me about weather.  It is the Today Programme.  I should be up by now.  Nigel is getting dressed.  Even through sleep-bleared eyes, I detect hunched shoulders.

“Anything the matter?”

“Yes, last night, you rolled over, walloped me and growled, ‘Stop breathing.’”

I remember a long dream about a vixen in the garden making her distinctive call, arising in the realisation that it was, in fact, Nigel – not in the garden – in bed next to me.

“You were doing a really shrill snore.”

I should probably apologise for hitting him, but since I can’t remember it, don’t feel guilty – hooray for the powers of illogic!

And the twins!

I lumber up the stairs into the loft.  There is a Perran-shaped lump under the duvet where there should be flat vacancy.

“Up, now! Your paper round!”

Next, I grab the golf umbrella from its usual spot on the landing and enter Carenza’s lair.  She sleeps in a raised bunk, and it’s easier to stand below and prod her with something sharp.

She squeaks satisfyingly, but when I check later, she’s gone back to sleep.

I end up driving them to school and feeling guilty.   How will the week go on after a start like this? But returning home more slowly, I see that the sun is out, the grass is bright green after the snow, the birds are stirring excitedly in the trees.  My heart lifts.  Spring is nearly here.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

There's only One Direction

Chilled instrumentals are the back-drop to exam revision in our house.  But now that Carenza’s retake is out of the way, I’m hearing chirpy pop songs repeated endlessly.

“Who is that?” I ask Carenza.

“One Direction, of course.”

Oh, how the mighty have fallen – it used to be The Killers, Razorlight, Coldplay.

During exam revision we prefer singers with poor enunciation – then the lyrics don’t distract.  However, I can hear One Direction’s words all too clearly.  They seem to have paid a psychologist to survey the top six insecurities of teenage girls and have crafted them into reassuring songs.  It doesn’t matter if you have to squeeze into your jeans, if you have an annoying laugh, or if Zane Malik can “play join-up-the-dots with the freckles on your face” (I always find myself hoping he uses water-soluble ink, not a Sharpie), the beautiful boys in One Direction will still yearn for you.  No doubt, they are just making do with those actresses and super-models that they are dating until you come along.

 “Oh, Mum, stop being so cynical – just listen to this bit where Harry sings solo…”

He has a husky, tender voice beyond his years.

I wonder how long I would have to spend in the gym to shape up as a cougar.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Testing Times

The January exams are over, at least for my two.  Now that they study entirely separate subjects, the experience has been very different for them.  Carenza had one re-take a week ago, Perran four exams over two weeks.  Carenza had to keep a lid on her simmering jubilation when she finished; Perran had to keep his nose to the grindstone.  The atmosphere here has been…interesting.

I check the deadlines  – they should have heard from all the universities by 31st March and they should make sure they’ve replied to offers through UCAS by 8th May, latest.   

Looks like a lull, then. 

I think our last proper lull was The Serene Lull of July 2011, just after GCSEs.

What does one do in a lull?

Hibernation is a real temptation in this weather. 

Actually, there is something, but it’s a fun something.  Perran has never seen one of the universities that he is now favouring.  And his Cornish grandparents need visiting.   At half term, Carenza will be away on a History trip to Berlin (we will thaw her out in the airing cupboard when she returns). 

I think this calls for a mother and son road trip to the West Country.

Grinning, I get out my road atlas. 

Friday, 25 January 2013

Gorilla Interview

At the beginning of term, we dropped Pascoe off in his student house.  I sighed at the jumble in his bedroom.  However, he had worked valiantly over Christmas and had completed several PhD applications.  Surely more important than a tidy room.  But there was something staring at me with glassy eyes – hanging on his wardrobe was a large, shaggy gorilla suit. 

“I borrowed that for a Christmas party.”


A couple of days ago, I rang to ask if he had any PhD interviews.

 “Yep.  Two of them tomorrow.”

They were both Scottish Universities.

“The first at 2pm, the second at 4pm.”

My brain whirs.

“Darling, you’re never going to make it.”

“No, no, Mum,” in the friendly-yet-patronising tone one adopts with one’s geriatric mother, “They’re Skype interviews.   We talk over the computer.”

“Okay, okay, I understand Skype.”

The next day at 2pm, I say a little prayer for his interview.  They won’t see the junk on his floor on Skype as the webcam tilts upwards.  All they’ll be able to see is his wardrobe and the…..gorilla suit!

Is there time to ring him before his interview?  No. 

An hour and a half later I ring him. 

“Um, you might want to move your gorilla suit before the next interview. “

“Don’t be silly, Mum, I’ve booked a nice smart meeting room on campus.”

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Student Cooking - the Real Deal?

The more I contemplate student cooking, the more I feel it could be the real deal – swift, economical, using readily available and (hopefully) ethical ingredients.  And minimising washing up.  Hooray!

Recently I asked some friends for student-friendly recipes.  They must require only cheap ingredients and very little equipment (e.g., no weighing scales).

If you have any suggestions like the ones below, please send them to me at My Moon-Shot
and, if appropriate, I’ll add them to the Student Food page along with the author's name.
Vicki said, “Just tell them cous-cous – you bung boiling water on it - and that’s it.”

Good advice, Vicki, but I feel you could have tried harder.

Marsha and Dali, however, came up with true gems:

Marsha’s Pancakes

1 pot of Greek Yogurt (individual size)
1 egg
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Mix ingredients in order in a bowl (add some milk for thinner batter). Allow to rest for a minute while nonstick frying pan heats up. Drop onto skillet and flip when bubbles appear. Voila! Thick, hearty pancakes that are packed with protein! Enjoy with fruit, or my fave, butter and maple syrup.

Dali’s Quick & Easy Cheese Sauce
It can go with anything like pasta or vegetables and it is fool-proof.
1 cup of Milk
1 tablespoon of Flour
a bit of butter
some grated cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Put the milk (cold) and flour in a saucepan and whisk to avoid lumps. Add butter and put your pan over a medium heat, whisking constantly, until the sauce thickens. Add grated cheese and mix well.

This sauce goes well with pasta (add some pieces of fried bacon and you have your - nearly - own carbonara). Also, chop a few veggies such as mushrooms, carrots, onions, baby corn, put in an ovenproof dish, cover with white sauce, sprinkle with grated cheese and bake for about 30 min. Voilà, impress your housemates with your vegetable gratin.

Can I just say – it was their idea to keep using the word “Voila”.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Golden Ticket

I’m sitting in a booth wearing padded headphones with a posh woman shouting at me about percentage improvement in OFSTED scores.  My ears are hurting. 

“A teacher is planning a school trip to Madrid,” she shrieks.  “How many euros...”

When my brother took children from rural Cornwall to Madrid, they didn’t just lose their euros -  two of them literally lost their shirts to street-wise urchins…

Oh.  My eighteen seconds are up.  The answer box has disappeared – I’ve lost my chance.  Mustn’t let my mind drift.  That’s the third question in a row I’ve muffed. 

I arrive at the end of the first section of my Teaching Skills Numeracy Test seriously rattled.  It was so much easier doing the practice papers, even with Perran walking in and snorting derisively. 

The second section is better.  The problems are more complicated, but they are written down and there’s an on-screen calculator. 

The scary woman has stopped yelling and I can take my time.

I use every remaining second to get this second section in good shape.  At the end, the woman on reception prints off a very ordinary sheet of A4 and hands it over. To me it is not cheap printer paper – it is the golden ticket.  I have passed.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

No Snow Day

I should be proud of the British stiff upper lip which has kept our local comprehensive open in spite of the fact that snow has turned the pavements as slippery as David Cameron on the Today Programme.

Even so, I miss the hall full of little wellies and the familiar icy blast from the door as the kids whizz off for a snow ball fight with a neighbour’s cat (okay, so the cat was mainly on the defensive really).

But what am I thinking?  I’m recalling the snow days of yore.  A house full of snow-bound teenagers is a very different kettle of worms, as I discover at the weekend.  Now, the special snow light in the room is tainted by the glow of computer screens. 

I look out wistfully at the untouched whiteness.

Then their friend Beth arrives for a spot of Latin.  Afterwards, it is dark and she says,

“You know, I fancy making a night snowman.”

This is clearly an interesting proposition and I’m relieved to see Perran and Carenza unpeel themselves from the furniture and tog up.

I’m taking more photos in this last year of having the twins at home and follow them out.  But I have forgotten one rule.  If you go out there when they’re in mid-snow-frenzy, you’re likely to…


…get hit by a snowball.

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Icing on the Cake

They’re in a funny mood, the twins. Carenza has finished her only January exam and is slightly hyped, while Perran still has three maths/further maths papers and doesn’t appreciate her levity. Perhaps that’s why it all went wrong when I asked them about their eighteenth birthday cakes.

I’m no Jane Asher, but each year I gamely cudgel sponge and icing into some sort of recognisable shape. My favourite was the Georgia O’ Keeffe cake that Carenza requested for her sixteenth. I sculpted the icing into a flower-shaped metaphor. People told me it was moist.
“What do you want this year, then?”
Indifference. Head-scratching.
“Just plain,” says Perran.
Last year I did him David Bowie. The year before that Alice Cooper.
“What about an Amy Winehouse cake?”
Then the tide turns and they begin to have ideas. Too many ideas.
Carenza wants a One Direction Cake. “Oh yes, I can easily do their logo.”
“Not their logo, Mum. I want Julian Opie-style portraits of all five of them.”
Pointedly I turn to Perran. He fails to rescue me:
“Actually I’d like my cake to be a portrait of OJ Simpson…or Charles Manson. No. Wait. I have it…Jimmy Savile.”
I get up and walk out. If only I could ring Mary Berry and find out whether she ever has to put up with such nonsense.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Maths Problems

“A teacher is planning a school trip to the frozen food plant in Grimsby.  There are five classes of thirty pupils and each coach can hold a maximum of fifty-five. The suggested ratio is no fewer than one member of staff to every twenty students.  How many coaches should the teacher hire?”


“Amarjit is 6 years, 11months, Shamin is 7 years 1 month, Rakeem is 6 years 9 months.  Their average reading age is nine months greater than their average actual age.  What is their average reading age?”


“On this scatter graph, the teacher has compared the pupils’ attainment in maths in 2011 with their attainment in media studies in 2012.  What proportion of the class got the same mark in both exams?  Express your answer as a decimal.”


“What are you doing, Mum?”

“Oh, hi, Perran.  I’m doing the online practice for the Teaching Skills Numeracy Test.  You know, I have to pass this before I can do my PGCE.”

“How’s it going?”

“Fine.  Fine.”

But he has leant forward and is scrutinising my score.

“I’ll see if we’ve still got any of those maths workbooks, Mum. The primary school ones.”

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Double Take

Yesterday, I cajoled Carenza into wellies, as snow was forecast, and waved her off for a dreaded re-take of an English exam which had caught out half the class last summer when the marking scheme seemed to have been changed overnight.  

As the flakes began to fall, I walked round to my friend Jo’s to see if she wanted to try for a hike, as we had planned. 

We had a coffee while we waited to see if it would stop.  It got worse.

“Do you think they’ll send the kids home?” she asked as we stared at her white garden.

“I don’t know.   I hope not.  Carenza’s got a retake today.  She’s done all the revision.  Last thing she wants is to have to postpone it and do it all again in June…”

But then we both noticed there was something on the bird table…something unusual. 

“Hand me my mobile,” squeaked Jo, and quickly took a snap. The creature dashed off.

Jo scrutinised her picture and smiled.

“Doesn’t it look sweet in the snow?”

I took the phone from her.

“Jo, that’s a rat,” I said.

“I know,” she replied. “Next year’s Christmas card, I think.”

Friday, 18 January 2013

Poor Condition

So I mentioned a few days ago that I had a conditional place to train for a PGCE in Classics at Cambridge School of Education.  A couple of you asked, conditional on what?  After all, I obtained my degree several centuries ago.  I too was curious and waited for a letter of confirmation.  Day after day, when the letterbox clacked, I ran to the doormat like a deluded Labrador with a fetish for envelope gum.  But nothing.
“Maybe it was all a mistake, Carenza?”
“No, Mum, whatever it says on UCAS is binding.”
Furtively I print off a screenshot of my offer.  I shall brandish it as proof in court.
After a week, I decide that I’m allowed to ring the University now.  The administrator answers. 
“Oh, yes, a letter is on its way.”
And the conditions?
“An enhanced CRB check.”          Fine
“A couple of health forms.”         Uhuh.  Yep.
“You should attend a Latin Summer School .”  Yes.  Very  enjoyable.
“And the Teaching Skills Tests in Literacy and Numeracy.”  Gulp.
“But I have O levels in Maths and English.”
“All trainee teachers have to pass these tests now.”
I put the phone down and perform a silent imitation of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”.  The last maths exam I sat was thirty-five years ago, and frankly, that didn’t go too well. 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

An Unhealthy Obsession

I’m becoming obsessed with my own blog.  A number of people recently have come up to me and told me how much they’re enjoying it. 
“My blog must be brilliant,” I think.
Today, I was sitting in Vicki’s nice warm kitchen with several friends when Ros came in.  On spotting me, she made a beeline for me,
“Ooh, there’s something I must tell you.”
Clearly she was about to compliment me.

“Last Thursday when I was at your house for Book Group…” Yes, the subject of my blog had indeed come up at Book Group, “…I was leaving afterwards... and I discovered that somebody had thrown up all over the back of my car."

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Hummus the Hard Way

Debating whether I should venture into the January sales to kit out Perran and Carenza for Uni, I could not recall taking much equipment myself.  It is no wonder, then, that my memories of the twenty-first birthday party that I shared with Annabel, Jenny, Sue and Nigel all surround our catering attempts.
Mainly the hummus.  Hummus was jolly new and trendy then and Annabel had heard of it.  We know now that it’s very easy to make if you have canned chickpeas and a food-processor.    The fact that we were high-achieving and ambitious students can be demonstrated by the fact that we attempted it with neither. 
First we soaked the chickpeas for a couple of days, then we boiled them for about a week, then we sealed them in doubled-up supermarket bags and belaboured them with wine bottles.  But the blighters weren’t breaking down, so we boiled them for another week or so.  Finally, we fed the whole lumpy mix through somebody’s old tights (washed). 
“Delicious,” murmured our guests. 
“Thank you.”  We smiled serenely.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

There Could be an Ugly Row

If you lose your UCAS Track ID or password, you can enter your email address and they will be sent to your inbox.  It happens in the twinkling of an eye.  Unless, of course, you’re in a moving car on a wet, dark motorway and relying on a mobile wi-fi hotspot with low bandwidth.  Then, if like me, you really want to see what has changed on your UCAS account, you might want to try for a better signal at a motorway service station.

“Why didn’t you stop, Nigel?”

“Did you want to stop?”

“I just said so - there’s a change on my UCAS account – either an offer or a rejection.”

“Oh – okay, you should have said.”

Twenty miles later services signs appear again.

“Stop, Dad,” shriek the three offspring in the back seat.  They sense that there could be an ugly row, almost as bad as the Great Map-Reading Row of 2009.

In the services, everybody files off to the loo while I request new password etc.  Then I traipse off while it is emailed to me.  Then we all sit in the car staring at the rain on the window while we wait for the slow connection .  I am actually watching a man trying to toilet a disobedient poodle when the children start yelling at me.  The screen has changed.  Conditional offer.  Hooray.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Lead Shot Hazard and an Interview

My main role this year is as the mother of twins, both applying to university through UCAS, but I too have applied via UCAS for a PGCE place to train to teach Classics. 

Since only two universities in the country offer this course, I was chuffed to be invited for tests and interview and prepared hard –not easy as, just before the interview, Pascoe, my eldest son, turned twenty-one and my husband fifty and we had a giant party at our house with a ska punk band (Lead Shot Hazard  – brilliant), amateur fireworks (also a hazard).  Not to mention me making acres of quiche and enough humus to drown a sheep.

I almost succeeded in forgetting about the result over Christmas.  Only when we were driving back from visiting the Northumbrian grandparents, on a wet night, did it occur to me that today was the vital date.  Surreptitiously, I checked my mobile.  An email announced something had changed on UCAS.  I opened the website.  Everything was microscopic on my screen.  Perran asked me why I was swearing. 

I explained.  In no time, Pascoe had fixed up my phone as a mobile wi-fi hotspot and connected a laptop to it. 

“Now, Mum, what’s your ID and password for UCAS?  Mum?  You have got it haven’t you?”

To be continued

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Leave that Darcey Bussell Alone!

Perran is under doctor’s orders not to pick up any girls for a week.  How on earth did this come about?  It’s his wrist.  He’s damaged it by picking up girls.

In contemporary dance performances.

At least now, after a minor procedure, the pain has stopped, allowing him to concentrate on his January exams.  He has also taken a long hard look at his UCAS application and has voluntarily forgone one of his university offers.  It was a matter of timing – by the time that Southampton invited him for an interview for philosophy and maths, he already had three good offers including potential first and second choices.  Southampton was unlikely to improve on those offers and another interview would have meant missing yet more school. 

So, although it felt weird, even reckless, he turned down the interview, meaning he won’t get an offer from Southampton. 

Instead, he’s got his nose to the grindstone revising for his exams.  But right now he’s on his way out the door for a couple of hours of violent exercise as he rehearses for his school’s forthcoming dance spectacular, Velocity.

“Remember not to lift Amy,” I call after him.   

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Keep the Chopsticks

Perran and Carenza's older brother, Pascoe, is a third year student at UEA and has friends both there and at other Unis.  He kindly collected information on "What Every Student Should Know".
Favourites of mine include:
Fiona: Toilet roll. Don't run out
Ryan:  Don't eat the yellow snow.
Dan:    Don't drink so much you consider drinking the yellow snow.
and sordid but useful...
Rebecca: Keep the chopsticks from takeaways as when the bath tub flow is blocked etc, just poke around a little

Friday, 11 January 2013

Better than Made in Chelsea

Perran and Carenza were revising hard for their January exams, or so I thought until I spotted them draped cat-like across the sofa with a laptop.  They were idly flicking between different back numbers of Made in Chelsea.
Apparently everybody needs some R&R,
“Oh, and could you make us a cup of tea too Mum,”
“And a biscuit.  A biscuit would be good.”
As I returned carrying a grudging tray of weak tea and unlovely biscuits, Carenza gave a squeal. 
“I just saw my email.   Something’s changed.  It must be Durham.  Durham! Can I just…?”
“Oi,” said Perran, “Lucy was just about to say that thing about getting in her grill.”
But even after he allowed her access to UCAS Track, there was a hitch - Carenza’s ID and password were on the family PC which takes an eternity to chug into life.  As we hunted through scraps of paper, I had a feeling of déjà vu (“I know I wrote them down somewhere after that business with Perran.”).  If we find it this tough to get into a user-friendly system like UCAS, I fear my children will never make good cat burglars.
However, eventually, it was from Durham, and it was an offer.
I retrieved my tray of cold tea and unpleasant biscuits and returned to the kitchen – this was an occasion for hob nobs!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

A Wider Horizon

Every so often I spend my Wednesday afternoon with a dozen lovely people who are on the wrong side of eighty.  When we are applying for grants, we call the thing we do together “oral history”.  But when we get together with our two-gallon teapot, it just feels like spinning yarns.

Lately we’ve been talking about schooldays.  For my elderly friends, university wasn’t even a smudge of a possibility on the horizon.   Most left school at fourteen and took jobs locally.  Their tiny wage packets were handed over to their struggling mothers.

All of these senior citizens led full working lives, many raised families and all live in modest comfort now.  So why are my children and so many of their friends striving for university places?

But several of them tell the same story:  “When I was nearly fourteen, the teacher called my Mum in and told her that I was bright and they’d like me to stay on… but we needed my wage…” Their voices trail away wistfully.  Are they still recalling the ambitions they relinquished more than sixty years ago? 

My daughter comes with me to oral history sessions.  I hope that she will hear their note of regret and value the fabulous opportunity that university offers her and that she will spread her wings and fly off into the blue breadth of possibilities.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Worry Turned my Eyebrows Grey!

My eyebrows are turning grey.   Whenever I look at myself in the mirror, I think “badger”.  It must be the stress of waiting for UCAS offers that is doing it.  Perran and Carenza are each waiting to hear from two of their choices, and in my case, it's a PGCE course.  This morning, I was so distracted that when I gave Carenza a lift to school (I know, I know, but her bag was SO heavy), she started to get out, but I drove off while she still had one foot in the car.  She knows some BAD words.

So my short term strategy with the eyebrows is to pluck out any white hairs, but I can see that long-term this may leave me with a baldy sprinkling of black hairs in all the wrong places.  I might end up looking permanently surprised or puzzled, or just downright peculiar.

So hurry up, Universities, and send us those offers, please.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Free Highlights!

 “So what was it all about?” people ask me – “Why did you attend so many university open days?”

The answer is that we are still reaping the benefits.

Not necessarily in terms of knowledge of the UCAS system, but mainly in free gear.  You can pick up extraordinary amounts of marketing merchandise at these open days.  Bored with the very similar talks on the advantages of a particular university and the details of student finance (however many we listened to, there never did seem to be enough grant/loan money available), we declared a family-wide competition as to who could grab the best free gift. 

Several universities supplied lovely cotton shopping bags, and we added souvenir pens, post-its and rulers.  The item that makes us feel most guilty is a wall calendar where every month of the year is represented by a photo of a university which we have decided is not for us.  There it is – in sunshine, in snow, flanked by apple blossom, depending on the month, but we shall never grace its verdant lawns.

Carenza won with a highlighter shaped like a flower, with five different-coloured nibs.  We love this and fight over it and it means that York will always have a special place in our hearts.

Monday, 7 January 2013

So I Haven't Been Quite Honest

So I haven’t been quite honest.  You’d think from this blog that my only connection with UCAS was as the mother of two applicants, but I have actually also been applying myself - for a PGCE training to teach Classics.  I had to apply through the GTTR via UCAS. 

Why didn’t I say so earlier?  

There are only 25 places nationally for Classics PGCE and I’m older than most of the other applicants, so I didn’t expect to get very far with it.

But this is what happened…

I wrote a personal statement, submitted it ten days later than I’d planned.  Next, I got a great reference from a supportive referee, but didn’t spot for another ten days that she had pressed the “Save” button rather than “Submit” (apparently quite a common hitch). 

The great thing about doing all this as an adult is that, in spite of these delays, I had no parent breathing down my neck and chivvying me. 

However, by the time that I heard I had an interview, Perran and Carenza had gone into full role reversal.  They drilled me over dinner on why I wanted to be a teacher.  They inspected my interview outfit – “You have ironed it haven’t you, Mum?” and argued over whether I should drive or take the train.

It was an intensive interview where I had to give a mock lesson, translate a passage of Latin, write an essay on teaching Classics today, and undergo a searching interview. 

When I got home, tired out, and the twins questioned me about it, I suddenly understood the answer that they usually give me:

“It was okay – can I have a cup of tea please?”

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Suspended Animation

School starts tomorrow and the state of suspended animation is over.  No more evenings beside the glowing fire and the twinkling Christmas tree (never did find out who set the lights to “twinkle”, nor how to turn them back to “constant”).  The decorations have been crammed into a bulging box and heaved up to the loft leaving a glittery trail.  The house looks stark and in need of decorating.

Both Perran and Carenza are now hoping that their last few university offers will come in.  Currently they each have three.  Amongst their friends, there’s already evidence that the UCAS system has stirred into life again.  Last Friday, on a long car journey, Perran was picking up tweets and texts from friends who had applied to Cambridge.  There was an even mixture of offers, rejections and further interviews - overall a fantastic result for a state school.  Well done to all of them for being brave enough to try and best of luck to those who will attend “pool” interviews.

Meanwhile, Carenza’s calling me – she’s found a palm tree from the nativity set lying on the sitting room floor.   We’ll have to get the whole box of decorations down and unpack the nativity set again.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

The Party in the Middle of Nowhere

Perran and Carenza and their Dad are back home again today.  I’m so happy I could bake a cake.  I restrain myself. 

Stealthily I recycle the cans from the baked beans I have consumed in their absence, but their minds are on other things.

Since before the twins went away, the focus for tonight has been a friend’s eighteenth birthday party.  It is a freezing night and the venue is an isolated farm miles away.  Arrangements for getting back are tenuous and shifting.  Both Perran and Carenza already have coughs.  I mutter miserably about the coursework deadlines and important assessments that will take place in the forthcoming week.

We go out with friends leaving them texting madly for lifts.  During the evening we don’t drink – if necessary we will drive and pick them up from the Party in the Middle of Nowhere.  About 10pm we are home again and the doorbell rings.  It is Perran with half a dozen mates – he never made it to the party and would there happen to be any mulled wine for them to share?  There is a noise on the stairs.  Carenza joins them in the kitchen – she didn’t go either.  Contentedly, we set about mulling some wine.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Left Alone, Mum Goes Feral

I’m alone in the house for a few days  – Perran is visiting grandparents in Northumberland with my husband and Carenza is undertaking work experience in France.
It took me less than twenty-four hours before I was applying a can opener to a tin of baked beans.  Right now, I’m off to make a salt-and-vinegar crisp sandwich with white sliced bread.  Meanwhile, the Swiss chard is wilting in the fridge.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Not Really "Ha Ha."

Carenza and her friend Rosie left at 4am for work experience in France. Perran has gone with my husband to visit grandparents. I marvel at how much can be achieved when I am uninterrupted – I review a book for Third Way magazine and paint a watercolour and take a walk. However, next day as I clear lunch, I realise I have not heard from Carenza since teatime yesterday when she texted, “Coach nearing Lille now.”

I text, “Please let me know you arrived safely.” An hour later, there is still no reply, so I text, “Tell me you haven’t been sold to the white slave trade, Ha ha.” But it isn’t really “Ha ha”. I fret as I wait for her message. Finally, I ring my husband. He hasn’t heard from her either.

“Hmmm – I’ll see if Perran can text Rosie.”

I don’t know what Perran says, but seconds later, we have a reply from Carenza, “Sorry I didn’t text. Nothing’s wrong. I was just busy. Lille’s pretty and there’s loads to do.”

Next time I drive back from visiting my parents in Cornwall, I shall ring them as soon as I get in, before I even put the kettle on, and tell them I’m safe.

Into the Icy Unknown

A few months ago I had suffered a weird dereliction of parenting and now, at 4am, at a motorway service station of Siberian bleakness, I am suffering for it. 

My daughter and her friend Rosie have arranged to go to France for work experience to boost their language skills.  I somehow sat back and allowed Rosie’s family to do all the vetting on the company they’re going with.  In the blackness of the coach park, illuminated only by the orange glare off wet tarmac, I regret my laziness. 

The precious girls crawl out of the car, their faces sleepy moons.  Is it snowing now?  We approach three coaches that tower above us.  The one for the girls should have the name of the travel company in the windscreen.   None of them does.

A guy with a clipboard jumps down. 

“Are you for France?”


White slavers don’t carry clipboards.  Or do they?  They might even have iPads nowadays.

“Carenza and Rosie?”


They heft their enormous bags into the hold.  I see them scramble up into the coach and head for the back.  I stand in the freezing wind waving limply, but they don’t even glance – their adventure has begun.