Thursday, 28 February 2013

Pope's Last Day

Pope gets cardinals to sign his robes on his last day.
Perran wonders if the Pope did like the pupils at his school do on  the last day and got the other guys to sign his robes.

Viral Goats

One of the things I shall miss most about having teenagers at home is the cry from the computer of

“Come and Look at this!”

I shall never take the time myself to keep abreast of the complete nonsense which is trending on Twitter or going viral on YouTube.

Perhaps that will be a good thing as far as my morale is concerned.

Sometimes YouTube features hard-working artists, like “In the Key of Awesome”, Being a little less than kind to our beloved One Direction.
Little Things - The Key of Awesome

Another favourite of mine was The Midnight Beast, now apparently old hat as far as YouTube is concerned.
The Midnight Beast - House Party

But definitely less edifying is the fact that a few goats making weird noises can get as many hits as painstaking writing and performances, like those above.
Goats Yelling Like Humans
Even more worrying is the way that this bizarre video seems to be seeping into our everyday lives.  The other day, Carenza was walking through school when a girl in front of her called out to her friend in a bleat that sounded like a goat yelling like a human.  Was this life imitating art? Or was it life imitating art imitating goats imitating humans?

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Prepare for the Prom

The first inklings of the Prom have been insinuating themselves into my ears for a little while.  But now, the starter’s pistol has been fired and the marathon has truly begun.  The precipitating event? The first frocks have been bought.  

There is no time to waste – after all, the Prom is in June, only 4 months in which to construct an image and fully accessorise.

I hope that this time, the girls go to good old fashioned shops and try on their purchases.  There is a whole industry of websites displaying glossy princess dresses sparkling on perfect models, but the most important thing, surely, is that the dress fits the girl and complements her colouring. 

Carenza says, “I’m hoping to channel a little of Audrey.”

“Audrey Niffenegger who wrote the Time Traveller’s Wife?  That could be nice – she’s very arty.”

I am an idiot – she means Audrey Hepburn.

Carenza knows exactly how she wants her dress to look.

Hooray – my daughter has a mature understanding of her own aesthetic values.

Boo – when you know exactly what you want, you can never find it in the shops.

But it’s the guys who will find it really tough – when, at the end of weeks of deliberation, their girls have finally assembled their outfits, the poor souls will have to dash out and get a tie to match.
For great fashion tips:

Tuesday, 26 February 2013


Lent is the time of year for spiritual reflection and for giving up something that distracts you.  I think it is a wonderful idea.  Unfortunately, I’m a bit crap at it.  As ever, I stumbled into Lent in a blur of pancakes and vague decisions.  I vowed to give up wine or alcohol or drinking at home, or something or other.  The first time temptation arrived, I gave in.  But fresh start – I’ve been trying again. 

Carenza has given up eating lumps of cheese in between meals.   I deduce this from being in the kitchen and seeing her enter, get the cheese out of the fridge, take hold of a sharp knife, and then cry with Lady MacBeth-style guilt, “No I mustn’t.”

Lent decisions are private and should be treated with respect:

“Perran,” I shout up the stairs, “What have you given up for Lent?”

He comes down:

“I’ve given up fish, but not for Lent.  For ever.”

The great thing about Lent is that it is over at Easter.  Perran had been warning me for some time that he planned to go fully vegetarian on his eighteenth birthday.  Really, that’s fine.  Except we now have in the family a pescetarian (me), a vegetarian (Perran), somebody who has an allergy to dairy products (Pascoe) and Nigel and Carenza who both have a few interesting quirks.  As the family cook, maybe I’ll be needing that wine after all.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Too Well Prepared

On the last night of the half term holiday I am just rounding everybody up, hoping that each family member will say,

“Yeah, dammit, that’s enough work for today – let’s go and watch some telly.” 

Nigel lights a big fire.  I waft pizza smells through the house.  Upstairs, I hear Perran’s sax pause as the savoury aroma and the crackling of the logs reaches him.  He is on his way downstairs.  Carenza, however, is still pounding away at the PC.

“I thought you’d done it all,” I say, “Even that horrible essay about the causes of WWI.”

“I have, but I was just too well prepared.”

“What do you mean?”

Lauren and Sahil and I have to do an assembly on the theme of motivation for tomorrow morning.  We decided to prepare it before half term, so we didn’t have to rush it at the last minute.”


“And we thought that instead of talking about motivation in the abstract, we’d focus on one incredibly motivated heroic person, and do the assembly all about them…”

“Let me guess...”

“Yup. Oscar Pistorius.”

“Oh dear. So what are you doing about it now?”

Carenza indicates her computer screen – a picture of a small woman with a dazzling smile.

“Googling Ellie Simmonds, of course.”

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Berlin from another Viewpoint

Lauren Gordon went on the same school trip to Berlin as Carenza and wrote a detailed and moving blog on the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp:

A Time for Panic

Today is the last day of the half term holiday and has a slightly scary hung-over feel.  Carenza is wrestling with an essay on the origins of WWI, Perran is hopefully soon to get on the return train from his visit to Lou at the University of Swansea.  Presumably any remaining assignments will be polished off on the journey. 

We’ve packed a lot in, both educational and social and it feels like a week well-used.

The next five weeks are the last clear run before the exam period and this term always feels shorter than it should – something to do with the moon and the timing of Easter.  Anxious teachers will undoubtedly be working Perran and Carenza hard and slipping in extra assignments.  In Norwich, too, Pascoe must set his round of PhD interviews behind him and try to make up ground on his final year project and the lectures he has missed.

The pressure will be on.  This cold, iron grey weather is fitting. 

As the temperature softens and the birds start calling in the trees, as buds start to swell and Spring becomes undeniable, it will be harder for them to apply themselves, but for now, they are glued to their books, and I am glad to see them panicking.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

In Berlin

I’ve spent half term mainly with Perran, but Carenza has had a momentous school trip to Berlin, investigating the Nazis and WW II.  I was lucky enough to visit Berlin with Nigel just before Christmas.  I remember shivering in my coat and scrutinising the snow-grey sky –

“This would be grim without all the Christmas lights.” 

When Carenza went, there were no Christmas lights. 

It was grim. 

As a boring, stereotypical mother I had worried that she did not possess enough warm clothes.  However, she achieved miracles through layering – apparently even lace has thermal properties if you wear enough of it. Nothing, however, could keep out the chill of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp – a work camp later converted for extermination.  The soil there still contains alarming amounts of human ash. 

“But apart from that, did you have fun?”

“Well, we did visit the Topography of Terror exhibition; and the Olympic stadium that Hitler built – very fascist; and the Holocaust Memorial – it was huge…”

From the expression on Carenza’s face I can see that these “attractions” may have caused any high jinks to be rather muted.

“…oh, and we lost Beth.  Three times.  And a pigeon crapped on Brent.”

“Oh well, I’m glad you had some fun, dear.”

Friday, 22 February 2013

Turn Around

Perran has one day in between getting back from Cornwall and Bristol and heading on towards Swansea for a weekend with his friend Lou, now an undergraduate there.  Half term homework is being mopped up and a great deal of mellow tootling is happening on the sax.  Finally, a tube of Pringles, a box of Carenza’s cookies and a bottle of his father’s elderflower wine are loaded into his rucksack.
As he helps me lay the table for tea, I see him smiling to himself. 
“That tutor who gave the introductory talk at Bristol…”
I know what he means – we had been sitting stiff and awestruck with hundreds of other candidates and their chauffeurs/parents, all dwarfed by the lofty imitation mediaeval hall.  Along with the others, we were craning our necks and goggling at the fan vaulting, arcades and traceries, all dramatically uplit in red and purple.  I opened my bottle of coke and it made a slight hiss.  Dozens of people turned to stare at me.
Eventually, the tutor stood up and addressed us, 
“I don’t know what’s come over them with the lighting today – it looks like a Gothic brothel in here.”
As one, the audience slumped into relaxation – however scary the architecture, the staff were clearly friendly.

Thursday, 21 February 2013


Last night, Perran, Carenza, Nigel and I were finally Home.  And Pascoe joined us via Skype.   The question is whether Perran and Pascoe have now discovered their future homes for the next four years.

In between watching The Brits we discuss this. 

Pascoe is thrilled with his interview at Glasgow.

“You’ve done really well, Pascoe,” says Nigel to the webcam.

“Fantastic,” I say.

“Um.  I think Emili Sande’s on now,” says Perran.

We sign off with Pascoe and during the next ad break Nigel asks Perran how he found Bristol. 

“Yeah – there was a really good relationship between the staff and students.  Um – is that Mumford now?”

In the end, The Brits supply Perran and Pascoe with the answers they need to our questions about Glasgow and Bristol.  One Direction are the masters of expression.  What they say is so exquisitely well articulated that I am almost moved to tears:

“It was amazing!”

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

In Bristol

In Bristol, there was a low spring sunshine, everybody that Perran and I encountered, both town and gown, was friendly and there were good shops for vintage clothes and records.  Perran bravely inveigled his way into a dance class and found out some more about the dance society. 
There were also some oddities – a large camp art exhibition at the RWA which seemed to be dedicated to cats and dogs dressed up as royalty – can’t be certain of this as wasn’t inclined to pay the entrance fee to see more.
Also, all the university buildings seem to have been built at double human scale, with porticoes that would accommodate giants, but the students were actually the same height as everywhere else.
We got unexpectedly detailed service at the Co-op when we asked which of the huge bank of bottled drinks were included in the “meal deal”.  The young assistant went along,
“That one is, that one isn’t, that one is, that one is, that one is, that one isn’t….”  A small audience had gathered by the time he finished.  We didn’t like to point out that we only really needed to know about the coke and smoothie that we held in our hands.
So far Bristol has charmed us.  The official open day is today.  Let’s see.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

In Touch

Perran and I have moved on now from Cornwall to Bristol.  We shall explore tomorrow and attend the philosophy open day on Wednesday.  Walking through Bristol in search of food, I ring Mum.  Dad’s lively enough now to express his opinions, especially on the subject of the hospital giving him sandwiches for both lunch and dinner on Sunday.  Afterwards, I say to Perran,

“I wish she would take up her art again – it would stop her fretting so much.”

In the restaurant, I phone Nigel, back from his parents, and pottering.  I suspect he will have been tinkering with his home-made wine.

Later, in the hotel, Perran reads up on his open day and I phone Pascoe.  He is slightly lonely in a hotel room in Glasgow, preparing for his PhD interview tomorrow. He deserves to do well.  The one person who is incommunicado is Carenza in Berlin.  It is the last night of her school trip and I hpe that she is having fun, although obviously in a completely moderate and sedate manner.

As I get ready for bed, I see there is a voice message on my mobile.  It is rom my mother.  Apparently, I didn’t press the button to end our call so she had to stand for ages listening to me walking round Bristol, not realising she could end it by putting the pone down.  Perran looked worried. “Did we say anything about her just after we spoke to her?”

I think back.

“It might have been a good thing if she heard it.”

Monday, 18 February 2013

Top Gear

On Friday, we were driving down to Cornwall.  At Bristol, I ask Perran if he would mind driving the next section so I can rest for a bit.  He looks at me as if I am mad,

“I haven’t taken my test yet.”

I feel like saying “I know – why is that?” but actually, there’s a very good reason.  To us, the driving license is an important bullet point on the CV when our children apply for jobs. To them, it could represent freedom.  However, although we pay the insurance while they are still learners, the cost of three new drivers is prohibitive.  No wonder then that they are not motivated to learn  – as soon as they pass their test, they will drive no more.

But if we did insure them to drive, how much we would be taking away from them.  Living in a town and attending their local school has meant that they always have friends to walk home from parties with.  They have learned to use public transport – trains, buses and tube.  Most of all, if Perran and Carenza could drive, would they ever walk or cycle anywhere? 

Fine ideals, but on Friday I would have swapped them all for a co-driver.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

All in Perspective

Over the last year, we’ve had periods of anxious waiting after hitting the send button on the UCAS application, after University interviews. However, the last couple of days has made those times look like a stroll in the proverbial park. 

One of the reasons for visiting Cornwall was that my father was having a routine operation, although when you are eighty, with various other medical conditions, there is no such thing as routine.  My mother sat by the phone all afternoon waiting for news.  Six hours after the op, he was not well enough to return to the ward.  Four hours later, they were taking him for more surgery.  It was 1am before we heard that he was back from the theatre.  The next morning, he was still in Recovery.

I am glad to have Perran with me, a calm and sensitive presence.

Also glad that I wasn’t the wrong number that Dad rang repeatedly and at length, early this morning: he is back on the ward at last, feeling much better and anxious to see us.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Valentine's Day Massacre

It would be weird wouldn’t it to have two teenagers in the house and not mention the recent Valentine’s Day, but I’ve had no idea how to sneak it past Perran and Carenza without copping a veto.  The chances of getting this blog through are slim so I shall just give you the bits that are left after they have edited it:

Carenza and Sasoon…………………………………………long muddy walk…………………cluttering up our kitchen all evening …………………………………………………..looked very romant………………………………………………………

Perran…………………singles’ party…………real hoot……………………………………………back v late indee……….

There you have it.  Please fill in the blanks to your own satisfaction.


Opportunity for Bloggers

There is news of a great opportunity for bloggers:



Thursday, 14 February 2013

Second-hand Sounds

I’m blogging this late at night because I’m setting off with Perran at 6.30 am to drive down to Cornwall to see my parents.  It is a bizarre Twenty-First Century miracle that I can leave the South East at a relatively civilised hour and be in Cornwall before lunch time.

Even so, there’ll be time for an audio-book.  In the past, we have enjoyed Three Men in a Boat, Just William, The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy.  But in these pressurised exam years there is always work to do, even in the car.  With their iPods plugged in to drown their parents’ chat, and pausing every so often to be car-sick, Pascoe, Perran and Carenza have struggled to revise. 

But this half term, Perran is not overwhelmed: he estimates that he can achieve his offers without too much stress – the advantage of having a clearer picture. 

Happily I walk to the library for an audio-book.  The automated machine gives me the equivalent of an e-scowl and although the word “blacklist” does not actually appear on the screen I can see I need to bring a couple of books back.  Is that a growl I hear as I retrieve my card?

At home, I hunt for second-hand tapes – Henry James, Joseph Conrad: I am a sad, aspirational mother.  Then, Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis.  Hooray.  We will have fun.

Called to Account

The Student Finance, England website is open for applying for student loans now, but applicants need to nominate a bank account for the funds to go into.

One evening I am out teaching and I return to find that Carenza, at least, has settled down with her father and applied for a student bank account.

“Which bank?” I ask, my nose out of joint at being out of the loop.

“Co-op,” she says.

Immediately,  I warm up.  The Co-op is well-known as an ethical investor. It always seems to me that my generation of students was more politically involved, campaigning against all manner of abuses. In the early eighties, my friends and I boycotted Barclays because it invested so heavily in South Africa, thus backing Apartheid.  “Barclays money, blood money: disinvest now” we would chant as we tramped by on one of our innumerable protest marches. Although the situation has now changed completely, I still feel guilty if I use a Barclays cashpoint.

“That’s brilliant,” I say, “I take it you chose the Co-op because of its investment policies.”

“Actually, it’s because it offers a really large guaranteed overdraft – it’s important when you’re learning to manage money that you don’t pay huge charges every time you go overdrawn.”

Oh.  Well, I guess Nelson Mandela IS out of prison now.  And it’s brilliant that a bank with such a clean slate can offer students a deal that makes financial sense too.

Carenza and her father found good advice at

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Sticky Ending

Mournfully I regard the expanse of empty plate smeared with crumbs and icing. 

“The birthday cake’s nearly gone,” I observe to Carenza. 

It is one of the joys of twilit February to mark the moment when the twins come home from school with a cup of tea and a slice of birthday cake.  Since there are two cakes, this can go on for some time.

And it’s good for my health!  A slice of iced cake means I have indulged myself and have no need of chocolate, cheese or other culinary vices.  Or maybe it is the conversation.  Tea and cake dictates a proper break.  My fingers are too sticky to furtively tap at a keyboard – the moment demands my presence. 

Perran and Carenza are slogging through their last full term of school.  Carenza is tackling a newly introduced series of essay assignments; Perran is applying himself to the routine of debate with the same old faces.  It must feel like being in one of those revolving drums full of grit which is designed to polish semi-precious pebbles to a high sheen. 

Cake applies a balm to their tired souls.

“You could make another one, Mum,” says Carenza.

Such wisdom in one so young!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Rubber Dinghy

Looking forward to our mother and son road trip at the weekend.  We are visiting my parents in Cornwall and then on to Bristol where there is a subject open day.  Perran isn’t yet sure where he would like to study Philosophy and Maths next year and decision time is approaching fast.  This trip could be the key.
At the moment he is a little taciturn after a weekend of partying.  I try to raise some anticipation:
“What we should take with us on our trip?”
He looks at me as if I am mad – “Car, clothes, cereal bars,” he says.
“Rubber dinghy, snowboards?”  I ask. 
“I guess that would weather proof us.” 
I hadn’t thought of that – I was just being silly.  But if there’s yet another bout of what the weatherman calls “disruptive snow” (do the flakes whirl down jeering and punching each other?) it’s possible we might not get there.  I had pictured a stroll through Clifton and the water front in early spring sunshine.  I hope we don’t arrive to some LS Lowry type scene of matchstick student figures striving through grey slush. Plus I am a coward about driving in snow.
“It’ll be alright,” he says.

Monday, 11 February 2013

You're so Old

Bored on the door of Perran and Carenza’s eighteenth birthday party, I nursed my list of guests-to-be-ticked-off.  It used to be that if a party was due to start at 7.30, the young guests would arrive in one huge clump at 7.28, but now they saunter up in cool dribs and drabs.

My older son, Pascoe, livened up our vigil by telling me some You’re So Old jokes.

“You’re so old that when you were young, the only other complex organisms were slime moulds.

When you were young and everything was made of stone, didn’t clothes chafe?

Your face is getting so saggy that soon you won’t need a broom to sweep the ground.”


This was such splendid fun and made me feel so good about myself that I began to ask guests for their jokes as they arrived.   Many of them looked startled – after all, at a teen party parents should be seen and not heard (and actually preferably not seen either).  Greg, however, did us proud with:

“You’re so old you knew Bruce Forsyth when he was in his sixties.

Was it difficult to learn to drive a car when they hadn’t invented the wheel yet?”

Thanks, Greg.

Eventually Perran, clearly worried that I was scaring his guests, came out into the foyer and told me,

“You’re so old you sit at an eighteenth birthday party and ask for you’re so old jokes.”

More on my new page You're so Old Jokes .

If you have any similar jokes please send them in to My Moon-Shot .

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Out of this World

 Perran and Carenza’s eighteenth party had arrived. After the initial stroll of guests ( I would like to say “rush” but it simply wouldn’t be accurate), I joined Nigel and our friends Bill and Kathy in the hall kitchen.

The music was setting our ancient teeth on edge. Not one track was allowed to play right through. Our own teenage squabbles over records had been replaced with fights over which iPod got plugged into the PA system. We groaned as the Black Eyed Peas were usurped by an interminable rap number, but Kathy said brightly,

“Do you have any black bin bags?”

“Yes,” I replied jumpily, “Is there something we need to clear up?”

“No – I’m playing the violin in a concert of space-themed music for children tomorrow and I’m supposed to dress as an alien.”

We gathered round the kitchen table wielding string, scissors, paper cups and kitchen foil. Our older son and his friend joined us. In the background, Bowie was rudely cut off and Olly Murs substituted but we didn’t care.

By the time we had finished, Kathy had her costume and the music had thankfully been taken over by Jo who had the two essential qualities of having some good dance music and being able to win most arguments.
Did I hear Carenza at the end thanking Kathy for keeping me occupied? Bill should have worked harder to restrain Nigel – he went out there and Dad-danced to Michael Jackson...


Saturday, 9 February 2013

Party House

I thought that if we held the eighteenth birthday party in a church hall, there would be no need to clean our house.  But friends from a CYFA Christian summer holiday are coming by train and sleeping over.  The prelude to many a party has been the series of phone calls informing us where they are in their journey, including traditionally, a lament over a missed connection which means they will only arrive half way through the party.

The upshot is that the house still has to be respectable, even the bedrooms.  I tell the twins they must help as it is their party.  Or rather, I tell Perran.

“Where is Carenza? She’s not working today is she?”

“Dunno.  She went out.”

Probably she has nipped out to get party shoes.  Two hours later she is still not back and I am building up a cloud of resentment, like a saint’s aura, only black.  My hoovering makes a cross, bumpy sound.    Perran is being “the good twin”, and is dusting the heck out of the bookshelves, appearing every so often with a prize spider in an inverted glass.

Eventually I hear the door and stomp through to the hall.  Carenza is already explaining to her Dad. 

“I was in the supermarket, packing bags for charity –I did tell you.”

We exchange guilty glances: we’d forgotten.  How could we have mistrusted Carenza?

“Is it okay if I go into town now and get some shoes?”


Friday, 8 February 2013

Save the Last Dance

Last night I went to my final dance show at Perran and Carenza’s school.  Over six and a half years Perran has transformed from a tentative performer who had to keep a weather eye on what his neighbours were doing to a confident and skilled contemporary dancer who can command the stage.  Last night his dance teacher shed a few tears after he performed a duet with his dear friend Amy to Paloma Faith’s aptly named “Never Tear us Apart”.

Today, for the first time in many years, there is no dance performance for which Perran is rehearsing.  He has received great acclaim from teachers and class-mates alike, and now it all feels  flat.  No doubt he will revive as he launches into the coming weekend of partying, but in the meantime, he will need to work out whether serious dance lies mainly in his past, or whether he just can’t bear to give it up. 

If the answer is that dance is essential to him, it will influence his choice of university – most provide ballroom and salsa clubs, but one which offers students classes in ballet and contemporary is rarer.  Another stepping stone to deciding which offer to accept. 

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Bare Essentials

With Perran and Carenza’s birthdays this week, people have been asking what equipment they might need for college.

After Pascoe’s experience, I know that if you send a student to university with too much stuff, some of it gets lost or misappropriated.

So what can they not do without?  Family camping and self-catering trips (is there any other kind of holiday?) have shown that the absolute sine qua non pieces of equipment are a sharp kitchen knife, a functioning can opener and an oyster knife (clearly, trying to open oysters with an ordinary knife can not only irritate the oyster but will wreck the knife). 

Strangely, nobody seems to have given either of them an oyster knife yet, but they have enough sharp knives now to start a circus act.  These could also be useful in the unfortunate event of post-apocalyptic survivalist scenarios. 

Myself, I think I’ll buy them each a pair of stout shoes so they can leave the heap of festering washing-up in the kitchen and simply walk across the quad to the canteen.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Itchy Trigger

Now that all of Perran and Carenza’s UCAS offers are in, it feels weird not to reply.  Like being offered a box of Thornton's truffles and not taking one. 

But I’m trying not to rush the twins, as ranking the offers depends on three things:

Where do you want to go?

When we attended open days, it was all about finding the best place for your subject – is the teaching research-led, how many contact hours do you get? 

And, would you rather be on a peaceful campus where rabbits frolic on the lawns or in the centre of a buzzing city where somebody will throw up in your hood as you wend your way back from the clubs?

Or the nebulous “Do you get a good feeling about the place?”

Where will have you?

But the reality is that as the marks trickle in for modules, retakes and coursework, the twins need to figure out which offers they are likely to be able to fulfil.  The longer we leave it before selecting our firm and insurance universities, the more likely it is that we will choose the right ones.  In a way, the firm choice is easier to make than the insurance as it is mostly about their aspirations – the place they most want to go.  The insurance offer is more critical since it is where they will end up if their final exams don’t go as planned. 

Who is flexible?

Some universities will not compromise – if you put them first, but drop a grade, you will not be gracing the twilight depths of their particular students’ union.  Others, however, say that if you put them first, they might be prepared to make a special case for you should you have a nasty surprise on results day in August.  Having your cake and eating it – worth taking time to find out who’s who.

So we’ll leave it for the time being and make our choices when we have more information.

Great UCAS advice on accepting offers is available at

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Tight Schedule

My twins are eighteen today. 

They will celebrate at the weekend, perhaps rather too fully, with a Bacchanalian party.

Today I just want us to find one moment when we can all touch base together, (or at least most of us, since Pascoe is away at uni).

What about breakfast?

Perran doesn’t get back from his paper round until Nigel has left on his long commute. 

Can we have dinner together?  Nope.  Perran has to be at school for the big annual dance show.  He has to be at school by 6.00; Nigel can’t get back from work until 6.40, earliest.

 “Well I guess we’ll celebrate as a family at the weekend. But you could bring home a few friends for cake at tea-time, if you want.”

“No,” says Carenza, “I’m on the debating team against the other local comp.  It’s straight after


I’m thinking, but not saying, that this is the last birthday at home.  For the next three years, their birthday will fall slap-bang in term time.

“So we’ll all spend the day in different places, doing different things?”

“No – my birthday outing is going with Sas to see Perran dance.”

“And it’ll be over by half nine or ten, Mum.  We can grab some time then.”

So grab it I will – a real fire, hot chocolate, birthday cake, gifts in gold wrapping paper.  I can’t wait.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Party Fears

Somewhat dreading the eighteenth birthday party.  Always before we’ve had the parties at our house and the “youff” have behaved admirably.  In fact it’s adults you have to watch for with their cavalier attitude to red wine stains (yes, whoever you were, I do still bear a grudge). 
But this time, the twins want all their friends.  And they will only be eighteen once.
So we’ve hired a church hall.
Bright side – we won’t have to pick beer caps out of the sofa, mop the unidentified stickiness off the floor, ply the people two doors up with wine and grovelling apologies.
Ugly worries – we shall be seriously outnumbered by huge drunken eighteen year-olds, a number of whom will be strangers to us.  A crowd mentality could develop.  (I have no idea what this means, but it sounds serious.)
I ring our old friends, the Walkers, whose daughter is also eighteen.  Will you come and lend us moral support?
“You mean, if you have to take a child to casualty, we could hold the fort?”
I hadn’t thought of that.
“Or if you get really burly gate-crashers, we could back you up?”
Nor that.
“Or if the police turn up, we could act as character witnesses.”
“Wait a minute.  Are you just winding me up?”

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Desert Island Old Students

A couple of days ago, I posted a new item about the music that current students believe will always remind them of their time at university Desert Island Students
A little earlier I had collected the same information from friends who were mostly students in the early eighties.  Their choices are available on a new page: Desert Island Old Students .
In spite of us being contemporaries, there's a surprising variety, but also some consensus around Hi Ho Silver Lining  (in spite of Nick Hornby's scathing comments in High Fidelity - Mr Hornby, even you cannot ruin that track for me).
Choices reflect the highs rather than the lows of student life - let this be a comfort to struggling current final year undergrads - the bad memories fade more quickly than the glorious ones.  In thirty years' time, you'll really believe that it was all one long party.
If you have any other tracks to suggest, email me at My Moon-Shot .

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Course Humour

“Why don’t you do a blog about coursework?

“Fine, Carenza – tell me a funny story about coursework.”

“There are no funny stories about coursework, Mum.”

Perran agrees:

“It’s not a subject on which you should attempt humour.”


Poor old coursework – much maligned.  I’m an exam girl myself, always have been, always will be (except maybe Teaching Skills, Numeracy).  I’ve no patience for endlessly drafting rewrites and taking pains over presentation.   Yet isn’t adult working life often much more like producing coursework than the “Wham, bam, thank you, Mam” of exams. 

The authorities seem, however, to be getting more edgy and are asking pupils to produce coursework in an invigilated environment.  It’s true that with coursework produced at home there is every chance for a cast of thousands to “contribute” – parents, teachers, classmates, Joe from down the chip shop.   The same crew will no doubt have helped each pupil prepare their new-style controlled coursework, but will no longer have a hand in the end product.

Does this mean a de-skilling of mothers?  No longer expected to colour in diagrams, glue photos into portfolios, check punctuation in essays? 

Will the changes in assessment herald a renaissance in creative evening classes as parents seek a new outlet for their cutting, sticking and colouring skills? 

Meanwhile in the streets, will teams be called in with leaf-blowers to clear away the drifts of unused commas and apostrophes?

Nope, Perran and Carenza still aren’t smiling.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Desert Island Students

My oldest son, Pascoe, currently a student at UEA, did a mini-survey of the tunes and tracks that would always remind him and his friends of their student days.  The results can be seen on my new page:
Desert Island Students
The music mentioned sums up the absolute highs of student life with outrageous Euro-pop dance numbers - nights out that will never be forgotten - or maybe never remembered.

There is also some more thoughtful music, just made for the lows of undergraduate life that demand something soft and consoling.

If you are currently a student and have other tracks to suggest, email me at:
My Moon-Shot