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.)

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Beach Barbecue

In St Ives there were a lot of notices about things one shouldn’t do (see earlier post), so I wondered if barbecuing on the beach might be prohibited too.
In the local co-op, I asked the shop assistant,
“Is there any problem with having a barbecue on the beach?”
“Yes,” he replied, “You’ll get sand in everything.”
But a beach barbecue on a warm evening looks magical.  What could be better?   Usually, our family is fairly quiet about it.  It probably looks as if we are enjoying sunset over the waves.  In fact, the shop assistant is right - we are concentrating very hard on not letting our courgette kebab slither off our bendy paper plate and into the sand.
This time, we found some convenient flattish rocks and perched at the sea’s edge.  But we were a tad uncomfortable, aware that for the nearby diners in one of St Ives’ trendy, faux-casual seafood restaurants we were The View. 
And to add to our self-consciousness, we were pretty sure that a family we knew were in there looking out at us.
Bravely, I sliced up a water melon in mid-air.  One false move and it would get covered in grit. 
Perhaps we should have paid up and gone to the trendy restaurant too.
But as I stood up to wash my hands in the sea, I saw we had guests – two curious seals had arrived and were bobbing only a few feet away, regarding us with great liquid eyes. 

However good the ambience in the restaurant, it couldn’t compete with that.

Friday, 11 July 2014

School Trip Flashback

 We just had our family holiday in St Ives.  My schoolfriend Jennie came over to visit and we reminisced.
Our year at school had very few  trips. I like to think that it was because we got ‘lost’ in the process of going comprehensive.  Not at all that we had a reputation for being a bit “lively”. 
However, just as we were about to leave school, it was as if somebody had said,
“Hey – those sixth formers – why are they so pale and pastey looking?”
“It’s because they’ve never been allowed out.”
So at last we had a trip to St Ives.  We could go to the beach or the shops but there was just one thing we must not on any account do.
We must not take a motor boat out into the bay. 
Hadn’t Mrs Stansfield seen any horror movies?  As soon as she had said that, it became…inevitable.
It wasn’t me.  I was with Gill worthily visiting the newly opened Barbara Hepworth studio, where the thing that left the biggest impression on me was an enormous spider with an abdomen like an unripe cherry tomato which lurked in the conservatory. So much for Modernism.
Meanwhile, by the harbour a lifeboatman was donning his sou’wester.  Apparently a couple of schoolgirls had taken a motor boat out into the bay, the engine had cut out and they were in some sort of distress. 
As the lifeboat slid down the slipway, Mrs Stansfield stood by looking thoughtful.
“Has anybody seen Jennie recently?”
In fact, everybody who was watching the drama in the bay could see Jennie and her friend Sheila frantically attempting to restart their engine.

Since then, Jennie’s been on hundreds of school trips, but has never got into quite so much trouble again.  After all, she is the deputy head. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014


From Google Images: Beast of Bodmin Moor Skit,
or should I say, Kit.
Sadly we didn't get a picture.
Surely the advantage of being on holiday in Cornwall with a husband and son who have biology degrees is that when you spot a British mammal, they will identify it easily.
In fact, we saw and admired a number of seals relaxing in the surf.  “Look,” we cried, “Seals.”
Then,  coming back late at night from the Minack Theatre, we had to slow down to allow a badger to chug across the road (appropriately, just outside the hamlet of Badger’s Cross).  “Look,” we remarked, “A Badger.”
But then on the footpath from St Ives to Zennor, we looked up and saw on a rise above us, about twenty metres away, a black creature.
 “What the hell is that?” we asked one another.
It was feline, but too large to be a domestic cat and had a big head and tufted ears.
Could it be The Beast?
Rumours have abounded for years that following closures of private menageries in the 1970s, some type of black big cat has been roaming wild in Cornwall where the climate is mild and there are stretches of untamed countryside.  Most publicity goes to the Beast of Bodmin Moor but I have also met two people who claim to have seen them near Zennor.
Whether we saw The Beast or not, I now at least have an explanation for why there are so few photos of The Beast – people are so busy trying to work out what it is that they are seeing that by the time the creature takes fright and lopes away, they still haven’t got their camera out.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The "Stupid" Pier

So when you live in a shared student house and hand-written signs start to appear in the kitchen, it's a sure sign that relationships have started to break down.
"Please do not take my food out of the fridge."
"Will whoever borrowed my cherry stoner please return it."
"Please make sure you turn the oven off when you leave the kitchen.  Please."
While on holiday in St Ives, we found another prominent case of relationship breakdown.
The notices on Smeaton's Pier made us ask "Who on earth would do that?"
"Holiday makers - that's who."

Monday, 7 July 2014


This time last year, I was wondering if that family holiday might be our last.  And it looked as if I had been right.  Due to Pascoe, Perran and Carenza’s  travel plans and summer jobs, we could not holiday together this year.
Not that their plans ever ceased to shift.  In the end, we booked a house for a fortnight in St Ives.  
Artists have chosen to reside in St Ives for the wonderful light created by the special sand.  Holiday makers have come for the beaches, the many galleries, the sub-tropical gardens. 
But we were won over by the fact that it had its own railway station.  As our children’s dates of arrival and departure changed with the ebb and flow of the tide, we remained impassive.  
We would not be driving miles to drop off/pick up.  They could just catch the train. 
In the end, we saw more of our children than I had predicted.  Only Carenza missed out on the first week.  Her absence gave us the welcome opportunity to entertain our friends Nick and Jackie.  And when she arrived, all we had to do was to go and meet the train.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

What I learnt

This time last year, I was revising my Latin and reading teetering montains of books in order to be ready for the start of my PGCE course to teach Classics. 
I was apprehensive because I knew the year would test me.
And so it did.
More than once I cried. And I’m not a weepy person. 
However, I had an expectation that if I worked hard, I would succeed. 
Like a sportswoman investing in equipment, I had prepared for the course: in particular, I finally submitted to wearing glasses. (Okay, so not very much like a sportswoman investing in equipment really.)
It wasn’t so much that I had felt my eyesight was poor, it was more that once I had the glasses, I realised how much I had been missing. 
Similarly as I blundered through new challenges, I discovered my thinking had become sharper once more.
I had to be well-organised too – younger colleagues could pull an all-nighter to get an assignment out of the way, but if I did that there was no way I could have dragged myself into the classroom to face my pupils the next day.  So I had to plan ahead to make sure I got to bed in good time with my cup of cocoa.
But mainly what I’ve learnt is that as my children fly the nest my life is taking off in a different direction and I have a whole new era of usefulness ahead of me.