I’m so proud of my lovely Child One. She worked so hard and got brilliant A levels, and now she’s off to a fantastic university. How did the tiny girl who had such trouble reading ‘allosaurus’ in those Oxford Reading Tree Biff and Kipper books get so far? I sat pondering this miracle at the weekend in the thousand-year-old dining hall of her college with two hundred other nervous 18-year-olds and their shell-shocked parents.
Well, re-reading that sentence I realise that allosaurus is a completely ridiculous word to stick in a book for six year olds. I suppose they were trying to train children to memorise the shape of a word instead of sounding the whole thing out every time. Needless to say it didn’t work that well for us way back then and we had a lot of long evenings greeting allosaurus as if for the first time on every page. All I can say now to other parents is a) burn that book! and b) just wait twelve years and they’ll be off, however hard Biff and Kipper try to trap them in the dinosaur museum.
So now she’s installed at her uni in a tiny room brimming with hundreds of bottles of shampoo, conditioner, eye make-up remover and tea bags. We’ve accidentally treated this off-to-uni thing in the same way as polar explorers preparing for the apocalypse. For weeks I’ve been doubling up on everything at the supermarket, and she’s been bending my credit card at John Lewis until it resembles an origami elephant. I bet no-one else’s parents are soft/stupid enough to buy their kids an Orla Kiely duvet cover just in time for a bunch of drunken freshers to throw up on it. But it did go so well with her theme (yes, she had a theme and even though neither of us had the least idea what her room would look like, it all worked perfectly). At least she didn’t go quite as far as another friend, who had done an entire mood board with fabric swatches and paint samples.
It was a very long drive past scary motorway signs saying THE NORTH but we emerged five hours later to bright sunlight. I’d been telling Child One for months (probably years) that it gets very cold in the NORTH so we were wearing tons of scarves, boots etc and were like boiled lobsters by the time we fought our way past her massive 15 tog duvet and entire worldly goods and squeezed out of my titchy Fiat 500. The entire centre of the town, usually traffic-free, was ringed with helpful policemen directing carfuls of freshers to their colleges. There were loads of signs spray-painted onto what looked suspiciously like John Lewis 200-thread count sheets (I am now an expert) hanging from bridges and draped across college gates welcoming people to their new quarters, as well as tons of bunting and balloons. The whole town was on the streets grinning at the newcomers and there was a real festival air.
We, of course, were the only ones to miss our turning and we had to drive round the entire one-way system again, with all the policemen laughing into their walkie-talkies as we slunk past on our second lap, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible in a bright blue car bursting with shampoo and hair straighteners.
We made it to the right place in the end (no signpost, I totally blame the college) and after a few hectic hours of unpacking, arranging and sorting, we were in the queue for freshers’ T shirts (these weren’t even a thing when I was at uni, but now you can’t get into the events without one) gowns and, rather to my horror, a ‘sexual health kit’ which turned out to be a bag of condoms. I don’t want to sound overly prudish but we had already found three paper bags bulging with condoms in the kitchen in Child One’s hall. And a bag of condoms in the loos of the college bar. Ok, ok, condoms are good. If you’re going to have sex. But I was beginning to feel that sex was some sort of freshers’ week obligation, like getting your library card.
The library card queue proved to be my undoing. There we were, standing patiently in line, when I suddenly realised that, although loads of parents were still hovering anxiously, I really didn’t need to. Child One was more than capable of queuing without me, and would stand a much better chance of striking up a conversation with a real live fellow-fresher (although probably not one necessitating condoms) without her mother. So we said our goodbyes, which was a lot less emotional than it could have been, partly as I nudged a huge photocopier machine into life as we hugged and a woman had to bustle out of the office to switch it off.
So there we are. It was a sad five hours in the now-empty little blue car, this time speeding toward the South. But it will be a new adventure, for us both.