Sunday 5 July 2020
The household rejoices this week, as our new oven finally arrives!
My old cooker… where to start? The door was permanently rammed shut with a long wooden pole. Even with this ingenious construction, it was slow, slow, slow! Pre-heating the oven? Well we did try but the poor, old thing never once reached temperature. A simple tray of french fries, with a packet guide of ten minutes would take forty-five. The year we attempted to host Christmas Dinner? Well, we’d seen off several gallons of Prosecco, two boxes of crackers and all our party games before there was even the hint of a ‘crisp’ on those roasties!
This weekend, I accept that enough is enough and cashing in on many months of saving up, Small Boy and I, hands sanitised and social distance observed, survey several new devices at our local appliance store and make the purchase.
Meal times are transformed! My heart is in my mouth as Small Boy and his ‘home made pizzas’ christen my shiny, new …. spotlessly clean oven. But, apart from the unaccustomed shock of eye-brow searing heat at we open the door, all goes without a hitch. We all marvel over the new, culinary experience of a pizza base that is ‘crisp’ and cheese that is ‘melted and bubbling’ on top! Throughout the week, the realisation that we can now follow recipe guidance on cooking times, frees us from the logistics of planning, even the simplest of dishes, hours in advance. Food is baked, browned and borne to plates in a blissfully timely manner.
So it is a happy ‘Farewell !’ to pale, underdone chip, luke-warm casseroles and finally sitting down to eat at 9pm at night! New oven – you are a very welcome addition to the house!
Saturday 11 July 2020
Tonight marks my first trip to the pub for over 100 days and suddenly the insane amounts I pay for monthly new driver insurance seem worth every penny!
After weekend upon weekend of ‘Ninja Warrior UK‘ and re-runs of every James Bond film in the catalogue, a Saturday Night ‘out’ beckons . Woohoo – what a prospect! I straighten my hair. I dig out scent. I try a dash of lipstick. I brush down a jacket and polish my heels. I seek teen approval on several jewelry combinations. And I am ready. There is only one snag. The pub is miles away…
Living , as we do, on the edge of Manchester, public transport is terrific …or was. The messages about using it, as we stutter out of Lockdown are not wholly encouraging.
“Consider all other travel options …”
“Plan ahead, allow extra time…”
“If your are travelling, wear a face covering, keep your distance from others, clean your hands frequently …“
So when my eldest offers to give me a lift, I am overjoyed.
Being the only driver in the house is a major pain in the proverbial for countless lone parents. In hectic non-Covid times, it was undoubtedly the source of much of my mental and physical exhaustion; single-handedly juggling the impossible logistics of four very busy lives. And for me, so rarely was there a break from the challenge of timetabling and delivering all our transport, that I once actually burst into tears of gratitude when a colleague offered to pick me up for a work’s night out! And tonight it feels very much the same.
Having a co-driver has come at a cost. New driver insurance is jaw-droppingly expensive. My eldest passed her test many month ago and we finally took the costly plunge as she turned 18. It has meant some sacrifices, money is only finite after all, but I have no regrets at all about postponing a few other plans. For me, it has meant reducing stress and occasionally feeling carefree. And that, after 10 years of single-parent grind is simply priceless. It is a life line I wish I had been able to afford sooner but, as is sadly so often the case in our strange society, it is those of us most in need of a break and some support who are least able to afford it.
Still better late than never! I am driven to my night out. I enjoy a pleasant evening in a NorthWest bar dipping its toes back into the night-time economy. The highlight however… my lift home. Yes, as the clock strikes 10:30pm, my carriage in the form of trusty Toyota Windsor, pulls into view and home we go. We laugh, we sing along to Heart 80s. We are warm. We are dry. We are happy.
A second driver, for me it is a single parent game changer!
Saturday 18 July 2020
It drops through the door and sits on the mat; the Music Centre Bill for Autumn term 2020. I scoop it up with the rest of the mail and head to the kitchen, planning to read it over a morning cuppa. But I don’t. Instead I sit, with my tea and just stare and stare at the envelope, gripped by a dread of opening it at all ….
Is it the finances? No, that’s not it. I’ll be honest, getting an invoice is never the greatest moment of the day, but this one will have a due date of September 2020 and I have two more pay cheques before then. Plenty of time to get those funds together.
What then? It is this. Into my July morning comes the realisation that, for the first time since I can remember, there will only be two names, not three on the letter. The chances are that my eldest will not be joining the other two back at Youth Orchestra in the Fall, because she will be heading off to a new life at University. It is a sudden sign that we are rapidly approaching the end of an era. And I am blind-sided.
Of course a University place is not guaranteed for my girl this October. (Who knows what grades will emerge for her from the national machine currently calculating and balancing covid-estimates for all our examination hopefuls this Summer.) But if not this year, then next. And if not to Higher Education, then ultimately to some independent form of adult life. The time for the four of us and family life, with all our glorious traditions, daily routines, crazy plans and fitting comfortably together … it’s over in the very near future.
I’ve known it was coming, but this letter suddenly makes it feel very real and makes my heart feel very sad. I flick the kettle on again and push the letter aside for a moment. One more cuppa and then I’ll face it ….
Wednesday 22 July 2020
… with the car showroom!
The day starts so well. Having spent the first 2 days of the school holidays clearing out the garage, Wednesday sees Small boy, Prom-dress daughter and I driving to the tip. It is a third day for the grubby, dusty clothes we’ve been wearing for our labours and the car mirror confirms that I do indeed have a cobweb in my hair. But it’s only the tip? Oh and the Macdonald’s Drive Thru! How else would I have tempted my two teen helpers from their beds before noon?
Rubbish tipped and Maccies bought, we are turning for home when I notice a warning light on the dashboard, for the engine! It is only 24 hours since the car was MOT-ed and the garage who passed trusty old Windsor is close by. So we divert to their forecourt … and it is here that the day begins to unravel…
Garages are busy at the moment, with missed Lockdown appointments overlapping current car crises, and the local garage is frantic when we pull up. Cars everywhere! Not a parking spot to be seen. I gratefully espy an ‘additional customer parking’ sign and decide to follow it. Into a crowded and cramped area we venture and, as we struggle to locate a spare patch to stop in, see a vehicle advancing towards us. I wrench Windsor into reverse and begin to edge my way out. There is a close shave with a van on my side, so I yell at the kids to ‘Keep Watch!‘. The advancing car beeps its horn and I begin to feel frazzled. Both kids are mortified by the confusion I am causing,
“Just get out of the way Mum!”
In a panic, I swerve to get back on track and there is a sickening crunch, as I grind Windsor firmly into the corner of the car showroom.
A small crowd has gathered as I slink out of the car. Aluminium strips from the edging of the showroom window flap in the breeze. Windsor is a crumpled, twisted mess. My jaw actually drops open. The manager arrives and looks to me for an explanation. Through my sobs, I manage to tell the tale of the warning light and Windsor is driven away for examination.
We are led inside and what a sorry troop we make. Prom-dress daughter clutches a half-eaten bag of Mozzerella sticks as she shuffles forward in fluffy slipper-socks and sliders. Small boy stomps along with eyes resolutely fixed on his trainers. I bring up the rear, my face streaked with tears and spider webs, occasionally hissing out crazed phrases such as ‘all your fault‘ at the kids. Like naughty school children, we are directed to 3 socially distanced seats and grimly await our fate.
The news, when it finally arrives, is not good. The warning light does indeed herald a ‘major engine job’ and phrases such as ‘heavy bill’ and ‘car out of action for 2 weeks’ break the strained silence of the showroom. They have, thankfully, decided not to charge me for the damage to the building, but advise that the car is fit for ‘small journey’s only‘ until they can book me in. I am also on my own, when it comes to repairing the body work. Feeling a little stunned, we get up to leave,
“Errr… I’ve brought the car round for you!” mumbles an anxious mechanic.
I stare at him through glazed eyes. He points helpfully towards the door. We find Windsor, positioned so far through the exit that he is almost on the pavement. They clearly want me off those premises and who can blame them?
I happen know a good garage for body work. We call in on the way home and the cheery owner calms me down with his reassuring, positive words. Further kindness awaits at home, where my eldest sits me in the lounge with a nice cup of coffee and a bowl of pasta. Small Boy hands me the £7 he made recently from selling his old BMX on ebay. I begin to recover. I start to see the funny side.
No escaping one fact though – the next few weeks are going to be expensive and stationary…
Tuesday 28 July 2020
Windsor, our trusty Toyota, is driven away for his first set of repair jobs this week and, as a result, we find ourselves stationary for a few days. In many ways, it feels like a flashback to early Lockdown. We paint the bathroom. We redesign the conservatory. We auction old furniture on Ebay; our first ‘non-cot’ bed becomes ‘my own big bed‘ to another child; the kitchen table is signed up for a very glamorous new life at a Night Club in town! There is one difference however, I finally put up a music stand and tootle some oboe notes …
Usually, I’d battle through the parts for my nearest concert. But, as Covid-19 has ruled out all rehearsals since March, I have to dig into my older folders and my past repertoire. And I find The Bach Double Concerto for Oboe and Violin. Oh what memories! This is the first full concerto I ever performed in public and it took place 6 short weeks after Small Boy was born!
If you are an expectant, first-time, musical mum, do not try this! It was utter madness. But Small Boy was not my first child, he was my third. Additionally, in over 3 decades of living at the time, no-one had ever invited me to play a concerto before. It was just too good an opportunity to miss.
I was in the very early, unannounced stages of pregnancy when the unsuspecting conductor offered me the job. I agreed enthusiastically, my outward face a picture of smiles and assurance. On the inside, my mind a whirlwind of rapid, mental arithmetic, trying to fathom whether or not I’d be tootling my part in the concert hall or from the Delivery Suite itself! Of course I worried about being too tired. Of course I questioned my sanity. But I recall being cheerfully egged on by my mum,
“There’s no avoiding tired; the choice is tired and happy or tired and miserable!”
And so I did it. I worked like a demon right up to the day my waters broke, juggling my job, two toddlers and Bach with, at times grim, determination. I allowed myself 2 weeks off, when we first brought Small Boy home and then, as he marked his 15th day in this world, I resumed daily practice. The moment ex-hub crossed the threshold from work, I would hand over care of three under 5s and vanish to the back room for an hour of playing.
It didn’t matter that the violinist was a precocious 17 year old virtuoso. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t fit into any concert clothes, (my lovely mum bought me a roomy soloist-style sparkly top). It didn’t matter that I was completely shattered. I powered through with adrenaline and joy, reaping the benefits of all the pre-birth practice regime. The performance was terrific. It also led to tons of other gigs and concerto offers; my golden era of oboe playing.
Today, as I stumble thought the notes, I realise how much my technique and stamina have deteriorated over the last 15 years, particularly since moving North. Nonetheless, I find myself wondering,
‘Do I have another concerto in me?’
Hey, I’m the woman who performed her first concerto less than 2 months after giving birth so, to this or indeed other new challenges, never say never…
Sunday 2 August 2020
What a week! Challenged to keep myself sane with no car and then the re-introduction of Lockdown across Greater Manchester?
Originally, it was scheduled to be a few days of fun, as the teens, cases bulging, piled out of the house for a holiday with their ‘down south family’. After 5 intense months of solo-parenting, my calendar promised plans of hopping about for a few bright lights, late nights and fizz-fuelled reminders that sometimes to be a good mum, it is important to forget about being a mum! However, with trusty Toyota Windsor out of action, not only threatening to blow a 4 figure hole in my bank account, but also putting the brakes firmly on any road-trip plans, I call my more distant pals to cancel and gear myself up for an economical staycation.
I replan with gusto. I set up some local lunches and meetups for the second half of the week. To fill a couple of days near the start, and to save a few more pounds, I decide not to pay someone to tame the overgrown wilderness we call ‘the garden’, but to tackle it myself! Well, when I say ‘myself’ …
I do call upon one person to give me a lift to the garden centre and before I know it a team of gardening experts emerge from the ranks of friends and family to lend a hand. And I am thankful that they do; there is a lot of back breaking work. Indeed, by the time we finish, the stack of garden waste bags, appears to re-enact the final scenes of the ‘Feeding of the 5000‘
” …and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over” (Matthew 14 v 13-21)
I have definitely earned a treat and, like a divine domino effect, as the garden is hauled into some sort of shape, I roll seamlessly into the the more social events of my stay-local week. On a sunny Thursday afternoon, I manage a Prosecco and strawberry picnic in the park. As I am dropped off, I allow myself the foolish optimism of thinking that the week is really going rather well. That same Thursday night, smiling and tipsy, I flick on the TV and the news report on the Greater Manchester Lockdown, freezes my grin and brings me crashing back to sobriety.
” … from midnight tonight, people from different households will not be allowed to meet each other…” (Matthew Hancock)
Oh my goodness! For this single mum, the return to social restrictions feels like the prison door slamming shut. Saturday night restaurant plans – up in smoke. Monday lunch plans – down the drain. No-one even allowed in to help with the garden anymore! Those divine forces clearly have other plans for me this week … at least there’s gin in the cupboard …
Wednesday 5 August 202
After 6 months of hair-style wilderness for the females in our house, I finally secure us an appointment at the local salon. Does it feel momentous? Why yes it does! So much so in fact that I even take before and after shots. Hairdresser Nina, you are a ‘magician!‘
The set up at the Covid-aware salon is an impressive one. Staff have changed their working hours and shifts to create separate teams. Hand sanitiser, masks and visors are everywhere. Customers now have to hang up their own coats and the frothy coffee, with a Biscoff biscuit, is a thing of the past. Nonetheless, it is an hour of more pampering and attention than I can remember for a very long time … and Nina has surprising news!
“Your hair is in a great condition!”
Yes it is overgrown. Yes it has lost all shape. Yes with a cute animal mask I could re-invent myself as a lion. But none of that is news to anyone that knows me. My Gaelic roots ensure that I have always gallavanted through life with a signature crown of ‘crazy hair’, capable of reaching epic proportions in the wind and rain. What is less well know, however, is that my hair takes my stress. I pick it. I twirl it. I tear it. I damage it. I have been ruining my locks since high school. Some years are worse than others. A year or so after my marriage break-up, it was so patchy I actually treated myself to hair extensions to give my real hair a chance to recover. It worked brilliantly. Not only was I warded off touching my hair by the fear that the costly tresses would fall out, but it also won me over psychologically. I saw how great my hair could look if only I could mend my ways.
Sadly no effect lasts forever and the ensuing decade has been one of highs and lows for the old barnet. What I was not really not expecting was that 5 months of social distancing, which I have found a real struggle, would help, But it has. The ever-supportive Nina is delighted and fusses over my curls like a proud parent. I have to conclude that although it has been decidedly dull and dreary at times, Lockdown has clearly been less stressful for this stretched single mum than our pre-Corona calendar. My hair is doubtless very grateful. I am left trying to avoid scratching my head as I try to square the circle of returning to the best parts of ‘normal’ without ramping the levels of stress right back up again …
Thursday 13 August 2020
It is A level results day. I haven’t slept. I am up at six. Pacing the house. Hoovering for no reason. Depositing half-drunk cups of coffee in several rooms. By the time my eldest disappears to her room, to view the 8 am grades, I am on the edge of bursting into tears. Everything goes very, very quiet …until,
“Mum, can you come here please?”
And then I do cry. My girl has the grades she needs. After four years of unbelievable slog, barriers and hurdles one of my children is off to Medical School. It is so fantastic. It is almost impossible to take in.
2020 will be marked in educational annals as the Covid exam year; when exams were cancelled and pupils were given calculated grades. It has caused a national uproar, centred on the disparity between the standardisation of state and private school results. I expect the chapters of this year’s grade awards still have further pages to turn. But as the story of our marathon to Medical School reaches its end, I can say with some surety that if you want to experience first-hand the battle to break into an elite circle from the outside and even just to be allowed your entitlement to ambition, tell the world that you want to become a doctor!
Even though it has been daunting, and at times demoralising, I don’t want to put anyone off. I would do it all again in a breath. For this single mum, even without the final outcome, the whole experience has been an unforgettable rite of passage. Transporting me from life as a parent of a child, to becoming a parent of an amazing young adult, unique person and great friend. We have shared so much, and this includes laughter and fun as well as the tears and moments of despair. I have learned far more from my inspirational girl than I might ever hope to have taught her. It really has been some of the best of times…
Saturday 29 August 2020
This week STA Travel go out of business. I raise a nostalgic cup of coffee to them, recalling the thrilling day, long ago in 1989, when I bought my ‘round the world ticket‘ from their Euston Road store. With a smile, I recall having to write the cheque out three times! It was the largest purchase I’d even made and, faced with such a vast array of digits, I found it a challenge to get the decimal point into the correct place. STA, to me synonymous with youth, adventure and exploration. Furthermore, this 2020 week rolls onto Saturday, which heralds the start of the Tour de France in the gloriously vibrant city of Nice. This is the scene of a more recent grown-up holiday, and with happy memories of travels and foreign lands at every turn, I’m struggling a little to reflect favourably on a Summer spend mostly in my own back garden…
Yes what a strange 6 weeks for this self-confessed travel lover! I did learn, if not to like, at least to tolerate gardening itself. I planted flowers and tidied up paths. I staggered around with huge sacks of bark and ferried broken old fences and bag, upon bag of rubble to the tip. Without question however, the outdoor highlight was the inspired rebirth of Small Boy’s football goal … as a net for games of tennis … with our beach bat set! Now that actually was a lot of fun. To be fair, when you live with a child as inventive as Small Boy, fun can be found in the most unexpected scenarios…
Yes, here he is in 2016. About a year after we bought the footie net, we found our boy, finally despairing of finding any players in the ‘house of girls’, out in the garden having a kick about with many of the finest professionals of the day, including Ronaldo and Neuer! Whilst the print out faces catch the eye, I think my favourite feature is the garden rake playing the part of Neuer’s goalkeeper arms.
So it would be wrong to deny some very fond memories of the sunnier days of July and August. Garden games, garden reading, the occasional cheeky garden cocktail. More importantly, everyone so far safe and well. But there is no escaping the fact that I’ve found the lack of variety incredibly difficult. For July and August, I could easily substitute April and May. When did Spring become Summer? When did work really stop? (For the dramas of school results and school re-opening have certainly kept me chained to my work emails on a daily basis.) I love being part of a seasonal nation and Summer for me should distinguish itself with adventure, travel and new experiences. Instead I gear myself up to roll into a socially distanced Autumn wondering if we will even notice the summertide departure.
Well I guess the sunny days will lessen. So here’s hoping that Small Boy has some ideas for livening up ‘lounge life’….
After months of school closure, September 2020 sees millions of children in England make a welcome return to the classroom.
For me, it starts with a day of teacher training. In an inspiring opening session, we learn that, bucking the national trend, referrals to our local safeguarding team have rocketed during lockdown. A shocking statistic without doubt, but I find it incredibly motivating too. It demonstrates just how important it is for us to be taking our place back in the community we serve. In recent weeks, the media have made much of ‘lost learning’ and no-one can argue against this being a significant driver in the decision to see all pupils back in the classroom. But a school is even more than that to some of our young people. For many, our seat of education serves primarily as a place to mix with friends, soak up knowledge and prep for exams. For others, it is clearly also a haven of stability, routine and refuge.
When our pupils do return, it is in their hundreds. By Friday we have over 1200 young people in the building. Yes, we have 5 entrances. Yes we have 5 different breaks. Yes we cannot move for hand sanitisers, face masks and one-way systems. Yes the times of the day are bewildering – I actually pack one class up 10 minutes early for lunch sitting 3! But fundamentally, in all the ways that matter, it feels gloriously back to normal. We might all be wearing face coverings, but that doesn’t change the people underneath. The chatter, the laughter, the hustle and bustle all seem to breathe life back into the very fabric of the building. A school really is its people.
Running up and down 3 flights of stairs many time day does take it toll however, and I eventually abandon my stifling mask in favour of a visor, made by the DT department. In the canteen, one of my new pupils calls me over,
“Miss, you look as if you’re ready for that game. Where you have a name stuck to your forehead and have to guess who it is. Do you know that game?”
“Know that game? I love that game. In fact we will be playing that game in our last lesson before Christmas. We can all be famous Mathematicians!”
“Ooh like Py…thagoras! That Greek guy you told us about. The one who doesn’t eat beans!”
Another pupil, joins in,
“Or hytop…hypon…hy …oh I can’t even say it!!”
“Hypotenuse“, I finish with a proud smile. “You have been listening. I’m impressed!
A third pupil leans over,
“Miss, can you get me one of those?”
“A visor? Leave it with me!” I say with a grin, moving away
And in moments like these, more than the day the Premier League came back, more that my first visit to the pub, or first post-Lockdown haircut, I feel as if life has started up again.
Who knows how long it will last. Each day the number of new covid-19 cases creeps a little higher, although fatalities remain low. As teachers we train for remote learning, blended learning and catch-up learning. Risk assessments are reviewed weekly and only get longer. We remain in a precarious position. But with attendance topping 96% for us this week, and reported to be between 91% and 100% in a wider national survey of schools, there are clearly a lot of families hoping the school gates remain unlocked long into the future …
Sunday 13 September 2020
Boris Johnson 9 Sep 2020
As Covid 19 cases in the UK start to rise steeply again, the Government responds with ‘The Rule of Six’. In my world however, the challenges of work and home suggest that rules are not really the way I navigate life …I’m much more a ‘guiding principles’ girl!
Being a mathematician, you’d expect me to like rules. And I do. I like mathematical rules! And this is why. In my beautiful subject, unique in academic circles for its puritanical approach to ‘proof’, when we define rules we also state precisely the parameters in which they will work. Hence, everyone is clear where and when we apply a rule and where we do not. In other areas of life, alas, this is not the case.
Muddying rules, in many other, less rigorous domains, is the murky concept of ‘the exception‘ And the problem with exceptions, in hastily conceived plans, is that they divert attention to loop holes, lead to rule bending, challenge concepts of fairness and create confusion. Thus, even before Boris ambles to the lectern to guide us through ‘The Rule of 6’, the radio phone-ins have already gone into overdrive discussing, ‘But what about …?’ , ‘Does this mean ….?’ ‘So can I …? queries. In all the uproar, the important rationale behind this latest dictate seems lost.
At work too, there is no escape from the presence of Covid. Whereas Week 1 was a celebration of being back, Week 2 brings into sharp focus the reality of learning in the time of Corona. Several local schools have already been told to close to classes or year group bubbles. Although we escape this for now, we have a growing number of pupils on the ‘Covid-concern‘ list. CPDsessions are hastily rearranged to bring training on: remote learning and blended learning forward, and as a collective we plan for quality educational provision against several different scenarios. Staff, refreshed by their August break, are up for the challenge and the team leading on teaching and learning are imaginative and inventive. Their plan looks terrific and it needs to; we are already in ‘Scenario 1’.
Our first scenario is that individual pupils are in isolation, whilst the rest of the school operates as usual, and these remote learners need a programme to follow from home. The work is organised. Challenge number 2 is that central government also advise on who should get it! Leafing frantically through the dense DfE guidance, someone suggests a flow chart of rules to follow. I look at the length of the pupil list, I imagine us tying ourselves in knots chasing and keeping track of: dates, times and validity conditions, I shudder at the prospect of communicating it all to parents … and I shake my head.
“Let’s not do that!” I interject
“Let’s do this. When the parent explains their reasons, or confirms the test status, or test wait time (because kind readers the reported 24 hour turn around is a myth), let’s just ask ourselves one ethical question, ‘In terms of their quality of education, is it in this child’s best interest to send work home or not?‘”
‘Why might you not want to send work home?’ I hear you cry.
Well there are very occasional reasons, but I shall spare you these for now. The point really is this. We frame our decision making around a principle, as opposed to a set of rules, and it seems just as powerful … but a whole lot easier.
At home, I stutter through a very tense week. School now stays open late and so my working day reverts to an 8-6. It is a shock to a household used to me being omni-present. The laundry baskets groan with washing, we rarely eat before 8, homework is hastily remembered at 10pm and … tempers fray. By Saturday, I reside in a dwelling where: one child is nursing a hangover, another has not spoken to any of us for days, a third claims daily to have Covid 19 and be unfit for school and their mother feels as if she has locked horns with all of them and is permanently on ‘ranting-nag mode’ . It is not very nice for anyone and I decide it is time to morally question myself.
“In the interests of a happy homestead,’ I voice aloud, ‘what would now be the best course of action?
I take paracetemol and a strong coffee into one room, I take study-snack chocolate, a sympathetic ear and a good chunk of listening time into a second and a thermometer (plus knowing smile) into the third. It is by no means a instantly perfect solution, but the mood definitely lifts and the weekend looks … manageable at least!!
Maybe a guiding principle is not workable for a National Public Health message but I would really welcome a shared ethical understanding to encourage buy-in and co-operation, as opposed to a seeming quest to find a way ‘out of the rules’…
Saturday 26 September 2020
On a bright Autumnal Saturday morning, Windsor’s suspension creaking under the weight of suitcases, boxes, pots and pans; two teens sandwiched into the back seat with pillows and duvets; my Eldest on navigation and me at the wheel, we set off to Newcastle Uni. My first child is leaving home…
It’s a happy journey. The two backseaters plug themselves into their phones whilst my Eldest and I, chat and laugh and harmonise along to songs on the radio. We arrive in good time and park in the city centre for a spot of lunch.
As is now the case anywhere in the UK, there are quite a few changes to city life. I am initially stunned by the contrast to the bustling Newcastle we last saw on a January interview; now transformed into a silent shopping centre where face-masked locals obediently snake along in a one-way system, patiently leave space on escalators and queue outside busier shops. It’s a relief to get back onto the open streets, where following some track-and-trace scanning and hand sanitising we find ourselves safely in a Yo! Sushi booth with dishes whirling round to our table.
All three teens are completely at home in the new world of phone menus and remote ordering. I hand over my credit card and let them take over! Sitting back, with a smile, watching the trio laughing and joking their way through the dishes, I realise that I could be dropping any one of them off for a new life today. They all look so capable, so self assured and so ready to take their place in the world. The panic I thought I’d feel; that these fun, family times are coming to an end dissolves into pride. I just feel proud of the three, incredible young people I have raised and proud of our strong bond as a family. Things will be different from now on, but in all the ways that matter, I think we will be as close as ever.
After lunch we find the student accommodation. My Eldest hops out to pick up her keys and we see her chatting to other new students … many times, as the rest of us complete circuit after circuit in a fruitless attempt to locate a parking spot. As the car park attendant waves us by onto lap 4, I decide enough is quite enough and manoevre Windsor into, what is clearly an illegal spot, right outside the entrance to my daughter’s block. After that, we unload, smile at flat-mates and their parents, drive off to do a bit of food shopping and giggle as we return to find cones now sternly blocking our drop-off spot. As the sun starts to fade from the day, Small Boy and I leave the girls together unpacking for a last bit of sister-time before it is time to go.
Yes, there are tears at this point. And as we hit the motorway south with only 3 of us in the car, my heart begins to ache. I have so much confidence in my Eldest child. She is brilliant, she is unstoppable, she will make a great contribution to the world. I know that Newcastle Uni are really lucky to have her. But she is also one of my best friends, she has brightened my day for the last 18 years, and I am just really going to miss her …