Road Trip!

Friday 28 June – Sunday 30 June 2019

Oh my goodness- what a weekend! My brain is fried and I am almost too exhausted to speak, after a whirlwind of Open Days, concerts, shopping and ….driving!

Friday is Nottingham Open Day for my eldest and I. At home, Prom-dress daughter has slept at a friend’s house, and so we only have Small Boy to worry about. He has managed to lose his school bus pass this morning, but it’s his lucky day. I am far to preoccupied to launch into my usual ‘that bus pass cost me good money!’ tirade. We simply drop him off on the way and then hit the motorway.

Having been promised a heat wave, we have donned summer outfits and view the clouds and drizzle of Yorkshire, and then Nottinghamshire, with slight alarm from the windows of our trusty vehicle. And though dry, it is distinctly chilly as, upon arrival, car safely parked, we step out to explore the University campus. We really enjoy the day; mixing talks and tours with the chance to look at lots of accommodation. The promised sun does eventually make an appearance too, and the first leg of our trip draws to a close with a stroll back to the car, ice cream in hand.

We now set the SatNav for …Newcastle! As the marvellous machine recalculates our route, it’s time to check in with the rest of my teens. Small Boy has successfully made it to my mum’s house. A weary Prom-dress daughter, a little jaded from her night of prom-ing, has, impressively, managed to get herself to a College Induction Day, and a rehearsal in one piece and hopes to join the others shortly. It all sounds good, and with the navigation device promising a 2 hour and 45 minute trip to the North East we set off…

Over 4 hours, and much Friday night rush hour traffic later, we are driving past the Angel of the North and finally checking in at the Holiday Inn Express in Newcastle! It’s been a very long day and after sharing Pizza, nachos and a cheeky glass of Prosecco at the bar, it’s PJ and telly time, then sleep!

By 9:30 am, on a very sunny Saturday, we are sitting, triumphant in our summer outfits, in the Medicine talk at Newcastle Uni. By 1:30 pm, having done Bio Medial Sciences, Neuro-Science, Chemical Engineering and two hall of residence tours, we are ready to hit the road and head home.

Travel fatigue is now beginning to set in. My right ankle (old running injury) and right arm are pretty sore and my eldest sighs like an old lady as she casts her shoes off in the passenger seat. Nonetheless, our spirits are high, possibly veering on hysterical – we find everything amusing, from ‘no hard shoulder’ signs to the M62 Summit sign- as we head back to our corner of the North West.

We are home by 4pm, whereupon an anxious Prom-dress daughter, who is preparing for a week of work experience (at an architecture firm ‘down south’), announces that she has ‘no work clothes‘ in her wardrobe. My eldest also needs to stock up on provisions for her Duke of Edinburgh Gold expedition. And so it is that, after a quick cuppa and pressing a few buttons on the washing machine, we are off to the shops and eventually sit down, to a take-away curry, at about eight.

Next morning, it’s off to York Uni for my eldest, whilst Small Boy, Prom-dress daughter and I set out for the drive ‘down south’ to deliver our would-be architect to her dad. My arm and ankle are now strapped up to ease the pain. The bandages work well and our outward journey is a jolly one. We while away the motorway hours with ‘I Spy‘ , ‘Guess who‘ and much laughter. ‘Guess who‘ features lots of rappers from Small Boy and figures from Elizabethan England from Prom-dress daughter… I do struggle to get a turn!

The return journey is far less fun. Not only does Small Boy feel a little deflated to be travelling back without his lovely sister, but I am now very tired and find myself drifting off at the wheel. I do stop to revive myself, with coffee and fresh air, but it uses up time and we only just manage to collect my eldest from the train station as she returns from her third Open Day in an many days.

We dine on the dregs of left-over curry, and just have time to nip out to buy a new bus pass for Small Boy before my eldest and I race to a local city hall for her concert. My beautiful girl takes my breath away with some stunning solo playing and for a happy couple of hours I do relax and clear my brain of the logistical load it has carried for the last few days.

When we do arrive home, I gaze catatonically at the TV for less than an hour before turning in. Tomorrow is July and tomorrow is also Duke of Edinburgh Gold expedition, a concert for Small Boy, Prom-dress daughter’s first day at work experience, oh and a full day of work for me. Do you know what, tomorrow can just wait for a few hours…

The beginner’s guide to…. Open Days!

Saturday 15 June 2019

Today my eldest and I head South for a University Open Day. But it’s not any old ‘South’, it’s the city where the children were born and I lived for over 10 years. So I am confident, I am calm, I am pretty ad hoc with my planning … and I learn the error of my ways!

We are on the road by 6:30 am and soon cruising down the motorway. It’s a familiar route I’ve driven many times but, as there are several ‘Queue Likely’ warnings, I boldly decide to experiment with a slightly altered course. Not my wisest move, as it turns out. I miss several key junctions and, even with my eldest using her navigation skills to get us back on track, we probably lose half an hour. (It suddenly strikes me that all my kids are pretty impressive with a map. I fear that with my sense of direction it’s become one of life’s necessities!) Despite the detour delays, we make time for a coffee stop, turn the volume up loud on the radio and sing our way merrily down South … until we hit the traffic!

We are about 2 miles from our destination when we grind to a complete halt, and we are still sitting in the jam as the time for our first Talk comes, and goes. Several packed buses, speed past us, in their designated bus lane, mocking us with their ‘Main Campus’ destination signs. My eldest chooses this moment to remind me that there had been a ‘Park and Ride’ option. I now regret waiving aside the regular emails the University sent me, trusting instead to the claim that “I know this town”!

Still I do know my way around and remember a pretty handy place to park, when we eventually clear the traffic. And then we dive into the throngs and the cut and thrust of the modern University Open Day. Blimey, a lot has changed since I trundled around my Universities of choice, back in the 1980s! In my decade, it was a day off college, eating marmalade sandwiches on the train, meeting a student, having a quick tour of the lecture halls and accommodation before heading back home for tea. Absolutely no-one came with their parents! Today, the entire city centre is taken over by Open Day visitees and their attached families. Student guides, in brightly coloured T-shirts, congregate on every street corner, handing our maps and giving directions. There are traffic wardens, stopping the traffic to shepherd the crowds across the road, pop-up food stalls and drinks stations. It’s insane! It’s bewildering!

But, whilst I am a chaos of dis-organisation, frantically failing to make sense of a University map, made soggy and dog-eared by the torrential rain, my eldest has done her homework. She waves her phone expertly at student guides, to register us for a terrific schedule of pre-booked talks and lectures. We have an amazing tour of some Science labs, where lecturers, passionate about their subjects, actually blow out minds with their knowledge, brilliance and enthusiasm. Suddenly I know that this is the world for my girl. She has had the sense to prepare as well for the Open Day as she does for everything, and that why, despite a slightly delayed start, we get so much out of it and she will get so much out of a University Education. I feel super-proud to be her mum.

We sing our way back up the motorway and finally arrive home at 8 pm. I have had plenty of time to learn some lessons. Here they are, as my tips for other beginners to the Open Day carousel:

  1. Do book overnight accommodation if you can: our 14 hour day was a bit of a killer!
  2. Do have a look at the road map and plan your route in advance.
  3. Do read the emails the Unis send you and follow their advice on parking: I am first in the queue for any future Park and Rides on offer!
  4. Do think about what your child wants to get our of University life and book the tours and talks to match
  5. Definitely do look forward to some fun quality time with your brilliant child and enjoy every minute, including the road trip itself!