Just a call…

Tuesday 13 October 2020

It is 6pm. I am just packing up for the day when my Eldest calls. It’s been a hell of a day.

Another

We confirm a member of the school community has tested positive for Covid-19′ day

Another

‘We are diverting all staff onto emergency cover until half term’ day

Another

Teach your lesson; post your lesson; live stream your lesson; everything three times your lesson’ day

Another

Your fault. Follow the rules. Don’t blame test and trace. Schools stay “open”. We’ve given you three extra weeks, … We’re all in this together‘ day

I push it all aside and tune into my daughter’s bubbly chatter.

It’s true, she has blown month one’s budget in just over 2 weeks and a giggly, joyful voice takes me through the mis-calculations and ‘very valid’ reasons why ‘money’s running a bit low’. I hear crazy tales of cinema bookings for Newcastle-under-Lyne instead of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the surprise of finding yourself in a screening of ‘Harry Potter‘ … instead of a romcom. I hear about mishaps with keys and the saga of a broken phone screen. I hear the cheerful acknowledgement that arriving in the North East with a suitcase full of crop-tops but no winter coat probably wasn’t her wisest move…

And I hear, life and laughter and happiness. And it makes me smile and at least for the rest of today, remember what living is really all about…

She’s leaving home …

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 …

A Level Results Day

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…

Re-living the Journey – just for the record!

Initial reactions

Mid way through Year 10, my eldest took herself to an event for ‘Young Doctors‘ at Manchester Uni. She skipped back through the door, waving a sutured banana, utterly sold on the idea of a career in medicine. By the December of Year 11, her drive and determination were beginning to take my breath away. I offered to test her for mocks and instead ended up being educated by her, on the wonders of Biology and Chemistry. She clearly was the real deal and I started to tell others of her plans. My niece was super excited and bombarded us with helpful sites and advice. Everyone else, clearly thought we were deluded,

“Medicine! Isn’t that incredibly difficult?”

“Don’t you need really high grades?

That’s so hard to get into! Can she really stand out?”

The message seemed clear; that Medical school was ‘not for people like us‘. And to my shame, as I confess in my first ever blog post, I retreated into this world of self doubt. Fortunately, teachers, teachers at a local comprehensive school, did not. They recognised the talents and efforts of my unstoppable girl, and rewarded her with praise, encouragement and a ‘smash the glass-ceiling‘ attitude. In August 2018, she collected a stellar set of GCSE results, moved onto sixth form college and joined the ‘Medical Group’.

Work experience and volunteering

The group told us of the hoops we has to jump through in terms of volunteering and work experience. When it came to finding a way through them however, we were on our own. My daughter hit the phones and found herself a volunteering post at a local care home. But clinical ‘work experience ‘…

I set out with a naive belief in the existence of a  ‘system’ to support us. We applied to countless hospital trusts and council care home. Some rejected us. Others ignored us. Many said ‘no‘ to any clinical care or patient contact. It was dead end after dead end.

Now I believe in a comprehensive system. I work in the school comprehensive system. But I don’t believe any such a system exists for medical school applicants. And if the system fails, like any mum I am going to fight for my child. In January 2019, in a growing panic about work experience, I abandoned official channels and fell upon the mercy of a doctor friend. How fantastic was this friend? I honestly cannot do them justice in words. They sorted out a placement. They provided great work experience. And they did something even more valuable than that; they invested time, care and interest. They were there, long after the work experience week, to meet up, talk through and help understand what being a doctor meant; why being a doctor was so important.

In the meantime, my daughter moved onto the UKCAT.

UKCAT

Despite a national shortage of doctors, great GCSEs, high A Level predictions, work experience and a year of volunteering are not enough for our UK medical courses. Oh no! You also have to take a medical aptitude test, prior to University application. For us it was the UKCAT.

My eldest, prepped for it herself with a bank of online questions. She ground through  practice papers on our holiday in Spain, upon our return, at her dad’s … essentially in any space she could find. The tests were gruesomely tough. But so is my girl! She fought through to emerge with flying colours. Ranked in the top 3% of entrants, she was now free to apply to the UKCAT University of her choice. Her personal statement penned, we crossed our fingers and waited for an interview.

The Interview

Without doubt, for us this was the worst experience. Scheduled in December, the exhausted end of term weeks and always an overnight stay away,  they proved a mammoth ordeal. It was to our genuine amazement that, four gruelling interview ordeals later, surviving sets of 5 or 7 stations of: group tasks, role play, ethical discussions, communication challenges and an interrogation of her personal qualities she finally got 3 offers.

Which just left the small matter of some pretty high A level grades …

A Levels 2020

We could actually see the finishing line. February mocks went really well. Parents Evening was a dream. Revision schedules were on the wall. Exam dates were on the calendar. But who could have foreseen the curve ball of all curveballs that was heading our way? Covid 19!

Schools closed, exams cancelled. Teachers to predict and rank. Awarding bodies to churn it all through statistical machinations. And a generation of Year 13 students, exiled to wait 5 long months, now powerless to influence the outcome, to learn their fate…

We were back in the hands of teachers and have them to thank for their assessments, tracking and judgements. For their trust in a talent nurtured by interest, hard work and sheer grit. A level grades emerged from the calculations, not quite as high as predicted, but more than enough.

At last, the next stage beckons …

The music centre bill..

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 ….

Did it…

Friday 31 January 2020

Another January draws to a close, but this is no ordinary opening slog of dark and dreary endurance. It is one where, just as I pause to proudly cheer “I did it!”, I find myself bowled with joy because my eldest really and truly ‘did it’! She went and got herself that University offer…

I did Dry January! Today I reach the end of a 31 day alcohol-holiday for my body. Tough times at first – bottles of white wine gleaming like exotic jewels of temptation on the supermarket shelves. Turning the key in the lock after a late night rehearsal but not relaxing with a glass of whisky. It all felt very dull. Was it worth the perseverance? Absolutely! From the middle of the month, I rediscovered a natural tiredness and slept like a baby most nights. And today, as I prepare to wave goodbye to total abstinence, my skin is clear, my stomach settled and water, how I crave H20, seems far more refreshing than … anything. Above all however, I have fallen a little bit in love with my clearer, fresher mind. This old brain won’t ever revive the glorious romps of my 20s, I know that, but without doubt, it is sharper and speedier this month than in the previous 5 years. Alcohol, yes it was difficult to give up, but for me, giving up fog-free thinking, now that will be impossible. I think my drinking habits are reformed for ever. “Eek!

Today also marks ‘done it’ for my course of antibiotics. My finger still looks pretty awful but it is usable again. I can write once more. I can turn on light switches. I can rummage for keys on my bag. And I can at long last, return to playing my oboe – hip hip hooray! But it doesn’t quite end there. This is Friday, which means that I ‘do’ a run! It’s a gruelling and windswept ordeal tonight, but my run buddy drags me around the muddy course. By the end, my mood is high; and it is about to go stratospheric.

I am just collapsing into my car when the mobile rings, it’s my eldest,

“Mum, Nottingham have given me an offer!!!”

Joy, pride, relief, incredulity, all these emotions and more flood the system. So much hard work, so much stress, so much waiting, but suddenly it all seems worth it. My girl, against all the odds, has ‘done it’, and she edges ever closer to her medicine dreams. I am completely over the moon. Forget your fizz and cocktails; this feels like a high that will never end.

So I bid you a fond farewell January 2020 … possibly the best January ever!!

Look after yourself…

Friday 24 January 2019

After a busy week, Friday comes to an early end. I am too ill to make it through a full day and am sent home. I wonder if ‘looking after yourself’ is a mantra I should take more seriously?

It is probably about 6 days ago that I first start to have pains in my finger. I stick a plaster over it, but by Tuesday, the whole thing is such a swollen and angry mess that I call at the Pharmacy on the way home. ‘Infected‘, is the swift diagnosis, ‘You need to see a GP!’

Wednesday morning, at 8 am sharp, I am on that phone. I call the Doctor to be told that I can have an appointment … on 4th February! So I give up and get on with the day. It’s a super-frantic day as it happens. No break, no lunchtime, post-work training, followed by an even later meeting and then home… to fill up with petrol and set out in the gloom and fog for a 3 hour drive to Newcastle.

A final university interview for my eldest takes us to the North East and what a great part of the country it is. We check in just before 10 pm, feeling weary and jaded but the warmth of the welcome from the staff is amazing. They make us nachos. They help us with maps. They wish us lots of luck for the interview tomorrow. But even they look rather alarmed as I struggle to sign us in…my finger is now the four times its usual size!

Not much I can do about it the next day however, as my eldest runs the gauntlet of another MMI circuit. Newcastle university looks stunning in the freshness of a January morning and, as my daughter disappears into the building, I settle on a bench outside thinking how wonderful it would be to study here and how I just don’t know how to cope with another disappointed drive home if it goes badly. I want to do something to help… so I say a decade of the rosary (Catholic readers will understand!) … and then, as a wave of panic begins to take hold, I say another to calm myself down. I am just about to soothe myself with a third when another mum sits down clearly wanting to chat. Hurriedly hiding my malformed hand underneath my scarf, I put aside my prayers and launch into conversation. She is a delightful woman, (you could say heaven sent) and time passes quickly. When my eldest emerges, she is in an upbeat mood, ‘Not great, but the best I could’ve done!’ she smiles. Well that’s good enough for me! We grab some lunch and then actually sing our way back down the motorway. I am so high on relief that, for a few hours at least, I forget about the stabbing sensation in my finger.

Back home, I throw some food together, before my eldest and I set out again. She has an evening concert. It’s an all-ticket event for local dignitaries, as opposed to proud parents. So I just drop her off and although I am now feeling shattered, the pain in my finger is so miserable that I decide to be sensible and head to the Walk-in Centre. Sadly we are no longer in the North East.

“The waiting list is full”, snaps the receptionist and steers me out of the door.

Which brings me to today. I plan to fit in an early visit to the Walk-in Centre. I arrive at 7 am. There’s a huge queue. There’s a 1 hour wait and my first meeting of the day is at 8:15 am. I give up. I drive to work, whereupon one of the first-aiders, recoiling in horror at the sight of my poor, grotesque digit, firmly applies a huge blue plaster. I am starting to feel rather peculiar and queasy. At break-time I am finally sick and my boss send me home, insisting that I get myself checked out.

This time I resolve to camp out at the Walk-in Centre. When I am seen, a lovely nurse takes one look at my finger and prescribes a 7 day course of anti-biotics. With kindly concern, she also suggests that I give myself a boost with ‘multi-vitamins’, explaining that I look ‘very run-down’. It stops me in my tracks. It’s a blink-back-the-tears moment. For a second I feel that, busy as she is, this woman notices that I don’t just need ‘fixing’ I need a little bit of care too, and that’s pretty rare in the life of a parent. Thinking hard, I do recall my Ex, back in the mid-90s, once driving from Liverpool to Manchester with cough medicine, because I sounded a bit croaky on the phone. But that’s over 20 years ago! Quite a long time to spend looking after everyone else, rather than ever feeling looked after myself!

So I do treat myself to a tub of ‘multi-vits with iron’ and turn optimistically homewards, contemplating ways to take better care of my own health and well-being. I don’t make it into the house however before getting a call from Small Boy’s school, announcing that he has been sick and needs collecting. A text from my eldest flashes across the screen, reminding me that we have a friend staying tonight. And, as I eventually do turn the key in the lock, Prom-dress Daughter appears claiming to have ‘tonsilitis!’

I rather fear that, like most parents, ‘looking after myself‘ is just going to have to wait … hopefully not for another 20 years!!

Christmas carols, Christmas chaos….

Monday 16 December 2019

The last few days have been a hectic mix of the familiar; traditional Christmas carols concerts, parties and drinks, with the unfamiliar and definitely less festive challenge of University interviews for my eldest.

Friday takes us to Yorkshire. The University grilling takes almost 3 hours. The drive home, along a flood hit M62 even longer. The alpha-mothers in the parent room, whose knowledge of UKCAT scores and entry criteria for every Medical school in the land is encyclopedic, have left me feeling like a total failure as a mum. I am agitated by the motorway queues and lane-closure confusion. And my lovely girl is clearly deflated by her interview. Nonetheless upon our return, she summons up the energy to don her party dress and step out for the evening, and I rally enough reserves to drive Prom-dress daughter to another social gathering and feed Small Boy, before heading gratefully to bed.

My eldest gets to sleep somewhat later than this. She is home not long after midnight. And I am sure of the time because she stumbles into my room upon her return, a little the worse for wear, switches on the light and slurrily gushes ,

I really, really love you mum!”

I reciprocate the sentiments, persuade her that now not the best time to go and visit her brother, and steer her off to bed.

To her credit, by 10am on Saturday morning, both she and Small-boy are at Victoria Station in Manchester to play 2 hours of Christmas carols and songs with their local band. Quite a few of my family gather to listen, over cheery cups of Costa coffee and a catch -up on the latest news. It’s a lovely event that stirs the heart and replenishes the seasonal community cheer. I stay in town for a number of afternoon/evening drinks with friends and, as Sunday dawns and my eldest and I now pack our bags for a trip to University interview number 3, I have only a mildly banging head to contend with. We hit the motorway again and are checking into our hotel by 5pm.

Our Monday interview starts at an astonishingly early 8am but again it is 3 hours before my eldest emerges. This one is ‘the worst yet’ and feeling pretty sad and despondent we slink back to the car and set the satnav for home. I feel that sickening terror that every parents knows of wondering how we will cope with the disappointment if all the hard work, and I’d make that 3 years of hard work, ends with rejection and the end of my daughter’s dreams. But today it takes me less time than usual to shift this paralyzing dread. Because… she is such an amazing, driven and talented girl. And that means lots of alternatives, lots of choices and lots of ways to have a bright and happy future. Hey, at least when she’s tipsy, my girl ‘really,really loves her mum‘, I’ll make sure of it !

Even if I hadn’t cheered myself up, back home the usual chaos is enough to distract anyone. Prom-dress daughter and Small Boy both have a Christmas concert to play in … at 6:30pm. In a last minute change of plan however, Small Boy has also been selected to make his debut on the school basketball team, in another venue…ending at 5:30pm. Fortunately it’s Monday. My mum arrives for piano lessons. We shelve these and she agrees instead to feed the girls and drop Prom-dress daughter at the concert hall. Without stopping for food, I head out to the basketball tournament to cheer on my tall, gangly bean of a boy. It just so happens that the venue for this sporting spectacle is about 3 minutes from my mum’s house…and I have a key. At the final claxon tolls, at 5:45 pm, I whisk him, off to mum’s. She is not there, because … you’ve got it … she is at my house! Small Boy changes with the speed of Clark Kent himself, I thrust 2 packets of crisps and a bottle of Lucozade at him and we speed off to the concert.

We arrive with moment to spare. Small Boy’s grinning face races off to take his place in the orchestra. Prom-dress daughter, already in situ, gives us a smirk and a wave. I sink gratefully into my seat and the carols begin. ‘Silent Night‘ … how lovely … and if only….

Thanks Dad …

Thursday 29 August 2019

Today is a day when my family past and my family present reunite, joined by fond memories of one man, my wise and generous father.

It’s a nervous morning, the date of the UKCAT for my eldest, and a very early start. By 07:30 am, we have forced down a bit of breakfast, driven through Manchester’s rush hour and parked near the city-centre testing venue. As we approach the building however I am stopped in my tracks. It is the very same building that my Dad worked in, many years ago, in his days as an advertising executive. I feel a wave of optimism sweep over me. This is surely a sign!

“Pops is bound to be looking down on you today.” I hear myself telling my daughter ” It must be a good omen!”

She does attempt a brave smile, but is still looking rather green as she is registered in the exam room and I am directed to the waiting area.

Over a very welcome latte, I try to settle down to some work but my mind drifts into memories of my father. Dad didn’t set out to be any kind of advertising executive. He was a musician and also worked as a cinema manager, in the more glamorous era of regional premieres and red carpets, in the 1960s. He and mum used to tell of fun nights, early in their marriage, spent watching new releases, feet up on the seats with bottles of beer, after the cinema had closed. And then … me and my brothers came along. And it turns out that jobs with late nights and concerts and gigs, just didn’t fit with family life. So he gave it all up, took exams, retrained …and joined a catalogue firm. And I realise, with a truly humbling shock, that it must have been awful, completely soul destroying. But I never heard him complain once. Dad did it all for us.

Now I do complain … a lot. I complain about my job. I complain about not being free to play in every concert that I hear about. I complain about money. I complain about…..too blinkin’ much! Great parents have been quietly putting their families ahead of their personal hopes and dreams for time immemorial. And one of them did that all for me. The very least I can do, in honour of that memory, is to either just get on with things or take action to improve things, but whatever I decide, ditch the moaning! Feeling suddenly focused and very sure of what I do want to do, I fire up my laptop and give my full attention to polishing my presentation for that scary extra-job interview next week.

I am interrupted by my eldest, who emerges, delighted with her UKCAT results, and we head home feeling fantastic. Back at the house, Prom-dress daughter is in full flow, redesigning Small Boy’s room to better suit his new bed. Her total excavation of every drawer, box and corner of his dusty den has unearthed three Nintendo DS consoles, and the teens pounce upon these and retreat into their own nostalgia trip down memory lane. Now the notion that a DS is already a part of history does make me feel completely ancient, but today I don’t mind at all. Hey I am the old person in this house. I am the parent and proud to be so. There’s only one way for me to celebrate. I may not have a new film release but I do have Netflix. I grab a beer, get my feet up on the seats and toast the skies, “Thanks Dad!”

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!