FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE
It’s really quiet in the house at the moment. I don’t mean quiet because we are all working really hard … but because we have just completed the University Challenge.
As I sit at my computer writing this blog, James will have finished his first day of University lectures, and I can reflect on twelve months that have been satisfying and challenging in equal measures.
I can’t quite believe that it was last September when we joined the University applications treadmill. Firstly there was the acquisition of The Times Good University Guide; working out that we could discount a visit to Oxford and Cambridge and then getting wholly realistic about the best Universities for photography. I really wouldn’t have believed it could be so difficult to narrow the choice down, but as James had already decided his final choices would be loosely based on or close to a main motorway corridor, it made the exercise a little easier. From Exeter to Manchester and Swansea to London, the list was slowly whittled down until five possible locations were agreed.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I think the weather makes a difference as to how you see a place. So, here’s a brief meteorological summary of the places we visited. Bristol was bright and breezy; Newport was nice (it doesn’t always rain in Wales); Roehampton was rainy – and I mean wet; Cardiff was close (far too close to home) and Southampton was snowy.
For any readers who may be embarking on a similar merry-go-round with your soon to be independent offspring, be warned … once you have done one open day, the rest will be guaranteed to be a clone of the first. With hindsight, we should have realised that all the Universities are interested in are bums on seats, and so the open days are really nothing more than a selling opportunity. There is also a limit as to how often you can espouse the virtues of the Student halls of residence. I mean, if you put the Hotel Inspector into these baron concrete blocks that pass for somewhere to live, I am quite convinced she would have a serious rant. What would she make of magnolia walls, and fixtures and fittings that are so minimalist that even those who love Bauhaus or Philipe Starck would find it hard to find positives out of Formica and vinyl.
Making all the right noises is paramount; even if you are secretly wishing you’d bought a winning lottery ticket the week before, and then you could install your little darling in moderate comfort rather than condemning them to 41 weeks in Prison Cell Block H.
However, enough of my maternal self pity. After the open days and the relevant selections made, the “send” button was pushed with gusto. Then all we had to do was sit back and wait for the UCAS offers to start arriving.
Interviews were completed in the few months thereafter, and offers were then received and final choices had to be made. Now, this is where it starts to get tricky. The battle between parental practicality and student stupidity is a tough one. How do you reconcile the hottest female totty and the hippest nightclub with the best darkroom and digital suite? Yes, it’s a no-brainer really, and the balancing of compromise brought a solution that was just about acceptable to new student and the cash cow that is the bank of Mum and Dad.
And so fast-forward to results day. Our email inboxes were bursting with messages from chosen Universities saying “don’t worry if your results are not quite what you expected” (what a confidence boost!) – to be interpreted as being we still need your bum on our seat and we’ll bend over backwards to get you there. A quick early morning phone call from one of my dearest friends to say the UCAS system had gone live and there it was, a message to say “Congratulations, your place at Southampton Solent for photography has been confirmed”
All those days and nights of nagging to get as much revision as possible done before it was too late, had paid off. And, in an instant I had become the mother of a soon-to-be student.
After the flurry of obligatory texts and phone calls, father and son then had to sit down and organise accommodation – The sentence of 41 weeks in Prisoner Cell Block H had been handed down. Two hours after they went into Steve’s office, James emerged – a shadow of his former self – I gather in typical Stephen fashion, James was given chapter and verse from the University website as to what he could and couldn’t do in halls. Rumpole was happy, satisfied that our budding Mario Testino wouldn’t have anything hotter than an a fiery pepperoni pizza in his room, when all James was interested in, was how many crates of beer we could get in the car to get him through Fresher’s Week.
Our next big challenge was to amass the stuff which we are told students simply cannot live without – Beer and, well more beer. Internet research suggested that apart from beer there were other more mundane items which would make life in cells (no, sorry – I mean halls) more comfortable.
At this stage, I have to just digress a little. My lovely hubby is a great believer in lists. We have a holiday list, which from underwear to umbrellas has never failed us when we go away, and so it seemed only logical that a list should be prepared to gather what would be needed for University life.
After making up the list, Steve decided that we would turn the living room into an Amazon warehouse, and the room would be split into sections – Studying, Kitchen, Bedroom, Enjoyment and Fun.
Now, just take a look at the list. What does the order of priority tell you about the man to whom I have been married for longer than you get for murder? The answer is quite simple, it tells you who the party-lovers are in our house, and so James and I decided priorities needed to be changed … Enjoyment and Fun, Kitchen, Bedroom and Studying … now that’s more like University life!
Over the following few weeks, “the list” did work wonders. Woks and pots, Beer and more beer, Bedding and towels, and oh yes, study equipment soon swamped the room. I couldn’t go in there without dissolving into tears, and Steve just became increasingly concerned about whether the credit card had reached breaking point.
However, by some miracle everything on the list got ticked off, and we were ready to go. The general idea, was to pack as much of the luggage into the car as we could the day before James was due to fly the nest, and that would just leave a few bits and pieces which would fit in after we had loaded the wheelchairs.
Our last supper was over and all that was left was to get an early night for the long journey the next day. They do say the best laid plans go awry, and with us that is certainly true. An arrival slot between 2 and 4.30pm had been booked for halls, but as is usually the case, we were late leaving home. The main problem was that the car hadn’t been packed the night before; and James had much more stuff than we expected. I had to get into the car about 45 minutes before we were due to leave, so that all the rest of the bags and luggage could be strategically packed around me.
Off we eventually went, and decided that a motorway stop for lunch would be a good idea. When we pulled up at the service area, I swear that the people around us thought we were setting up camp. It did look as though we were part of the anti-fracking campaign which was taking place near our destination. Out came one wheelchair, then a collection of bags and bedding before I emerged, a bit like Lady Gaga bursting out of an oversized birthday cake, concentrating on one thing – no, not the thought of an M&S sandwich and a latte, but – whether the accessible loo which doubles as a baby changing station would free!
Sandwiches eaten and latte drunk, we got back in the car, and joined the throng of commuter traffic travelling towards the south coast. Nearly five hours after we left home we arrived at the halls and it looked like a ghost town. As we were almost two hours over our expected arrival time, most organised parents had been and gone, and (I have no doubt) their once angelic offspring were planning their first binge of Fresher’s in the closest pub they could find.
Joking apart, the student members of the residence team were great. As soon as they realised that James had arrived with two “extras” from Casualty, they set to and helped unload the car. We then discovered there was a step into Block C (it was such a pity it couldn’t have been Block H) and one of the residence team used his initiative and went off and returned with a table top which he fashioned into a makeshift ramp. Who says all students leave their brains behind when they leave home!
However, by the time the car was in a sufficient state of unload that I could get out, James’ appointed cell – no, sorry bedroom – was full, and I mean FULL! Think Stan Laurel standing in the middle of a room, in a complete state of chaos, scratching the top of his head, and you will get a general picture of James during the first 30 minutes in his new home for the next 41 weeks.
I gallantly refrained from blubbering (until out of site), whilst we decided that short of blocking up the whole of the corridor watching James shift boxes from one part of the room to another, there was little we could do to help.
Having said a quick hello to some of his flatmates, we left them with the conundrum that is Rosie and Stephen, as we said our goodbyes and my “little Solider” was deposited there and ready to start his new life.
We’ve just had our first full weekend of Rosie and Steve time for 18 years. Steve can’t find enough washing to do, he hasn’t yet mastered making dinner for two, and keeps on wanting to tidy up – but the problem is, there no messy teenager to clean up after.
There is one small consolation … I have taken ownership of the Sky remote, and am indulging my passion for all the programmes that I like on TV. Steve is not so keen on grisly television, and has been demoted to the kitchen, but has confessed that Strictly come Dancing by subtitles does have its drawbacks!
And finally, just to let you know, we had a phone call last night from a student who is suffering from Fresher’s flu, but who is looking forward to the challenges of his course. Orders of priority have changed and we were consigned to being slotted between a vegetable stir fry and a trip to the pub.
Whether he’ll have the same outlook on University life after a long day of lectures – only time will tell. But, at least for the moment, it’s good to know that (H)alls well that ends well!