Our collection of cavernous IKEA bags, long-time unregarded occupants of the shoe cupboard, finally came into their own last week. Temporarily packed with bewildering items from Daughter No 1’s old and new existence, they played a key role in the home-uni transit arrangements.
We relayed the bags and holdhalls to the car, crow-barring them into the boot and seat wells. Jackie over the road said that they had to deploy their trailer, more often used for scout camps, when they took their daughter and kit to uni.
Last to arrive down from the bedroom was a family-size rucksack last used on her Reading Festival adventure. “That one is mostly shoes”, remarked the Imelda Markos clone, with a casual wave of the hand, ignoring her newly made crater in the dining room floor.
I left for college with nothing but a toothbrush and a packet of condoms. I never used either! (Boom Boom!) Ok not true, but I certainly didn't have a clothes airer wedged over the back seat head-rests. “Can't you just hang stuff out the windows?” I pleaded.
Once again, I'm out of touch with the modern ways. We lost count of cars on the M3 with duvets, pillows and M&S bags crushed up against the rear windows of assorted 4x4s. Moving day. In all senses.
My mate told me about a piece in the Torygraph the other day in which a Dad was taking his daughter to uni. At one point she looked at her father and said 'You did alright you know'. He inflated with chest-swelling emotion and declared the moment to be worth more to him than any of her qualifications.
Anyway, there was none of that on our journey. As if to eek out a reaction, I casually asked what she would miss about Berko. "Maybe the cheap double gin and tonics in the Crown" she said.
I am reminded of a very different car journey almost exactly 19 years ago:
So very calmly and orderly, we call a cab. I didn’t think it would be like this. Mrs A was not long back from the hospital after a scan on our baby who is due today. She had turned breech and within an hour or so the waters went.
Our Star Car minicab arrives quickly. The driver, who is wearing a dubious leathery pork pie hat, helps us into the car. He’s very chatty. We tell him we want to go to the Delivery Suite at St George’s. He looks at us for a couple of seconds and then asks us if it’s for real as we seem very calm. I think he’s expecting screams of agony and panic.
“‘No”, we say very matter of factly, “This isn’t a practice!”
Little does he know that Mrs A’s waters are gushing all over his back seat! He’ll know it’s for real when the next passenger gets in.
Things then get a bit surreal.
“I’m hoping for some good news myself in the next few weeks”.
“Oh yeah, what’s that?” I say brightly. I bet he’s going to be a Grandad.
“Yeah, I’m hoping to have my vasectomy reversed!”
Where did that come from! There’s a pause while I swallow back the laughter. If Mrs A tries any harder to stop giggling she’ll give birth right there. What do you say? He must be in his late fifties.
“Oh really?” I tamely offer.
He’s off now.
“Yeah, I had it done twenty-odd years ago after I’d had a few (unspecified) kids. The doctors reckon I’ve got a 60-70% chance of a successful reversal, but I reckon it’s better than that.” (How the hell does he know?)
So I get into the feel of things as well. Mrs A and I chip in with the odd question here and there as he proceeds to describe in reasonably graphic detail what the operation might involve. Ever made small talk about vasectomies? It’s quite a challenge. I have to pinch myself to remind me where we are going.
The journey passes in a flash. We get out of the car and everybody wishes everybody else good luck. It’s lovely.
We are checked into the Delivery Suite very efficiently. We’ve got a nice room with a colour telly and Casualty is on. Someone has just given birth in Josh’s ambulance – it took about 10 minutes. We’ll have one of those please, where do we order?
Another 12 hours and an emergency cesarean pass before our own bundle of joy arrives.
This journey ends in Southampton at the halls of residence. We are greeted by a very efficient Arrivals Team (it says so on their t-shirts) who locate her room in the cluster flat, provide a guided tour/dos and don’ts briefing and then work out that the door pass key doesn’t work. They also assist with lugging the hundredweights of gear up to the first floor bedroom. Things have changed.
The flat was pretty good actually. Better than many we saw last Summer, touring round university campuses prior to engaging with the grinding UCAS process.
Some of the IKEA bags are coming back with us, so we spend a good hour or so unpacking. This helpfully illuminates the nature of the priceless cargo we have hauled down the road.
“Swimming goggles? You haven’t worn these for five years!”
“I thought I might take up swimming again.”
Swiftly taken from my grasp and draped around the window.
“Reminds me of my 18th”
“Spotty bandana? Fake pirate’s hook?”
“Fancy dress parties, Dad!”
Later, we go for some grub on Oxford Street, not far from the campus. The road is pedestrianised and lined with representatives of pretty much every bar-restaurant chain I could name.
“You’ll be alright here”.
We settled on Prezzo and their spicy meatball pasta. I did anyway. Daughter No 1 has decided to begin her university education as a vegetarian. She has a bowlful of green leaves and brown seeds to sustain her. It looked lovely.
“Yes, but it’s really quiet.”
“Berko is busier!”
She has been desperate to escape what she regards as the fatally flawed small-town syndrome of our Tory- , Brexit-voting middle-class settlement for years. (Put like that, I think I’m on my way out too!) The dread of confronting something similar after moving away passed a shadow across her face. Only briefly. This was the middle of the afternoon on a Friday, I reassured her, before most of the students had even returned from Summer holiday.
We met some of her new flat mates. They seemed fine. I knew that meeting them and deciding that the group harboured no obvious axe murderers would help me leave her behind with (a little) less anxiety.
We had to push her out the door when a few arrived in the flat together.
“Go make friends. Do your thing!”
She took a deep breath and strode towards them. Within a few moments, she’d arranged to go to clubbing that night. Bit hasty I thought. Won’t she want to stay in and cry for hours once we’ve departed?
The moment came to go. There was a gurgle as I hugged her. Less an emotional reaction, more a cry of pain as I crushed a number of her more important vertebrae. Mrs A was more gentle. I suspected that Daughter No 1 had actually spent longer saying goodbye to the dog that morning.
There was no Toy Story 3 lump in the throat moment of passing on her bears and dolls to the next generation. They remain wedged in the top shelf of her wardrobe. (I think I saw another feather boa up there as well. What's going on?)
Aside from that, the newly stark and echoey bedroom at the top of the house now seems breath-takingly empty.
(And hasn't stopped clubbing since. Bloody students.)