If you’re sending your only (step)child off to university, you ought to make an occasion of it. There’s no reason you can’t spin the weekend out a bit, so we did.
Departure time was set by mutual pre-arrangement for 10.00, Saturday morning. At 05.00 he finally rolled in from saying goodbye to his friends. At 09.20 he was finally persuaded that if he wanted to make the journey washed and fed, now would be a good time to get up. At 09.45 he was saying, “look, can we speed this up a bit?”
An uneventual journey, apart from learning that Pease Pottage actually exists – or at least, motorway services of that name do. Luggage unloaded, new housemates met, and his mother allowed to make his bed, after which we were politely but firmly shown the door. And quite right too. I think I went through similar with my own mother in October 1984, apart from the making the bed thing.
So. Beloved had never been to Brighton before, so into town we went, me pointing out the church that actually features (though not by name) in The New World Order. Parking charges and crowds of no less than a couple of thousand put us off cultural activities like looking around the Pavilion. We edged our way along the sea front for a bit, then retrieved the car and drove along the coast from Brighton to Eastbourne – not least because Sandi Toksvig did exactly the same journey in a bus on Excess Baggage a couple of weeks ago and it sounded nice. Every now and then we would utter something wistful, like “I am so glad he got a house in Brighton and not Eastbourne, like the university were advising him to.” It’s a beautiful 20-mile trip, but a very long 20 miles.
More positively: a beautiful landscape of rolling downs, sparking sea, quaint villages, Roedean looking like a cross between Hogwarts and an HM penitentiary clinging to a cliff, Beachy Head, and just one man urinating at a bus stop while his fellow future passengers showed resolute Englishness by queuing in the opposite direction and ignoring him. Cream tea in the Victorian Tearooms on Eastbourne pier, then a cross-country trip through more lovely rolling downs bathed in sunlight to stay the night with an old school friend who lives in the vicinity.
Sunday morning: exploration of Horsham and then, finding it unexpectedly close, Guildford Cathedral. We wanted to go somewhere to kneel and say a brief prayer of thanks for the boy finally entering higher education, and where better than a placefirmly associated with the Antichrist?
So it was perhaps ironic that the place was full of several hundred Masons, all in full aprons, medals and other forms of togs, gathered together for an annual service of thanksgiving. Seats were reserved for men with titles like “Provincial Grand Steward”, which frankly I think is setting your sights too low. If I was going to be a Grand Steward, no way would I settle for being merely Provincial. Fortunately we still had about an hour before the service began so could explore in relative peace, if not quite the quiet we were hoping for. I stood next to one of the gents in the Gents, and found jokes about funny handshakes filling my mind. I’m quite glad none of them slipped out.
Then home, finally, to a strangely empty flat. You’d think that if we just shut his door and drew his curtains then for the rest of the flat it would be just like him still being there, but no, apparently not. I took the opportunity to hoover his room and could have sworn the carpet screamed: “stop! What is this strange thing you are doing to me?”
Followed by: “Hmm, actually that’s quite nice.”
And then: “Oh yeah, baby, more.”
At which point I stopped.
Five years ago he couldn’t wait to move in. Five years later he couldn’t wait to move out. The mind and the spirit left some time before the body. This is life, and it is good. And now we see with no small level of interest what happens next.