Showing posts with label university. Show all posts
Showing posts with label university. Show all posts

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The kindness of strangers Part 1

“I can’t believe I’m leaving you in Paris,” I told my daughter as we hugged goodbye on the Boulevard St Germain.

“I’m more worried about leaving you on the metro," she replied, deftly handing me a train ticket and a bright pink Post-it note with scribbled instructions to Charles de Gaulle Aéroport.

We’d just spent two action-packed days together and it was time for me to head home while she embarked on her new student life in France.

Determined to allay her fears, I strode confidently through the metro gate (getting my suitcase wedged in the barrier in the process) and hopped on the train to Châtelet-Les Halles.

But after that, everything came unstuck. As I waited in vain for the RER (the express train that connects the city centre to the suburbs), I started to panic. My flight was due to leave in 90 minutes time and I was still miles away.

Then suddenly a couple walked past and murmured something incomprehensible. “Je suis Anglaise,” I replied – my default response when I haven’t got a clue. The man replied in faultless English and told me the train to the airport wasn’t running.  We apparently needed to get a train to Mitry-Claye, a place I’d never heard of, then catch a bus.

It sounds ridiculous but I instinctively knew I could trust the pair. I hurried on to the packed Mitry-Claye train behind them and we hurtled through the grey suburbs of north-east Paris together, past places I’d be afraid to walk alone. The man told me he was originally from Cameroon and was on his way home to South Africa from a business conference in the US. He and his wife had stopped off in Paris en route to see friends.

When we finally reached Mitry-Claye I lost sight of them in the melée. As hordes of passengers tore down the platform in search of the airport bus, a few RER staff in red T-shirts apologetically handed us a tiny biscuit each. Not exactly what you’re after when you’re about to miss your plane, but still.

I pushed my way on to the packed bendy-bus, wondering where my new friends had got to. As it pulled away I spotted them standing patiently at the barrier. My bus was full and they’d clearly been told to wait for the next one. I waved like a maniac and mouthed “merci.” I don’t think they saw me…

PS. The kindness of strangers Part 2 is here.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

What should freshers take to university?

Like thousands of other teenagers, my son is counting the days till he starts university. He’s bought the Freshers' Week wristband (it gets him into every Freshers' event – alarming for me, thrilling for him), has worked out which student block he’ll be in and has “met” most of his new flatmates on Facebook.

But what should he take with him? I mean, apart from the obvious things like his beloved road bike, tea bags and industrial-sized packets of pasta. His list comprises essentials like a bike pump, puncture repair kit and iPod dock, while I’m more worried about how many saucepans he'll need and whether he should buy a mini fridge for his room.

A blog I’ve just read has got a host of other ideas. Key recommendations include a cake tin (because “everyone loves cake”), a laundry bag (he’s not convinced), a clothes horse (he’s definitely not convinced) and a sewing kit.

If anyone can offer any suggestions, I’d love to hear them…

PS. He’s off in three weeks’ time and even though I’ll be bereft I’m not going to cry. And I’m not going to be the sort of parent (apparently increasingly common) who muscles in on his university life. Apparently parents have been known to move into their children’s student halls, bedding down next to them while they settle in. I just hope they don’t snap up a Freshers' Week wristband while they’re at it.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The only time you see teenagers out with their parents

At the crack of dawn next week my son will thrust a hastily downloaded Google map at me, plug his favourite Justice tracks into the car’s audio system and we’ll set off for yet another university open day (snow permitting!)

The only trouble is that after visiting a handful of universities already, they’re all starting to blur into one. Neither of us can remember which boasts 22 Nobel Prize winners, which has a library with four million books and which serves coffee that tastes like old socks.

University open days are a new and weird phenomenon in our lives. When I went I more or less stuck a pin in the map and hoped for the best. Today’s teenagers get bombarded with leaflets and letters, spend hours trawling through the UCAS website and are encouraged to visit universities all over the shop before applying. The only trouble is that when they get to open days they meet academics in tweed jackets quoting statistics like 1,000 applicants for fewer than 100 places.

Even more bizarre is the sight of thousands of 17 and 18 year olds trailing round campuses with their middle-aged parents. Some look dead embarrassed to be seen out with their mums and dads, while others are clearly livid that their parents have muscled in on the trip. I’ve scored a double. I’m in both categories.

And this year there’s something new to worry about. The newspapers are full of doom and gloom about tuition fees trebling to an eye-watering £9,000 a year and students being saddled with debt for the rest of their lives. I take one look and stuff the papers in the bin. This university lark is hard enough without worrying about that right now…

PS. Forget my hankering for a 2CV. I’ve just spotted my new dream car outside Jamie Oliver's restaurant in Islington (see above!)

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The rise of the lawnmower parent

Helicopter parents are a well-known phenomenon these days. You know, they're the mums and dads who micro-manage every single aspect of their children’s time. They hover overhead, watch every move their children make and constantly check that their lives are going according to plan (the parents’ plan, that is).

I didn’t realise though, that the trend has moved up a gear, with parents and even grandparents of university students meddling in youngsters’ lives.

In a fascinating blog for The Guardian’s Higher Education Network, academic Afshan Jafar writes: “Some colleges and universities are now calling this breed of parents ‘lawnmower’ parents as these are parents who vow to mow down any and all obstacles and challenges in their children’s paths.’”

Apparently these parents ring university tutors to fix extensions on essay assignments, protest if their children don't get on the courses they want and even dispute their exam grades.

I’m starting to feel like a laissez-faire mother. Actually, I’d love to interfere in my student daughter’s life but she won’t let me. If I dared ring her tutor about anything she’d be completely apoplectic. I’ve learned the hard way that if I make a suggestion about what to study or where to live she generally goes and does the complete opposite. So now, I keep quiet, let her work it out for herself and do you know what? Sometimes she actually does what I reckoned she should do in the first place.

PS. My daughter’s off to Paris (above) in September (not because I’m a lawnmower parent, I hope) and has been swapping notes with a French girl who’s studying in London this year. “But I’m having a bit of trouble learning the slang  people use here,” the delightful Clemence told my daughter. “I can't even attempt Cockney rhyming slang and the only word I’ve picked up so far is ‘innit.’"

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Tips for teens

Where did that time go? One minute my darling daughter was a baby with blonde curls and a penchant for Madeline books, felt-tip pens and The Jungle Book video. The next she’s a fiercely independent student who’s fixed an internship in London for the summer (with no help from me or her dad, I hasten to add) and moved into a rented flat with friends.

When I was nineteen I didn’t have a clue about anything. But my daughter’s far more clued up. Even when she was at school she had a part-time job, passed her driving test first time and studied hard for exams (I didn’t manage any of those things). She can troubleshoot my computer problems in the blink of an eye, bakes the most stylish cupcakes (see above) and knows the coolest fashion bloggers on the planet. and are her current must-reads, by the way.

I’m loath to give her any advice because she doesn’t need it. But what the hell, I’m an annoying mum, so I’m going to anyway.

So here are my top ten tips for university and beyond:

1. Be confident – in your looks and your abilities. You’re lucky – you’ve got both!
2. Seize the most exciting opportunities that present themselves. You don’t want to look back and regret the things you didn’t do.
3. Travel as much as you can while you’re still young (and don’t wait till you’re my age to go to New York.)
4. You’ll meet loads of exciting new people during your university years but be sure to stay in touch with your old friends too.
5. Don’t ever settle for second best – in your career or your love life.
6. Go to lots of parties – but get masses of sleep too.
7. Don’t drink too much (and definitely say no to the vodka teapots.)
8. Keep fit, take care of your health (skin, eyes, teeth, you name it) and buy the best moisturiser you can afford. When you’re as old as me you’ll be very glad you did.
9. Keep on being kind.
10. Be happy. Don’t roll your eyes but this is the most important rule of all. Happiness is a state of mind, I reckon, so if it doesn’t sound too Pollyanna-like, if you decide to be happy, you will be.

PS: It’s cheating a bit, I know, but there are two extra rules. Please ring your mum lots and come home as much as possible. I miss you!

PPS: If anyone’s got any more tips for teenagers, I’d love to hear them.
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