The Blog

To My Son On University Eve

You were jaundiced, your head was misshapen and your right ear was squashed but you were absolutely perfect. You stared out from the perspex box by the side of my bed with dark eyes which seemed to say, 'I'm here now and everything is going to be alright.'

My darling boy,

First I must apologise for the dispute we had in Ikea when we were buying the stuff for your student accommodation. I was wrong to say that nobody wants to eat off brown crockery.

Clearly they wouldn't stock it if that were the case.

You are an autonomous, self-determining adult now and I should have respected your choice and not tried to impose my preferences on you.

It's just that it's really, really hard to step back from the parental role I've been inhabiting these past eighteen years.

Remember when I first took my hands off the wheel to try the Park Assist feature on our new car? I started screaming because the car was moving and the steering wheel was doing its own thing and I didn't trust it not to crash into the car behind.

Internally, I'm screaming. I'm not ready for you to take over the driving.

A little more than eighteen years ago when you were born, the Queen came to officially open the county hospital where we were residing on the maternity wing. The midwife told me she was on her way into the building and I prayed that she wouldn't visit our ward.

Not because I am a rabid republican - that's your father. No, it was because I didn't want to have to waste a minute looking at her when I could have been looking at you.

You were jaundiced, your head was misshapen and your right ear was squashed but you were absolutely perfect. You stared out from the perspex box by the side of my bed with dark eyes which seemed to say, 'I'm here now and everything is going to be alright.'

Everything has been more than alright. Every single day since you came along has been Christmas Day. The sort of Christmas Day where you get everything you want, plus some really imaginative gifts you'd never have thought of yourself, and where everyone gets on famously and somebody else does the washing up. That kind of Christmas Day.

You have been the most easy going, uncomplaining, delightful boy and the best companion to me, your dad and to your younger brother when he came along.

I've loved your sense of humour and all the private, in-family jokes we've shared.

I've loved the small things you notice - a woodpecker in the garden, continuity mistakes in films and curry stains on your teacher's shirt.

I love that you try to keep up with what's going on in 'The Archers' because you know I'm a fan, even if you were very sarcastic when Scruff the dog was reunited with Lynda Snell.

I love that you don't get impatient when I ask you to sort out recording something on the bloody telly, even though I do it time and time again and it must be like living with an actual nineteenth century idiot.

Tomorrow, we'll be taking you to university and leaving you there. I've already cried a lot about this in the hope that when it comes time to say goodbye I won't have any more tears left to embarrass you with, but I can't promise.

For the last few nights I've been replaying your childhood in my mind. A honey coloured body running in the sun, dark curls flying. Kwik-Cricket on Greek beaches, very, very slow, prep school cricket on English pitches. A thousand rugby matches I watched from behind my fingers, the back of you I'd glimpse as you skied down Alpine slopes. Football in the garden.

We've ridden camels and elephants and the New York subway together. We've bartered in markets from Florence to Bangkok. We've watched the All Blacks and the Red Sox and we ran away from the police in Barcelona.

And I'd do it all again (except the elephants. I feel bad about them).

I'm frightened at how much I'm going to miss you.

To lessen the impact, I've bought a puppy and I already love him enormously. But however much you have in common - leaving your stuff strewn across the house, bouncing on the sofa and heading for the biscuit tin when nobody's looking - it's not the same.

Of course, as I grieve your childhood, I'm so excited about what lies ahead for you.

For a start, you'll have an NUS card. Never again once you graduate will going to the cinema/theatre/Jack Wills be discounted. Heck, your student rail card will make train journeys almost affordable!

Make the most of these opportunities, they will make you interesting to talk to at parties.

Do think about attending lectures. These days, your contact hours work out at about £20 each. That's a lot of loot to waste. Who knows, you might hear something useful or inspiring!

You are a sociable person. Socialise! Enjoy other people; listen to their stories, share yours. Be tolerant and don't, as they say, sweat the small stuff. We are all irritating and thoughtless at times.

When you eat out, just split the bill. Don't be the one fixating on who didn't have a starter. You're going to have the most enormous debt at the end of this whole venture; an additional fiver or tenner here and there isn't going to make the difference.

Enjoy your body. It's quite possible it'll never be in this great a shape again.

Share it with people you trust and like. Have fun and be kind. One day, one of the people you trust and like may turn into a partner you love for life. (But use a condom, won't you? A baby is a lifelong souvenir, as is Herpes.)

I won't say any more. I'll just tense my buttocks and smile super hard when I let go of you tomorrow and you'll know of course, that I love you forever and I'll be counting the days till the end of term.

And if you still want the brown plates when the Christmas holidays arrive, be sure to put them at the top of your list. Who knows what Santa might bring?

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