Small fish in a big pool

First published in Dad At Large

WE finally seem to be making steady progress with getting rid of the kids. The eldest, the Big Friendly Giant, is now working for a living and firmly established in his own flat.

Our only daughter is beginning her final year at the Northern School of Dance, in Leeds, and will then be looking for a job with a dance company.

And our third-born, Jack, has now flown the nest by starting at Cambridge University, where he’ll be reading English.

That only leaves one left at home – Max, who’s starting his final GCSE year.

Consequently, things have become an awful lot simpler. There is now no argument about who’s to blame. If there’s a plate left on the floor, it’s Max’s. If the lights are left on, it was Max. If a drink’s been spilt on the carpet, that was Max too.

We are, of course, very proud of Jack. He’s worked hard and Cambridge represents a wonderful opportunity – but the bills are already adding up.

Apart from the small matter of the £9,000-a-year fees, the joining instructions came with a very long list of extras he’d be needing. These included enough books to fill a small library; not only a lounge suit but an evening suit for official dinners, and – wait for it – a gown to be worn in the “formal hall”. The gown alone costs £50 but, then again, this is Cambridge.

My wife, as always, took full control of the preparations. Jack might be the most academically-minded of our four, but he’s not blessed with a lot of practical common sense.

His mum has, therefore, done everything for him – working her way with military-style precision through an extensive check-list in the weeks leading up to his departure.

Her list even included swimming trunks. “Gosh – there’s a swimming pool in the building over the road from where you live!” she told him.

We drove down to Cambridge with a car full of Jack’s stuff. Sal, the cactus his girlfriend bought him, was sensibly positioned just behind the gear stick, which meant I got prickled every time I went into fourth.

With a rash developing on my left arm, I managed to get us to our destination: the impressively-named Stephen Hawking building, which is very nice indeed as far as student accommodation goes. We then ventured across the road to have a look at the college facilities.

Mum, a competitive swimmer in her day, was particularly keen to see the room in the leisure area with its own pool. “I wonder where the pool is,” she said.

And then the penny dropped: “Can I have a quick look at the joining instructions again?” I asked.

“Students have access to a pool room,” it explained on the printed sheet.

It wasn’t a room with a swimming pool – it was a room with pool table.

I think it’s fair to say she’d got a bit carried away with the aura of Cambridge University.

When it came to leaving Jack behind, I found it even harder than when we left his older brother and sister. We’ve been good mates over the years, me and Jack, and I’m going to miss him a lot. The tears were streaming for a good 20 miles or so.

Still, at least he’s got his trunks, eh?

THE THINGS THEY SAY

COLLEAGUE and father-of two Matt Wesctott walks in from work and, before he’s had chance to get his jacket off, his wife says: “Can you get rid of the dead pigeon.”

Harvey, six, chips in: “Can I stroke it?”

A LITTLE boy overheard in a supermarket: “Daddy, does Lego have a ‘t’ at the end, like Merlot?”

That’s what you get when you shop at Waitrose.

MEANWHILE, in Sainsbury’s, Darlington, George Storey, ten, was drawn to the large jar of whey protein powder in the pharmacy section.

It’s the picture on the label of the ripped six-pack stomach that catches his eye – he’s a bit of a wrestling fan.

“What’s this?” George asked.

“It helps to build muscles,”

explained his dad.

George picked up a jar, sniffed and then returned it to the shelf: “It’s not that heavy,” he said.

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