Freshers’ Week begins next weekend for thousands of students who are flying the nest for the first time and leaving home to go to university.
It both breaks my heart and fills me with pride that my first-born is among them; for almost 20 years he's been my friend, my companion and my rock through the best of times and the worst of times, and I can hardly imagine this home without him permanently residing in it.
But, of course, life goes on; leaving home is a rite of passage that everyone has to go through and I've no intention of spoiling the sheer excitement of it all for him.
When it happened to me in 1983, I really couldn’t wait to leave. No more nuns, no more Mass, indeed no more church of any sort was the main attraction; while smoking freely, playing music loudly and dressing outrageously came a joint, but very close, second. I hardly even gave a thought to the bigger picture — such as where I was going to live, with whom and how to arrange it. Meanwhile, Mum and Dad were so glad to see the back of me they just left me to it, without interfering in any way. They certainly didn't show any remorse. They virtually pushed me out of the door. In fact, I could have sworn I heard a huge cheer ring out from the car park as I got onto that very first train out of town.
Naturally, because I organised the whole thing myself without any parental intervention, it was an unmitigated disaster that saw me living beside a brothel situated in a run-down and squalid slum in the most notorious red-light district of Manchester. I survived to tell the tale; but to say my first independent venture as an adult was a bit of a learning curve would be a vast understatement.
Now, 30 years later, I'm the parent myself and things couldn't be more different. Although I'm utterly choked up at the thought of losing my son to the big world, I've been keeping my mind occupied by helping him pack his life thus far into two suitcases for his first journey to London.
Fortunately, Queen Mary University has a very good student support team to help teenagers from out of town settle into their new homes. There is even a moving-in service, where, for about a hundred quid, they will deliver a carton to the door of your digs filled with all the homeware essentials a guy can possibly want — and some they maybe don't ...
For example, included in the Basic Moving-in Pack as advertised on the Student's Union website, are the following: single duvet, pillow and covers set; single fitted base sheet; facecloth; hand towel; bath towel; 10 coat hangers; dinner plate; side plate; breakfast bowl; coffee mug; cutlery for one; tall glass and tumbler; non-stick pan set; roasting dish and baking tray; serving spoon; slotted spoon; fish slice; potato masher; ladle; wooden spoon; food container set; chopping board; knife set; scissors; grater; peeler; can opener; bottle opener; colander and kitchen towel.
I have spent the week going through the list and adding the other essentials that I think he will need, as well as embarking on one monumental washing and ironing task that I'm hoping will take him through to autumn break without the need for a laundrette. (Perhaps I should also include a gas mask for the latter weeks of term.)
I then showed the entire list to my son, just so he knew what to expect upon arrival.
“Er ... that's fine,” he said after a cursory two-second glance.
“Just one question, though: what's a ‘colander'?”