The Next Chapter

I know I always start by saying how quickly the week has gone by, well, in this case, it has. It doesn’t seem possible it’s seven days ago since I wrote that brief note stating that there would be no blog because I was too busy and wished to spend every moment I could with Miss F before she embarked on the next chapter of her life.

It was a mad weekend. We were having an open day on Monday, so the house needed to be cleaned. There were Miss F’s clothes to sort through and decisions had to be made as to what was being taken so went on the packing pile and what was staying behind. The washing machine was on continuously as all her clothes were washed ready to take and it was lucky that it was a gorgeous weekend, so things dried very quickly on the line.

Every evening I cooked one of her favourite meals as it would be a while before she had them again. Although she can cook, there are some things too expensive or complicated for a student to manage in shared accommodation. There was shopping to collect and ironing to catch up on, so by the time we went to bed on Sunday we were both tired.

Monday dawned, another beautiful day, so I cleaned the outdoor table, put cushions on the chairs and we waited to see who turned up.

Not as many as expected. Some cancelled due to the streaming cold that’s doing the rounds, and some were simply a no-show. But enough came to make it an event and to our surprise, they bought presents for Miss F. We hadn’t been expecting that at all. They were mostly gifts of cash, although she did get two bottles of prosecco, a lovely bee mug, revision cards, and a bunch of sunflowers. One set of neighbours turned up and presented Miss F with a red envelope with a gold Chinese symbol on it. The wife is Chinese, and she explained to us that it is traditional in China for married couples to present single people with a cash gift at momentous stages of their lives. After they had gone, Miss F opened the envelope and to our surprise found £50 inside. We were staggered at their generosity.

Miss F starting nursery September 2006

Tuesday was another scorching hot day, so before it got too unbearable, I washed all the dust and cobwebs off the car. I have spiders living inside each of my wing mirrors who spin thick webs all over them. Try as I might, I’ve never been able to catch the spiders so must wash away the webs now and then!

Then we lugged everything Miss F was taking back downstairs again. I had brought five sturdy packing boxes home from work, so we decanted several small flimsy boxes into them, sealed and labelled them. Then we decided what was coming in the car with us and moved that into the lounge, leaving everything else in the dining room to be collected by my brother that evening.

After an essential shower, we headed out in the car for a few, last-minute chores. There was a box of Covid tests to pick up from the doctor, elderly grandparents to visit, then a last-minute trip to the supermarket for things for dinner, a packed lunch to take with us the next day, and bottles of water for the car. The forecast was for an even hotter day on Wednesday, so the water was essential.

Then home for Miss F’s last evening living there as a child under my protection. Maybe we should have made more of it, had a party, gone out, done something special, but in the end, we were both so tired and conscious of how long the next day would be, that we settled for a nice dinner and Netflix as normal.

After Miss F had gone to bed, I tidied up and packed my overnight case which I’d completely forgotten about until then.

Wednesday morning, an early start. We were both taking Covid tests at just gone six as the university was insisting that a negative test result be shown before they would let us on. Which was fair enough.

Two negative Covid tests

I had a light breakfast. Miss F was too nervous to eat, and it was too early for her to eat anyway, but she had snacks for the car, so it didn’t matter. We loaded up, one last check of the house, and drove away at 7:30.

Miss F let my brother know we had set off – the plan was he would wait an hour and then set off as we didn’t want him reaching the university before us. The sun was shining, it was a beautiful day, traffic was reasonably light, and our spirits were high.

Miss F starting university September 2021

We made good time and less than an hour later were approaching the junction where the A14 joined the M6. Suddenly, there were brake lights up ahead and everything stopped. On the signs overhead flashed the message that there had been an accident and delays were possible. I hate seeing things like that. I start thinking about the poor people involved and how if we’d started a little bit earlier, it could have been us.

We sat there and sat there. Both lines of traffic had to squeeze into the sides several times to allow various emergency vehicles access. Thirty minutes ticked by. My brother phoned. He was approaching the tail end of the queue and wanted to know where we were. Somewhere near the head of it, we told him. Five minutes later he called back. His Satnav had taken him off the A14 and onto the M1. He’d see us on the other side sometime.

We sat. The messages overhead now read animals on the road, which alarmed us somewhat. I mean, what type of animals? Were they furred, feathered, or scaled? Logically, we knew it was probably a horsebox, but it could have been a lorry transporting animals that had crashed. There could be chickens all over the road! I hoped it wasn’t, figuring it would take them ages to catch them all and clear the road.

My brother phoned. He was on the M6 somewhere ahead of us and the other side of the accident. Bugger, that meant he’d probably get there before us now.

Finally, an hour and a bit after we first stopped, we got going again and gradually the traffic filtered by the cordoned off area where by now there was nothing to see, not even a single feather, so it probably wasn’t chickens.

The traffic picked up speed and cleared as cars merged off onto the A14 and we continued onto the M6. We were able to go fast, and I was hopeful of making up for the lost time. We had wasted an hour sitting in traffic so that hadn’t helped. The M6 toll road was up ahead. My brother had said he wasn’t going to take it, so I prayed it would be as empty as it normally was so we could belt along and eat up the miles. It was practically empty. Four clear lanes lay open ahead of us, so I put my foot down and went for it. My little car may be old, but once it gets up to speed and the hamster is running at full pelt in his wheel in the engine, it will comfortably cruise at 80mph.

We got off the M6 and onto the various A roads we had to take for the last part of the journey and at about 11:30 we were turning onto the university campus as my brother phoned.

I’m here! He crowed in triumph.

So are we! We replied.

Finding him in a car park at the back of the campus, we pulled up near him. I gave him a sandwich and told him to hang on whilst we went to register Miss F and find out where her room was. It was easily done, although it did make me smile that even though all their emails and information about moving in had clearly stated a negative Covid test must be shown, there were still people in the queue ahead of us who assumed that rule couldn’t possibly apply to them. Oh yes, it does, here’s a test, best you go and sit in your car for thirty minutes whilst waiting for the results.

Miss F’s room was on the very top floor of the house, so all her stuff had to be carried up four flights of stairs. Deep joy. My brother helped us with the two heaviest boxes and then left.

I felt every one of those steps as we carried it all up, then decided to stop for something to eat and drink and to get her kitchen stuff put away before anyone else moved in. We had taken a lot of kitchen things and I’d thought I would be bringing a lot home. In the end, only a couple of frying pans and one small saucepan came back. Everything else was absorbed into the three cupboards that she had been allocated.

The kitchen was easily done and then we had the mammoth task of trying to unpack all the bedroom stuff and find homes for it all. Luckily, no one else had moved in on the top floor yet and there was quite a large landing, so we were able to leave all the boxes and bags and cases out there and gradually filter stuff into the room and try to find space for it all.

It was a swelteringly hot day. Four hours in a hot car and then all those trips up and down the stairs had left me like a limp rag and tempers frayed a little as I tried to help but got snapped at because I hadn’t done it exactly the way she wanted it.

By the time it got to 4:30 and Miss F had gone postal about a missing pot of pushpins that apparently, she couldn’t live another minute without, I’d had enough. I told her to go and freshen up ready for dinner because we were leaving. The room was 90% finished and was very useable. She could fiddle about with the final details later. We still had to find the hotel I was staying at, check-in, and get to my room, and I had to have a shower.

Do you have to shower? You look fine.

Yes, I snapped angrily. If you can smell yourself then you definitely need to shower!

We found the hotel easily enough but finding their car park was a different matter. In the end, I had to pull up and go into the hotel through the restaurant where I found a waitress. Desperately aware of my smelly, grubby state, I did my best to keep my distance whilst explaining that I was an arriving guest, but I couldn’t find the car park. She came outside with me and showed me a tiny car parking area tucked away behind some tall grasses with one single space left in it. Just about managing to squeeze my Nissan into it – thank heavens I didn’t have the van – I wearily lugged my case into the hotel and checked in.

We’re not serving breakfast. The desk clerk informed me.

Oh, umm, where can I get something to eat tomorrow?

We are doing a breakfast box for £8.95. Would you like one of them?

Too hot, tired, and hungry to care, I agreed, and he showed us to my room.

The room was a small single and being a very cheap hotel, it was basic. I tried to open the window, but it instantly crashed back down. There was no sash cord so no way to keep the bottom half of the window up. Fine! I pulled the top half of the window all the way down instead.

Miss F then sat on my bed and called my parents to catch them up and answer the 4.5 million notifications she had received during the day, and I slunk into the bathroom to try and de-grunge.

The shower had the handle snapped off so I couldn’t tell which way was hot or cold. Playing the “cold, cold, colder – try it the other way – cold, cold, lukewarm” game, I finally gave up and just got in. The shower waited until I’d fully lathered up before helpfully blasting me with scalding water. I think they heard my yelp in Scotland.

Our table booking in the restaurant was for 6:30pm and we were a couple of minutes early going down but were both so hungry we couldn’t wait. We were shown to our table and looked at the menu. Miss F plumped for a thick juicy steak with all the trimmings. I chose a steak and ale pie which was big and delicious and came with hand-cut chips and a pot of braised red cabbage which was delicious.

Much needed big dinner

Both too full for dessert, I had a coffee instead to try and wake me up enough to drive her back to the university and then find my way back to the hotel. By this point our yawns were uncontrollable and even though it wasn’t even eight, we decided to call it a night and I ran Miss F back to the university, found my way back to the hotel, and got into my PJ’s when I was safely back in my tiny room. I’d spend a little time on social media catching up, maybe read a little, then fall asleep whenever I needed to.

That was the plan.

Well, regular readers of my blog will know that the best-laid plans of mice and Julia are all filed away somewhere.

My room was over the hotel bar, which was loud, very very loud. Forced to have the window open because otherwise, I would swelter, I lay there desperately tired listening to the braying voices of people determined to get drunk and have a good time. No way was I going to sleep with all that racket going on, so I lay there until eventually it was midnight and the bar closed. At last, I thought, maybe now I can go to sleep. But no. A man with an incredibly loud voice who I think must have been the manager or head chef or something, then proceeded to conduct a staff meeting at the top of his voice from midnight until almost one. And then when he shut up, a series of loud bangs and crashes shook my room sporadically until almost two.

Even with the window open it was a hot and muggy night and the only covering I had was an extra thick duvet. Lovely for the middle of winter, not so lovely in a heatwave. That got kicked to the floor and I used the decorative counterpane instead. Don’t think I was supposed to but needs must.

After a restless night, I was then disturbed at 6:30am by something thudding against my door.

My breakfast box had been delivered.

Or rather, my breakfast brown bag had been slung at my door.

I took it in and investigated the contents. They comprised of:

One Styrofoam cup containing a teabag, a sachet of coffee and one of sugar, a tiny pot of milk.

One small bottle of orange juice.

One tiny banana

A gnarly apple

One tiny, squished croissant

One equally tiny pain au chocolat – also squashed

A small pot of watery yoghurt with some granola flakes and two pieces of dried strawberry.

For £9.

I felt robbed.

Not much of a breakfast

Making myself a cup of tea I ate what I could and then got ready to check out the moment Miss F messaged she was free for me to collect her, which she did at 9:30. Carefully I carried my case downstairs – I forgot to mention it was an old building so the stairs and landing were all over the place!

Checking out? Chirped the lady on the desk.

Yes, I am.

Room number?

Number one.

Ah yes, okay, you’re all paid up, so thank you for staying with us and have a good trip.

Umm, I have a breakfast box to pay for?

No, it’s been paid for.

Are you sure?

Yes, the computer isn’t showing anything owing.

Oh, okay.

I left, feeling slightly better that at least I hadn’t paid for my oh so special breakfast box.

I picked up Miss F and we drove back into town and found a B&M, which for non-UK readers is a huge store selling practically everything. There were a few bits and pieces which she wanted, and she’d decided to buy a mini vac. There was a vacuum cleaner in the house, but it was a large one on the ground floor and she didn’t want to have to lug it up and down the stairs. We found a handheld one for £20 which was compact enough to store in her room and would be ample for her needs. After that, we went to the Sainsbury’s opposite and stocked her up with all the fresh and frozen food we thought she could fit on her one shelf and in her one drawer – including some fruit and veg, because I’m hopeful if a bit naive. I took the chance to fill up with petrol whilst I was there.

Back in the university, I helped her unpack her shopping and find homes for everything, then had a quick bathroom break, a last hug goodbye and left for home.

It was 11:52am precisely when I left the university and I’m happy to report that the drive home was fine. Being an old car, its radio is a bit hit and miss and it seemed that far north I was out of range of BBC Radio 2 which is the best radio station in the world. I clicked on autotuning, and it picked up on the local radio station, Radio Stoke. Local radio is weird, it’s so … local.

And here is a little bit of traffic news for you. Mr and Mrs Jenkins will be reversing out of their driveway at 6 Acacia Avenue in about five minutes. Could cause a little bit of congestion, so take care if that’s on your route.

Thankfully, I was only subjected to Radio Stoke for thirty minutes before we passed out of range, and I had to put up with BBC Radio 1 for about an hour. Radio 1 is all right, but it is very yoof orientated so only plays the latest tunes. I was relieved when auto tuning found me BBC Radio 2 and the old familiar DJs kept me company for the rest of the drive home.

There were a couple of monsoonal cloudbursts, but I still managed to make really good time, the roads were clear, and I was back home exactly three hours later. After unpacking the car – it felt like I’d brought home almost as much as I’d taken because of all the boxes, packaging, and rubbish that I’d had to bring back with me – I loaded up the washing machine, fed the animals, facetimed with Miss F, had dinner, then collapsed into bed and slept for almost ten hours!

All the rubbish I brought home

Friday, my last day off before going back to work. I had chores in the morning and in the afternoon had a virtual meet-up with my local authors’ group, which was fun. For dinner, I cooked myself a steak. Miss F had requested steak and chips as one of her farewell dinners the previous weekend and Waitrose had offered a deal of three steaks for £10, so we’d eaten two and the third was still sitting there. Frankly, it would have been rude not to, so I cooked it with seasoned butter and had it with onion rings, jacket potato, salad, and a large glass of red wine and it was delicious.

The house is very quiet without Miss F. I keep expecting her to walk in, but I know that she is exactly where she needs to be and will have a wonderful time. This is what she has worked and saved for the last four years, and I am happy for her that all her hard graft has paid off. Yes, I will miss her, but this is how it should be. Parents can’t hold their children back; they need to go out and find their way in the world. Miss F knows where I am if she needs me and knows the door is always open to her.

Saturday, I went back to work. To be honest, I didn’t feel ready to go back and could have done with having the rest of the weekend off to get over the physical, emotional, and mental stresses of the week. But I had no more holiday or days off to use, so back to work I went. It wasn’t so bad, a short six-hour shift and we were reasonably busy, so the time passed quickly. I have another six-hour shift tomorrow and hopefully; it will be another busy day and then I’ll be home and looking forward to having three days off.

Will I be resting and recovering during those days? What do you think? The next project is to get the house ready for viewings and advertise for a lodger. Now Miss F is safely settled at university I have no more reasons or excuses not to put my house in order and see about securing some much-needed rental income. And who knows. Maybe someone nice will come along who will be company occasionally in the evenings. After all, this is very much the next chapter in my life as well.

And now it’s Saturday evening and I’m tired and hungry. I took a slice of homemade lasagne out of the freezer this morning so will be having that with garlic bread and salad. Maybe I’ll even treat myself to some ice cream afterwards.

Anyway, take care of yourselves and I’ll hopefully chat with you all next week. Below I’ve posted some pictures of Miss F’s room at university which I hope you enjoy.

Julia Blake

6 thoughts on “The Next Chapter

  1. Such a packed and exhausting weekend, emotionally and physically. This is a brand new time for both you and Ms. F. I enjoyed your sharing with us much of the experience of settling your daughter in. It is exhausting. I can remember moving my daughter in as well… all those years ago…the heat and the stairs…. Also on the top floor. Ms. F’s room looks great. I like that rug and bedcover; very smart and cheerful. Thank you for sharing pictures. I love the ones of Ms. F that you also shared on Instagram. Such a beautiful little girl and now beautiful young woman.
    Wishing you luck with finding a good lodger quickly!
    All my best,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really like all the bits and pieces she chose to make her room homely – that was another advantage of buying things gradually over the last two year, she was able to get exactly what she wanted and for everything to match.


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