Off To University

A student reading Illustration: Shutterstock


It’s a big adventure that changes through the generations – although some things never change…

I watch as Jade checks she has everything she needs and wonder how it will be for her.

It’s hard to comprehend that my granddaughter is preparing for the adventure of a lifetime, one I underwent myself sixty years ago.

Tomorrow she will travel the length of the country to set up home with other young people for the next three years.

She is going to university.

As I watch and listen to the activity in the cosy kitchen as Jade checks off her list with her mum, I’m back in another kitchen all those years ago doing the very same thing. And I’m wondering what the eighteen-year-old girl is feeling. Excitement? Fear? Achievement?

Probably a mixture of all three as I did.

Yet everything about it is so very different now…

On the floor beside Jade is a rucksack. My luggage was a huge cabin trunk that I slowly filled over several days as it stood at the end of my bed.

Three starched white coats for lab work on the course I had signed up for. Huge tomes of reference books bought at great expense.

“No need for those,” Jade tells me, a smile on her lips as she lifts her laptop as proof. It’s a good job, too. I worry at the big loan she’s burdened herself with. No grants to cover fees and living expenses that didn’t lock you into a lifetime of debt. But back then it was only a very small percentage of the population who went to university. I was the first in my village and it actually made a column in the local newspaper!

“Now don’t you go drinking and rioting during Fresher’s week.” Helen has a worried expression on her face.

“Mum, I’m not stupid,” Jade says indignantly and tuts.

Drinking and rioting! Did we have a Fresher’s week in those days? All I recall is settling into digs with a lovely landlady and her daughter. It was a homely little terraced house but a bit of a shock when I discovered the only toilet was outside in the yard and I was asked to only take a bath once a week.

“How are you getting there?” I ask Jade now.

“Oh, Mum’s taking me to the station. It’s only a couple of hours on the train.”

It had taken me all day back then with three changes, my trunk having gone ahead by British Rail the previous day to be delivered to my digs. There was no chance of a visit home before Christmas.

“Don’t forget to phone us when you get there to let us know you got there safely,” I tell Jade.

“Gran, I’ll text you the minute I arrive. Stop fretting.”

She is so confident. Seems not to have the fear of the unknown I had. I remember promising my mum I would phone her once a week to let her know how I was getting on.

“Reverse the charges then you won’t have to worry about having change,” my mum had told me.

It was half an hour’s walk to the big red phone box and often a queue to use it. Hardly anyone had a phone of any sort in their house in those days.

“I’m going to have a shower, Gran,” Jade tells me. “Mel’s picking me up at eight. We’re meeting up with the rest of them for a few drinks and a night club before I go tomorrow.”

Helen watches her daughter flit from the room. She looks on the verge of tears. Like she’s been holding it all back. Not wanting Jade to see her distress and feel guilty at leaving her mum all on her own.

“She’ll be fine,” I reassure her. “She’s a confident girl. So grown up. So sensible.”

“Yes, she does seem to be taking it all in her stride. I’m the one that’s finding it difficult,” Helen confesses.

I don’t remember any tears when I left. I don’t know how my mum felt. I have to confess it never occurred to me to wonder. My parents just seemed pleased and proud that I’d made the grade.

“I hope she manages to get a job at the end of it,” Helen ponders.

“Of course she will,” I reassure her.

“Well, I’m not so sure. One of the girls on the till at the checkout in the supermarket has an honours degree.”

“Ah, yes, but Jade is going to be a teacher and they’re always in demand.”

Helen seems comforted by that thought.

“I’ll pop up and say goodbye now,” I tell Helen. “I’ve some shopping to do on the way home.”

Jade’s door is closed and I tap lightly. A small, shaky voice calls me in.

She’s sitting on her bed sobbing. The confident girl of moments ago is in floods of tears.

I sit beside her on the bed and place my hand over hers.

“Whatever is it?” I ask quietly.

“I’m scared, Gran. What if I’m not good enough. What if I don’t fit in. What if my flat mates don’t like me? And I’m really going to miss Mum.”

I smile to myself. Some things never really change.

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Allison Hay

I joined the "My Weekly" team thirteen years ago and, more recently, "The People's Friend". I love the variety of topics we cover both online and in the magazines. I manage the digital content for the brands, sharing features and information on the website, social media and in our digital newsletters.