Thursday 19 September 2013

It's a bloody long way to Exeter and I've come a bloody long way in thirty years

Going to university is a very different experience now, as I discovered at the weekend.

Once upon a time it was rucksack on your back, ghetto blaster in your right hand catch the train.  I rather think, today's approach of car filled to bursting with every possible item imaginable and parents driving to destination is the better way of doing it.  We rolled up, unloaded, with fewer items than most falling on the ground, and took everything up to the room.  The one casualty was the fake Louis Vuitton suitcase The Boy had brought back from his rugby tour of the Far East.  The wheel collapsed, shortly before the handle pulled off.  Some part of an Exeter rubbish tip will forever be The Boy's.

I then abandoned The Cat with The Cat's Mother whilst I went off to see how the campus has changed since I was last there.  And it has changed.  It seems smaller.  If I'd grown half an inch since I was a student, I would have understood, but I haven't.  There has been an investment of many millions in many new academic, administrative, cultural and sporting facilities.  The place is more crowded, but actually just as attractive.  The hills, one known as Cardiac Hill, are less challenging...I remember being able to cycle up one that just about nobody else didn't seem so bad now.  The building I was taught in still looks the same, but the 'new' library has just been refurbished, extended and opens into a covered meeting space called The Forum...I think the Romans would like it.  There was a coach-load of Chinese students looking completely bewildered....even more so than the ones from the home counties (one continuity is that Exeter has an apartheid policy which excludes anyone who is not born and bred within the M25 boundary).

I'm sure The Cat will love it.  She will be studying a subject she loves, she will meet new people from a different bubble to her own, she will find some independence that she doesn't have now, and have a livelier social life.  It's all good, and she will return a grown up in three years ready to face the harsh world of working life.  Hopefully we may see her a few times before then!

I've been re-acquainting myself with my past recently, and this was no exception.  I spent a wonderful couple of hours wandering round with distant memories gradually coming back. Good times, bad times, ordinary times.  People I liked, people I disliked (avoid anyone you make friends with in Freshers week for the next three years) and people I just knew.  Drinks in the Ram, or the Ewe Students Union Bars, much socialising.
Dancing down at The Quay, curries every week.   Not enough work.  Not enough involvement.  But I still got my 2.1 which got me my first job.  Economics and Political Development since 1800.  Call it modern history.  Don't talk about the Soviet Union which disappeared a few years after I graduated, wasting two terms of (gentle) effort.

I liked being there again, albeit I am frustrated I couldn't quite fit all the pieces of the jigsaw together again. But what matters to me most is that by accident, I have in the last few weeks fitted together each of the stages of my life into something of a continuum, so right at the moment I have not a bad helicopter view of where I've come from to where I am now.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.

Exeter's a bloody long way away. And it's even further to come back when it's raining cats, dogs and pigs whilst the traffic queues stretch into the distance due to road works. No wonder I was exhausted yesterday. The Cat has departed to pastures new, and we had travelled in Le Taxi Yaris. Taking the Jeep would have been sensible (if expensive), but the idea was to share the driving and The Cat's Mother isn't keen on piloting a tank long distances. As it happens I drove all the way there and all the way back. It seemed sensible as wrenching The Cat and The Cat's Mother apart was quite an emotional trauma, and I suspected I would be more attentive on the road.

We arrived in the dark at the hotel we were staying at, Gidleigh Park, having driven down ever narrowing country lanes. In Devon, not only are they narrow, there are also walled banks, and the dark seemed completely impenetrable. The lack of houses seems to leave the darkness rather blacker than before. Occasionally a break in the walls would let us see beyond, and we couldn't help but feel that we might see over the rocks, in the crevice of which the candle burned, there was thrust out an evil yellow face, a terrible animal face, all seamed and scored with vile passions. Foul with mire, with a bristling beard, and hung with matted hair, it might well have belonged to one of those old savages who dwelt in the burrows on the hillsides. The light beneath him was reflected in his small, cunning eyes which peered fiercely to right and left through the darkness, like a crafty and savage animal who has heard the steps of the hunters.

Without pointing a finger at anyone, The Cat's Mother had failed to pass on a vital piece of information to me. The hotel's direction instructions specifically say, do not use a SatNav. We were indeed lost on the bleak, windy, scary Dartmoor. Having eventually found ourselves again, we tried to follow the hotel's directions, and inspite of passing their massive sign three times we couldn't find our way. We tried for the fourth time on the basis that once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. We were somewhat spooked when we took the road yet again and saw it as clear as clear could be.

We were further spooked when arriving at the hotel, the ancient wooden door swung open as we were about to step in.  The interior is heavily wood panelled and creeks a lot.  Our rooms were down a maze of corridors, and we managed to convince ourselves that at best just one of us would seen the sunrise. Oddly, as it was declared the UK's best restaurant in 2010, we didn't eat a full meal but it was late so just had a snack in the bar.  Amongst the other people in the bar was a man with an eye patch (really).  Clearly he was a murderer.  The names of our rooms were unusual, so we turned to trusty Google.  Yes, The Cat was in Sittaford, best known as the location of an Agatha Christie murder mystery.  Oh dear.  

.../more to follow


Did you know that LloydsTSB is no more? As we drove along Old Street last weekend, I noticed that The Boy's branch had turned from bottle green to blue, and now has a TSB sign fixed outside it. And on Monday, there was a big fat glossy brochure for me in the post (actually not glossy, matt is far more upmarket my design chums tell me). The brochure tells me what a lovely, friendly bank Lloyds will be. A new bank. A new start. Not one single mention of why they were being forced to sell of 600 branches. The first step has been to rename them TSB - do you remember that from 18 years ago? TSB is your 'local' bank evidently. The fabulous brochure tells me how important its customers are to it. Well, call me cynical, but a (slightly) new name and a new logo do not a new bank make. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Lloyds has more complaints than any other and has an appalling track record in resolving those complaints...again correct me if I'm wrong but I believe they have more complaints referred to the Ombudsman than any other. And of course, it's still owned by you and me because it was broke. Funnily enough, they seem very keen on offering me, Tom, Dick and Harry financial advice. It still pretty much run by the same management with the same staff and has the same culture it had when it was mis-selling PPI. They must think we're stupid.