Sunday, July 24, 2005

Graduation Day

Graduation Day

Finally it is graduation day. It is the day when almost 20 years of preparation for life culminates in a short ceremony. I am painfully aware that is her dead mother’s wealth that has supported her though university, while Gill and I have merely done our best to help her learn to play the Academic English Literature game. It saddens me that she should not be given the first class honours she is worthy of, because she is not master of her tutors’ schema. I must agree with her that psychology is empty and boring as a subject and English has more interest. But she was a complete master of that game scoring 100% in some A level psychology papers. This degree, though more important, cannot match the acclaim of the Psychology A level prize at the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Odd that my daughter should be feted by the British Psychological Society, with us both its guests of honour for aweek, when I would not even join it, despite a life’s work in psychological matters. I found it even more odd returning to Keele University on the way home the other day, to see the subject has grown into an accredited natural science. It makes me shudder.

I was as nervous as the father of the bride. Yet somehow we managed to fit in a stop at the primary school first, to see J in Mr Skellybones. He was in the front row, not quite at the perimeter. That spot was reserved for A, who was not just off the end of the bench but on a different planet. I wondered to what extent J’s learning difficulties this year have been to do with a friendship pairing with someone so handicapped. J is very easily distracted, and A is not capable of being other than a distraction in class. It was lovely to see J following all the hand movements correctly and singing his little heart out. There was a special hippo nose for mum. He was so pleased to have his grandparents there too. I suddenly became morose, realising just how many of the parents also watching this performance are school governors, complicit in the condemnation by Stanley of our parenting. I am so glad G is strong enough to attend these school events now.

We set off to Bristol in plenty of time. H wanted me to hear songs that are special to her from the radio. It did not want to produce them. Instead, “Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson, heaven has a place for those who pray; hay, hay, hay,” boomed out of it. My generation were all horrified of having to return home again after university. “The graduate” was a warning to us of what was likely to happen if you did. But at least for a while H is going to be based with us here. The place is awash with her belongings. Mine is really her home address for the first time since Buckingham, fifteen years ago. The truth is that her living here disturbs me. It brings my life together in a way I don’t seem to be able to cope with. The baronet has not been captured in Bristol. The Rah’s saw her as a courtesan rather than a suitable wife, I guess. We will wait to see what Cambridge has to offer.

Though the drive over was very pleasant, parking in Bristol was another matter. We hit road diversions. Police swarmed everywhere. The Blairs were in town to share this graduation day with us. I had no news of Euan’s knocking down a cyclist on his journey from Gloucestershire. But we knew the Prime Minister would be there. It took acute awareness to spot a hidden parking space near H’s old flat. I thought of Tony Benn drinking tea in our flat at Keele on my graduation day. He writes to tell me son Stephen works for the Society of Chemistry and is married with two children. Poor June. Of course it is his younger brother who is the Minister in the African Aid spotlight. It is Euan who will go off to do the intern thing in America as Stephen did thirty years ago. I don’t expect him to follow on from his father either. Will frumpy Katherine though? It is H who was voted most likely to be prime Minister by her peers. Pity she has no grasp of real politics. She is likely to achieve more with her life than I have though.

Maybe now I will always associate Bristol with rain. After many days of hot sunshine it started to pour as we entered the city, just as it had when I came to the power seminar a few weeks ago, and just as it has done on so many other occasions. Sometimes the sky has turned quite black as I have approached the place, leading to a deluge hard enough to bring motor way traffic to a standstill. Today we were thoroughly soaked in minutes. H was unperturbed. She just wanted to have her photos before her hair dried all curly. Rain may become an ever scarcer and more valuable commodity as this country dries out. This day will stay connected with the repercussions of Blair’s war crimes in Iraq. Last week London was bombed. The University speaker told us of the time in the second world war when this hall was last destroyed by bombs. They were very concerned about a repetition.

As we reached the grand Wills Building, Blair’s security was melting away with him. Their session had been 90 minutes before ours. As G and I stood in the vast entrance hall, which mimics King’s College Cambridge’s chapel, we could watch the morning’s video of Euan’s moment on the university stage, looking like a young Greek God, with blondish spiked hair instead of a laurel crown. No footage of mum and dad, though. I took snaps of H’s presentation in her gown. Afterwards in the restaurant H told us of being introduced to Euan. “This is H”, said her friend to the young man. She was half drunk and took little notice of this not very good looking boy. Only later did she twig who it was. Then it was too late. Besides, he did not go to public school, so he was non-you, as far as H is concerned.

For 3 years H has been Dancing Queen of the Lizard Lounge. She wanted to take us there to share her world, but we had to return home for the little ones. Instead she showed me Moulin Rouge, on DVD, which she says is a bit similar. Today she has left behind her white faced gothic look and has become tanned for the first time in her life. She is very slim, having shed a few pounds from her tummy recently. Her heavy make up is warm and friendly. Remains of red streaks still shine in her dark straight hair. She is as beautiful as any father’s daughter could be. She wears a very chick black skirt and a very simple white blouse below her gown. It is a piece of good fortune that her robe sash matches her lip stick.

She struts her stuff on the stage with all the others. I am stunned that there are so many firsts in English. 60 places from thousands of applicants. Perhaps it is not too surprising 25% won top honours. We sit next to Sophie’s parents who are very chatty. She has a first. I refrain from competing by explaining how H was first out of 30,000 Psychology A level students.

Alone together for a few minutes after the ceremony I can tell H how very proud I am of her and all her achievements. We affirm our love for each other. It was perhaps the most important moment of the day. She even comments how good I look with my hair wet and swept back like one of her public school boys. I look forward to seeing the photos.

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