The Plastic Hippo

August 15, 2015

Tears before bedtime

Filed under: Education,Literature — theplastichippo @ 2:00 am
Tags: ,


Philip Larkin was only partially correct in suggesting that we project our own faults onto our children; he forgot the bits about bequeathed neuroses and anxiety. The dead poet and librarian might have held some unpleasant opinions but he took his own advice and by having no children of his own avoided the gathering apprehension of an offspring’s A Level results day. Thursday was always going to be a tense morning.

The Neanderthal that occupies an upstairs room at the old homestead was characteristically playing it cool as I paced around the kitchen making his breakfast and reciting meaningless platitude after platitude along the lines of;
“As long as you did your best.”
“One set of results does not define you.”
“A Levels are not the be all and end all.”
“You will not be held responsible for poor teaching, an ideological Ofsted or the incompetence of Michael Gove.”

This went on being repeated until he and his mother`s frayed nerves hissed “oh do shut up” in perfect unison. I scrambled the eggs and overcooked the bacon. The appointed hour approached and he left for his last walk to school ever for his meeting with destiny. My last word of advice was to tell him that if any photographer present asked him to jump in the air and expose a shapely leg, he had my permission to beat the pervert to a pulp. As the front door slammed, both his mother and I gravitated towards a three quarter full bottle of cooking brandy but with heroic mutual support, we managed to resist.

An hour went by – possibly a day or a week. Another half hour and a month spent washing up the breakfast things was less than successful in terms of displacement activity. The remains of the egg, bacon and toast ended up in the sink and the last of the coffee and orange juice went into the bin. I swear to any God you care to believe in, the cooking brandy was calling me by name.

The Neanderthal returned with a brown envelope and not a single flicker of emotion upon his face. Not for the first time I asked him the rational, reasonable and not unexpected question: “Where the bloody hell have you been all this time; we`ve been going out of our minds?” He answered calmly: “We were chatting.” He teased the paper out like some rubbish Hollywood host at the Oscars.
“And the winner is…”

In that moment I remembered his birth and the tiny creature I helped fish out of the birthing pool. I saw his first day at school and all his splendid birthday parties and all the horrible bullying he suffered and all his remarkable courage. I remembered how he beat me at chess and remembered some of his teachers who proved to be, sadly, unable to deal with his intellect. “And the winner is…”

That evening, he went out clubbing with his older sister in some rite of passage training session for Fresher`s Week. He matched his offers and, with a nod to Philip Larkin, added a few stars just for him. The big problem I now have is that I, from experience, fully understand the motivations and behaviour of first year male undergraduates. Memory can be selective, but who the bloody hell am I to tell him to behave himself at a Russell Group Red Brick in a rather wonderful city far from home.

After resisting the cooking brandy and preparing instead an Irish coffee as a nightcap for his mother, I made the stupid mistake of attempting to deal with the practicalities. I pointed out that he will be leaving home, possibly forever, in exactly six weeks.

There were tears before bedtime…and not just from his mother.


  1. Brilliant.

    Comment by BrownhillsBob — August 15, 2015 @ 10:20 am | Reply

  2. Wonderful! Congratulations to the Neanderthal!

    Comment by Alan H — August 16, 2015 @ 5:00 pm | Reply

  3. I love your evocative domestic vignettes. Having gone through the process twice, I empathise totally.

    The house will soon feel bigger and the wallet thinner.

    Comment by The Realist — August 28, 2015 @ 10:25 am | Reply

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