An uncertain age

I recently received an invitation to a convention abroad. I suspect I was not at the top of their guest list earlier in the year and they were reaching somewhere nearer the bottom by the time they happened upon my name. It can’t be easy filling slots for foreign guests at festivals at the moment. You know it’s tough when even I’m giving it a second thought.

In normal times I’d be all too eager to take a trip across the channel where authors are treated like royalty. Maybe not royalty, but they are at least fed. Unfortunately these are not normal times.

Loathe as I am to decline any kind of freeby, I didn’t immediately dismiss the notion. The more I considered it though, the more ridiculous the idea became. Even if I was determined to go I had to admit that there was no guarantee I would ever get there. Here in Merry England air corridors are closed and cities are subject to lockdown restrictions with only a couple of hours notice. There was no certainty I would be able to leave my own home, never mind the country. In the worst case scenario I would be forced to quarantine in the southwest of France for two weeks. Can you imagine anything worse? On second thoughts, I probably should have accepted the invite after all.

Can I sign that comic for you?

While I wept bitter tears of regret at not being able to go to a festival, it’s nothing to what my daughter has gone through. Schools shut, exams cancelled, no graduation celebrations, results anxiety followed by the exams fiasco. It’s been a lot of confusion and anguish for people her age. In the end she was lucky, she received the results she deserved as well as the ones she needed. She will be attending her university of choice. We think.

The city she will be studying in is on a ‘watch list’ for increasing Covid cases. The equivalent of being on the naughty step for a metropolitan area that’s hosting too many illegal raves. More than half of the increased cases are in the younger age demographic so there’s added concern about the start of student life come mid-September.

A wet Saturday night in a Home Bargains car park is a lot more fun when it’s illegal.

In the face of all this unpredictability preparations have continued. Sacks of domestic items were purchased on a mother and daughter trip to Ikea. They now fill the hallways of our house. I was invited to join them on their trip to the Swedish furniture hellhole. On. A. Weekend. Unfortunately I had a newsletter to write and so it was one invitation I was happy to decline.

Baking trays, pans and other essential items of student life are ready to be moved. As each student flat forms a bubble, protocol dictates only one parent is allowed inside. Will I be able to carry all the cast iron objets d’art up the stairs of her accomodation in the single hour allocated? Who can say?

Noooooo. Not the mug tree!

It’s a strange time nestled within an already strange time. A matryoshka doll of unease. The first instinct is to protect your kids. Keep them safe at home behind barred windows. Lock them in the basement and push oven chips under the door at frequent intervals. Stunt their emotional maturity with unlimited Netflix and a lack of direct sunlight. That’s the only sensible course of action, isn’t it?

No? I guess not. We have to let them go.

Anyway, our home has become very quiet ever since she was equipped with a pair of noise cancelling headphones, a necessary piece of further education kit I’m told. I can no longer hear the tinny dialogue of the current binge watch issuing from her phone speakers. It was a reassuring presence from the other side of the door. Now it all takes place in eerie silence. Preparation for what might lie ahead?

Take care,


Have a teenager who needs reminding that they should be studying alone in the library and not enjoying a fulfilling social life with new friends? The Book Tour poster will do the job. You can draw your own noise cancelling headphones on Fretwell to give it an up to date touch.

Speaking of Fretwell, his misadventures are coming from Top Shelf in the autumn. ‘A page-turning, Kafkaesque dark comedy in brilliant retro style.’ Reassuringly unreassuring. Tailor made for our times.

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