It’s Tom’s graduation in Oxford; my main concern in the build-up to this momentous day has been deciding what to wear. Eventually, I plump (now that’s a word I must remember not to use again) for a sensible Boden wrapover dress. I am aiming for dignified and elegant.
The ceremony is held in the Sheldonian Theatre, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren – clearly for looks rather than comfort. Hundreds of proud parents are perched on seats that are actually just wooden steps – the woman in front of me is sitting on my toes. There is very little space; we are all so crammed in together that when one proud parent stands up to photograph their offspring, the rest of us are all forced to rise en masse in a rather prim version of a Mexican wave.
It is very hot and the two-hour ceremony is conducted in Latin. This is very fortunate for Tom, because the heat and the droning monotony has a tranquilizing effort on me which means that I forget to weep loudly and emotionally when it’s finally his turn to be presented to the Vice Chancellor.
On the way back to Merton College, Tom and the others stride on ahead. I’m wearing some high heels stolen from Lucy (Comfort or Glamour? Oh, definitely Glamour, I’d unwisely decided earlier that morning). As this is Oxford, a city that seems determined to make everything as difficult as possible, most of the streets are cobbled.
“Wait for me!” I call plaintively, tottering after them. “I can’t walk properly on these cobbles in these heels!”
I have to say this so often that I condense this down to calling out a Tourettes-style “Cobbles!” at regular intervals.
Meanly, they pick up speed and are practically running down the street by the time we arrive at the college.
We have a lovely lunch to celebrate. I am the only one drinking on our table, and as the wine is already paid for, I decide it’s only polite to work my way through half a bottle. Anyway, it’s a relief to be able to move my elbows again. I feel like a battery hen suddenly promoted to free-range status.
In all the excitement, however, I have forgotten to practise my Photograph Face. When it’s my turn to stand next to Tom, resplendent in his graduate robes, I panic; which is my best side? What is my most flattering smile? Was it chin up or chin down? Teeth showing, or not?
I can’t remember, so I have to settle for a combination of everything which, it emerges, is definitely not my Photograph Face. Poor Tom. In the best picture, he appears to have a tipsy and simple-minded distant cousin of Delia Smith leering over his shoulder.
But hey, it’s not all about me, is it?
I call my aunt Diana in Anglesey; I am hoping to arrange to stay a weekend with her in late Spring.
“I’ve decided to turn my greenhouse into a summerhouse,” she announces with pride.
“Oh,” I say, impressed. “How have you done that?”
“I’ve put a cushion on the chair and turned a crate upside down to use as a coffee table.”
This appears to be the sum total of her DIY efforts.
“I’ve been sitting in there all afternoon, reading,” she says happily. “I might even put some curtains up.”
I decide to take a leaf out of her book and turn my utility room into my study. So I take a book in there, put a pen in an old jam jar and sit on a pile of unironed clothes and read for an hour.
I don’t know what Mr Young always makes such a fuss about. DIY is easy.
Even more excitement in the household because it’s Harriet’s 21st birthday. (This time, on the off-chance, I remember to practise my Photograph Face before I catch the train to York – yes, it’s definitely chin down, teeth showing.)
Harriet and I have lunch by the river in the sunshine with a glass of champagne. Afterwards, I follow Harriet as she floats into various shops and tries on various lovely clothes in dress sizes that are only slightly bigger than my shoe size. I hide in dark corners, behind racks of 50% Off! clothes, and hope the security guard doesn’t spot me and ask me to leave. (“I’m sorry, madam, but this is a shop for young people. Why don’t you get yourself off home and have a nice cup of tea?”)
Later, we go back to Harriet’s student house and she’s greeted with squeals and presents and cards from a flock of beautiful girls with clear skin and impossibly long legs. I skulk about in the background until her friend Ed makes me a cup of tea and, unexpectedly, gives me a Cadbury’s cream egg. (The cream egg is a thoughtful touch, but if I had the choice, I’d rather have radiant skin and impossibly long legs. Perhaps you could remember that for next time, Ed?)
Still, I’m looking forward to seeing the photograph Harriet took of me drinking my champagne.
I did remember to keep my chin up and my mouth closed which is my best Photograph Face.
Or is it?
Blast. I’d better go and check in the mirror.