You can tell that the university vacation's nearly over - the number of conference bookings has dropped (although I did see Elvis walking out of one of the buildings yesterday evening. I think that there might be a tribute act in town - but you never can tell), and the sound of building works is increasing as the contractors start staring their contracts in the teeth and have just realised that "penalty clauses" are involved. In the library, the new "Welcome Desk" is nearly ready, and rotas are being drawn up for arrivals weekend.
My part-time job (at the moment) is working on the IT and Library helpdesk. It's good money for a student job, and I get to keep my hand in (I used to run helpdesks and IT departments before I came to Uni). If this year goes to form, the new students won't be any problem at all. They will be rushing around with wide eyes wondering a) where the bar is, and b) when their bloody parents are going to go home and leave them in peace.
But the parents? Ahhhh. The parents. I love watching the parents. And, I hate dealing with them.
I'm about the same age as some of the parents, and over arrivals weekend I stick to my usual jeans, t-shirt and converse - I don't exactly blend in with the others - the grey hair and wrinkles don't allow it - but I don't stand out too much.
Some of the mothers of new students, however, have clearly put a lot of thought into what they're going to wear to deliver their offspring to Uni. I see women who seem to be slightly panicking at the thought of having children old enough to go to Uni, and who dress as though they're expecting/hoping to be mistaken for a sibling. Some of them look as though they've dressed for a garden party and just look uncomfortable. The fathers, however, all look as though they've just come out of the rugby/football club - trendy shirts and trendy jeans that just look a little bit wrong. Particularly when they're paired with work shoes.
Why do I hate dealing with parents? Part of my job on the helpdesk is to help the new students get their IT equipment working with the network in their study bedrooms. We provide some good documentation, and if they work through it, then they should be ok and they will get connected. But, fathers (and it does seem to be fathers) will insist on doing it for them, on the grounds that they use IT at work/build websites as a career/have been to PC World once and therefore are going to be able to do it far better than their offspring ever could. And, of course, they never read the documentation. So it all goes crashingly wrong, and they come to see me or one of my colleagues. And usually patronise us, assuming that we really don't know what we're doing. Or explain to us that at work they have "someone to do this for them", and then lean over the desk with an avuncular laugh trying to intimate that it's all actually beneath them.
They usually demand to be given their son or daughter's password, and really don't like it when we tell them that we can't give it to them. One year, I asked the father who was in front of me if he considered his daughter to be an adult. "Don't be stupid." He said, "Of course she's not. She's my daughter." Daughter standing behind, rolled her eyes and looked even more embarassed than she had before, if such a thing were possible.
We even heard one year, an apocryphal report that a father had moved in to his daughter's study bedroom, sleeping on her floor, so that he could make sure that she was all right. He was only evicted when the other residents of that particular student flat reported the situation to the authorities after a couple of weeks.
So, if you're taking one of your offspring to university in the next couple of weeks, please remember the following:
1. Just be yourself. Don't worry about what anyone else is thinking about the way that you dress - nobody will notice except people like me. And, I will notice if you feel uncomfortable in what you're wearing. Just wear what you normally wear, don't make too much of an effort.
2. Your job is to drive your child there, unpack the car, go to the supermarket and make sure that there's enough nutrition (and I would suggest painkillers) to see your child through to the end of freshers' week.
3. When you have done the above, press some more money into their hands, and leave. There are exciting things for them to do, and they really don't want you around cramping their style.
4. Your child is now an adult. They passed their A Levels, and are going to have to sort things out on their own. They may as well start now. Universities provide a lot of support for new students, and extra in the first few weeks.
5. Go and enjoy the new bit of freedom that you've won for yourself!
Of course, if you're a mature student, none of the above applies. All you have to remember is that for the first four weeks of term you will be mistaken for a member of staff. And, remember, the young ones are just as nervous as you are.