Christmas comes early this year - December 8 to be precise. In two weeks' time my daughter will finish her first university term.
I remember back in October, loading her gear on the roof to take her there in the car. "Going on holiday?" asked my neighbour, the curate. "No," I told her, "it's one of those moments when the Earth shifts slightly on its axis. I'm taking my daughter to university." Her eyes lit up and I could see I'd given her material for her sermon the next Sunday on Moments that Stay with You Forever: moments of separation; moments when time stands still, when the past the present and the future coincide; the moment when the risen Lord said "Mary"; when the wise men saw God Himself wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger; the moment my daughter left home. Epiphanies, all of them, when you glimpse the true nature of things.
I remember leaving home for university myself. My father was a great one for speeches; he'd turn events into quasi-religious ceremonies. I can see him now at Doncaster station shaking my hand as the London Pullman came steaming in. "This is the termination of you being with us on a permanent basis," he sermonised. Steam trains were messy and my mother got smut in her eye. I remember her wiping it with a handkerchief.
So, my daughter comes home in two weeks' time. It doesn't seem five minutes since I was writing about teaching her King Lear in the sixth form (she passed, by the way). Since then we've had one or two phone calls.
"How're you doing?" I asked her.
She was fine. She and the rest of her hall of residence were at that lovely early stage of friendship when they did everything together. They went to breakfast as a corridor. They nightclubbed as a corridor. "What time do you get to sleep?" (She sounded tired.) "Last night it was 6.30."
"That's not too bad then," I said, relieved and slightly surprised.
"Honestly, Dad!" (How can anyone be so stupid?) "Half past six in the morning!" She explained: they counsel each other as a corridor and last night, when one of them couldn't be cnsoled and was so homesick she just had to go home, they packed her up as a corridor and waved her off as a corridor on the milk train back to London. "What are the lectures like?" (She hadn't mentioned work.) "We don't get too many. And some have been cancelled."
I thought about that cheque for pound;1,050 I made out for tuition fees and asked her if she'd like me to find her a holiday job. "I could enquire at the Post Office."
I remember coming home at the end of my first university term, to a job as a Christmas postman. My parents were there to meet me at the station. My mother had smut in her eye again. In the house I noticed some differences. I was an only child, there were grants in those days and my parents had improved their lifestyle. They now used Lurpak butter instead of Co-op best and a superior grade of coalite glowed on the fire.
A few years later my father was to tell the story of what happened after his "termination of you being with us on a permanent basis" speech, when the London-bound train with me on board had steamed out of Doncaster station. He confided to my fiancee: "It was like a second honeymoon for me and the wife when our lad left home."
So all over the nation there are people currently enjoying second honeymoons, Lurpak butter and coalite, until Christmas comes early in two weeks' time and stops them. Or maybe it's different nowadays. The honeymoon is undermined by the absence of grants, forking out for tuition fees and a new conscientiousness that means joining the motorway traffic with cars stuffed full of duvets and overburdened with undergraduate luggage, now that offspring are not simply waved away at the station.
But it makes me think back and glimpse for the first time the true nature of things, understand what was going on all those years ago on the platform at Donny. I see the smut in my mother's eye. And the honeymoon gleam in my father's.
Richard Hoyes teaches at Farnham College, Surrey. Email: email@example.com As from January, he will teach at Alton convent school, Hampshire