The blank walls are marking a rite of passage. She's off to university today. I'm not going. It's a long way and in any case we're playing it cool. No fussing. We've bought a few mugs and that's it. I donate a cafetiere in remembrance of the sludge of instant coffee and dried milk that ran a course through my own student days.
In a kind of ritual cleansing, the long blonde curtain has finally fallen and a sleek shiny bob now swings around the neck of the new undergraduate. "You don't think its boring do you?" she wails as she packs her photos of the "friendly little Tibetans" and the cafe in Sydney, where she roller bladed beers around the harbour. "I'll need these," she says, "to show people. " Suddenly I decide I'm going with her. It's such a long way.
Eventually we arrive to face four more blank walls. The desk is ringed and shabby. The mattress a hard slab of plastic. "A bit like sleeping on a crisp packet," giggles Sophie.
Next door appears, wearing a purple flat-top bravely. I wonder if, like Sophie, its androgynous owner hasn't been for interview but arrived to check out a venue picked from a prospectus on the other side of the world.
As I drive away a tiny hand waves from an upper window, which blinks in the early evening sun. I begin to regret advising her at the end of a crackly line, to go for the course rather than the campus. The flat roofs and metal window frames will house her for at least a year until she can break out of Hall.
The ivy leaved Victorian mansion that featured in the prospectus is apparently seven miles away.
"But it's well-cool," enthuses Sophie's younger sister. "All the metropolitan universities are like this. What did you expect, Brideshead?" In the emptiness of the room at home there's some Sixties memorabilia that once humoured the walls. It includes a photo of a group of students, one of whom looks like Sophie except she's wearing heavy lids and a wig in an attempt to look like Dusty Springfield. It makes a purple flat-top look pedestrian.
Her room was 20 flights up a concrete block, 200 steps when the lift sulks. It overlooks the engineering faculty where 95 per cent of the beautiful people are male. Mostly with cars. A detail not mentioned in the prospectus but it has a certain social kudos. It's considered to be a room with a view.
Linda Pagett is a primary teacher living in Devon.