Fiona Duff: There’s more to university than a degree

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Like other mothers just now, I’m fretting slightly about my son’s Higher prelims. It’s probably a bit late to wonder if my hands-off approach to his schooling has been the best method. The words horse, stable and door do spring to mind.

The one thing he does know is that he would like to go to university. I doubt that there’s any long-term career plan but more of a stalling tactic as he decides what he will do for the following 60 years at the coalface, not literally, of employment. Like me at 18, he is as daft as a brush – I know that there are those who say not much has changed – and in four years there is a slight glimmer of hope that he will have an idea what he’d like to do to pay the rent and buy a loaf of bread now and again.

Of course, these days no-one seems to put much store by a degree unless you’re going to be taking someone’s life in your hands and doing medicine. I know it is a much better idea to get an apprenticeship and start honing some skill or another thereby stealing a few years’ march on those who decided on tertiary education. However, I also know that going to university isn’t just about expanding one’s mind, it is also about broadening your horizons; meeting people from other parts of not only this country but the world, from different backgrounds with dissimilar outlooks.

I know that one reason my children want to go to university is the constant stream of people visiting with whom I studied (ahem). I made friends for life and as a group we have helped and supported each other in so many ways, whether it be financially, emotionally or career-wise. A person I know from work knows many of these friends and she calls them my “tribe”. They are almost like family except they don’t expect me to give them a Christmas present.

Perhaps I could have worked harder, gone to fewer parties and now have some super job. But I reckon as long as I can pay the mortgage, feed and clothe my children then I got more from university than any graduate who spent every waking moment in the library and left with a first in nuclear science. Who can go out to the pub with a textbook?

Designer Howard has the greatest job, for Pete’s sake

I’m not a particular fan of Doctor Who, although I was when I was my daughter’s age. However I do like Peter Capaldi, right, and not just for his Malcolm Tucker role in The Thick Of It but as the dafty in Local Hero who falls for the marine biologist with webbed toes.

Anyway, enough of letting you know that I can remember a film of 31 years ago despite not being capable of remembering what I had for lunch yesterday. What I really wanted to say is that I rather like his Doctor Who outfit – it’s funky and just a little bit post-punky. To be honest, I scoured the news coverage to find out the designer’s name expecting to find Vivien Westwood or Paul Smith, whereas in fact it’s all down to a chap called Howard Burden, a costume designer who has worked on other programmes such as Red Dwarf and The Bill.

I mean how much more fun must it be to design a really groovy suit for the new Doctor than to sit there stitching together some copper clobber.

I’m flying high with air mile Rich pickings

This week and next I’m going to be in London a total of three times, which is confusing, exhausting and expensive. In the past I have waxed lyrical about the train service, and given a certain amount of notice my transport of choice would be first-class train – free food, drink, wifi and no need to remove half my clothing before I am allowed to embark.

However, I was only informed of these trips last week by which time “letting the train take the strain” is not what my bank manager would have said. Instead I managed to get something a bit more reasonable on the newish Virgin Edinburgh-London air service. By joining the frequent flyer programme (if it was condensed into these two weeks I’d have a special membership card) I saw that it is double air miles on this route.

I now realise that I need more meetings in the Big Smoke – a few journeys every month and I’ll be off to the Big Apple for nothing. Thank you, Mr Branson.