Never before at home has the Internet, restricted to music and film downloads, and to Google last-minute information for college projects, been as brutally punished as in this last week. The monitor has morphed into some form of talisman from which my daughter and her gaggle of friends can’t seem to tear themselves away. Rousing cheers and intermittent groans mark their passage as they move from PC to laptop to BlackBerry in an attempt to unearth some hidden gem of information, a clue to something remarkable, a nugget of rare facts.
For inexplicable reasons, the sophomores mark their arrival by changing out of business school mode into pajamas raided from my daughter’s wardrobe. It is a point I make simply to allude to the strain it puts on the domestic laundry management system — since clothes will not dry in this weather, I am constantly being requisitioned by my wife to monitor them according to some drying hierarchy to which my daughter does not subscribe because she “does not do laundry”. Hopefully, that will either change, or she will have to get used to wearing soiled clothes, else I might find myself landed with a huge bill for buying clothes not strictly warranted as an emergency.
The current excitement is about scholarships the girls have won to study in London for two months this autumn for which they need only to arrange their own accommodation, meals and transportation. It is, as parents who’re footing the bill for those extras, we’re agreed, the opportunity of a lifetime. Their enthusiasm is palpable. I call the girls’ parents over for a drink so we can share in their good fortune, though footing their bill will end up considerably diminishing ours.
“How many lectures will you have in a day?” asks one father. “Who’s heading the programme?” a no-nonsense mama wants to know. “Is the faculty international, are the students global?” the human-resource consultant among us wants to check out. “How will you be assessed at the end of term?” I venture to ask. From the muffled giggles giving way to an uneasy silence, it’s clear they haven’t given too much thought to the studying aspect, but perhaps that’s understandable: they are, after all, young and thrilled about being abroad together, so I volunteer to check with the university programming head on their behalf.
The information I bring to the table appears to gladden the hearts of the funders though the fundees seem considerably less eager. “Classes from nine in the morning to five in the evening,” they gripe. “Every day,” I affirm. “But it’s dark by four,” one cries. “We’ll only see Bond Street by night,” sighs another. “We could skip classes,” says my daughter hopefully. “Attendance,” I point out, “is mandatory at 90 per cent.”
“Oh well,” says the chirpy one among them, “there are still the underwear parties to look forward to,” causing a collective choking among the seniors in the room. “Chill folks,” she continues, realising the temperature in the room has dropped several notches, “it’s just a ritual”, one of apparently several at the trendy hostel where they’ve been trying to book themselves accommodation. The Internet, it appears, far from providing them course information, has been put to use searching for the most attractive discount shopping destinations, the non-membership lounges, the shortest tube and bus routes to get them to the hippest hangouts and fine-dining districts.
“You also have to do a dissertation paper,” I continue to purvey unwelcome news to them. “I don’t see the point of going to London,” asserts the timid one among their group, “if all we have to do is study.” “With any luck,” I sigh to my wife after everyone’s gone home, “they’ll at least learn to do their own laundry.”