I yearn to find a rotting banana

And students think they have a hard life... Heather Welford's diary of her daughter's first week at university describes her anxieties - and her pleasure as her little girl goes drinking, makes friends with the SWP and runs out of money
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SUNDAY: the 100-mile drive to my daughter's northern red-brick university is hot and punctuated with the usual bickering about sun-roof versus window, and what music to listen to.

Squabbles hide our anxieties, especially about the room share. My daughter has been allocated a double room - to her dismay and her bad luck.

Out of more than 600 rooms in the vast hall, only about 20 are shared. The family's black joke has been deciding on the greeting made by the room mate from hell. Winners have been: "Hello, have you found Jesus yet?", "Can I put my poster of Mrs Thatcher here?" and "Isn't it nice we're sharing? I specially asked for a double."

Her room is, frankly, dreadful. My heart sinks, and so does hers. It's scruffy, shabby, and small for one person, let alone two. No room mate yet, so we try desperately to decide on the best bed, and which of the two tatty wardrobes is less ramshackle.

My daughter fails to blink back the tears. My husband cheerily points out the stamp-size balcony as a plus point.

Silently, I hope she won't decide to throw herself off it. I am serious.

Sunday evening: a phone call. She's been there all of four hours. She sounds so low. She has to whisper as the phone is open.

"The room mate - mum, she's really, really thin... she's a bit odd."

I can read her meaning. "Like anorexia thin, you mean?"

"Yes... and mum, she said she specially asked for a double room..."

Oh no. But what are the others like on her floor?

"They're all really depressed. They... well, they're not my type."

I remember just how quick she is to judge, and then equally quick to change her mind.

I try to hear our bright, funny, sparky, sociable girl in her whispers and fail. We lie awake in the night, worrying.

Monday morning: another whispered call. She slept all right but "can't talk". She has to go into the university to meet her department - a four- mile bus ride. No, she hasn't found anyone to go with. I am so churned up. Why can't these silly people realise what a delightful friend she will be to them?

I console myself by putting together a huge parcel containing her forgotten denim jacket - specially requested, along with some coat hangers as there weren't any - a box of tea bags, dried milk, some packets of soup, and a pack of cocoa. I hold back from throwing in an old Barbie doll.

A lunchtime call and she sounds even lower. My super-clean daughter - who showers twice a day - is finding it hard to cope with two showers between 15 girls.

Tuesday morning: a call at 9am makes me think things are looking up a little. Monday night's "student night" in the city pubs, and she had a good night out with some new chums. Yessss! The roomie's still slightly withdrawn, but she's not causing major upsets.

Going round Tesco at lunch time, I see her favourite yoghurt and reach to put it in my trolley. Suddenly I remember... and find I've got tears in my eyes.

Wednesday: all day I wonder if the promise shown in yesterday's call was a false dawn. We don't hear from her until late in the evening. She mentions a girl by name - a friend - and makes some serial requests. She says she's already running out of money. I don't want rows about money, but, heavens above, where on earth is it going to? I want to say something about money not growing on trees, but having a daughter at university makes me feel middle-aged enough, so I don't. I just worry instead.

Thursday: she tells us a stall in the students union's selling carrier bags of discarded supermarket stuff - 60p a throw. She's thrilled at the bargain basement of it all.

"It's really good here, mum, but I only had three hours sleep... had to get up to start queuing for registration at 7.30am."

Oh good. I can start fretting about her health now.

She's joined a whole swathe of clubs and societies - so that's where some of her cash has gone. One of them is CockSoc. Eh? What? It's hardly reassuring to learn this is, in fact, the Cocktails Society, whose membership guarantees samples of its exotic wares at 50p each. She's also signed up for Tai Kwando, deep-sea diving, the Labour Party and, puzzlingly, been "approached" by the socialists.

"Do people ever join the Socialist Workers' Party and the Labour Party, mum?"

I say I hardly think so. She plans to stand as Freshers' Rep in the JCR elections - presumably on some sort of joint Labour/SWP ticket. For goodness sake, she must be okay.

Friday: no calls. This is definitely a good sign, I tell myself. I start to really notice her absence.

There are no half-eaten bananas in the fridge. The washing basket's less full. The car's always mine, and is full of petrol. The telephone is quieter in the evenings, with only two teenagers instead of three vying for its use. But I feel an ache round my heart. I would dearly love to open the fridge and see a rotting banana.

Saturday: she phones. We're out.

Sunday: I phone, and because this is a block in a hall of residence I have to leave it ringing for several minutes before someone deigns to answer, on the principle that there's only a one-in-200 chance it's for them.

"Oh, hi." Can she have some more money? Can I tell a neighbour she's still owed pounds 8 for some baby sitting she did? Can she go now as there's a queue building up behind the phone?

I accept, at last, she's OK. She's got friends. People like her. And she'll be home at Christmas.

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