My Week: A rucksack and a Walkman and off they go: Wilq they write? Will they phone? Jane Pearson waits for news as her teenage son and daughter go Inter-Railing

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The Independent Online
THURSDAY: 'That man has quite a spring to his step,' mutters our daughter enviously as a fellow backpacker effortlessly strides through the crowds boarding the first cheap London train of the day. She and her brother have spent the past 24 hours paring down their luggage alarmingly but we are all still puzzled by the weight of what is left. Could it be the cassettes for many happy hours of Walkman listening as they Inter-Rail through Europe? Or the A- level English literature syllabus stashed away among the suntan oil?

'It will be a lot lighter when we've eaten all this food,' says our son, so I whip him off to the buffet for tuna sandwiches and tea to forestall a premature onslaught on supplies.

The train arrives and my stomach muscles do something acrobatic. At 17 and 19 our son and daughter are perfectly able to look after themselves. Nor is this the first time that we have waved them off on European jaunts. But it is the first time we have waved them off to no fixed abode. I wonder if I will ever see them again.

FRIDAY: 'Let's go out for a meal,' I suggest to my husband after work. 'They may try to ring,' he says, but we think it unlikely. We return to find the light on the answering machine flashing, and a message from Calais to say that they have neither been mugged nor missed the ferry, and are happily settled in a youth hostel.

SATURDAY: A French friend rings from Bordeaux - one of the few planned ports of call - to say her son will be joining them. This gives the whole venture a cosy European feel. Family business over: 'How is Grande Bretagne?' my friend asks. 'You are out of recession, yes?'

'There are still a lot of shops and businesses closed,' I say profoundly, and she makes polite noises of sympathy.

SUNDAY: 'We tried to ring you the other night and you weren't there,' comes the accusing tone across the international lines. All, however, is well.

They are in Paris, and can we suggest what they should do with their 65-litre rucksacks while they go sightseeing? Apart from left luggage, which has probably been abandoned in these days of international terrorism, we have no suggestions. They sound wonderfully happy, though Parisians are, apparently, grumpy.

MONDAY: Some kind of postal miracle delivers an early card from Paris. Democratically divided in two, the messages are the same. 'We keep getting lost and it's very hot, but apart from that, it's brilliant]'

TUESDAY: They were planning to move to Italy today, and, hearing nothing, we assume all is well. I realise guiltily that we must devote some thought to our own imminent holiday. Friends keep saying things like, 'Are you all packed?' and 'Do you need a visa?' which makes me nervous because I'm not even all ironed yet and I don't think I need a visa.

WEDNESDAY: I tackle the heap of ironing while watching Italy play in some football match, and imagine the two lads glued to the television in an Italian bar, with our daughter bored out of her mind over a plate of spaghetti in a dark corner. Let's hope the boys had the sense to cheer for the right team.

'I hope they ring before we go away,' my husband says. But we are off tomorrow, and so far there has been no call . . . .

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