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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On rites of passage,
with classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

? 'Hi Alice,

My best friend and i are both classical music fans, so very often visit your website. We are also Chinese Londoners. The problem is my best friend (at least i think) is going to take up a two-year contract in September, working in China as a professor in her specialty in a very famous Chinese university. i feel a bit upset, to be honest, to let her go away, although she says she will have half of the time in UK as the work is quite flexible, plus holidays. She tells me that she likes the job (given the current job market in UK) and the package is quite good (relatively speaking). But I remind her that she has to go alone while her husband and child still in UK, plus the air pollution in Chinese cities gets worse and worse. Do you think it's a good thing or a bad thing for her/us? Thanks for your time.

(name withheld)

Ask Alice

Alice Hi, Chinese friend (I love the Chinese),

This is a toughie. As mentioned, I love the Chinese (the people, the cooking, the friendliness, the countryside, the culture) but I truly loathe the air quality, and (as an asthmatic) I simply couldn't do what your friend is contemplating -- however great the package or attractive the position. But academic positions are indeed very thin on the ground in the UK, and taking this one in China might give her the edge afterwards in terms of the next one in her specialty subject (whatever that is). Also, while you may know all the facts (the current strength of your friend's marriage -- and lungs!!!!! -- the ages of her kids, and just how desperate she is for work), I frankly know none of these things -- and they must all be crucial to her decision.

All I'd say is this: you sound as if you care very much about your friend, and as if it will be very hard on you as on her, once she goes. Make sure you support her, and try not to let your own feelings make any hardships she faces worse.

Good luck!!!!!

Ask Alice

? 'Dear Alice,

School is out, and your only kid is no longer at primary school. Are you relieved or sad about this?
J K, Wisconsin

Ask Alice

Alice Hi J,

Only the other day, I was all choked up: I took photos of her on our walk there (for the Year 6 leavers' assembly at the Federation of Tubbenden Schools: a great school) through the woods (where I need walk her no more) and to the top of the hill, which beautifully overlooks all of Orpington and Green Street Green, where I have waited patiently for her for seven long years.

Unusually, because we were going to the leaving assembly, I walked down with Rachel, which I haven't done for four years, and went through the gate where I first watched her line up in front of her reception year teacher aged five. I remembered all the great teachers she'd had there: lovely Miss Trevor, who offered to adopt her; stern Mrs Gill ('Rachel is, in every definition possible, a gifted and talented child.'); her dear Miss Wood, her current teacher (the beautiful Miss Wollaston) and Mr Fraser ('the thing I'll miss most is her sense of humour') and all the others. The end of primary school: a rite of passage. As aforementioned, I was all choked up.

Then Rachel gave a little squeak and turned dismayed eyes to mine:
'My horn!!!!!!!'
Me: 'What about it?'
Rachel: 'I left it behind!!! -- and the band is playing -- I have to have it!!!!!!!!'
Me: (mood entirely shattered): 'OK, listen, squirt. You go and tell Mrs Ordidge that the horn is on its way.'

In short, I don't know what the current record is for the race from the bowels of the Federation of Tubbenden Schools, up the hill, down the road, through the woods, into the car, home, picking up a French horn, and driving (the long way) back to Tubbenden, but this much I know: I hold it. I hold it forever. No middle-aged mum (with or without asthma) could do more.

The ceremony itself was very Tubbenden: the band (of eight) played: the headmaster Mr Youlton spoke (just the right length), the choir sang a song (A friend of Rachel's had a short solo, but was so overcome by emotion that she wept instead. Not a dry eye in the house.) Then all of Year 6 murdered a stupid song from High School Musical.

And then something magical happened. Starting from the center of the 75 leaving kids the song they'd sung throughout their earliest years started: 'We are the children of Tubbenden.' Unaccompanied and unheralded in the programme it started all on its own, and gathered strength and gathered power until the whole school was singing it, and very nearly dancing. Official program forgotten, it was a wonderful moment: then all the kids started hugging each other and the guys punching each others' shoulders and lots of the girls (not Rachel, mind you) crying.

As I walked back (for the last time) up the long hill and past the trees, I took a few photos and thought: this is a rite of passage for me, too. No more getting up at 7:30 to get R to school. No more charging back from writing, from playing, or from London, to pick her up at 3:30. No more worrying about who's going to look after her between school and Si's coming home from work if I'm playing myself (that's a good feeling). But I feel very old, and a little lost, all the same.

With love,

Copyright © 31 July 2009 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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