Sunday 22 September 2013

Reporting back

So... There we were, doing a repeat of last September which felt kind of weird. Same apartment complex, different block / flat, bigger room - nice and sunny, with 2 windows, a fridge, sink, 2 hobs, double bed and large bathroom, plus shared kitchen / living area with 4 other boys. We met one of the boys who seemed nice, if quiet (and looking oh so lost!!!), and his parents. Yet, predictably, our son just sat in his room, unpacking in complete silence before sitting at his desk, logging onto the wi-fi, and gradually spiralling downwards into deep, dark depression.

This brought on another feeling of "been here, done it before"...

Paul and I went outside to the main meet-and-greet area where a local farm was serving freebie ice creams and helped ourselves to a couple of enormous cones. Then I spotted some people with 'mentor' badges and so I made a beeline for them. Got talking to the lady who said she was in charge of the accommodation mentors. After a couple of minutes the penny must have dropped because she said: "Are you Ben's parents?"

She's the person who hot-footed it up to Ben's room last year following an emergency phone call from me following several distressing communications from him which included the word "suicide"... So she rememebered him well.

We had a long chat about support and she handed me a list of events which are specially aimed at students who, for whatever reason, find it harder to fit in and settle. Unlike the other intro week events, these include a member of Student Services or Counselling who's there, discreetly, for whatever purpose is required - or just to "be there". One of these events is the 2-hour War Games society meet-and-greet in the Union coffee bar on Tuesday evening and I know for a fact that Warhammer-mad Ben will go to that. And she said that the mentors would be doing the rounds over the weekends, introducing themselves to students - and that students like Ben would be flagged up as needed additional monitoring.

Anyway, there we were, with Ben just staring at his desk, spiralling deeper and deeper into black gloom.

"What would you like us to do?" we said. "Go and leave you? Or would you want to come out for a meal with us?" By this time it was well after 6pm and he didn't much look as if he was about to cook himself a meal...

"I don't know," he said, several times, which - reading betwen the lines - meant "Probably"...

So that's what we did. We took him down to the Ecclesall Road area which is where one of the main Sheffield Hallam University campuses is located. This is a marvellous road lined with trees, cafes, restaurants, bars, pubs and quirky shops - quite continental in feel - and last night it was buzzing. (And we walked past the bank ATM machine which swallowed my card one night in 1977 when I was too drunk, following a party, to remember my PIN number!!!)

Anyway we were told we could have a table at Nandos in 30 minutes, so we went to the pub and had a quick beer, which made me feel a lot better! And everyone - in the pub and in Nandos was so, so, so friendly and welcoming - so different from Leeds.

I had a couple of glasses of wine, in quick succession (Paul was driving!), which made me feel much more relaxed!!!

Very quickly Ben's spirits began to rise and he was normal Ben again, tucking into a massive butterflied chicken with corn on the cob, ratatouille and salad followed by a large tub of frozen yoghurt. Then we dropped him off at the student flats before driving the 40 minutes back home.

So that was that.

And that is all I can say for now...

Watch this space...

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