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12 March 2015

I visit my daughter at university, who lives up five flights of stairs. Fortunately they’ve “switched the lift on” for me

"I told the student representative that you have terrible asthma."

By Nicholas Lezard

To the city of ——, where my daughter is studying at university. I am miffed, because I will not be having the boys over this weekend, which means I won’t have had them for a month: not quite how I imagined the childcare arrangements working. Still, seeing the daughter is considerable consolation, as she is splendid company. Also, I have tickets for that evening to see the Jesus and Mary Chain, who are on tour, and she and a couple of her friends would like to see them, too.

How different it all is from my own days at university. When I was dropped off I couldn’t shake the parents off fast enough. I loved them dearly, as I still do, but I had vile and sleazy acts to perform which I was anxious to do without their scrutiny.

University for me was the place where I could grow up – in other words, act incredibly immaturely – and where there were locks on the toilet doors. Also, home was in East Finchley, which was not, in those days, a byword for romance. (Nor is it these days, it would appear: apologies to the Finchley Society, which, after recent comments made in this column, has put a price on my head.)

In the end I stopped going back home. The thought of a visit from the parents was . . . unthinkable, and contact with them was confined to a hurried call from the communal payphone on their birthdays, if I remembered, or if I needed money. Whereas now, the daughter is cross with me for not having visited her yet.

You will also have noticed that thing about the Jesus and Mary Chain. Yes: she and a couple of her chums have the same taste in noisy guitar bands as I do, even though thirty years separate us. This has been one of the more pleasantly surprising side effects of the digital age: the compression of the musical timeline, so that songs that may be some decades old are, for practical purposes, contemporary. Also, my daughter has excellent taste and has taken about a third of my vinyl collection to university with her. Many of these records either saw service or were bought in my student days; it is pleasing to think of them back in action, as it were.

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Still, I am mindful, as she meets me off the train, that I am an old geezer. Some of my friends have seen the JAMC on the same tour but warned me that the earlier audience was composed entirely of greying men around the 50-year mark with black jeans and leather jackets; which happens to be what I am wearing. (I don’t think tweed would be right for this gig, somehow.)

“My friends are dying to meet you,” she says. I raise a sceptical eyebrow. She is capable of far more politeness than I ever was as a child, but there’s no need to lie outright. “Although they’re worried you might be a bit scary.”

As it is, I feel anything but scary. I have a tiresome cold, my joints creak audibly and I am not confident of making it up the five flights of stairs to her room.

“Oh, and I told the student representative that you have terrible asthma, so they’ve switched the lift on for you.”

I salute her initiative and thoughtfulness, and tell her that I wangled ground-floor accommodation for my last two years as a student by telling the authorities that I had a heart condition. (Well, I did, but it’s funny how it hasn’t recurred.)

So we stop by the Co-op for some Chilean Cab Sauv and she marvels that she is going to be drinking wine from a price bracket twice what she can usually afford. Her friends trickle in to the communal living room/kitchen, and I show them my column about going to the clap clinic to give them the full measure of the kind of person I am.

And then we go to the gig, which is barely a minute’s walk away, and the JAMC are superb, experienced enough by now to know how to build a concert, so by the end we are practically levitating with delight, and I bump into my cousin Tim in the audience, which is a pretty bizarre coincidence when you think about it. But the best bit is that, thanks to my friend John, who used to be in the band, our little group has been given backstage passes to the aftershow, so I take them to have a beer with the band and I even have a little chat with Jim Reid, the frontman, who is completely charming, and by the time we get back to her pad my daughter’s friends would appear to have decided that while her old man might be a physical wreck, he is actually, as dads go, pretty cool.