It’s What You Signed Up For…

My youngest son had a problem. He needed to be in Oxford. And Penrith. On the same day.

“You need that thing Hermione Grainger used,” I said helpfully. “A time turner.”

“Try and think like an adult, Dad.”

No way. If I thought like an adult I’d arrive at the only possible solution. And two months later I’d be in a service station on the M6.

Anyway, let me take a step back and explain. And if your son or daughter is seven years old, doing well at school and prone to marching across the moors put a ring round the date. June 2026. Don’t say you weren’t warned…

University open days have rolled round again. And Ben’s off to look at an Oxford college. Trip down in the school minibus, overnight stay, what a fantastic opportunity. June 29th and 30th, just a few days after Tom’s graduation.

But he’s also doing his gold Duke of Edinburgh award – which means the Lake District. Taken over there in the school minibus, four nights under canvas, what a fantastic opportunity. Starts in Penrith on – you guessed it – June 30th.

“He could catch the train…” school helpfully suggested. Of course he could. Unless you’ve seen the size of the backpack that’s needed for four days in the Lakes. The SAS invade entire countries with less equipment.

…Which is why I was trying to avoid thinking like an adult. ‘Welcome to Lancaster Services’ hung over me like a cloud.

I collected Ben from college the next day. “There has to be another solution,” I said.

“This is what you signed up for, Dad,” he blandly replied.


“When you became a parent. This is what you signed up for.”

“Actually, Ben that particular night I signed up for a bottle of red wine, Tom and Jessica being at Granny’s and some exciting sex with your Mother. And we were letting fate decide on you…”

“Stop it, Dad.”

I could see by the look on his face that I’d gone too far. I’d forced him to imagine his parents having sex. Life couldn’t get any worse. “Sorry, son. Shall I phone ChildLine? Do you need counselling?”

No, what he needed was a lift. Oxford to Penrith. And he was right. This is what we’d signed up for. We just hadn’t realised it when we opened the red wine.

That’s the problem. You’re a parent.  You want to give your children every possible chance in life. And sometimes the only way to do that is to suck it up, get in the car and make the best of Lancaster services.

I sighed, crossed two days out of my diary and tried to remember any friends or relatives who lived near Oxford.

And then fate took a hand: an e-mail arrived. We’d like you to present a workshop on blogging. London. June 29th.

How much? I e-mailed back. Obviously in rather more tactful language.

Not much. We’re a charity.

Google confirmed it. But a charity with enough money to cover a hotel and petrol.

“What do you think?” I asked my beloved.

“It’s a long drive,” she said.

“Apparently it’s what we signed up for.”

“Is it? Who said that?”

“Our youngest son. The family philosopher.”

“Who’s the family philosopher?” And here he was. Right on cue.

“Ah, Ben. The fates have smiled on you. I have a valid reason for giving you a lift.”

“There you are, Dad. Karma. God’s rewarding you for being a good parent.”

“I’m not entirely sure that I class a 700 mile round trip as a reward.”

But what else could I do? It was what I’d signed up for…

Thanks for reading this post. If you enjoyed it – and you’d like something light and “very, very funny” to read – you can buy the ‘Best Dad I Can Be’ sample book with 27 of my favourite posts covering all the years I’ve been writing: it’s all of 99p on your Kindle. Alternatively the first chronological book, ‘Half Dad Half Fish’ which covers the time when the children were 9, 7 and 4 is available here


  1. Loved this made me really laugh brilliant. Last year I spent the winter travelling the UK to universities with my 18 year old daughter and I foolishly thought that’s it. She went to Southampton Uni, we live in Cardiff. I now know every bump on the road to Southampton: lost count how times I have done the trip in one day. Think you are right, Mark, it’s what we signed up for 🙂

    • Thanks, Nige – and yes, remember Southampton well. Tom did an engineering residential course there when he was 17 – away for a week so we dropped him off, went on holiday and collected him on the way back. For Tom I reckon I did 2,000 miles – open days and interviews. Thanks God he couldn’t be bothered to go to Bristol…

  2. It was clearly meant to be

    • Clearly meant to be that we made Ben that night? Or that I should end up at Lancaster services? Both, I suspect…

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