Spectator: Expect the unexpected

How can you spend just one day getting ready for India, wonders Lucy Baring.

Speech days, sports days, concerts, cricket matches, fêtes and festivals. June and July are no picnic. Or an endless one, for which you may spend a disproportionate amount of time roasting chickens and hulling strawberries. You may decide to dress a salad, but this has gone to seed in the greenhouse while your back was turned, which is actually a good thing because nobody wants to eat salad at a picnic.

Everything about these weeks makes one feel breathless and mad, which is confirmed by the conversations we’ve witnessed repeatedly and that run along the lines of ‘How can we be halfway through the year?’. Our last amble down this route led to a friend putting forward the theory that those people at CERN are doing something weird with particle physics. ‘They say they are accelerating science,’ he said, ‘but what if they’re actually accelerating time?’ As I said, people go mad at this time of year.

But even the younger age group feels that things are rushing. Olive has just finished her first year at university and is already in a panic about how fast that went. She isn’t, I may say, in much of a panic about long-term career prospects, which is why she’s gone to India for two months. Although this, she assured me, is the last summer she can ever have any fun because, from now on, all her holidays will revolve around work: getting it, doing it, not being paid for it. She will never enjoy herself again.

Her outlook on the necessary preparations for life appear to be almost correct. Except that she may be too late. Dame Fiona Kendrick, CEO of Nestlé UK, and Helen Webb, HR Director Food at the Co-operative group, have both said recently that having a good degree or great A-level results are not enough and that work experience is essential. However, a few months working in a pasty shop won’t add much oomph to Olive’s CV—what the bosses want to see is that you held down a Saturday job while still at school.

Preparing for a successful career therefore needs to start when you’re about 17. Preparing for two months in India took less than a day, which is all Olive had between finishing term and heading off on the train to Heathrow. She spent the 24 hours sourcing a backpack to borrow, hurling clothes into the washing machine and writing a list of things to buy at the airport. Item 1: Imodium. Item 2: A guidebook. This is in stark contrast to last year, when she had multiple jabs and took an expensive water bottle into which you put a pill that makes all water drinkable.

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I mention her chronic lack of preparation to a friend, who says that the P word isn’t always possible or essential. She and her family had recently taken their Jack Russell to the beach, where they decided to lunch at a quayside cafe.

Their beautifully behaved pregnant dog was tied up outside. During lunch, my friend noticed that the dog was behaving a bit oddly, so she went outside to find ‘Oh look, a puppy’, which was now being licked clean.

She bundled the new mother into the boot of the car, where two more puppies were born on the A31, but a fourth waited until they got home. My friend, who thought she’d witnessed the act that got the dog pregnant, realised that she must have seen the last of many such acts as the puppies were all full-term and she hadn’t been expecting them for another fortnight. All was well.

Sometimes, life just rushes at you and you can’t be prepared. Sometimes, your preparations are in vain. I woke on Sports Day with a temperature. Zam’s flight from Scotland was delayed. Olive never used the water bottle. Forget salads at a picnic people only want sausages and crisps. But I suppose I must advise Anna to get a Saturday job.