Unlike a year before I found myself smiling ...
WHAT a difference a year can make. Twelve months ago I headed up to Liverpool with my eldest son beside me and frankly a heavy heart.
He was starting university and the car was full of the usual paraphernalia associated with a new student's life.
Pots, pans, duvet, posters and boxes of food piled so high I couldn't see out of the back window.
Heaven forbid I didn't want to hold him back. But as we drove up the M6 into country I'd only ever visited a few times before, it seemed as though an era was coming to a close.
Try as I might I found it hard to overcome the sense of loss. His childhood seemed officially to be coming to an end.
And though I would never had admitted it to him at the time I thought ludicrously that maybe he wouldn't want to come home again.
Or perhaps not for a long time. Or if he did he would come back changed forever, challenging all that had gone before.
Of course that was nonsense. He barely changed at all and in the intervening months I plied the road to Merseyside a number of times. Once to visit and several times to collect and return him.
It's always a pleasure to see him and to catch up properly even though we talk on the phone several times a week.
And the three-hour run (providing there are no hold-ups) has become familiar. As has the way into Liverpool, the walk into the centre, Liverpool One, the busker with the faithful dog who belts out sixties' hits and the Albert Dock.
So this time the atmosphere was far more relaxed as we pulled away and pointed the car north. We chatted, listened to some music, but mainly talked about the year gone by, the summer past and his hopes for the coming months.
His new student house is a red brick, three storey purpose built affair, a million times better than the one I had lived in during my second year.
We quietly carried his boxes in and up the flight of stairs to his room.
"Don't worry. I'll unpack them later," he said leaving everything on the floor and the bed.
He had a quick look round, said hello to his friends (he had been in touch with them all summer on Facebook anyway) and we walked into town.
What had seemed a strange world on that Sunday afternoon 12 months earlier was now a comfortable one. We sat in the sunshine outside Las Iguanas and tucked into tortillas.
I left for home a couple of hours later confident that he was among friends and already settling in to an old routine of late, late nights and even later mornings.
As I pulled onto the M62 the sky darkened and the rain began to fall. I passed the Welcome to Liverpool sign knowing that I would be seeing it again before too long.
The phone rang and Oliver's name came up on the screen.
"Thanks for taking me back Dad," he said. "Have a good drive back. See you soon."
The call ended and unlike a year before I found myself smiling.