Off-setting behaviour


Robin hesitated over an invitation to go go-karting with friends. His reluctance: that he would be burning fuel and contributing to global warming unnecessarily. The “don’t worry about it” argument was not making ground and so we talked about off-setting his carbon emissions. With an absence of scientific evidence, but an eye for something that would be meaningfully onerous for him, we agreed on him having one week of vegetarianism and a whole month of avoiding red meat.


Eliza has shaved a line in her left eye-brow. I warn her that she will be mistaken for a gang-member by a rival group.

The gap is slight but distinct. In that sense it is smaller and fuzzier than the gap in her life caused by her splitting up with Joe. More, but not that many, evenings and weekends at home.


Gabe broke out of an anxious couple of days on arriving at college. Going to a party in the bar, playing cards a group of his peers and a trial for the football team seem to have helped. So has starting studying. He has enjoyed each of his tutorials so far – specifically mentioning ‘fun’ – and completed essays independently and without agonising.

We visited him for his second weekend. He seemed calm and at ease (although our presence in college made him jittery). Unusually, eschewing criticism of anything different that he had experienced. Fatigue, from the sudden increase to the pace of his life, seems his biggest hurdle.

The long summer


Gabe was rigorous and determined in his commitment to doing nothing from mid-June, the end of his exams, and mid-October, the start of college. But connecting those two points was a third: exam results and the decision over his immediate future.

L & I had, with some difficulty, tried to discuss with him some options prior to results day, including deferring university for a year. As adamant as he was that he would do nothing during the long summer of 2019, Gabe was similarly fixed on either going to his 1st choice or taking a year off.

The morning came. The results were to be handed over later at school, but university admissions were confirmed first. Gabe walked into the kitchen, in his dressing gown, I think trembling. On his iPhone, the confirmation that he had his place at college. Later that morning: 3 A*s.

For the rest of the summer: he worked his way through the pre-term reading list sent by his tutors, but otherwise carried on doggedly doing nothing.


Eliza received an offer of a holiday in Crete with the family of a friend. Initial misgivings about her running unchecked through Med club nights were allayed when we met the family and were shown the villa, located remotely on the island’s north coast.

Away she went for a week of beautiful warm weather, on beaches, beside lakes and the villa’s pool. She dove-tailed into her friend’s family, filling the gap left by an older brother who opted to stay at home. They returned, full of fondness and compliments for Eliza, who was equally grateful for the invitation.


With two European trips under his belt already in 2019, Robin had least to lose from a summer shorn of a family holiday. By mid-August, he was contemplating going back to school, without complaint.

While Eliza was in Crete, he and I took a day-trip to the North Wales coast. The clouds rolled back mid-morning as we finished a game of beach cricket. A lunch of fish and chips on a pub terrace, before we headed to another part of the beach for frisbee. Then, into the sea – Robin more willingly than me. Eventually, though we swam together in UK waters, perhaps for the first time. As evening approached, a game of crazy golf and a Mexican meal to round-off the trip.


With L unable to travel, the kids have settled into a summer holiday at home.

Gabe got off to an early start, with his exams finishing in mid-June. He has occupied himself with reading, watching cricket (World Cup and Ashes), pub quiz trips with friends and organising book collections. He started with our own and the floor was strewn with paperbacks for a couple of weeks while he laboriously logged our library on a spreadsheet, before returning it to the shelves, categorised and neater than before. J, our friend’s retired mother, has engaged Gabe to do the same for her.

Since the end of school term, Gabe has also been socialising with Robin, reforging a fraternal relationship that had been distant. They have played table tennis, tennis, indoor and outdoor cricket, X-box and watched sports together on TV.

Eliza, of course, is the most active and industrious. She has worked ten of the first twelve days of the holiday, running gymnastics holiday club and parties. On the way there or back, she has met up with Joe, or visited other friends. “Where’s Eliza?” I ask when back from work. “Out,” I’m told with conviction but not precision.

Minor no more


Gabe’s 18th birthday passed quietly. L and I had talked about having a party – for his friends, family and those of our friends who have known him well. Gabe could not be convinced and was short-tempered when finally dismissing the idea.

And so we had pizza at home. ‘How about going out for a pint?’ I suggested. ‘No thanks. There’ll be plenty of time for that after exams,’ replied the responsible adult.


Amongst Robin’s dislikes is wearing socks in the house. The need to jettison them happens fairly randomly, but if there is a pattern it focuses on the living room, where odd socks can often be found pushed down the sides of the armchair.


A full social life, regular weekend work, gym twice weekly – these are the things I associate with Eliza. I was surprised then how glowing her teachers’ comments were at parents evening. The competition for her to take their subjects at A Level is already hotting up.

When, I asked her, are you doing your school work? In her bedroom, she replied, in the evening – presumably quite late.

Travel man


Apart from school and football, Robin doesn’t go out much. ‘Why,’ he asks me, ‘would he want to hang around town centres?’ which is what he believes his peers do. But Robin is always talking about going places. He’ll be visiting four new countries in the next few months, which he finds highly satisfying. Although he stays at home a lot, he’s widening his frontiers, watching videos of travel shows, working out where he would like to go, learning about other countries.


Gabe’s hoovering up of knowledge has found a new focus: literature. He is becoming widely read, picking books from the canon or quizzing L and me on what he should pick up next. Typically, he is forthright in his assessment of whatever he has read: Pride and Prejudice – very good; The Leopard – boring; and he’ll support those views with a well argued case. Each book read and each book planned to be read is logged on the Good Reads app.


Eliza challenged herself to a phone de-tox. For two whole days she claimed to use it just for listening to music on her walk to and from school. She was pleased that she had completed her period of self-denial, but found it inconvenient as she missed important communications from her friends. She reverted straight back to the phone being her constant, closest companion, having to be reminded to put it away at meal-time.

Passing and failing


On consecutive days, Gabe passed his latest piano exam (grade 6? 7?) and failed his driving test. He hadn’t thought he had done particularly well in the piano exam, but was awarded a distinction. This didn’t impress him: “It means nothing,” – a reference I think to his more meaningful exams this summer.

The driving test was going well until his dreaded roundabout, with four exits, three of which are bunched together in a little more than 90 degrees of the circle. He committed a major fault: entering the roundabout while another car was on it. He plans to re-take the exam in the summer.


Robin, accompanied by L, took a fear of flying course, culminating in a flight for the course participants. His interest in visiting places, and more immediately a football tour and school trip which both involve flights, had inspired him to confront his anxiety. Robin was responsive to the reassurance offered on the course and managed the flight – even coping with the take-off without holding L’s hand. Future flights, he thinks, will be easier as the plane won’t be packed with nervous people, sobbing as they climb the steps and tapping themselves in the approved manner to distract from their fear.


J is a friend of one of Eliza’s gym group. First they went jogging together. Now, fairly frequently, they visit each others’ houses. “Are you and J going out together?” I asked (ie boy/girlfriend). “No.. not yet,” she replied. That was a few weeks ago. It looks to us as though they are. Eliza seems happy and level-headed about it.

The Smiths shambles

Gabe and Eliza

While their music tastes have converged, Gabe and Eliza’s differences are seen clearly in their interest in the Smiths. Gabe got there sooner. He owns their LPs. He has a fan and critic’s knowledge of the songs and the band. He listens in his room or roaming the house on his headphones.

Eliza’s passion is lively. The Smiths provide old bangers – great tunes that she adds to playlists. She sings along, but recognises she cannot remember the lyrics, or even the titles, let alone where they appear on each album.

Eliza wears a Smiths’ T-shirt. This enrages Gabe: “a shambles”, so ignorant is she of what matters to him about the band. He spits out questions that her inability to answer proves his point.

This weekend Eliza is going to a gig. There are nods and silent acknowledgement of the event between her and L. She isn’t going to mention it in Gabe’s ear-shot. She knows how superciliously he will respond. It is The Smythes, a tribute band.


At Robin’s parents evening, he racked up compliment upon compliment for his achievement, his attitude and his conduct. His feeling for school remains at best ambivalent, and often negative, but this hasn’t affected how he goes about his school-day based on the feedback we heard.

Robin was with us at each meeting, not just the subject of the discussion, but active in it. This impressed me: where Gabe and Eliza would have been non-committal or embarrassed, Robin was articulate and controlled.