Fourteen

Eliza

A teacher training day fell on the day after Eliza’s birthday giving her the perfect opportunity for an evening birthday party at home. Seven or eight friends arrived – one girl as tall as I am. They sat and chatted in high-pitched voices, laughed, ate pizza, played with their phones, occasionally bust into song, accompanying something being played on someone’s phone. It was a great success.

Gabe

Gabe attended GCSE awards evening where he and his classmates collected their exam certificates. A local MP and school alumna gave the address. Gabe received a faculty award. It could only have been more unlikely had it been Food Tech. It turned out that the boy who lies around for hour after hour, shirks exercise and has left his GCSE courses much less fit than he started, won the PE award.

Robin

Robin, following Gabe’s lead, returns from school and keeps wearing his school uniform through the evening. Even when we’re going out, as we did tonight to Eliza’s gymnastics competition, he chooses to keep on his blazer, tie and trousers. When finally, it’s time to get ready for bed, the blazer comes off and is tossed to the floor. L & I are trying, without much impact, to instil in him the habit of removing his blazer and hanging it up.

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Michael Lewis

Eliza

When I realised L would be away for Michael Lewis’s talk in Manchester, I offered the spare ticket to Gabe. Later it occurred to me that Eliza had expressed an interest in studying psychology, so proposed she come with me. She was never more than lukewarm about the idea and said she thought it would be “weird” for a child to go. Finally, on the day of the talk, she agreed to come with me to the Manchester University lecture hall. 

As she feared, it did seem she would be the only child in an audience of students and adults. But I spotted a girl of about her age sitting with her mother – five minutes later I turned and saw the mother pointing Eliza and me out to her daughter. 

Lewis spoke about his book on Kahneman and Tversky, two Israeli psychologists, for an hour, providing long fluent and entertaining answers to five or six questions from the presenter; and then took audience questions for 30 minutes. I found it fascinating. Even more rewarding was that Eliza was just as positive, to a degree that probably surprised her. We chatted about the talk all the way home, swapping examples and stories Lewis told that had interested or amused us. She also declared that she would definitely opt to study psychology for GCSE.

Robin

Robin seems more settled at school, but generally adrift and prone to be unhappy. News stories, or things he reads or hears about upset him. L came home early from book group when he called her distraught about an article reporting that Stephen Hawking said the world would be destroyed in 600 years. 

More prosaically he is struggling to make an impact in his football team. For the first time, he’s spending as much time off the pitch as a substitute as he is on it. He is being played in different positions – striker, central midfield – having played wide left for most of last season, but hasn’t really convinced the coaches anywhere and is convinced that he is unpopular with one of the coaches.

Gabe

Gabe is thinking about university. He has been considering which universities he might wand to apply to, studying lists of top institutions. Oxford, Durham, St Andrews and Edinburgh are in his thoughts. I pointed out that the work experience he must do next summer may become important for his application statement. We identified places he might work at that would demonstrate his interest in history: local university history departments, museums and places of historical interest. He has written a few emails, received a few refusals, but not yet got on the phone to chase up an opportunity.

Bedroom cricket

Gabe

Gabe and Robin invented the format during the summer holiday – a concession to activity when they were at their most idle. The three of us play (Eliza and L, on occasions, too) but more commonly now it’s Gabe and me. The playing area is the length of Robin’s bedroom. We use a windball and a size 2 bat. Most ingeniously, the stumps are a pair of jeans hung from mattress tipped on its side.

Robin’s carpet makes the game. It takes turn – Warne-like turn for the well-spun delivery. And, given that there is no straight-arm restriction on ‘bowling’ the game is all about turning the ball, or as a batsman, countering that turn. 

Robin

Returning home from work, it might be thirty minutes before Robin registers my presence and appears. Usually, he’s in the living room or his bedroom, interacting with his phone. Recently, I reminded him that when he was younger he would run to the hall when he heard me come in the door from work and hug my knees. “Really?” He said. “I’ll do that again.” True to his word, last week, one evening as I came in the front-door, Robin burst from the living room and hugged me. Possibly, a little ironically, but appreciated nonetheless. 

Eliza

Eliza hosted a sleepover of gymnastics friends. It followed a gymnastics evening, which may have raised hopes that the girls would be tired. We set up two single and a double mattress for the five friends to sleep on in the living room. The rest of the family went upstairs to bed. The girls’ chatter and laughter carried on. Around midnight, the first text from upstairs was sent to Eliza, instructing her to quieten her guests. More agitated texts followed as the hours passed. Eventually, after 3am there was silence in the house.

Seven, seven, seven..

Robin

In the final week of Robin’s first half-term of secondary school, L and I attend an evening meeting with his form teacher. The girls’ PE teacher fulfils too many stereotypes of that subjects’ teachers – drowning in the shallow end of education. But she’s enthusiastic about Robin: he plays in the school football team and he’s academic. She shows us a table of his progress, with scores extrapolated ‘by a machine’ for GCSEs in five years time. Sevens across the board – A’s in old money.

Robin broods when we tell him this news. He’s unhappy. Why don’t they think he’s going to get eights and nines (A* and A**s)? It’s early days, we say. To be told you’re going to get sevens already is amazing. He looks determined.

Gabe

Gabe’s acquisition of a hi-fi system to enable him to play his vinyl is proceeding slowly. Having sold the record player he received for his birthday, as well as his X-box, he bought an upgraded record player and an amp. They were not compatible and so, when he next had money, he bought a pre-amp. That came without an output cable. Soon, he will have bought that, which leaves the connection to his speakers. Until that combination is sorted he will listen with his headphones, but for the time being, his vinyl stays ensleeved.

Eliza

Eliza has visited the world war one battlefields. She left by coach late one night, returning three days later. One hundred years ago many servicemen returned shell-shocked and unable to relate their experiences in France and Belgium. Eliza had no such trauma, but other than acknowledging enjoying visiting the trenches and the chocolate shop, she’s giving little more away.

Piano teacher

Gabe

Gabe has started giving piano lessons to the six or seven year old daughter of a local family. An initial try-out session was well-received and the young girl has 30 minutes tuition each Monday, for which Gabe is paid £5. Word has got around and an enquiry from the mother of another young primary school girl has arrived. Gabe is dismissive – “she can’t remember anything I’ve taught her” – but L assures me he is very gentle and doesn’t intimidate his pupil.

Robin

Robin’s first half-term at secondary school continues to be rocky. He received the invitation to have hot chocolate with the head teacher, but dropped his cup and spilled the drink in her office. He was picked for the school football team, but was played at left-back. He has made a couple of friends, although they only share a handful of classes. He’s more aware of the world, and terrified of what he hears about the news.

Eliza

Eliza, when not at school, is mostly ‘doing her own thing’. At home, she watches US TV series on Netflix, or pores over her phone in her room. But she’s just as likely to be out, visiting friends, going to a cafe in town, or in the park.

Hot chocolate with head-teacher

Robin

Recognising his engagement and participation in class, Robin has been invited to share a cup of hot chocolate with his head-teacher. Lessons are an aspect of school that Robin seems most at ease with. He has found the early weeks, lacking any close friends, quite tough and has often been unhappy at the end of the day or in the morning before school. Before the summer, he was keen to go on the school residential trip in October. Now, he has asked to be taken off it. The call to the head-teacher’s office may provide a welcome boost, though it’s the call up to the football team that would probably mean more.

Gabe

Barely four months after becoming an owner of a record-player, Gabe has decided to upgrade his audio equipment. Using money from the sale of his games console, he has bought an amplifier (he considered getting the same model that I had bought in 1986 and sold three years ago) and is now looking at a better model of turntable. While this equipment procurement takes place, he has taken a 30 day self-denying vow not to listen to any Beatles music – he’s worried he will stop liking it if he plays it too often.

Eliza

Eliza has reached the second phase of her orthodontist treatment. In addition to the braces, she has plates for her upper and lower jaw, designed to correct her over-bite. These plates were very uncomfortable to begin with and continue to affect her speech, as well as altering the shape of her face.

Virtually flawless

Gabe

Gabe’s GCSE results were virtually flawless, comprising A*’s, two 8’s and a 9 under the new scoring system for English Language, Literature and Maths [on appeal, the 8 for maths, was later raised to a 9]. Music was the exception – a common A.

He is, understandably, very satisfied and L hopes it may trigger a switch in his mood. What it hasn’t done is make the case for hard work. It’s hard to quantify how much time he spent revising, but it didn’t exceed the hours spent lounging around, listening to music and watching YouTube videos. I hope the results give him confidence to challenge himself, but it could just as easily reinforce his view that his considerable natural academic talents will allow him to coast.

Eliza

Eliza asked to go running each evening. We have managed several outings. She has settled into a steady running tempo, while I alternate hard running for a minute with walking (to protect my right knee). I had thought I could match her pace with a 2:1 ratio of walking and running. It wasn’t the case, as by the end of our route, my minute of sprinting didn’t bring me level with her. One minute running and one minute walking kept us closer.

I think Eliza’s motivation is that at the start of each school year, the girls have their fitness measured on a test called the Cooper Run – a 12 minute activity to see how far each participant can run. She has her sights set on improving her previous result and probably ranking higher in her class.

Robin

Robin has a mobile phone. He has endured a year as the only one of his peers without a mobile device. Barring a brief period of nagging last autumn when the degree of his exceptionalism became apparent, he took this disadvantage equably. And within the family, a rule has been consistently enforced (by L, as I was ready to bend it): no phone until just before starting at secondary school. Now he has the phone, he and it are rarely separated.