Oxford interview

Gabe

Gabe had two weeks notice that he was called for interview. He practiced at home and at school. L drove him and C – a girl in his year also applying to study history – to Oxford on Tuesday. He stayed until Friday evening, having had two interviews of about 35 minutes in total.

Gabe was in the throes of a heavy cold, which probably soured his mood. He was at his most dependent, texting regularly to ask what to do about all manner of day-to-day decisions he had to take. He stayed in his college room, shying away from meeting other candidates or students. He felt the first interview went well, with the second, which was a grilling about his chosen topic (causes of US Civil War), more demanding.

Shortly after 1pm on Friday, the list was posted of students who had interviews at other colleges, or who needed to stay in case required for further interview. His name wasn’t included. The next we will hear will be in mid-January. “The longest month,” he said, although having not enjoyed his stay, he felt that the blow of a rejection will be softened.

Robin

The cold that inconvenienced Gabe probably came from Robin. It surfaced the week after the half-term break, keeping him off school for a couple of days, and has remained in the form of a barking cough for four weeks.

Eliza

Eliza’s coaching and party-running activities at gymnastics have seen her invited to two ‘grown-up’ Christmas parties. The first was at an Indian restaurant. Eliza didn’t want the embarrassment of ordering English food, but neither did she want anything spicy. Tandoori chicken was the solution.

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15th birthday party

Eliza

Eliza’s 15th birthday party was changed at short-notice from Saturday to Friday to accommodate some of her friends, meaning that L was away and I was sole adult in charge. I had made stern warnings against alcohol, invited guests only and guests coming and going. 20 guests arrived, including one lad who was far taller than me.

Eliza’s friends were very noisy and really polite. They danced and chanted along to songs in the kitchen and the garden. I kept a low profile but at one point went into the kitchen where they were all holding up phones and dancing to a rap song with rude lyrics. Soon after 10pm I reminded Eliza that she should bring things to a close. An hour and three-quarters later, the last of her friends left. Eliza glowed with the fun of hosting a party.

Robin

Robin loathes being overheated in bed. He sleeps bare-chested to keep a tolerable temperature. Before bed-time, he lies on the floor, lest his body heat up the bed before it’s time for him to sleep. One evening, Gabe lay on Robin’s bed playing FIFA on Robin’s X-box. Robin was infuriated that Gabe had warmed up his bed.

Gabe

Gabe’s school week is evenly balanced between lessons and free periods. He uses his frees to study, read and do crosswords. When Gabe reported that he had completed three quick crosswords in a single free period, I challenged him to try a cryptic crossword. I showed him how they work and then we tried to solve one together. The twisted logic of the cryptic clue appealed. He has teamed up with L to solve more puzzles and is nearly ready to fly solo.

The wrong essay

Gabe

Gabe worked hard throughout the half-term break, particularly on a history course essay that he intended to submit as part of his Oxford entrance bid. I read it and thought it thorough, well-written and mature. Unfortunately, the teacher was less impressed, and gave it a B grade. There followed several days of Gabe agonising over whether to send this essay, which he felt was his best, or one from February, given an A*, but which he felt (and I agreed) was less well-written. L & I encouraged him to speak to other history teachers, but the line was that they wouldn’t challenge the mark given by his teacher and to send the A* piece of work. Time was running out. One of his English teachers broke ranks: yes, the B grade is better written.

Gabe called me as he walked towards the post office, still undecided which to post.  But he seemed to settle on sending the one that he felt would give the best account of his ability. Half-an-hour later, I got a text, ‘Made wrong choice..’. He was back at home, upset and asking if the post office would let him replace it. Back he went to the post office, and to their credit, they let him take the A* essay out of the envelope and replace it with the B grade piece.

Eliza

L had Robin call Eliza downstairs for tea, while she hid behind the fridge. As Eliza stepped into the kitchen, L swung a paper plate piled with whipped cream into her face.

L explained that ever since seeing a video of a custard pie party, some years ago, Eliza had asked if L would custard pie her. And so, the time had come.

Eliza was shocked and amused. Her wish had come true.

Robin

Evidence that Robin has rediscovered his ‘joie de foot’. He played three games in two days last weekend. In the first, there was a foul on the edge of the area. He picked up the ball and walked to where the kick was to be taken. A short run-up and the ball went over the wall and into the top corner.

Game two, after a quiet start, Rob received the ball on the half-way line. He played a one-two, then accelerated away from an opponent, around another and reached the left-hand side of the penalty area. He changed direction, nut-megged a defender and whipped a shot off the inside of the near post into the goal.

Half-term holiday

Gabe

With Oxford entrance exam looming, and the teachers piling the work on to their A level students, Gabe had almost an essay a day to write. He didn’t manage that, but at home and then later in the week in Scotland, he dedicated a lot of time to preparing for the Oxford History Aptitude Test and completing a US Civil War essay that he could submit to Oxford if he gets invited to interview.

Robin

Robin longed for the quiet release of the half-term holiday. But once there, he was out and about with school friends old and new. Some of these visits probably amounted to playing Fortnite alongside the same friends he would have sat in his room and played Fortnite with remotely. In Scotland, he was happiest seeing his aunt and cousin. He was the shock winner of not just a mini-golf tournament, but a card game, too.

Eliza

Eliza – non-stop socialising at home – slowed down and flopped around at Grandpa’s in Scotland. Hurried out of the door by my poor timekeeping, she arrived at North Queensferry in a bad mood for our boat-trip on the Forth. Seeing seals and being on the water on a calm, bright autumn day cheered her up. That evening she led the (younger) cousins in the pumpkin carving, then had a protracted sock wrestle with cousin F.

I like coffee, I like tea

Gabe

For years, Gabe would only drink water. As a young teen, he began to drink coke – initially in the same manner that I would drink brandy – with little sips because of its overwhelming flavour. Now, at 17, he is venturing into caffeine-rich hot drinks. He wants to drink them as much because it’s time he did so, as because he wants the hit of caffeine, and certainly not because he likes the flavour. He had to be shown how to make cups of tea and coffee (GCSE Food Tech presumably passed over this essential kitchen knowledge). Each morning he blows and sips impatiently at his too hot, hot drink.

Robin

Robin has regained his appetite for playing football. Last season tailed off, with him frustrated and visibly lacking in the fitness to make an impact on matches. Since September, he has been playing two matches most weekends – one for his main team and one for the club’s second team. His stamina has recovered and he has scored and set-up goals. He is running and working hard and receiving rewards for his efforts.

Eliza

Much of the time, Eliza is impatient and tending towards rude in the company of the rest of us. The days of indulging Robin’s presence are long gone. She and Gabe may only occasionally suspend low level hostilities to exchange a word about a band. But there remain some times when the teen armour comes off. Several nights each week, Eliza and L lie in bed together watching a programme on L’s lap-top: Strictly, Doctors, Call the Midwife. And twice a week, one of us collects her from gymnastics and she bubbles, chats and jokes in the car home.

 

 

Out of the door and back to school

Eliza

On school days, Eliza is first to leave, before 8am, each morning; and last to return; and first to go out again. Her social life involves up to four different groups of friends. She goes to gym, coaches gym and helps run gym parties. She does dance. And she goes to some gigs and wants to go to a lot more. When she’s at home, there’s a soft strumming from her bedroom as she continues to learn to play the acoustic guitar.

Gabe

On school days, Gabe is last to leave and often the first back home. In year 13, school hours seem less rigid. He is working hard but regularly needs help with composing his thoughts into writing. This was felt most acutely when up against a fictitious deadline for his University application personal statement. Both L and I were implored to give him ideas, help him word them and over again. Eventually, it was done, but with great dollops of self-doubt.

Robin

On school days, Robin heads out the door after one and before the other of his siblings. So far, it appears as though this year he is more settled at school. It may be because his classes have been streamed. It could be because he’s no longer in the most junior year. It might also be a change of attitude on his part – an openness to his fellow pupils, in place of his prior tendency to dismiss almost all as ‘annoying’, ‘weird’ or ‘idiots’.

A gallery, water-park and a Tudor house

The children’s interests have diverged, but I was even more conscious of the lack of pleasure they take in each other’s company. For the sake of harmony, I took three successive Fridays off work – each to spend with one of the kids at a place of their choice.

Eliza

Eliza was first and didn’t have strong views about what we should do. I suggested, with her GCSE art course looming, a visit to a gallery. We settled on Liverpool and my research took us to the Walker. Although she loves doing her own art, Eliza acknowledged she didn’t know much about the subject, or even what she liked. We wandered through the 20th Century gallery, pointing out what appealed to us (for me, a Freud portrait). Then we found some paper and pencils to take on the challenge of sketching jugs selected from a painting of a dozens of jugs in a loft.

The older paintings, other than the Impressionists, held less interest, so we went to the 2018 Moores Painting Prize Gallery. We looked really hard to find something we liked, but failed.

Eliza chose Nando’s for lunch, where she chattered and bubbled like the little girl she used to be.

Robin

I took Robin and his friend A, to a water-park. We lunched on Subways – 12 inches allowed – before entering the indoor park which by early afternoon was heaving with holiday children. We toured the pool, tried the lively lazy river, the simplest of slides and braved the outside pool, before dashing back inside.

After an hour, the boys decided to queue for one of the major slides. For the next two hours, they moved from queue to slide to queue, before returning for a waffle by which time we were almost the last to leave as the centre was being tidied up and closed. In the car on the way home, Robin dropped off to sleep.

Gabe

Gabe wanted to go somewhere historical, so complete has been his evolution into a serious student of history. I offered a couple of options, but then settled on Little Moreton Hall, the archetype of a Tudor mansion.

We walked the public areas of this odd, rambling but beautiful building. Gabe, unlike every other visit to somewhere of cultural interest, showed no impatience, content to wander, read and discuss. We took the guided tour, which answered our questions about who, when and how this hall had come about. I had expected Gabe to be unkind about the guide’s laboured jokes, but I was wrong. We had lunch in the tight, little restaurant with a curious menu – Gabe finding only a scone appealing.