Bordeaux week 2 – surf dudes and card sharks

Four of us left early(-ish) one morning to head for the Atlantic coast. Gabe, beach unfriendly, stayed at the gite. 75 minutes drive later, we parked, walked through a pine wood and dunes onto a long, wide beach. I discussed the possibility of a surfing lesson in French and then in English with Vincent, a lean, tanned surfer. Eliza and Robin were given clammy wet suits and waited for the rest of Vincent’s class. Eventually, he said they could start. 

For the next 90 minutes, as the tide swelled inwards, Robin and Eliza went from lying on the board to picking themselves up and standing, if only for a few seconds, as waves swept them towards the beach. “The best thing of my 13 years” said Eliza. Robin was just as enthusiastic.

Every night, we settled around the table to play cards. Whist, contract whist, black two, hearts, etc. Gabe had a lordly air, playing to win and controlling the music. We were each asked for a track, which he might censor, before calling up on Spotify and certainly criticise once it was playing. The cards games were keenly competitive, verging on the unfriendly. Robin, tired and less adept, was heckled for holding up play or teased for poor judgement. The edge to the evening was broken when we wrapped up the game and headed to bed.

Bordeaux week 1 – sleep, eat, rest

Gabe flew with us. For two days in the run-up to the holiday he had called L and my bluff and said he’d prefer to spend two weeks with his Grandpa than fly. As L and I made ready with compromises, he backed down. His aspiration for the holiday: sleep, eat, rest.

Mornings in the gite passed quickly. The kids rose late and lazed around the lounge with headphones and devices. To those activities they would return directly from finishing lunch. But some days we enforced trips: to Saintes, Bordeaux, Royan, the beach at St-Palais-sur-mer. These risked, and usually resulted in bad tempers, with frequency related to increasing age of child. The tempers could be assuaged with pizza lunch, or ice cream.

We went kayaking up a river that flowed gently into the Gironde. Robin and I had just established a good rhythm when a kayak occupied by two grey-haired men and a young woman capsized. Hampered by language and them being too heavy to haul onto our kayak, they spent ten minutes in the water holding onto their upturned vessel before they maneuvered to the bank, tipped the water out of their kayak, climbed back in and continued their trip.

Back at the gite, the pool and table-tennis prompted the most activity, particularly from Robin. We borrowed bikes and cycled on the narrow roads bordered with vines and sunflower fields. A couple of evenings, they joined in the rounders match run by the hosts’ children, involving the kids of the other gite and the French children staying with the owner.



Eliza’s final week of the school year is ‘activity week’. On Monday, she went to Chester Zoo. Her choice of clothes – very short shorts and bare-shouldered top – unsettled me, perhaps causing me to forget to insist she wore suncream. She came home with sunburnt shoulders.

On Tuesday, Eliza went on another trip. The weather was again set fair. Eliza was wearing the same outfit and asked that I put some suncream on her shoulders. I refused, requiring her to wear something that covered her shoulders. She objected, I insisted, we compromised on her wearing something over the top of her skimpy top. I wandered away, she left the house, I wondered whether she had really taken another top with her. Anyway, her shoulders didn’t seem to get burnt again.


We gave Gabe one week of indulgence and laziness after his exams before insisting that he use his long summer break productively. Having rejected any suggestions that would mean getting outside the house – finding a job, volunteering, getting fit – he was faced with doing chores around the house.

Each day, he is given a short list of chores (e.g. cleaning up the kitchen, vacuuming rooms). Invariably, he has not done them when L or I get back from work. Any that he does do are completed hurriedly. Having received his allowance for July, it is his August allowance that is under threat. This, though, isn’t having any notable motivating effect on him, as he continues to spend his days lying about, listening to music and watching YouTube videos.


Robin’s end of year report was very complimentary. His SATs results were all well above the standard set for his age. He took a lot of pride in these results, which we hope will set him up for the new school in September.

His induction day at the High School had not gone very well. He was quiet and surly that evening. The problem was that the boy who had joined his football team last season and whose behaviour had caused problems for the rest of the team and the coaches was there as well and was in Robin’s group throughout the induction day. With Robin’s blessing, I spoke to the school. I have been assured that Robin will be kept apart from the boy in form group and lessons.

Prom night


The day of Prom night began with me visiting the Co-op to buy four cans of cider. These were for Gabe to take to the before- or after-party, because alcohol was out of bounds at the real Prom, held at the Hilton Hotel in Manchester’s tallest tower. There they visited the cocktail bar with the glass floor on the 23rd storey. The after-party, back in Sale, continued until about 2am. Gabe returned, having enjoyed the prom, sober and offering a non-specific account of what had happened.


Robin had one of the dozen larger speaking parts in the year 6 play: The Pirates of the Curry Bean. He was Admiral Hornhonker, an incompetent sailor, who had achieved his rank through nepotism. Robin earned plenty of laughs for his foolish comments and was clearly enjoying himself on stage. He even had a tap-dancing routine. He also wore a particularly fine Admiral’s outfit rustled up by his Mother.


Eliza’s school report reinforced the positive messages at her year 8 parents evening. She had good results across the board, with positive feedback on conduct and effort. As with Gabe, the three subjects where her results were particularly strong were history, French and English. Comments about her wide general knowledge surprised us a little, but maybe she knows more about the outside world than she lets on at home?

Braces (at last)


“When are you 14?” asked the Greek orthodontist.

“November,” Eliza replied.

“Well, we had better get on with it,” concluded the orthodontist.

Eliza gave a look that said, ‘FINALLY!’. This is either her third or fourth orthodontist appointment in between which she has been batted back and forth, without anything being done to correct her crooked front teeth. But this time there is urgency and action. It takes under 10 seconds for the orthodontist to affirm that the wonkiness of her upper incisors qualifies for NHS care. By the time we have returned to the reception desk, a further appointment has been requested – for the following day.

Eliza is back at the surgery in not much more than 24 hours. This time, she leaves with braces across her four upper front teeth. The braces will stay for six months, re-aligning those teeth. After that, she will wear upper and lower jaw plates for up to two years.


As a cricketer Robin has shown more as a natural bowler than batsman. This season, his bowling has gone a little backwards, without, until this week, his batting compensating. In fact, despite often being requested to play twice a week – for his age group and the age group above – Robin has been a reluctant cricketer. But on Monday, he rediscovered his joy in the game, by making his first ever score of 25, which is the retirement score in under 11 cricket. He hit several fours, including one that he described as going back over the bowler and bouncing on the boundary rope.


Gabe finished his GCSE exams, but chose not to go out to celebrate. Instead he came back home and in the evening was still in his school uniform, which he’ll never need to wear again. He reported feeling no great release from finishing his exams. His thoughts have turned instead to the results, which are almost two whole months away.

100 great goals


Every night, for months, Robin has chosen, before sleep and after L or I have read to him, to read from a book that describes 100 great goals. A short description of the action is leavened with some information about the scorer or the occasion. There’s also a diagram of the movement of players and ball on its way into the net.

When sleep is about to smother him, Robin tosses the book from his bed. In the morning, it lies on the floor, crumpled. Its hardback cover fell off weeks ago. Its binding can’t hold for long. But even if it does disintegrate it has lodged itself in Robin’s memory. He knows the goals and scorers by number (1 to 100). He can even recite some of the reports if given a scorer’s name or goal number. 


‘My palm has five layers of skin left,’ Eliza explained on the way home from gymnastics. Intensive work on the bars in recent weeks has worn a tear in the skin of her hand. She has been practising a manoeuvre that involves a complete rotation on the higher bar. To achieve this safely while in the learning phase, her hands are bound to the bar. It’s from that friction that the skin on her palms is torn away.


The election result has been welcomed by Gabe. At school, Corbyn is a hero. Gabe is dissatisfied by my position that neither major party leader is a fit PM. ‘What have I got against Corbyn?’ I was asked often during the campaign, as well as, who are you going to vote for and why? On election night, he sat with Lou and I as the TV guests and presenters toyed with the unlikely exit poll. Around midnight, with four GCSE exams the next day, he conceded that is was time for bed. 

Sprint champion


Sports day was held in the week before the half-term holidays. That evening, responding to my question, “How was your day?” Robin urgently informed me, “I beat L in the 60m sprint!” Beating his classmate, Man Utd junior footballer, ranked as a higher accolade than simply being year (probably school) sprint champion. 


Eliza’s last 24 hours or so have featured: two 2-hour gymnastics sessions, a trip to a local trampolining centre and a sleepover with her gym friends which involved no sleep until they finally keeled over at 8am. She has gone to bed very weary tonight. 


Gabe has left the house in the last two weeks solely to take exams and for two shopping trips. As previously reported, this hermit-like behaviour doesn’t mean he is revising from dawn to dusk. Revision is happening, but not in the quantities that a two week confinement would suggest. 

On his shopping trips Gabe has added to his LP collection. Unfortunately he has experienced the downside of vinyl: scratched records, so must go out again to take back a couple of discs. His other acquisition has been a blue suit, which will become his sixth form attire from September.