Archive for August, 2012

Otter spotter

Crossing a foot-bridge over the River Mersey, Eliza cried, “I’ve seen an otter!” More likely to have been a water rat, I advised her. She pointed to where it had submerged and we followed the trail of bubbles as it swam across the narrow river. It surfaced and there was the long body and strong tail of an otter. We watched it gain the bank, carrying a fish and disappear into the undergrowth. My ecstatic reaction amused the kids. I apologised to Eliza, who may have enjoyed bettering me than seeing the otter in the first place.

The otter spot happened on a day’s leave during the holidays. The day, like many of their kind when we have hours ahead to amuse ourselves, began with upset and dispute over what we were going to do. And, equally typically, the compromise about which most were unhappy ended with a fulfilling trip – cycle ride along the river and back – boosted by the otter spot.

The kids spend days in the school holiday, when both L and I work, at holiday camps. These are equally controversial. The cricket club is too sporty and lacking in friends for Eliza. The local secondary school places Gabe in an environment without friends. Robin muddles through, burning off energy, scoring goals, moaning when tired. None of them ever returns as unhappy as they may seem when the day at the club begins.


    Gabe and Robin

Gabe and, to a lesser degree, Robin, shaped our Northumberland holiday around their favourite activities. There was Olympic action to watch on TV from 9am to however late they conned L and I to let them stay up to. There was a walled garden (‘no ball games’ said the instructions) for football, as well as wide, flat beaches. The standard and intensity was lifted even higher for the two days that cousin D joined us.

The one activity they threw themselves into which wasn’t from the normal range of preferences was a boat trip to the Farne Islands. We spotted seals, initially with difficulty and then when we landed beside a lighthouse, four or more bobbed around the rocks we stood on. Puffins were the choicest seabirds of the many seen flying, floating or standing on rocks.


Eliza adapted more readily to her environment. She made long daisy chains and hunted for bum shaped leaves in our garden. She collected shells and made sandcastles on the beaches. She recruited Robin to imaginary games, roller-blading and mini-Olympics in and around our holiday home and garden.



Spoken in American accent, with strong intonation

I’m chubby, my mummy’s chubby, my daddy’s chubby, even my goldfish is chubby. One day my daddy was driving to the shops and I said, “faster, daddy, faster” And he went faster and it ends there.

This is a performance piece, spoken at school by one of Robin’s classmates and repeated at home time and again, sometimes word-for-word, sometimes with adaptations and very often to gales of appreciative laughter.


Gabe finished junior school with a series of events: assemblies and a retirement party for the head teacher. The final day’s assembly lasted hours as each leaver was introduced and bade farewell. Gabe passed on the role of Head Boy, receiving a pile of Michael Morpurgo books for his year’s work. Many cried at the assembly, but not, he tells me, Gabe. He has brought with him the song ‘Goodbye my friends’, which is sung in any spare moment at home.


One of the delights of Eliza’s burgeoning personality is her teasing of me. Often it’s about my big nose or big ears. It can be about things – e.g. Ice cream – that she claims to love more than me. On holiday in Northumberland, she whipped Robin and cousin F into a 20 minute long chant of “Daddy’s naughty, Daddy’s naughty, Daddy’s naughty…”. It was caused by a beach football injury to Robin and lasted the length of our walk back across the beach.