Archive for August, 2017

Virtually flawless


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 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 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.

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.