Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Sights of Tuscany

The children might have settled for two whole weeks at the villa, but L & I led us away every second or third day to a Tuscan sight.

In Pisa and Florence we scaled tall buildings: the leaning tower and the domo. Robin was enthralled by the climbs and the sense of height. Eliza was anxious and needed a hand to be held (almost as much as I did) as we walked around the summit of both climbs. Gabe made it to the top of the Leaning Tower, briefly, but pulled out of the ascent of the domo before the section that took you up stairs cut into the arc of the lower level of the dome.

The children were more reluctant to appreciate the architecture from street-level – apart from in Pisa where the tower offered photographic opportunities. We managed an hour and a half in the Uffizi: Eliza most focused on the art; Gabe on historical and cultural facts; Robin under intense strain.

More popular was a day at a crowded water park. As a threesome, they queued for trips down slides, not demanding L or I participate.

But every trip out was tolerated knowing that it would bring a reward in the form of ice cream, coke and pizza.

Holland away


Gabe returned safely from the trip to Utrecht. He picked up a man-of-the-match award in the first game, although he said he had trouble keeping his eyes open. The first night in the hostel had been uproarious. One group of boys was climbing out of a window onto a roof; another group (in Gabe’s room) joking and guffawing into the early hours. Flights home for the transgressors were booked until a change of heart and things calmed down thereafter. The trips to theme park, water-park and Utrecht stadium appeared as memorable as the games. It seems to have been a successful venture.


BOOM [said loudly and in a slightly strangulated voice]

This is Robin’s new word of exclamation. It’s ubiquitous. We don’t seem to be able to beat it, so we’re joining it.


Eliza busies herself making bracelets out of small rubber bands, which are then given or swapped with friends. It ticks a lot of boxes in terms of her interests: dexterous finger-work, artistic combination of colours and jewelry.


“Oh my!”


I can only guess what the language of the playground and form room is like at Gabe’s school. Occasionally, when angered, he gives us a clue, uttering a four-letter word. But his preferred exclamation of shock or disappointment, is the entirely neutral and probably unfinished, “Oh my!”


Robin has taken on Gabe’s exclamation. It’s one of the positive imitations of his older brother – ranked with reading and cricket. It’s timely, too, as some scribbled note of his was uncovered by L that featured the word ‘fuk’. He didn’t know what it meant, but knows we don’t want him using it.


Eliza brought home the elizaphant. A grey papier-mache and toilet role construction, it is the finest model to make it’s way back from school and the first that won’t be recycled the moment it would stop being indecently hasty to do so.

6-a-side party

Robin had his wish for a football party. Ten friends, Gabe and birthday boy ran themselves into a red-cheeked state before tucking into hot dog, pizza, nuggets and chips as a prelude to the football pitch sponge cake baked by L. Robin had reacted badly to defeat at his football training four days earlier, but my worries were misplaced, as although his team took a beating he stayed happy and fulfilled.

Gabe’s presence was at Robin’s request. Gabe and I had several conversations about what would be acceptable in a match with boys four years younger, although not all very much smaller. He played his part well and earnt compliments from parents who saw him smiling and laughing throughout the game.

For me there was the pleasure of seeing the two boys, teammates, combining – each setting up goals for the other.

Meanwhile, Eliza and her friend E, older sister of one of Robin’s pals, sat in the cafe, chatting happily, drawing fantasy animals such as the Rasta Owl.

Sleep-over – home and away


Eliza chose her birthday party to be an afternoon, evening, night and morning with her two best friends. They visited a craft cafe to make pots, ate ice cream and then back at home, watched tv and two videos, before the serious stuff of chatting in bed took hold. A word from L at 12.30am and they quietened down and slept until.. 7am when they soon had energy for indoor kickstone and spying on the rest of us.


Gabe was invited to a sleep-over at his friend’s house the same night. The day before he mentioned that they would be playing Call of Duty, an 18 rated game. Not so fast, I said. Gabe was upset when L and I set our terms. he said there would be nothing for him to do there if he wasn’t allowed to play. The next day I called his host’s mother and said that he wasn’t allowed to play the game. She consulted with her son and called back saying, a little archly, they would find something ‘within the rules’.

He wasn’t effusive about the sleepover the next day. We seem to have found a fracture with some of our peers over their willingness (and our refusal) to let pre-teen children play violent video games. I wonder if Gabe mentioned to me the plan because of his discomfort with it.


Robin followed L into the loo and said it smelt of her. By which he meant it smelled of washing. Explaining more, he said I smell of rice – as I always make it; Eliza smells of ‘in my pockets’ – as she’s always playing with them; and Gabe smells of sweat – as he’s always playing football.

Scouted and sprouted


At Robin’s midweek football practice, a man I didn’t know introduced himself and addressed me by my first name. He was the scout from Burnley FC that I had been told had asked about Robin. The scout invited Robin to the club’s development centre, to play and see what he and I think of it. And so we shall.

At about the same time, L was speaking to Robin’s teacher at parent’s evening. According to their testing, Robin’s reading age has improved by 18 months in six weeks and is now nearly two years above his physical age. There were many other compliments towards his ability and attitude.


Eliza has adapted the pocket animal game she plays with Robin into a version of Top Trumps as each animal is assessed on criteria such as running, smell and ‘indangered’. With Robin, she made up the numbers as they went along. She then created little cards, with sketches of the animals and their scores, which we played with at Robin’s football practice.


Out in town, L suggested to Gabe that he could do some research on the Eurocamp website for a holiday next year in Italy. The idea grabbed him and he nagged to go home immediately to start. When back at home, he reviewed seven camps in the region that interests us, recording their features and made his recommendations.

Easter Island bonnet


All pupils at Gabe’s primary school are given the homework task of making an Easter bonnet, which are paraded at a special prize assembly. Gabe picked on a chance comment about Easter Island and decided that would be the theme of his bonnet. Its construction involved the usual amount of angst he experiences when making something. While it featured a recognisable Easter Island stone head, in L and my eyes it lacked evidence of real commitment. Nonetheless Gabe seemed convinced it would be a winner.

L received, and dismissed as a hoax, a text from a friend announcing that Gabe had received an award. Only when Gabe came home from school with an Easter egg, was the truth of his achievement appreciated. The novelty of his idea – when all around them were chicks, nests and flowers – had swung the judges.

Surprise victor


We tracked down a roller-rink in the locality, where Eliza can pursue her roller-blade passion. Situated in a warehouse on an industrial park, the rink sits anonymously, without signage to draw customers. Fittingly, then, it should be a hidden gem. A throwback to the middle of the last century – from its tiny ticket booth, to its paper decorations hanging from the ceiling, plastic covered booth seats around the rink, cheap tuck shop and most of all, its polished wooden rink. And it was a venue for skaters of all ages; many of the most elegant were of retirement age.

Eliza herself was as much a spectacle. She has an easy, graceful style. But what strikes most are her spindly, stick legs rising from her chunky boots with blades. She is much less fragile than she appears, but the worry remains.


Robin is progressing well at school and showing a facility for learning. Yet, there remain some odd blind spots. Whenever he reappears in the room after a trip to the loo, L or I ask whether he has flushed and washed his hands.  He pauses, before trotting back to complete the task that continues to seem just a little beyond him.