Archive for the ‘Clubs’ Category

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.


Trophy hunters


Robin strops magnificently. He was in a quiet strop straight after his football team lost in the semi-final of a tournament, having won eight straight games that morning. His gripe wasn’t that of the over-involved parents (that the best player had been put in goal) but that he wasn’t going to get a trophy. Still looking thunderous he was rolled out for the third place play-off, which was won, with Robin scoring the opening goal. And then came the medal and a trophy and a return to good humour.

The following week was the club presentation evening. There Robin and 40-odd other six year olds were given awards the size of the old Jules Rimet Trophy simply for having played. Amongst the delighted faces and shrieks of pleasure, Robin kept a serious face. The smile came when he was given to keep for the summer the trophy which his team had won at a tournament in the spring. Back at home he aligned his career haul of five trophies on his window ledge, carried them around the house, returned them to the ledge for bedtime, but had the curtain left open so he could admire them from bed.


Five years of junior football have left Gabe’s window ledge crowded with trophies. He collected two more at his presentation evening this week – one for being part of the team and one for Coach’s Player of the Season. James the Coach praised Gabe for his vision, making passes others couldn’t see. James went on to say that when Gabe joined the team at the start of the season, the other players weren’t on the same wavelength as he, but gradually they were connecting. Fine words for the lad.


Eliza has become very close to a new friend this year at school. Little A is Hungarian (although speaks English) and for some time has known she is returning this summer to live in Hungary again. Her mother, who struggles to communicate in English, invited Eliza to tea on their penultimate day at school. Little A’s mother promised she is a ‘kitchen fairy’ and made all of Eliza’s favourite foods. Little A, touchingly, had presents for Eliza.

Eliza’s long-time close friend Tall A is also leaving the school. Friends since they were three and living walking distance apart, Eliza and Tall A will continue their friendship. I imagine, though, that Eliza will notice a gap when she returns to school in September.

Shattered and blistered

The Easter holiday has involved copious amounts of physical activity. All three children have had six days at the cricket club multi-sports camp, playing through sun, wind, rain and hail.


For Robin, multi-sports has really meant hours and hours of football played with boys older than himself. ‘Mikey said I’m the best mini-kid at sports,’ Robin reported one of the teenage helpers telling him. At home, before and after camp hours, Robin has been in the garden with a football, practising keepy-uppies (personal best: 3) or playing with me and..


..Gabe in emotion-filled games. Usually laughter as they tackle and tangle trying to score against me; or Gabe trying to head crosses from me past Robin into the net. And then when Robin is too shattered to know when to stop, and Gabe too tired to know when not to tease him, an outburst of anger.

At the camp, Gabe has been putting in the hours in the cricket nets and lording it as one of the oldest there by winning tournaments.


More reluctantly, occasionally as the only girl, Eliza has been at multi-sports, too. She avoids the football and plays tennis, hockey, soft-ball cricket or rounders. Then after a day of outdoor activity, she has been going to gymnastics for two hours (twice per week), ending up exhilirated and exhausted. Her first experience of intense practice on the bar has blistered her hand – a mark of her serious intent.

Forced on top of this exercise was a walk near Wrexham. Eliza describes it in her holiday homework:

My holiday story

Monday 9th

On Monday of my Easter holidays I unfortunately me, my mum and dad and my two brothers went to Wales. This was only because my dad wanted to do a walk there. Well there was goats, lambs, alpacas that I really liked and pigs that I didn’t like so much. And thre was places to collect stones and pottery. But the best bit of it was deffinately walking across the 40m aquaduct which Gabe didn’t really want to go across. We had lunch there and went in the playground and altogether it proved me wrong about the unfortunately thing at the start.

Degree of difficulty


After months of performing more advanced gymnastics in the living room than at her gym club, Eliza was moved to a new class following some prompting by L. She went along for the first time tonight. The two hour class began with a lengthy conditioning session. Then onto bar, vault and rope. A far more physically demanding class, Eliza ached all over at the end. L said she looked enthralled and she did seem excited although said she was annoyed that she couldn’t do everything they practised.


World Book Day was transformed by the junior school into a day to come to school dressed for sport. Gabe went as a cricketer. He came downstairs for breakfast in his whites and padded up for his cereal. Gloves and helmet went on for the trip to school. He stayed in the full kit all day at school, only taking his helmet off for lunch and recorder lesson.


In place of a bedtime story this week, Robin has opted for games of connect-4. He’s keeping in nick for an ongoing breaktime competition with his classmates. He explained today that his next game is four days away. Robin’s described how the matches attract an audience who whisper and chat about what the next move should be.

Double figures


Gabe turned  ten today. The party, of his own devising, involved a pairs football tournament in the park with seven friends and then a pizza-based lunch at home. The tournament was mostly played in good spirits, but the disappointment of defeat was too much for a couple of friends.  Gabe was delighted with the party and presents, which were mostly £10 notes. Around him, a changing cast of L, Robin, Eliza, an older friend and I continued to play football in the garden, using his new metal framed goal, for the rest of the afternoon and early evening.

tournament official photo

All was well until bedtime. His old fear of not sleeping had resurfaced the previous night and kept him up and distraught until midnight. Once here, it takes some banishing and so his birthday evening, after such a happy day, has been spent in torment as time passes and sleep passes him by.

Gabe spent the morning of the day before his birthday at a local secondary school with several hundred other children of mostly middle-class parents. The occasion was  a mock 11 plus exam – four months before the real things. He managed to complete one of the time-pressured papers despite taking a toilet break in the middle.


One of Robin’s youngest child grievances is that the other two have better beds. That may change soon. A few nights ago, after sitting on his bed reading a story and finding the bed a little saggy, I knelt down and leant on it to say “goodnight”. The bed collapsed. Robin denied jumping on it, but my suspicions remain. For the moment, he sleeps on his mattresses on the floor beside his bed, which looks like the exposed skeleton of a large, dead mammal with its flesh picked off.


Eliza has been invested into brownies. The ceremony featured some concocted ritual: repetition of rhymes, stepping over a mirror and jumping over a toadstool. Only then did she go to Brown Owl and make her pledge.

to do my duty to toadstool and the queen



Eliza has graduated from Rainbows to Brownies. Four weeks in and she is still in mufti, awaiting her chance to take the Brownie pledge. She’s learnt the words that require ‘allegiance to my God and the Queen’, and reads the Brownie introduction book in bed at night. There seem to be more games and less craft than Rainbows and Eliza has already experienced a Brownie disco. She has called one of the leaders ‘Evil Owl’ – not an abusive elder, but a mispronounciation of Eagle Owl.


L met Robin’s teacher for a de-brief on his first two terms of school. All is going well and he appears bright, active and happy.  L was shown a letter that Robin wrote at the teacher’s suggestion when two balls were kicked into a neighbours garden. He managed a ‘sorry’ and some faltering explanation of balls over the fence. His first literary production.


Over a week of constipation and paranoia about not going to the loo ended with a medication assisted trip to the toilet. Gabe reported that he had ‘the sorest but happiest bum in the world.’

Chop, chop


Somewhere behind Hollywood films, comes me in the list of influences over Robin’s speech. ‘Chop, chop’, I say, to hurry the children along. Robin now says it to others and to himself, to give a sense of urgency to whatever he is doing.


Eliza has started attending an after-school club called Streetdancing. Inner City LA has come to our leafy Manchester suburb. Eliza explains that the music is fast; the children are arrayed in four lines to learn and execute moves; at the end of some dances the children strike a pose of their choice. Eliza’s poses are angular and involve pointing or crossing arms in front of her face.


Gabe is an excellent pupil who copes easily with all that is required of him in school lessons. He does, however, seem to have early onset writer’s block. Monday homework usually involves some open writing task. It drives Gabe into a frenzy of anxiety and frustration. The time he spends finally completing the writing is but a small proportion of the time he spends fretting about what he has been asked to do.