Archive for the ‘eating’ Category

Off-setting behaviour


Robin hesitated over an invitation to go go-karting with friends. His reluctance: that he would be burning fuel and contributing to global warming unnecessarily. The “don’t worry about it” argument was not making ground and so we talked about off-setting his carbon emissions. With an absence of scientific evidence, but an eye for something that would be meaningfully onerous for him, we agreed on him having one week of vegetarianism and a whole month of avoiding red meat.


Eliza has shaved a line in her left eye-brow. I warn her that she will be mistaken for a gang-member by a rival group.

The gap is slight but distinct. In that sense it is smaller and fuzzier than the gap in her life caused by her splitting up with Joe. More, but not that many, evenings and weekends at home.


Gabe broke out of an anxious couple of days on arriving at college. Going to a party in the bar, playing cards a group of his peers and a trial for the football team seem to have helped. So has starting studying. He has enjoyed each of his tutorials so far – specifically mentioning ‘fun’ – and completed essays independently and without agonising.

We visited him for his second weekend. He seemed calm and at ease (although our presence in college made him jittery). Unusually, eschewing criticism of anything different that he had experienced. Fatigue, from the sudden increase to the pace of his life, seems his biggest hurdle.

Oxford interview


Gabe had two weeks notice that he was called for interview. He practiced at home and at school. L drove him and C – a girl in his year also applying to study history – to Oxford on Tuesday. He stayed until Friday evening, having had two interviews of about 35 minutes in total.

Gabe was in the throes of a heavy cold, which probably soured his mood. He was at his most dependent, texting regularly to ask what to do about all manner of day-to-day decisions he had to take. He stayed in his college room, shying away from meeting other candidates or students. He felt the first interview went well, with the second, which was a grilling about his chosen topic (causes of US Civil War), more demanding.

Shortly after 1pm on Friday, the list was posted of students who had interviews at other colleges, or who needed to stay in case required for further interview. His name wasn’t included. The next we will hear will be in mid-January. “The longest month,” he said, although having not enjoyed his stay, he felt that the blow of a rejection will be softened.


The cold that inconvenienced Gabe probably came from Robin. It surfaced the week after the half-term break, keeping him off school for a couple of days, and has remained in the form of a barking cough for four weeks.


Eliza’s coaching and party-running activities at gymnastics have seen her invited to two ‘grown-up’ Christmas parties. The first was at an Indian restaurant. Eliza didn’t want the embarrassment of ordering English food, but neither did she want anything spicy. Tandoori chicken was the solution.

A gallery, water-park and a Tudor house

The children’s interests have diverged, but I was even more conscious of the lack of pleasure they take in each other’s company. For the sake of harmony, I took three successive Fridays off work – each to spend with one of the kids at a place of their choice.


Eliza was first and didn’t have strong views about what we should do. I suggested, with her GCSE art course looming, a visit to a gallery. We settled on Liverpool and my research took us to the Walker. Although she loves doing her own art, Eliza acknowledged she didn’t know much about the subject, or even what she liked. We wandered through the 20th Century gallery, pointing out what appealed to us (for me, a Freud portrait). Then we found some paper and pencils to take on the challenge of sketching jugs selected from a painting of a dozens of jugs in a loft.

The older paintings, other than the Impressionists, held less interest, so we went to the 2018 Moores Painting Prize Gallery. We looked really hard to find something we liked, but failed.

Eliza chose Nando’s for lunch, where she chattered and bubbled like the little girl she used to be.


I took Robin and his friend A, to a water-park. We lunched on Subways – 12 inches allowed – before entering the indoor park which by early afternoon was heaving with holiday children. We toured the pool, tried the lively lazy river, the simplest of slides and braved the outside pool, before dashing back inside.

After an hour, the boys decided to queue for one of the major slides. For the next two hours, they moved from queue to slide to queue, before returning for a waffle by which time we were almost the last to leave as the centre was being tidied up and closed. In the car on the way home, Robin dropped off to sleep.


Gabe wanted to go somewhere historical, so complete has been his evolution into a serious student of history. I offered a couple of options, but then settled on Little Moreton Hall, the archetype of a Tudor mansion.

We walked the public areas of this odd, rambling but beautiful building. Gabe, unlike every other visit to somewhere of cultural interest, showed no impatience, content to wander, read and discuss. We took the guided tour, which answered our questions about who, when and how this hall had come about. I had expected Gabe to be unkind about the guide’s laboured jokes, but I was wrong. We had lunch in the tight, little restaurant with a curious menu – Gabe finding only a scone appealing.


Young Voices


‘Birdcage of my soul’ was an unlikely song to hear Robin singing, but They Might be Giants‘ craziness was part of the repertoire of over 20 songs that he learnt to take part in a Young Voices concert at the MEN Arena. There was an African chant, folk-tunes and hymns as well. Hundreds, maybe thousands of school kids took part, filling much of the arena. It has put Robin in the unusual position of having performed at Manchester’s two major music venues: MEN Arena and the Bridgewater Hall.


Seven weeks after Christmas, Gabe and L got their present from me: a trip to London to see a National Theatre production of This House at the Garrick on Charing Cross Road. I had taken a chance that Gabe would enjoy the subject-matter – 1970s parliamentary politics. It turned out to be good guess as he was fully engaged by the tales of the two main parties’s whips offices, in the days of slim or no majority governments. The play was fast-paced – clearly influenced by TV production – amusing and full of swearing. All three factors probably played towards Gabe’s enjoyment.


Eliza has been pondering and testing the notion of becoming a vegetarian. It seems to be part of her growing awareness of societal ills. Like many people in her situation, she has to overcome her partiality for meat – in particular chicken, but also sausages. Unlike many, though, the major barrier is that Eliza doesn’t like a lot of vegetarian staples. He compromise is that she has given up meat, apart from chicken and fish.

In the trenches


Gabe went away in the early hours of Thursday before half-term holiday. The school history trip to the Belgian battlefields of the Great War had been over-subscribed and Gabe too late to express interest. But a couple of weeks before departure he took up a vacated place.

Trenches (real and simulated), cemeteries, chapels and the towns the war plagued were visited. Each student had a local soldier to research before departure and search for some marker of their death when in Belgium. Gabe found the site of the mass grave of 35,000 German casualties the most affecting. It was, he confirmed, the best school trip he has had.


Robin was picked for Sale’s under 12 team in the indoor winter cricket league. The step-up in intensity, particularly in the field, energised him. He coped well, bowling strongly and batting reliably, pushing singles to share the strike with the skipper, only swinging hard at deliveries aimed at his legs that he could shovel square. While his teammates batted, he hung on the edge of his group, likely as not returning to me to sit on my lap: an endearing mix of young affection and physical prowess.


choc towerOn her desk is built a chocolate tower. Weeks after Christmas and barely touched are chocolate reindeer, a selection box, Lindor, a bar of chocolate, a chocolate Santa and a tub of Heroes. That same ration barely saw Robin and Gabe into 2016. Eliza is unlikely to finish hers before Easter. It’s a sugary monument to her self-control and her understanding of the value of a pleasure deferred.

Big school


Eliza has started at secondary school. She has settled quickly, showing no particular anxiety, other than one: getting lost. She walks to school with Gabe, less for safety and company, than just to make sure she knew the way in her early weeks. She was concerned about finding her way around the school with its oddment of buildings and long corridors. Gabe says he has seen her looking lost, studying the map given to new girls and boys. He has even helped her find the classroom she sought. 

On a day L was working late, Eliza gladly accepted the task of meeting Robin out of school. “Ok” we said, “describe your route from your new school to your old school.”

“Well, to start with, I’d turn right.”

“No! It’s the other way!”


Gabe has started his GCSE courses and with that has come a novelty: homework. This staple of schools is referred to at the grammar school as ‘extension studies’, as it doesn’t have to be done at home. And Gabe has always taken advantage of this, finishing extension studies in class or in breaks so his home time remains free of schoolwork. But something has changed this year and now we see him regularly at the computer with his books out. 


Robin has chosen to move from packed lunch to school dinners. From the security of ham sandwich nearly every school day for three or four years, he has put himself at the mercy of the lunch menu. So far, two days into this trial, he has eaten a baked potato with cheese and chicken in a sauce. They sound like modest choices but actually represent dramatic broadening of his dietary palette. 

GCSE Astronomy


Gabe sat his GCSE Astronomy exam, which makes up over half of the marks. Revision for the exam seemed to be a process beyond his comprehension. He did none voluntarily and when forced to do some, wanted L or I to read a section of his notes, or textbook, and ask him questions. In the week ahead of the exam, his teacher pointed the class to an on-line resource, which finally seemed to engage Gabe in some self-directed revision. In his final assessment, he achieved a ‘A’ grade, so the limited and late revision doesn’t seem likely to make much difference.


Eliza’s hair is falling out. It may be spring moulting, or hormones at work. She’s very conscious of it, and so are we as strands are found in our cars, in the dishwasher, on the living room carpet and in clothes removed from the dryer. She has so much hair that even this degree of shedding doesn’t affect her appearance.


As a baby, Robin had allergies to egg and less severely to dairy products. The only evidence of the latter, is discomfort he sometimes gets in his throat eating ice cream. But he has grown up drinking soya milk with his breakfast cereal – by the pint. Recently, we have put a stop to him glugging sweetened soya milk with sugary cereal. He opted for dairy milk instead of unsweetened soya milk and now has that by the pint with sugary cereal.

Loom bands and Lord’s


It began with bracelets, which became increasingly ornate and has moved onto animal key rings. Eliza has embraced the loom band craze, without progressing to whole outfits made of the tiny, coloured rubber bands. She has a plastic frame on which the bands are stretched and arrayed in complex patterns. YouTube provides the source of guidance on how to combine and twist the bands. It’s a healthy pastime, except for the tips of
Eliza’s fingers that get pinched sore by the taut bands.


Gabe came with me to Saturday of the Lord’s Test, where we met Grandad and spent the day together. The day was hot and sticky and Gabe worried over visible sweat marks on his shirt. He had overdosed on pizza and coke at a party the night before and felt delicate. This was his diet during the day: croissant, coke, crisps, chips (with too much salt and ketchup), hot chocolate, grapes, slice of pizza (rejected after a bite) and then toast when we got home. But he sat patiently through the day, including a very slow afternoon session.


Robin’s desire for back garden football has altered. He still wants to play. But rather than shooting with me in goal, he wants to play one-bounce where we work together to exchange the ball with it hitting the ground no more than once between our touches. It’s fun working co-operatively and he gets to practice his skills and control.

All inclusive

A dominating feature of our Menorcan holiday was the all inclusive food and drink. Three meals a day and a changing menu of meats, vegetables, salads, breads and desserts for every meal. But for the kids, all inclusive produced particular, limited diets:

Gabe: croissant, chips and seconds/thirds of pizza

Eliza: croissant, melon and ice cream

Robin: croissant, chips and coca-cola (even at breakfast if not closely monitored).

Watching Robin dash around, L commented, “We’ll be in hospital this holiday.” She was right, but Eliza was the patient, banging her head falling from a fence. I called the doctor when she felt ill at midnight. The doctor came and calmly ordered an ambulance which drove Eliza and L across the island for an emergency brain scan. All was clear and they returned, exhausted after a night in hospital.

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.