Archive for the ‘trips’ Category

Oxford visit


Gabe and I started the half-term holiday with a trip to Oxford. In clear, winter light we walked to and around the larger colleges – Christ Church, Magdalen, New College. Gabe was awed and, I think intimidated. We returned the next day and headed for the centre: the Bodlein, the Radcliffe Camera, and then Lincoln to meet Dr Gauci, senior fellow in his office above the porter’s lodge. Dr G chatted away, checking himself a couple of times, to ask, “But what do you want to know?” Gabe struggled to summon up a question. We toured the college and then headed to the Indoor Market. From there, to Quod for lunch with Senior Fellow Skinner, who gave us the low down on all matters relating to admissions. Again, Gabe was tongue-tied, but we obtained all the information we needed.

His response to Oxford was positive. He liked Lincoln, although said he wouldn’t want to go where I had been, perhaps another small college. We now wait to see whether the purpose of the trip will be fulfilled: to motivate him to work hard.


Eliza received a school report – a table of numbers and letters. All was, as in with her previous reports, very positive (Her higher than expected performance in PE notable), with one exception. Her behaviour in Technology was graded as ‘requiring improvement’. She brushed it off, “Oh, he hates me. Everyone talks, but I’m the one he tells off.” But it seemed consistent with the thread of stories she has started to relate about school, which feature her being sharp-tongued, even insolent. At last, a bit of a rebel in the house.


This dates from September last year, but needs recording.

Robin accepted an invitation from his old school friend, A, to go to a Friday night youth club. It was held in a church across town. I left him and returned a couple of hours later. Robin didn’t delay leaving. He was muttering and unhappy. “Never going back.. boring.. they made us listen to them talking about religion!” He explained, affronted and almost outraged.


Seven, seven, seven..


In the final week of Robin’s first half-term of secondary school, L and I attend an evening meeting with his form teacher. The girls’ PE teacher fulfils too many stereotypes of that subjects’ teachers – drowning in the shallow end of education. But she’s enthusiastic about Robin: he plays in the school football team and he’s academic. She shows us a table of his progress, with scores extrapolated ‘by a machine’ for GCSEs in five years time. Sevens across the board – A’s in old money.

Robin broods when we tell him this news. He’s unhappy. Why don’t they think he’s going to get eights and nines (A* and A**s)? It’s early days, we say. To be told you’re going to get sevens already is amazing. He looks determined.


Gabe’s acquisition of a hi-fi system to enable him to play his vinyl is proceeding slowly. Having sold the record player he received for his birthday, as well as his X-box, he bought an upgraded record player and an amp. They were not compatible and so, when he next had money, he bought a pre-amp. That came without an output cable. Soon, he will have bought that, which leaves the connection to his speakers. Until that combination is sorted he will listen with his headphones, but for the time being, his vinyl stays ensleeved.


Eliza has visited the world war one battlefields. She left by coach late one night, returning three days later. One hundred years ago many servicemen returned shell-shocked and unable to relate their experiences in France and Belgium. Eliza had no such trauma, but other than acknowledging enjoying visiting the trenches and the chocolate shop, she’s giving little more away.

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.

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.

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.

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.

French trip


Just as Gabe had, three years earlier, Eliza set off in the early hours of a Sunday morning on a school coach journey to France and Belgium. The terrorist attacks on Paris had put in our minds the trip in jeopardy, but the school found the official advice favourable and Eliza didn’t want to miss out.

A couple of Christmas markets, ice skating, a visit to a chocolate factory, hours and hours on a coach and no educational value whatsoever – but she had a great time.

Robin and Gabe

The sodden autumn meant that game after game of football was cancelled. One weekend’s fixtures were lost when a weather forecast wrongly predicted frost. Meanwhile, Gabe’s revenue stream was interrupted as his chances to referee games were lost too. And during the idle time, Gabe’s coach was negotiating a mid-season relegation for the team after looking out of their depth in the first two matches in division two. In the New Year they will compete in division three with nine losses against them and in the division two cup competition, after the league refused to demote them for both league and cup.