Hot chocolate with head-teacher


Recognising his engagement and participation in class, Robin has been invited to share a cup of hot chocolate with his head-teacher. Lessons are an aspect of school that Robin seems most at ease with. He has found the early weeks, lacking any close friends, quite tough and has often been unhappy at the end of the day or in the morning before school. Before the summer, he was keen to go on the school residential trip in October. Now, he has asked to be taken off it. The call to the head-teacher’s office may provide a welcome boost, though it’s the call up to the football team that would probably mean more.


Barely four months after becoming an owner of a record-player, Gabe has decided to upgrade his audio equipment. Using money from the sale of his games console, he has bought an amplifier (he considered getting the same model that I had bought in 1986 and sold three years ago) and is now looking at a better model of turntable. While this equipment procurement takes place, he has taken a 30 day self-denying vow not to listen to any Beatles music – he’s worried he will stop liking it if he plays it too often.


Eliza has reached the second phase of her orthodontist treatment. In addition to the braces, she has plates for her upper and lower jaw, designed to correct her over-bite. These plates were very uncomfortable to begin with and continue to affect her speech, as well as altering the shape of her face.


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.



Eliza’s final week of the school year is ‘activity week’. On Monday, she went to Chester Zoo. Her choice of clothes – very short shorts and bare-shouldered top – unsettled me, perhaps causing me to forget to insist she wore suncream. She came home with sunburnt shoulders.

On Tuesday, Eliza went on another trip. The weather was again set fair. Eliza was wearing the same outfit and asked that I put some suncream on her shoulders. I refused, requiring her to wear something that covered her shoulders. She objected, I insisted, we compromised on her wearing something over the top of her skimpy top. I wandered away, she left the house, I wondered whether she had really taken another top with her. Anyway, her shoulders didn’t seem to get burnt again.


We gave Gabe one week of indulgence and laziness after his exams before insisting that he use his long summer break productively. Having rejected any suggestions that would mean getting outside the house – finding a job, volunteering, getting fit – he was faced with doing chores around the house.

Each day, he is given a short list of chores (e.g. cleaning up the kitchen, vacuuming rooms). Invariably, he has not done them when L or I get back from work. Any that he does do are completed hurriedly. Having received his allowance for July, it is his August allowance that is under threat. This, though, isn’t having any notable motivating effect on him, as he continues to spend his days lying about, listening to music and watching YouTube videos.


Robin’s end of year report was very complimentary. His SATs results were all well above the standard set for his age. He took a lot of pride in these results, which we hope will set him up for the new school in September.

His induction day at the High School had not gone very well. He was quiet and surly that evening. The problem was that the boy who had joined his football team last season and whose behaviour had caused problems for the rest of the team and the coaches was there as well and was in Robin’s group throughout the induction day. With Robin’s blessing, I spoke to the school. I have been assured that Robin will be kept apart from the boy in form group and lessons.

Prom night


The day of Prom night began with me visiting the Co-op to buy four cans of cider. These were for Gabe to take to the before- or after-party, because alcohol was out of bounds at the real Prom, held at the Hilton Hotel in Manchester’s tallest tower. There they visited the cocktail bar with the glass floor on the 23rd storey. The after-party, back in Sale, continued until about 2am. Gabe returned, having enjoyed the prom, sober and offering a non-specific account of what had happened.


Robin had one of the dozen larger speaking parts in the year 6 play: The Pirates of the Curry Bean. He was Admiral Hornhonker, an incompetent sailor, who had achieved his rank through nepotism. Robin earned plenty of laughs for his foolish comments and was clearly enjoying himself on stage. He even had a tap-dancing routine. He also wore a particularly fine Admiral’s outfit rustled up by his Mother.


Eliza’s school report reinforced the positive messages at her year 8 parents evening. She had good results across the board, with positive feedback on conduct and effort. As with Gabe, the three subjects where her results were particularly strong were history, French and English. Comments about her wide general knowledge surprised us a little, but maybe she knows more about the outside world than she lets on at home?

Braces (at last)


“When are you 14?” asked the Greek orthodontist.

“November,” Eliza replied.

“Well, we had better get on with it,” concluded the orthodontist.

Eliza gave a look that said, ‘FINALLY!’. This is either her third or fourth orthodontist appointment in between which she has been batted back and forth, without anything being done to correct her crooked front teeth. But this time there is urgency and action. It takes under 10 seconds for the orthodontist to affirm that the wonkiness of her upper incisors qualifies for NHS care. By the time we have returned to the reception desk, a further appointment has been requested – for the following day.

Eliza is back at the surgery in not much more than 24 hours. This time, she leaves with braces across her four upper front teeth. The braces will stay for six months, re-aligning those teeth. After that, she will wear upper and lower jaw plates for up to two years.


As a cricketer Robin has shown more as a natural bowler than batsman. This season, his bowling has gone a little backwards, without, until this week, his batting compensating. In fact, despite often being requested to play twice a week – for his age group and the age group above – Robin has been a reluctant cricketer. But on Monday, he rediscovered his joy in the game, by making his first ever score of 25, which is the retirement score in under 11 cricket. He hit several fours, including one that he described as going back over the bowler and bouncing on the boundary rope.


Gabe finished his GCSE exams, but chose not to go out to celebrate. Instead he came back home and in the evening was still in his school uniform, which he’ll never need to wear again. He reported feeling no great release from finishing his exams. His thoughts have turned instead to the results, which are almost two whole months away.