Eleven (at the cinema)


Robin had his least active ever birthday party. Friday after school, with four friends, Eliza and her friend, he went to the Trafford Centre for a burger and chips tea and then to the cinema to watch ‘Sing’. There was some FIFA on his x-box at home and then the party was over. He grinned throughout.

The weekend before, we had taken Robin and his friend A into Manchester to a skateboarding shop. There, he handed over his list of components and the shop assembled the board in front of him. It took three attempts as the first two times the components were faulty. He used the board the next day and found it much lighter than the ones he borrowed at the skate centre. He keeps it in his room where he practices slow-motion manoeuvres on his thick carpet.


Gabe’s mock exams went well, with some very good scores in French, maths, history and food tech. But his results didn’t accord with how well he thought the exams had gone. English literature, for example, was several grades below his expectations. Given his reluctance to revise, it is better that he didn’t get A*’s across the board. There should be some recognition that he will have to work hard to get the results he wants this summer.

In the meantime, Gabe has been selecting A Level subjects. Music and politics were each considered, but he has opted for French, history and English literature. There is a wrinkle: in the way the options are currently configured, he cannot combine the history course he prefers with the other two subjects. This has been raised with the school, but Gabe has conceded he will take the less preferred history course if he has to.


Eliza made her school competitive debut – in netball. She has been attending netball practice for a few months. She enjoyed her first match and hopes she will be selected again. She recounted a moment in the match when she, playing goal defence, leaped and intercepted a pass. Two passes and few seconds later, her team-mates up the court had scored a goal – one of only three in the match.

Mock exams


Gabe has finished the first week of mock GCSEs. His preparation featured some focused revision sessions, but they were neither as frequent or enduring as I would have wanted. Christmas in Scotland was a blank and he didn’t return rapidly to his books on getting home. But he does seem to have done some meaningful work targeting specific activities – like learning quotations from set tests. Testing him on his notes, his capacity to absorb, retain and reproduce information impresses. He also has a strong grasp of everything we have looked at together. 

He reports satisfaction with how the eight exams sat so far have gone, pleased that he’s completed all tasks and used all the time available. He has shown no nerves, but has taken the initiative to get to bed early and asked to be woken earlier than normal. He has also enjoyed the freedom to come home immediately his day’s exams are finished.  


Robin’s closest friend, A, has found a passion greater than football: skateboarding. Gradually Robin has been lured towards it, too. Initially, in A’s garden and then taken to the centre where A practises. Robin, in borrowed gear, started off in a beginners group, separated from A (although with some other boys he knows). After just three lessons, Robin feels that passage to that higher group is within reach. 

He finds skateboarding thrilling, describing to me (as I’ve not yet seen him in action) the tricks and manoeuvres, lapsing into skateboard slang, which leaves me guessing. With A and he headed to different schools in September, and A’s commitment to the football team wavering, it may become their shared passion that keeps the friendship running. 


Eliza has declared a commitment to environmental issues. Why, she wonders, won’t people cut down on environmentally damaging activity? I score well with her for changing our energy supplier to a renewable-only provider. School – geography, I think – has planted these ideas. She’s also considering vegetarianism, but acknowledges there are meats she likes to eat. She thinks she may want a career doing something promoting the environment – “if it’s not too late by then” she worries. 

New Year’s Eve games

Spending New Year’s Eve together at home, we decided to play games. The children turned the opportunity for some family fun into a contest. Points were awarded for positions in each game and an overall tally kept.

We started with the alphabet game – naming things of different categories (boy’s name, girl’s name, shop, city, musician, etc) beginning with a selected letter. Gabe and Eliza scrapped over definitions and rules, trying to undermine the other’s efforts with unwarranted ferocity. Robin kept up a running commentary of the categories for which he couldn’t think of anything – which was most. L won this round.

We moved to kitchen table table-tennis. Robin battled to second place behind Gabe, who was unbeaten, despite being taken into extra-time by Robin and L.

Round three was pairs (a memory game, involving picking pairs of cards from a pack spread face-down). Gabe bailed out and Robin played half-heartedly. Eliza was thwarted in the first game as she, L and I drew, but could not be resisted as her fierce concentration brought victory in the second game. It was now well past eleven o’clock.

As midnight neared, Eliza went into the garden to watch the local fireworks. L and Gabe watched the coverage from London on TV. Robin asked to be taken to bed and read to. “It will be exactly the same fireworks as last year,” he reasoned.

Christmas presents

The focus was stronger than ever on the presents the kids were getting each other, and L and me. They exchanged chocolate, and delegated some decisions to L. But there was also more adventure. Robin and Gabe both bought clothes (tops) for Eliza. Gabe rushed into a shop and grabbed the top he understood Eliza to have wanted, selecting the size based on the sticker on the hanger. Presumably he nodded when the assistant confirmed he wanted age 14-15. He is now challenged with finding the receipt so an exchange for a smaller size can be effected.

We were at Grandpa’s in Scotland and did our present-opening there mid-morning. Notable, amongst the wrapping paper, by its absence was football. For the first time in many years, there were no boots, shirts or even footballs given or received. After a meal for 11, we played Bird Bingo and Headbands (iphone version)

Football did come to the fore on Boxing Day when Uncle S/R took the boys and me to see the only Scottish League match being played that day: Dunfirmline v Falkirk. There was some discussion over which was worse – the quality of football or the hot chocolate. We all wondered how the man of the match adjudicator could have come to any decision.

The following day, we had a kickabout on a basketball court with Cousin F, before walking from South Queensferry to the middle of the Forth Road Bridge and back.

Birthday celebration: parts 1, 2 & 3


Eliza became a teen two weeks ago, but has continued the celebrations. We had a family meal out on her birthday night. She had a visit to Manchester’s new trampoline centre and a sleepover with her best friend a few days later. Last Saturday she had a joint birthday meal and cinema trip with school friends. A further sleepover with school friends may yet occur.

The joint birthday event had a dramatic start. Lucy, whose birthday was also being celebrated, set her own hair on fire at the table in the restaurant by leaning too close to a small candle. L made ready to douse her in water, but Lucy’s Dad patted out the flames with his hands. He’s an anaesthetist and apparently quite used to doing this in theatre. Lucy, Eliza and their friends continued the evening, although Eliza did say the smell of burnt hair was horrible.


From YouTube clips, Robin has developed an interest in basketball and, more specifically, the NBA. He knows the names of a few of the stars and a few more of the teams. A primary school tournament has given him the chance to play competitively for the first time. Undefeated in their first afternoon’s games, his team qualified for the final. There they came out on top, completing a double of school football and basketball champions. Robin’s role was in defence, allowing him to take long-shots. ‘3-pointers,’ as he said, ‘even though they only count as 2 points.’


Gabe has completed two important elements of his music GCSE: recorded performance and composition. His performance piece was Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. On the appointed day, he played the piece twice, while his music teacher recorded it for the examiner. Each rendition included one mistake, so he was given another chance, early in the morning the following week. I dropped him at school to make sure he was there in time. Ten minutes later, it was wrapped up, with a faultless performance recorded and sent to the examiner.

School choice


Within hours of his eleven + result, Robin had decided he wanted to go to the local High School. L & I preferred the school a little further, a bus-ride, away. We collected recommendations from parents of older children. Both schools were heavily praised, but L & I had a sense that the more distant school was closer to what we wanted for Robin.

We sat down with Robin and L made a list of advantages and disadvantages of each. He was resolute, we tried to sound open-minded. We completed the exercise and agreed to give it some more thought.

Separately, L & I came to the conclusion that we couldn’t find evidence to support our hunch; certainly not evidence that overrode a lengthy bus journey, a 30 minute earlier start to the day and difficulties collecting him from after school activities. And so, Robin will be going to the local High School next September.


Bumble suffered a stroke and did not recover. Gabe asked if ‘the curse’ had struck again. It did feel a little like it had: three gerbils, three hamsters and two guinea pigs under Eliza’s affectionate care have perished. The pet cemetery in the front garden gets (a little) bigger.


Gabe was shocked at Trump’s victory. ‘Why doesn’t the rest of the world refuse to trade with America?’ he wanted to know, forgetting that the UK will soon be desperate for a trading partner. He is genuinely interested in politics and well-read for his age. As he reflected on the succession of dispiriting election results in the last 18 months,¬† assured him the 1980s had been similar with defeat after defeat for the progressive, left-leaning causes and candidates.

Pass mark missed 


The postman arrived minutes before Robin and I were due to leave for his football match. L gathered the letters and took them into the study. She opened them, “He’s not passed. Shall we tell him now?” We did. He nodded, seemed to expect and accept it. 

He was quiet in the car. From across the pitch he looked preoccupied as the team warmed up. With the match underway, he had a distraction. “He seems ok,” I whispered back at home. 

But that afternoon, he sobbed and sobbed with L. Upset, embarrassed not to be following in his brother and sister’s wake to the Grammar school. 

Monday, back to school and facing his classmates, some who had achieved the pass mark, most hadn’t. He stayed close to L in the playground. Vulnerable, as he hasn’t been seen for years. Late in the afternoon, his teacher called. He had been crying at lunchtime: Gabe & Eliza said he was stupid (what he imagined or feared, rather than what was actually said, I believe). 

Within a few days, he’s steadier. We’re thinking about which school to opt for. His priorities are existing friends, ease of getting to school, the layout of the dinner hall and the look of the uniform. L & I are looking more at which school will engage and stretch him, but not discounting travel to school. We decide this week. 

Gabe & Eliza

Both are on notice to treat Robin gently; not to make off-hand remarks about the schools we must consider, which could easily sway him. They seem to be managing this. “I gave him a hug when the programme got scarey for him,” Eliza explained when I made my case to her for being kind to him.