Turntable present

Gabe

Gabe’s birthday fell in the midst of his GCSE language oral exams and in peak revision period. He opted, as last year, for a quiet birthday. His main present, which we bought on an outing to the Trafford Centre, was a turntable. An object of desire for this 16 year old eager to place his beloved Beatles’ sound under the added scrutiny of vinyl. He has not been disappointed. 

Robin

Robin has completed his year 6 SATs. These tests, for which there has been an ominous build-up at school, have made him more anxious than I would have expected, given they hold no significance for him. Walking to school on the morning of a SAT, he has been frisky, a few minutes of energy and daftness traded for the serious stuff coming later that day. He reports that each test went well, some were easy. He’s looking forward now to a relaxed final summer of primary school. 

Eliza

Eliza, having dropped her phone in the toilet, has a new phone. It is Gabe’s old iPhone and there is a dispute brewing about who owes whom what for her to take on its possession. But even with a new phone, with no competition for the TV, on a sunny Sunday morning, Eliza admitted to missing Robin who had not yet returned from a sleepover. 

Revision

Gabe

Gabe is several weeks from the start of GCSE exams. Since the start of the Easter holiday, he has been making sincere, if not always successful, attempts to revise. He’s easily distracted by his phone and possibly misdirected in his efforts. He owns up to some anxiety and admits he wishes he worked harder in year 10. By the Easter weekend, at the close of the fortnight’s holiday, he had reached a state of near complete dependency – needing L or me to be with him for him to revise. We both put in the hours and added momentum to his studies. I found out a lot about electricity, radioactivity, French tenses, An Inspector Calls, the New Deal and enzymes. Working in tandem, L and I had an important victory: managing to convince him that he must plan before he writes. Whatever his technical frailties, we both assume his powers of retention will put him in good stead to excel in the exam room.

Eliza

Eliza is becoming an expert and loving gift-giver. Her birthday present for L was perfect. In the past she has sketched me and her together and made me an Eliza-themed collage for my wall at work. This year, as my birthday approached, she hassled me for clues about what I would like, even calling me during a work meeting. Come the day, the centrepiece of her gift was an eight verse poem about me written out on a large piece of card. It was full of her disdainful wit: “your company will occasionally suffice” is almost as kind as she can manage to be. It will be treasured and maybe responded to.

Robin

Robin’s club football season has not been as successful as it might have been. Playing wide on the left, against very tight defences, he has had little opportunity for marauding dribbling and goals dried up after Christmas. When talk turned to next season and moving to another league so the team could play on Saturday (not Sunday), his interest was equivocal. We spoke about trying other teams or clubs. Eventually, he agreed to sign on again, after his friend A – even less committed given his skateboarding fervour – relented under his parents’ pressure. Another consideration was the promise from the coaches that the current centre-forward, a difficult and troubled lad, with sumptuous football skills, would not be returning and Robin would move back to striker.

Reading age of 16

Robin

L attended Robin’s parent evening, where the news was entirely positive, if tinged with regret about his eleven plus result. A computer print-out showed he exceeded some benchmark across the full range of maths and English measures. Another showed that his reading age had climbed two years in the three months to December and another two years since then, giving him a reading age of 16.

Gabe

Gabe rarely leaves the house except for school and sporting engagements – playing or spectating. He has, though, been to a couple of parties recently and at those has drunk some alcohol. He’s not concealed the fact, nor dwelt on it, or thankfully, appeared to be any the worse for wear for it. I suspect he’s not liked it particularly, given how resistant he is to consuming any new flavours.

He did ask me ahead of the most recent party, if I could give him a bottle of something to take. Cider was his preference and so, for the first time, I bought my son a drink – not one that we shared together though. At the first mention of drinking, a couple of months ago, I had said to him that if he wanted to try beer, he should ask me. Before I had finished this attempt at responsible parenting, I realised how unappealing drinking with one’s Dad would be – the whole point was to take these early steps in the company of friends.

Eliza

Eliza’s solution to a day at home without any major plans is to bake. By choice, she would always bake something sweet: cookies, cakes, millionaire shortbread. Today, with everyone else but me out at a Man City game, she decided to make pizza. We walked to the shops to buy the mozzarella and passata. She served the pizzas sequentially: L, Robin, Gabe, with her own coming last. By the time she reached her own, she had run out of mozzarella and sent me back to the shops to replenish.

Saved until last

Eliza

Eliza’s parents evening, attended by L, Eliza and me, was an evening of almost unremitting praise. The French teacher went into Gallic excess. More English, more restrained were history, English, music (although Eliza’s failure to go to strings group on Tuesday lunchtimes was mentioned) and science. Only maths, in the person of a very dull man, failed to join in the fun. But last was best, because the RE teacher, amongst her praise for Eliza, admitted that she always saved marking Eliza’s homework for last – to give her a boost at the end of a long marking session.

Robin

On a mild March evening, Robin joined L and I on a walk around the neighbourhood to get some air and steps on our health apps. A few minutes down the road and Robin announced that he was going to give us a quiz, on the subject of.. himself. For the next 20 minutes our knowledge of our younger son was tested: favourite music, tv programme, holiday and food preferences and much else. His mother, of course, won.

Gabe

Gabe is nibbling away at the pile of GCSE assessments that fill year 11. Science practicals, music performances, French controlled assessment, cookery assessment and PE performances have all been ticked off, with the exams to come after Easter.  The most stressful for him was the food technology test. He had never completed a practical in the allotted time, but we persuaded him to practice at the weekend and prepare some of the ingredients at home. His savoury Chelsea bun with tomato sauce looked impressive. He prepared most thoroughly for the French assessment, drafting a sophisticated piece about his home town that he reproduced under controlled assessment conditions (dictionary + 40 words of notes). The interim results place him well to achieve an impressive set of GCSEs.

Young Voices

Robin

‘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.

Gabe

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

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.

Eleven (at the cinema)

Robin

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

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

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 

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

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

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.