Posts Tagged ‘history’

The offer

Gabe

The letter arrived on a Wednesday morning, L’s non-working day. She sent G a text asking if she should open it. He vacillated (of course), then said ‘yes’. The envelope was thick, which L thought was encouraging. Inside was the offer to study History at Lincoln College, Oxford on the condition of achieving three A grades.

Gabe was surprised and so pleased. We had a celebratory pizza. A few days later, he went to a schoolmate’s 18th birthday, where he celebrated in more traditional style, arriving home late and worse for wear.

No sooner has his achievement sunk in than mock A Levels remind him of the task ahead.

Robin

Before school restarted, Robin and I had time for one lengthy ride. He loved it and loves his bike. He has ridden to school every day so far, bar the morning I stopped him for fear of icy roads. One afternoon, approaching home, he realised he wasn’t ready to unseat and come home, so took off for a further lap of the neighbourhood.

Eliza

Eliza has found a second line of income earning, to supplement the hours she spends each weekend running birthday parties at the gym. She has picked up a baby-sitting gig, courtesy of L’s neighbourhood WhatsApp group. She has completed one assignment so far, which was uneventful.

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Oxford interview

Gabe

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.

Robin

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

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.

The wrong essay

Gabe

Gabe worked hard throughout the half-term break, particularly on a history course essay that he intended to submit as part of his Oxford entrance bid. I read it and thought it thorough, well-written and mature. Unfortunately, the teacher was less impressed, and gave it a B grade. There followed several days of Gabe agonising over whether to send this essay, which he felt was his best, or one from February, given an A*, but which he felt (and I agreed) was less well-written. L & I encouraged him to speak to other history teachers, but the line was that they wouldn’t challenge the mark given by his teacher and to send the A* piece of work. Time was running out. One of his English teachers broke ranks: yes, the B grade is better written.

Gabe called me as he walked towards the post office, still undecided which to post.  But he seemed to settle on sending the one that he felt would give the best account of his ability. Half-an-hour later, I got a text, ‘Made wrong choice..’. He was back at home, upset and asking if the post office would let him replace it. Back he went to the post office, and to their credit, they let him take the A* essay out of the envelope and replace it with the B grade piece.

Eliza

L had Robin call Eliza downstairs for tea, while she hid behind the fridge. As Eliza stepped into the kitchen, L swung a paper plate piled with whipped cream into her face.

L explained that ever since seeing a video of a custard pie party, some years ago, Eliza had asked if L would custard pie her. And so, the time had come.

Eliza was shocked and amused. Her wish had come true.

Robin

Evidence that Robin has rediscovered his ‘joie de foot’. He played three games in two days last weekend. In the first, there was a foul on the edge of the area. He picked up the ball and walked to where the kick was to be taken. A short run-up and the ball went over the wall and into the top corner.

Game two, after a quiet start, Rob received the ball on the half-way line. He played a one-two, then accelerated away from an opponent, around another and reached the left-hand side of the penalty area. He changed direction, nut-megged a defender and whipped a shot off the inside of the near post into the goal.

Half-term holiday

Gabe

With Oxford entrance exam looming, and the teachers piling the work on to their A level students, Gabe had almost an essay a day to write. He didn’t manage that, but at home and then later in the week in Scotland, he dedicated a lot of time to preparing for the Oxford History Aptitude Test and completing a US Civil War essay that he could submit to Oxford if he gets invited to interview.

Robin

Robin longed for the quiet release of the half-term holiday. But once there, he was out and about with school friends old and new. Some of these visits probably amounted to playing Fortnite alongside the same friends he would have sat in his room and played Fortnite with remotely. In Scotland, he was happiest seeing his aunt and cousin. He was the shock winner of not just a mini-golf tournament, but a card game, too.

Eliza

Eliza – non-stop socialising at home – slowed down and flopped around at Grandpa’s in Scotland. Hurried out of the door by my poor timekeeping, she arrived at North Queensferry in a bad mood for our boat-trip on the Forth. Seeing seals and being on the water on a calm, bright autumn day cheered her up. That evening she led the (younger) cousins in the pumpkin carving, then had a protracted sock wrestle with cousin F.

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

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.

Robin

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

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.

 

In the trenches

Gabe

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

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.

Eliza

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.

Sleepover in the living room

Eliza

Eliza and four friends occupied our living room as her birthday treat – after a meal at an Italian restaurant. Mattresses, duvets and pillows stretched across the room’s floor. The girls watched a film or two, a bit of TV, and then settled down to a long night of chatting. That was continuing when L and I fell asleep around midnight. The party, Eliza confirmed, was a great success.

Gabe

Gifted and talented in five or six different subjects, according to a letter from school. Gabe was dismissive of maths and science and pleased that music had been added to his list this year. But history is his favourite subject.

Sitting on a table across the restaurant from Eliza and her friends at her party, Gabe engaged in passionate discussion about the origins and military tactics of the First and Second World Wars. It’s conduct I feel I should, but can’t quite, recall from my youth. He has confidence in his opinions – the sort of confidence that precedes an understanding of the historiography, let alone the original texts, of an era. And in between his declarations, he’s probing for more information, aware there’s material out there he doesn’t know.

Robin

Daddy blah, blah, blah. Daddy burble, burble, burble. Daddy, waah, waah, waah. Daddy rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb. Daddy…

This is what Robin’s company sounds like to me. Urgent, frequent repetition of my name, followed by a mumble of questions or statements. Humbling to be forever on the tip of his tongue.