Posts Tagged ‘sleeping/not sleeping’

Silver Coast and Lisbon

While Britain roasted, the four of us who travelled to Portugal found mostly sunny, temperate weather, which kept us active and outdoors more than had it been very hot. Robin was attracted to water, spending the most time in our villa’s pool and was the first in the sea or lagoon at each beach we visited.

Robin was insulated against the cold of the water. I joined him on an inflatable assault course that we had to swim to in the bay of a local resort. It was a cloudy late afternoon and clambering around, splashing in and out of the sea, I soon felt the chill. Eventually, taking pity on me, he agreed we should swim back, where I needed layers of clothes and tea to recover.

Robin and Eliza had two long surf lessons, the second of which took place amongst waves taller than them. Both progressed from their first lesson in France last year and quickly managed to stand as the wave swept them towards the beach. It thrilled them and left them exhausted.

Sight-seeing trips were much better-humoured than last year’s, with Robin sticking tightly to L or I. Eliza only protested at a march around the ramparts of Sintra’s hill-top Moorish fort and sat alone listening, I assume, to music. But a similar trip to Obidos, walking the medieval wall of the the village was approached enthusiastically by all.

A thread of anxiety ran through Robin’s holiday: the flight and difficulty sleeping. In Lisbon, over the final two days of the holiday, he worried about earthquakes. But we found the city benign, albeit noisy at night around our apartment in the traditional Alfama district. He added Benfica’s Stadium of Light to the list of major stadia he has visited. Eliza left with an attachment to nata, the Portuguese custard tart.


Bedroom cricket


Gabe and Robin invented the format during the summer holiday – a concession to activity when they were at their most idle. The three of us play (Eliza and L, on occasions, too) but more commonly now it’s Gabe and me. The playing area is the length of Robin’s bedroom. We use a windball and a size 2 bat. Most ingeniously, the stumps are a pair of jeans hung from mattress tipped on its side.

Robin’s carpet makes the game. It takes turn – Warne-like turn for the well-spun delivery. And, given that there is no straight-arm restriction on ‘bowling’ the game is all about turning the ball, or as a batsman, countering that turn. 


Returning home from work, it might be thirty minutes before Robin registers my presence and appears. Usually, he’s in the living room or his bedroom, interacting with his phone. Recently, I reminded him that when he was younger he would run to the hall when he heard me come in the door from work and hug my knees. “Really?” He said. “I’ll do that again.” True to his word, last week, one evening as I came in the front-door, Robin burst from the living room and hugged me. Possibly, a little ironically, but appreciated nonetheless. 


Eliza hosted a sleepover of gymnastics friends. It followed a gymnastics evening, which may have raised hopes that the girls would be tired. We set up two single and a double mattress for the five friends to sleep on in the living room. The rest of the family went upstairs to bed. The girls’ chatter and laughter carried on. Around midnight, the first text from upstairs was sent to Eliza, instructing her to quieten her guests. More agitated texts followed as the hours passed. Eventually, after 3am there was silence in the house.

Coming out of her shell


At Eliza’s first secondary school parents evening, L heard a series of compliments for her progress and good nature. Several teachers noted that she began term very quietly, but was now coming out of her shell. Another (ignorant it seems Napoleon and many other eminent people of limited size) contrasted her physical size and that of her personality. The comment about ‘coming out her shell’ recalls her early days at junior school, where, in a class with many children from the year above, Eliza grew in confidence and flourished with the academic challenge. 


Robin is still the first in the family to wake. Nowadays he will lie in bed until he hears someone else roused. But at weekends, when we might be in bed past 7am, or if he wakes in the night, perhaps from a bad dream, he’ll come looking for us. ‘Baby Putin’ we call him, as he is bare-chested. But it’s not aggressive nationalism we’re met with, but urgent requests to go downstairs for breakfast, or perhaps a hug. 


Gabe is genuinely motivated by music GCSE. He talks seriously and keenly about the subject matter. He has begun composing a piece for the piano. He listens to classical music, alongside modern tunes on his Spotify playlist. And he has set himself the target of learning to play Beethoven’s Midnight Sonata and Für Elise on the piano. 



It’s the night before the exam and Eliza cannot sleep. She twitches and becomes upset. “What’s the time?” L stays with her, but one hour and then two pass since her bedtime. A cup of hot milky chocolate comes and goes. She’s befuddled; too tired to sleep. Eventually, she drifts off, with more than seven hours to go until she needs to be up, getting ready for the school entrance exam.

Eliza has prepared diligently for the entrance exams all through the summer holiday. Taking tests, learning parts of the maths curriculum not covered at school, getting faster and more accurate.


I used Eliza’s preparations to persuade Robin to spend 15 minutes per day, around half of the holiday, to work on his times tables. Grumpy and reluctant at first, he began to pick up speed and finally memorise the ‘multiplication facts’ as the book called them. He also did some non-verbal reasoning, usually while in the bath, which entertained him as a puzzles.

Today, at school, he applied his holiday efforts in a mental maths test. He did well, he assured me. He knew his six times table.


Gabe slumped through the summer holiday: on the sofa, with TV on and tablet or phone in near constant use. I imagined his fitness draining away.

I was wrong. Back at school, he achieved his best ever bleep test score: 9.1.

Sleepless in Sale

A strict 7am curfew was in place for Christmas morning. That interdiction applied only to waking L and me, and to opening their stockings. The kids had their own plans.

Eliza says she woke at 1am, shortly after Santa’s visit, and barring a 3o minute doze, didn’t sleep again until morning. Robin woke just after 3am and went into Gabe’s room to wake him up. Gabe shooed him away. I was awake around 5am and heard voices in Eliza’s room. But despite their wakefulness, they kept to the terms of the curfew.

Eliza had floated the idea that presents shouldn’t be opened in a rush on Christmas morning, but gradually during the day. Gabe was non-committal; Robin speechless. Eliza had dropped the notion by the time Christmas Day came.

Favoured presents for the boys included football boots, tickets for a City match and a new, bigger goal for the garden. Eliza had a hair-styling device, winter boots and Cluedo.

This year, more than in the past, the kids were intent on giving presents to L & I – and our reactions. With their time and money, I received a calendar and model for my office as well as snacks I’ll treat myself with this holiday.

Ailments and remedies

Gabe had a stomach upset that lingered and hindered him for almost a week. At its peak he was too poorly for school. Inert during the day, he fretted and was unsettled at night. L and I each spent time with him in the middle of the night, leaving us tired and impressing on him that he needed to get himself back to sleep.

So, one night at the end of the week, woken by his bad stomach, Gabe went into Robin’s room, woke him up and told him to come back to his room to keep him company. Robin obeyed and spent the night in bed a reassuring presence for Gabe.

Robin explained that he thought Gabe had chosen him because he is such a good hugger.

Eliza had an ailment too: an infection of her left index finger, which went swollen and hard. As well as the pain, it left Eliza unable to play her musical instruments. The doctor offered to lance the swelling, but Eliza chose the foul tasting antibiotic instead. After a couple of days the swelling went prune-like, the outer layer of skin fell off and Eliza was back to recorder and violin.

Just the three at home


With Eliza and Robin away at a sleepover from the mid-afternoon, Gabe had what he recognised to be the longest time alone with L and I since Eliza’s emergence ten years ago. He and I used the initial hours to go to the cricket nets on the last day before they are brought down for the winter. He gee’d me up to bowl, which I did as fast as I could, without troubling him. He then bowled quick and straight at me until it got too dark to carry on.

Back at home, Gabe and L watched ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ – unsuitable for younger siblings – and we ate together. But Gabe was unhappy at bedtime as he didn’t like being alone upstairs.

Eliza and Robin

Eliza and Robin stayed with their best friends, also brother and sister. Eliza and E made videos together. One, in which Eliza starred, was sent to L for us to view. Robin and A played football in the afternoon, evening and morning – getting up and playing in their pyjamas in the garden.