Posts Tagged ‘St Andrews’

Half-term holiday

An idle start to the half-term holiday became much more active when we drove north to St Andrews. On the first day there, after a trip for Robin and me to the barber, we played badminton. Half-court singles and then doubles. Gabe and Robin played a tight match with Gabe lying on his back close to the net and Robin limited to hitting the shuttle-cock into the front portion of the court.

On day two, the boys and I played tennis. The sun was low and stingingly bright. After some rallying, we played two-game matches. Robin, flailing his racket and rushing around the court, frustrated Gabe by breaking his serve. Cousin F’s arrival in the afternoon brought garden football and a gymnastics routine with Eliza.

On day three, Robin and Eliza (reunited as pals), went swimming together. The first time they had been in a pool without an adult. Meanwhile, Gabe and I played a keen match of table tennis on a squash court.

With Grandpa aiming to sell the house, it may be our final stay in St Andrews.


The children have grown up with their Grandma’s illness. Robin has no recollection of the house in West Kirby, where, in the final weeks before moving to Scotland, Susan felt the return of the cancer. Gabe has grown up and taller than his Grandma; his hesitant growth less a factor than Susan’s shrinking as the cancer occupied her spine.

The children have seen her become less mobile with each visit; less able, in the last year, to hold a conversation with them. They have seen her with a wig and with tufty hair re grown after treatment. They have seen her, on our last visit, unable to open one eye. They’ve not seen her grimace and groan with pain – not because it hasn’t been there, but because she concealed it.

When L heard that the doctors were ending Grandma’s treatment, she told the children what it meant. Each of them cried. They bore their mother spending weekends away in Scotland as Grandma declined, happy at her return. Then one day L came home early from work to collect her bag and head north in a hurry. She got as far as Preston before the second urgent call of the day told her that Grandma had died.

I told the boys immediately. They were quiet. I collected Eliza from her arts course and told her as we walked out into the sunny street. We walked home together with one arm wrapped around each other.

We spent five days at St Andrews before Grandma’s funeral, much like every other visit there, but for Grandma’s absence. Driving to the funeral, following the car taking Grandpa, L and her sisters, we talked about funerals – why it was fine to be sad and what had made some funerals sadder for me than others. Arriving bang on, if not a little late, we hurried into the room of remembrance and, despite the empty rows, managed to be separated. Gabe and Eliza sat together; Robin and I; L with her younger sister. The children sat quietly, respectfully; Robin perhaps a little curious about who was affected in what way.

After the service, the funeral’s other purpose held sway: it became a family get together, but without the person who drew us together: the children’s Grandma.

Diving competition

Venue: East Sands Leisure Centre, St Andrews

Competition: Side of pool dive

Participants: Gabe, Eliza, Robin and me.

Gabe, a largely self-taught diver, has been teaching his younger siblings to dive. Robin had guidance in Spain and Eliza began her lessons on this trip to St Andrews. Quickly she advanced to competition status.

Gabe dives well. In Spain, his scores were limited by his legs not being kept together and bending at the knees. He corrected both of these technical issues in time for this event. He scored consistently highly, hindered only slightly by a bend at the waist.

Robin has always thrown himself into water. With Gabe’s tuition he has moved on from knee and belly-flopping. Robin tends to enter the water close to perpendicular and completes a forward roll as he goes under.

Eliza was making her first dives. To begin with, they were belly-flops as she pushed herself out across the water. But by the time of our second visit to the pool in a weekend, she was arcing into the water, with an elegant plop and barely a splash.

Gabe and Eliza were joint family champions. A week later, back at our local pool, Robin took the honours.

First footing


Gabe showed his increasing staying up stamina by seeing in the New Year in St Andrews with grandparents, uncle, aunt, L and me. He spent the evening with the adults playing cards and word games, before we sat in a darkened conservatory cooing at the golf club’s firework display above the town.


Grandma took L, Eliza and R to a pantomime – Aladdin. Eliza was thrilled, participating in the hissing and shouting, charmed that the story could hinge on the audience’s response (it took their crossing of fingers to free the genie from the cave) and tickled at recognising men dressed as women, wholly oblivious to cliché and irony.


Robin had the chance to take part in a football tournament with other teams of 5-6 year olds from across the region. The text invitation made much of scores not being kept and the non-competitive environment. Nonetheless his team was rewarded for winning all of their matches with the award of a trophy for best squad. Robin played his part alongside several teammates already training with local Premier League academies.


Grandma took us to a pick-your-own farm near Cupar. Wet weather had been followed by a day or two of hot sun. The fruit was at its peak.  All three children were eager participants. Gabe wanted reassurance that each raspberry he picked met the standard. He wouldn’t eat a raspberry or strawberry – a mixture of a need for hygiene and a concern it wasn’t allowed as they hadn’t been paid for. Robin picked and ate. Eliza was persuaded to try a raspberry and found it favourable. Better than sweets she agreed.

Back at home our plum tree’s crop was ready. Eliza and Robin, both drawn by the ladder, came with me to the end of the garden to pick. Each was to climb the ladder, pick three, then descend to allow the other a turn. So heavy was the crop that three had to be raised to ten if we were to complete the picking. Anyway, turn-taking on the ladder was made unnecessary by Robin’s scaling of the tree, which Eliza quickly emulated. As with Gabe and the raspberries, both children needed to be reassured that each of the plums they picked was ‘a good one’. Interest in picking didn’t evolve into interest in eating as both decided they didn’t like the taste of the plums they had picked.

The schoolboy wizard

Harry Potter has shot to fame in our family. For years he was barely acknowledged. Gabe was given one of the novels for a present two or so years ago, but wouldn’t read it as a memory of scary scenes in a film seen with cousins when he was about six deterred him. Then lacking anything to read, and refusing to borrow from the library, he tested it and was hooked. Then came the films, drawing in Eliza and Robin to the cult. To begin with, Robin had trouble following the films and complained there was too much talking and not enough fighting. But he watched the films to and from Scotland in the car, as well as catching a couple of the series while staying with grandparents in St Andrews.

Gabe, meanwhile, is eating up the books, revelling in their lengthening as the series progresses. He reads the books while watching television, in the car and wanted me to read to him while he showered. Eliza, too, has tried reading one of the books, but not yet had the staying power for a whole novel.

A third cultural manifestation of Harry Potter emerged during our holiday in Scotland. In our caravan, but most intensively, under a tree in a field beside Grandma and Grandpa’s house, Eliza and Robin have developed a magic game, based upon HP. Robin plays a number of characters, including Harry. Eliza is also one of the characters and seems to drive the narrative, played out under the tree, and on a fallen branch through long grass.

Flag game


The flag game involves naming the country from a card-sized picture of a flag. Gabe challenged L, Grandma, Grandpa and me to a game when visiting St Andrews. He trounced the four adults, calling correctly the flags of countries as diverse as Bhutan, Yemen, Norway, Guyana and many more. This knowledge isn’t the outcome of some recent cramming, but has persisted with little refreshing over the two or three years since he was gripped by flag fanaticism and studied and coloured the flags of the world.


We headed out on our usual walk from Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Robin and Eliza raced through the woods. At the top they climbed and jumped around the clinker pile. They skipped and swooped along the tree lined lane. Robin then raced down the hill, charged along the West Grange Road and all the way back to the house, completing a mile long run without pause.


On the East Sands, Eliza made a beach mii, using a shiny pebble as her hair grip and shells as butterfly decorations on her sandy dress. Earlier, she had gone on a treat trip to town with L and Grandma for a hot chocolate in a coffee shop.