Posts Tagged ‘swimming’



Robin and I joined his football team and their Dads on a weekend trip to central Ireland, via Dublin airport, where they took part in a competition.

Robin was anxious before and during the flight, grasping my hand. After some raucous play in our mid-refurbishment hotel annex, I persuaded him to bed. The next day, his team played four 40 minute matches, winning two (Robin scored and set up the goals in the first game), losing the final. Back at the hotel the boys and I went swimming. A loud face-off with some American boys ended peacefully. Later I again managed to persuade him to bed while some lads and dads continued partying.

Sunday started slowly: we arrived an hour late for the football match but still had time to burn before returning to the airport, where our flight was delayed three hours, intensifying Robin’s anxiety about flying. We were back in Manchester after 11pm.


After several weeks of volunteering at gymnastics (ref: Duke of Edinburgh award) with a group of younger girls, Eliza was offered the chance for some paid employment. She has started helping out at the parties hosted by the gymnasium. The first few sessions were unpaid ‘try-outs’, which she passed and now earns c£4/hr (£8 per party). Last Sunday, she assisted at three back-to-back parties. She works with a shifting crew of gym people, meaning roles change and a fair amount of improvisation is needed to keep the party beneficiaries happy.


We bought Gabe insurance to drive L’s car on his provisional licence. L was the first to take him out – to the local tram park and ride car park. He stalled the car and got frustrated with it not being the same as the car in which he has his lessons. By the third trip he had managed to start without stalling and seemed to be progressing. I asked him to pull into a parking bay. Slowly, he turned the car so it was between the lines, but kept going, up the kerb, over the shrub that borders one part of the car park from the next then down the kerb an into the next section. He was shaken, “not good, not good” he kept saying. We deduced he had forgotten to depress the clutch when trying to stop.


Two weeks holiday in a villa situated on a farm in a valley outside Pisa.


Robin inhabited the pool as much as he did the villa. He took every opportunity to be there and then stretched that opportunity to the maximum. Of a uniform depth, Robin could on tiptoes just stand with this face, tilted upwards, out of the water. Hour after hour he immersed himself. Gliding, twisting and spinning like an otter in the water – his favourite manoeuvre was a backwards turn under water. Then batting a ball around, or wrestling a lilo. And always diving or pitching himself back into the pool.


Gabe was more taken by the charms of the villa. He lay on its sofas in the red-tiled living room for hours, particularly through the morning and early afternoon. He read To Kill a Mocking Bird and Harper Lee’s sequel in long spells of intense concentration. He surfed on his phone, listened to music and by the second week there was the Olympics, through the lens of Italian TV.

But he was more sociable than last year and when he came to the pool he orchestrated games – happily and unashamedly competitive.


Eliza inhabited a middle ground: reading and playing on her phone at the villa, but more easily drawn to the pool than Gabe. There she sat on the side of the pool, often with a book as an excuse not to get in and face the shortlived cold shock. But once in the pool she joined in with Robin and they played together as they have done for nearly ten years. Eliza even took part in the one bounce games of footie beside the pool.

Having swum and splashed for a while, Eliza loved to lie on the red stone that surrounded the pool, soaking up rays from the sun and heat from below, leaving a damp body imprint on the stone that she would jump up from after a few minutes to admire.

At Domaine St Pierre-Le-Vieux

The pool was where the kids excelled: diving into the water, hauling themselves out, joking and challenging each other. Allowing a few minutes to dry, then back awkwardly over the gravel without shoes and a dash across the lawn into the apartment to rejoin games and videos on their tablets and phone. Gabe, flat on his bed, with curtains drawn shut; Eliza and Robin sprawling on the sofas, or wedged against a wall where their device was recharging. 

But there was also tennis – mostly for Gabe, Robin and me. Played in the heat of the day, the twilight or the cool approach of a storm. A rotating game of singles, one service game each and a long tie-break if those games were served. At the start of the holiday, Eliza and Robin hunted lizards around the monastery grounds. Eliza built up an unassailable lead. 

Meals also absorbed the hours. Sometimes on the terrace, until we became perhaps complacent about outdoor eating or intolerant of ants dropping from the creepers above. After the evening meal, we played scrabble and more often cards: Liar, Black Two. Gabe could sometimes be persuaded to put down his phone and join us. Robin sometimes had to be persuaded to go to bed to stop his tired incompetence messing up the game. 

It wasn’t holiday euphoria, but a real measure of its worth, that had us all conclude St Pierre-Le-Vieux was our favourite holiday home. 

Summer term


Gabe had a late birthday party, go-karting. Each of his five friends was at least as tall as I am. They filled the dining room and garden. At the race track they were installed in adult karts, unlike the birthday boy, who had a relatively under-powered junior vehicle.

Gabe has been doing food technology this term and it is one of his GCSE choices. Each Sunday evening, he announces that he must find his ingredients. Each Sunday evening, he is told it is too late and that he has had all week to sort out his shopping. We seem stuck in this cycle. I hope his GCSE lesson won’t take place on a Monday.


Eliza had her induction day at the Grammar School. It went well. She liked her teacher; the same teacher as Gabe had in his first year at the school. She was also pleased to note that she wasn’t the shortest in her class.

Eliza’s year six play is a musical spoof of Robin Hood. She plays a village-idiot type character, with lots of jokey lines. But she knows almost the entire play, having a real facility for memorising dialogue. She has also taken to the catchy tunes which she has been singing around the house for weeks. The first performance went very well and she carried of her role successfully, speaking clearly and winning lots of laughs.


Robin has been doing swimming lessons at school, which he has been very keen on. He has learnt new strokes, had to swim in pyjamas and finished by completing a distance swim, although he couldn’t remember how many lengths were involved.

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.

Shifting alliances

Across a day at our Menorcan resort, Gabe, Eliza and Robin arrayed themselves with and against each other:

Finishing breakfast first, Eliza and Robin went off to the playground together for swings and gecko spotting.

Tennis for an hour at ten: all were in action, but Eliza and Robin continued their alliance across the net from Gabe who was in antagonistic mood, frustrated that he wasn’t getting a match against L or I and making snide remarks about their abilities.

Into the pool and all three played together for a blessed period of harmony – raiding each others’ inflatables and racing.

Before lunch, Gabe took exception to a family joke and threatened not to sit with us. Eliza and Robin practised handstands and collected tiny shells from the earth outside the apartment. Back to the pool, with Eliza and Robin racing each other with and without inflatables.

Mid-afternoon brought the resort football tournament. Robin and Gabe in tight formation found themselves on the same side – the skins – and scrapped, ran, tackled and shot for a sweaty half-hour. Their bonding continued with them reliving their best moments, “Did you see when I…”

Down the road to the waterpark: three together, until Robin broke away to try the more adventurous slides. He drew Eliza to him and eventually, anxiously, Gabe. When the slides closed, Gabe and Robin re-connected in the wave pool, with races and challenges.

Back to the resort pool, where Gabe and Robin continued their aqua-alliance into the evening. Feeding off each others’ boy antics they competed and collaborated in and underwater.

Straight from dinner, Gabe and Robin took the iPad to the resort’s wifi hotspot to stare at BBC Sport’s Euro football page refreshing too, too slowly with promised updates on the Barcelona match, leaving them to fill the blank minutes with football natter.

The resort’s evening ‘animation’ drew Eliza and Robin who, in a break in the show, accepted dares to run across the stage, which sent Gabe away to somewhere less embarrassing. But all three were active in the audience for the Strictly Come Dancing show that followed.

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.