One reason for our trip to the UK was to make arrangements for the Littleboys' schooling. As we won't be in London until August and the chances of getting a place at a good state school at that time of year seem rather slim, I'd registered them for a couple of private schools in the area where we are hoping to live. At least, I reasoned, if they got a place there that would be one less worry about the move back.
But this being London, it isn't just a case of registering and stumping up for the fees - entry is highly competitive and involves assessments and interviews and tests. The boys are both doing fine academically at their own school, but, having been educated in the US system where school begins a year later than in England and takes a while to catch up, they were not exactly fully prepared for this ordeal. In spite of our attempts to home-tutor them with Carol Vorderman's "Maths Made Easy" for the past few months, there was still a lot of ground we hadn't covered.
And it wasn't just a case of having never done fractions or not knowing the metric system; the whole culture of primary education over here is different. For example it only started to dawn on me the day before Littleboy 1's first interview that he had never, in fact, sat a test before. He expressed surprise, for example, that the work he was doing would be timed. "What happens if you don't have time to do all the answers?" he asked, bewildered. I had to break it to him that he would lose marks if that happened. I also had to point out that if he worked out his maths answers out loud, as he is prone to do, it might not be such a good idea. "Will there be other boys there then?" he asked. "Oh, I thought it would just be me....".
Knowing that the exam side might be tricky, I had tried to impress on the boys that they should talk about their extra curricular activities in the interview. They should, I emphasised, mention swimming, football and, especially for Littleboy1, piano lessons. While I don't want to turn into one of those pushy London mums, I felt sure that everyone else's little darlings would have been coached to boast about their many talents, and my boys would need to differentiate themselves in some way. Littleboy 1 is (truly) good at the piano, and while the school wasn't interested in hearing him play, at least he could talk about it. "Tell them about your concert in Manhattan at the Steinway hall," I told him. "That's something that little boys in London won't have done!" (He did indeed perform at the Steinway showroom in December, as part of a concert arranged by his piano teacher, on a very luxurious grand piano).
Afterwards, we asked him about the interview and enquired whether he had remembered to mention the piano. "Oh yes," he said. "But I forgot the name of the place. So I said I had played in Frankenstein's Hallway on a $98,000 piano."
We had to laugh. But my sense of humour failed a little when he related the next incident. The teacher had asked him to tell a joke, probably as a result of him mentioning that he liked jokes. For some reason best known to himself, he chose to tell a knock knock joke that a) didn't make sense and b) involved the words "Grandma, get your butt out of here"! His claim that the teacher had laughed did not exactly make me feel better.
What with that, and the fact that he said the most interesting part of the day was the "giant sausage" he got given to eat at lunch, I am not holding my breath. Meanwhile, Littleboy 2 gave nothing much away about his one on one assessment; all I know is that when the teacher came to get him, she asked where he lived in America. "By the seaside," he told her. Top marks for geography!