Throughout last summer young Eldrick had to be reined in sharply as he insisted on referring to the time ahead of him as 'doss year'.
While his sister girded up her academic loins for an increased burden of homework and stiffer learning demands, he made great play of the prospect of having endless free evenings and relaxed school days. Persephone gritted her teeth at the imminent unfairness of it all while we, as Eldrick's parents, constantly reminded him that he was embarking on transition year, emphatically not 'doss year'.
We expressed lofty confidence that the school would provide a programme every bit as stimulating and valuable as anything on the State curriculum with its emphasis on examinations. And we made it clear that we would tolerate no dossing during the three terms of transition year, expecting our son to extract full value from every opportunity offered.
There was no such thing in our time as transition year, we oldies reminded ourselves wistfully, our noses more put out of joint than Persephone's by Eldrick's taunting. She is only starting her schooling, so she will eventually have the opportunity to doss or transit or whatever, while we parents will never enjoy all the benefits showered on the pampered children of the new millennium. Harumph!
Anyway, as it turned out, in the heel of the hunt and at the end of the day, Eldrick did not have it quite so easy after all, though there certainly was little or no written homework. Instead, the son and heir found himself slaving over a very hot stove in the evenings producing 'Eldrick's Edibles', a range of healthy snacks, with low fat and gluten free options, retailing in the school canteen at €1 a shot. For several months, he and his fellow directors of the snack food transition year mini-company had to cope with impressively brisk demand for their products from their fellow pupils.
The problem was that they had stumbled on to a recipe which proved a flavoursome winner with their peers/customers while also meeting the strict nutritional standards laid down by the teaching staff. If their stuff had tasted awful, then they could have coasted through the mini-company exercise instead of putting endless man hours into processing industrial quantities of oatmeal and sesame seeds in domestic kitchens.
Families felt the strain as work surfaces were cluttered with sacks of brown sugar and dried fruit while the cooking of dinner took its place in the queue behind the latest batch of honey flavoured flapjacks with added quinoa. It was a relief all round when Eldrick's Edibles had to be wound up and final dividends paid out to the harassed shareholders after the fickleness of the market was exposed by a rival concern called 'Suzie's Soups'. Or was it 'Lily's Lasagne'?
If the S&H expected to find relaxed refuge from the demands of food manufacture on transition year work experience, then he was to be sadly disappointed. He came home with stories of how classmates were sometimes called upon to do some light photocopying or put on the kettle for the morning cuppa. Meanwhile, he was required to get his hands dirty tending for hours on end to huge machines in an engineering works where there was no central heating and most of the people he spent the days with were close to retirement age. It was actually brilliant work experience, as he wryly conceded.
Here are five fatherly thoughts on what every student should have do during transition year:
1.Learn how to play a decent hand of bridge. Invaluable on a world cruise.
2.Spent a night in the woods in the bivouac of their own making. Great for practical construction skills.
3.Become competent in the Heimlich manoeuvre and all first aid.
4.Win a round of 'Come Dine With Me' , putting home economics into practice.
5.Devise a computer programme or smart phone app.