Friday, 20 February 2015

Question and Answer: Home Education

Here are the questions you asked, and here are the answers.

Q: Why did you decide to home educate your children?

At which point does a parent make a decision about their child? Is it in a great moment of need where the imperative to act comes without thought of consequence? The decision made. Life changed.

Or is it time accumulating, gathering experience, observation, thought? A slow, creeping, half-conscious growing, where no point is greater than any other but which leads to that same end. The decision made. Life changed.

In me, there was no sudden revelation, no conversion, no bright light of illumination. But a gnawing gut that 'things around me do not fit together'. I cannot now recollect the order of events which led to 'the decision', and I cannot make a sensible start to order events.

Should I start with my own experience of school? My work with adults who left eleven years of school behind them, yet still unable to read and write? My practical classroom work on my teaching practice? Reading Ivan Illich? Talking with people, more experienced than me, about education around the world? Thinking about what I saw and what I felt? Watching how my child learned?

All helped make the decision to home educate my own.

But I expect your task is made easier with soundbites and bullet points. They are quick currency to trade opinions in an instant. Then have soundbites and bullet points. They are in no particular order, and I stop typing at twelve o'clock.

1. My children went to nursery aged four. One year of 'things do not fit together'. The experience made up my mind, and I took my children home on the last day of nursery with a happy heart.

2. Once, on teaching practice, before I had children of my own, I saw a teacher separate two friends at primary school. They were to sit on separate mats. They didn't want to be parted. They cried. The teacher raised her voice. She instructed them to follow her commands. She said, 'Everyone is waiting for you'. It was a humiliation of their emotion, of sorts. I wanted to know, Why were human relationships considered less important than a procedural classroom task? But I could not ask this question in school. It would be a question for which there is no answer. But the question came back again and again. What if we created a way of learning that prioritised relationships? This seemed crucial for me with a child aged four, when her social relationships with her family were more important than anything in the world. So I home educated because I wanted to ask questions about learning. I wanted to watch how she learned; I wanted time to observe, and find answers; I wanted to think and grow, and in this, I knew that I was just like my child. We were starting from the same base and a mission for both of us was to discover how the world worked; why people act the way they do.

3. I could see the practical reality of school, looming. How my children rarely wanted to leave what they were doing to take the drudging, grudging, slow walk to nursery. At home, one child would confess that her sister hid in the toilets. I thought 'Why have I taken these children from what they were doing - playing happily together in the garden on a sunny day - so they can be miserable and scared in a closed room hiding from people they don't know'?

4. I couldn't suppress this instinctive feeling - that a single room was a physically unhealthy place to put a young child. And for several hours each day? This seemed to be the opposite of what I thought a young child should have. I think of that steam of childhood. It should be free to run about, jump up and down, the trial of bodies against sky, rain, wind, stretches of grass - every blade of it a journey to the stars. I wanted my children to do this: to exercise their limbs, express themselves physically, move from one place to another under the restless energy of their own being. How could I tell them we can no longer go out every day to know wildness; they must now sit still for hours at a stretch, move only when they are told and, when playtime is over, they must tuck away their limbs, shut up their restlessness, and suppress what nature compels them?

5. One day I went to pick up my daughter from the nursery. She was piling up blocks on a table. The teacher was sat next to her. As I entered, the teacher covertly slipped the clipboard she was holding so that it was hidden, under the desk. On the clipboard was a tick-box assessment of my daughter's capabilities in moving her hands; her gross and fine motor skills. I thought, No. You don't teach my child that the role of an adult is to silently watch and assess what you're doing; to quietly test you against a list of criteria that you have no knowledge of, are powerless to interact with, and with what purpose of collation you don't understand. That is not how I want my child to understand her relationship with adults - one of surveillance and accountability of knowledge. I want her to be able to speak to adults eye-to-eye, level-to-level, to ask an honest question and receive an honest answer.

6. The first day at nursery we ended up in A&E. The nursery staff had shouted 'Who wants to watch a video?' My three all sprang up at once; one knocked the other into a table; she cut her eyebrow. I did what I was told all the way down the line. We ended at A&E for three hours. At bedtime, I thought, Why did I do that? Why did I obey everyone? Why didn't I take my daughter home, douse her in Dettol and strap bonding tape to her wound? How come I had been so swiftly institutionalised? If that happens to me - if I give up my power, my decisiveness, my independence - all so readily, then this will happen to each of my children. Do I want that they will be submissive to the command of others in the world? Or do I want that they will grow as people who feel they can judge the world for themselves, make their own decisions, and make the world?

7. On another day I went to pick up my whimsical wondering child. She asked a question - one of those questions that whimsical wondering children ask - why is the earth round why is the sky blue - and the teacher said 'It is because it is'. The teacher meant: 'accept things the way they are'. The context said: do not ask questions for which there is no time or inclination to answer'. Of course the teacher did not have the time to say, 'That's an interesting question! I hadn't thought of that before. Let's experiment with soil and see if it glues together in a ball. I wonder why little things glue together in spherical shapes?' The school context does not have the time to respond to individuals. It cannot stop to spend two hours playing, and wonder why the earth is round.

8. The language of school is duplicitous. At the nursery, the staff always referred to the playground as 'The Garden'. The first time, we all went to see in great expectation. There were no plants. No grass. No garden. There were iron railings with spikes, a concrete rectangle, and some plastic trucks. This is language teaching black is white and white is black. I live in a reality, and I strive to articulate my reality. I do not want to adopt false and misleading language; I do not want to impose what I know to be a lie on my child for the convenience of others; it would be to allow others to take power over me, my language, my reality and my relationship with my own.

9. I observe the fracture between the language used in school and the reality I see. I hear what is said: You are all individuals; you all achieve according to your work and your effort. Then I see hundreds of children sat in rows wearing identical clothes, modelling the behaviour of limbs demanded by the physical space and the discipline of the staff. The encouragement given is not so these people can become different from each other, but that they settle into a norm. Difference, uniqueness, individuality of ideas and expression, these are not encouraged. The language says they are, but the visible and lived reality says they are not.

10. Perhaps we parents are simply difficult when it comes to fitting in. We looked at what school offered us as adults and we didn't want it. We were not prepared to have ourselves, our family time and our home time dictated to us by the administrative requirements of an institution. We would not, as parents, have been compliant with paperwork, clocks, demands for black trousers or reprimands about zipping bags and apples. We would probably have received letters about our behaviour.

11. I do not believe in school league tables.

12. I do not believe in uniforms for primary children. I think uniforms crush individuality and force a character to submit to a visual language which is not theirs.

13. I believe the National Curriculum crushes creativity at primary: I heard art was consigned to indifferent doodling on a Friday afternoon; dance disappeared; listening to music was not there. But we live in a rich and exciting world where all these sensory experiences are there. Why not live in this world and immerse ourselves in it? How can it make sense to deprive a growing child of these sensory creativities? An education in the arts is too important to trust to a school.

14. I wanted my children to learn what they wanted in the way that they wanted; in a way that made sense for them. Even if it made no sense to me.

15. One day, shortly after we decided to home educate, I spoke to a friend whose daughter had gone to school. She told me how she had gone to pick up her child; the children had been doing a project on owls. There, on a tray, were 30 owls made from cardboard cut outs. She said it was the most depressing moment of her day. All the owls were exactly the same. She could not tell her daughter's owl apart.

16. I do not believe in excessive health and safely and risk assessment requirements which reflect a school's insurance position but bear no relevance to my child's life. I want my children to take risks. I want them to climb trees, play in rivers, do stupid things to their thumbs with hammers, and I expect to be with them when experimenting with fire requires a bucket of cold water and a tub of burn cream.

17. I wanted my children to play, freely. Hours of purposeless rambling play with unicorns and feathers and buckets and whatever came to hand. I did not want to direct their play. I wanted their play to be theirs, possessed by my children as special and unique to them. I believe it is not the role of an adult to impose routes and pathways and outcomes and assessments on a child's play.

18. I wanted us as a family to eat together, get round the table together, and share food everyday. I did not want to be pushed into the routine of school: provide a kiddy tea time so they can do homework and get to bed early. This is for the benefit of school. It is not for the benefit of our family life.

19. I do not believe in homework at primary school.

20. I wanted my children to learn the society in which they are a part, by taking part in that society - by shopping, visiting libraries, community centres, museums, galleries, public spaces; by accompanying me when I needed to pop in and out of offices, drop things off, make deliveries, talk to people, run a household. I wanted the children to see how we spent time and used our social and business spaces. I wanted to explain things I saw in the street and on our journeys. I could not see how sending my child to school could ever involve them in the same detailed experiences. How can it, when the local school shuts everyone inside and keeps a padlock on the gate?

21. I did not want to waste my emotional and intellectual energy trying to circumnavigate rules, regulations, and restrictions over ultimately pointless issues of the school system like 'What is in your lunch box?' This is wasting time when we could be exploring the world. I think the school system is designed to waste time: it fragments tasks, disrupts time, introduces non-controversial controversies and, in effect, stops people inquiring. In this, school is an anti-educational system.

22. School is a service offered by the local council. It is not a compulsory service. There is no legal requirement on me to send my children to school. I have the choice as a parent. I want my children to know the same: they can choose how to live their lives; they do not have to feel they must do something just because everyone else does it, or because they are told they must do it. They need to know the law; their duties, rights and responsibilities as a citizen, and set about a course which balances these demands.

23. I wanted to be able to sit up reading with my children when they wanted; I wanted the children to play late if the mood took them; what if they wanted to go out at dusk and find bats? I wanted my children to find their own rhythms of sleep and wake, of play and rest; their own clockless patterns of inquiry and purposeless footling. This is a joy to me, to have the sway of the day led by a wondering. 

24. Childhood is such a short and valuable time. Why turn a child's interest into what an adult thinks they should be doing?

25. We had everything we needed for a rich primary education at home. Books, talk, a kitchen table, a casual approach to mess, running water, a sense of humour, places to visit all around us, and time.

26. Many, many, people home educate. There are dozens of local groups: we have several in a small area with parents organising the most tremendous activities. I had confidence that I would meet parents who were were lively, directed, well-organised, independent minded and filled with ideas about childhood and the possibilities it offered.

27. Home educating seemed to make sound economic sense when we looked at the family outgoings on an annual basis. We did not need to buy uniform, make a contribution to a school fund, provide on-going school items, nor take holidays at the most expensive time of the year. We could holiday at the cheapest time of the year and wear our old clothes.

28. I wanted my children to remember their childhood as fun, ridiculous, silly, brave, adventurous, wandering, playful. I wanted them to remember how they could spend hours playing and following their passions. I never wanted them to stop saying to me, 'I don't want the day to end'.

29. Experiential education is not a new philosophy; the Ancient Greeks nailed it by advocating learning through experience. I do not think Aristotle had in mind 30 kids in a room looking at a picture of a river in a geography text book. The river? We can go play in it, swim in it, and try building a raft for it.

30. I wanted to show my children the world. The world could be Australia or Wales, it didn't matter to me; I wanted to point to the world, and talk about it, how it worked, how I didn't know stuff, how a person could make an impact in it. How everyday is a place of mystery and surprise and wonder and delight. Why would I give up all that amazing world to a teacher in a school who couldn't leave the classroom?

31. I knew we would not be at home all day. Why do people think we are? Should I list the places we have visited from the corner shop to the streets of the old town in Sana'a? The world is our classroom. I wanted to be in it, with my children.

32. Gender politics raised its head at an early age. At nursery, my daughter wanted to play with the plastic trucks. She never felt strong or brave enough to take them from the boys who monopolised them.

33. My daughter was fearful of the staff. They had inexplicable and apparently arbitrary authorities. They commanded bells and whistles, pointed and shouted. It made no sense to her. Often, the rules made no sense to me, either.

34. I taught in a secondary school. Take these events as typical: One child set a table on fire; another brought a replica gun to school; I found that my book cupboard was used as a place to stash heroin wraps; one girl got pregnant; another routinely disrupted the class by throwing furniture; one boy deliberately got himself suspended so he could spend time at home with his dad; the language from the children could be foul, brutal, demoralising. Schools can be tremendously forgiving places; they can be great places with strong team spirits; fun events can happen there. They can also be places where intimidation and brutality is a daily experience for administrative staff, classroom teachers, and children. They can be sink or swim places. A strong school can swing to become a weak school within a term. It's chance, haphazard, a muddle-through environment. Why should I chance it with the people I love most in the world? Why put my children into what can become a brutalising anti-social environment?

35. I observed how children teach themselves. I can speak now, at the other end: my children are aged 15. They have each taken an IGCSE to find out the exam system; to help focus their thinking on what they want to do next. They all taught themselves to the exam. As students, they are self-disciplined, they organise their time, they manage their approach to learning, and they arrange their resources appropriately to a deadline. My job is not to 'teach' them their subjects but to support them in their life choices; to provide the structure and the safe background in which they can trial ideas, approach problems, and come up with novel solutions.

36. Here is a motto which has guided me: Be imaginative enough to think what you'd like to do in life, and be brave enough to carry it out. I wanted to spend time with my children. I enjoy their company. They are a source of constant delight and intrigue. They annoy me, and get in my way. They make me laugh more than anyone in the world. They have led me into amazing adventures and taken me to places I would not have otherwise have gone. They illuminate every day. They are obstinate and wilful. They take after their father. Working the days together in the way that we do gives us plenty of time to be together, laugh together, talk through problems, think of approaches to issues, share ideas and discuss things of our everyday. What more could I have asked from a family?

Q: Have they ever been to school? If not why not, if so why did you take them out of conventional schooling?

I think I answered this above.

Q: What has been your experience of home educating your triplets?
I think you can see the nitty gritty of life inside the grit's day blog. That is one reason it is there; for others who may be considering home education to wrestle with some practicalities.

Q: Do you think they have missed out on anything by home schooling them?
Do you think children who attend a conventional school have missed out on anything? 

Q: How have you coped as a parent? Have you ever struggled to challenge them academically or with having your children at home all day?

We all 'cope' as parents. We all face days which are crap, anxious, fearful, horrible, when the gin can't pour quick enough and a rope in the woods seems like a workable solution. We all have days which are joyous, frivolous, bizarre, enervating, wondrous, when we don't want the day to end. Why does home education make any difference to parenthood?

Monday, 2 February 2015

Home ed exams, ka-ching!

I deserve a medal. I go to the local school and hand over seven hundred quid.

Sorry. I may be denting a fond idea (I know the family cousin certainly maintains it), that exams are some sort of chivalrous code of hard-working honour, the results of which shine with an inner glow of moral worth. Uh. The edu-business works on money, like every other business.

And yes, the Griblytots are down for exams again this year. The Latin teacher says Level 1 is non-negotiable. We don't mess with Lingua Latina. I say Global Citizenship is non-negotiable because I paid already. After that everyone chooses to do or not to do.

For me, I am not convinced that a string of A* GCSE grades says much. Maybe A*A*A* etc shows a student who knows how to follow exactly what's required of them in the mark scheme. I think of that as an excellence in attentive copying behaviour. Sorry.

But every year, I'm not surprised to read of some high achiever rejected by one of the posh universities, despite the outstanding candidate having 10 A* grades. I can imagine the scene in the Oxbridge interview, having sat in one of them meself. Are the people interviewing the candidate going to be impressed by someone who sits there and has the air of 'You tell me what to say, and I'll say it back to you'? The school led them to it, because that is how schools are measured. God forbid our universities apply the same. I think an independent mind, striking out in their own thought-out direction is probably going to get that place in preference. Sorry about that.

Anyway, the exams as a private home ed candidate. If you are looking for your home ed child, first join the Yahoo exams group. That list is BRILLIANT. Those people are a mine of information about everything exam-related.

Second, know everything about the exam your child wants to sit. If they want to sit English, find a board that suits their interests and your localities. Do your research on the internet looking at the curriculums. Find one that is 100% exam assessed if it is going to be difficult organising any type of continuous assessment (it will be). You may have to email and ring round schools in your area and speak to the exams officer who will tell you whether they accept a private candidate for that board.

Then know the exam codes because there is paperwork to complete. The school may need sight of a passport or other identifying document and ask to clap eyes on the candidate before registering them for the exam. So they can be sure the right candidate turns up for the exam (and not their dad, say, who already has a degree in Eng Lit).

After this, expect the bill. In our case, 700 conkers. The cost not too bad for 9 exams spread between 3 kids. I've heard of worse. And that opens up a whole big can of worms, so I'm stopping right now.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

How we abused the little children in December

I see we ended 2014 by being potential child abusers again.

Personally, I blame the NSPCC.

There's an election looming, right? We can expect, like all large organisations needing government support, the NSPCC will ready itself alongside the main parties, so everyone's able to do business straight off: they must all be in 'policy position'.

Whichever government forms, interested organisations must be able to 'deliver' a quick win in 2015. A positive-headline grabbing solution to one of society's problems. In the child abuse scenario, we're looking at a win for the NSPCC and a Win for a new government. Joe&Joanna Public will be grateful how those in power are 'doing something at last!'

It helps if you can encourage the problem in the first place, obviously. They have just four months now to dig that problem into your consciousness.

Unfortunately, there hasn't been a problem about home educators abusing their children. On balance, the responses I've had from the general public have been positive. Most people seem to understand that we've taken on a big educational responsibility and they give us a big thumbs up.

But that's not much of a problem-story if you're trying to organise a policy-solution.

Hence the continuous plugging away at home educators on the basis of suspicion. Tell those local council employees, time and time again, how home ed is not really about education, this is about abuse. Remind everyone how 'Home schooling' is just a Cover. The vulnerable children of 'home-schoolers' are 'falling through the net'.

Throw enough mud, see if it sticks, and come up with the solution you wanted all along. Monitoring, surveillance, registration.

The NSPCC/Corporate friendly solution will then involve headlines about how many children have been 'saved' by new regulations; how many children have been rescued from fates worse than death! Yes, we got inside those 'hidden homes' and found out what those so-called 'home educators' were really up to. We activated our solution!

That dealt with the problem.

As for the kids who are really being trafficked, sold into slaveries, denied freedoms and rights, beaten up and used by adults? We can't obviously find these children, because it's flippin' difficult.

Take the simple 'solution' of school, where 'all kids can be seen'. As a classroom teacher, you can't know, looking round your class, which kids are being abused sexually, emotionally, or physically at home.

You might have suspicions. But no way could a teacher point a finger or press Social Services Nuclear without very good ground and while standing alongside teams and teams of people.

You people who imagine that teachers can simply observe a child and activate a care solution? They can't. It's all more complex than you're led to believe. Within hours of raising concerns (I did) the response in my case was to tell me it's confidential of course, all being dealt with, I didn't need to know any more, carry on as normal. The child stayed through school, looking haunted and miserable for years and, as far as I knew, nothing changed. Perhaps it did. But if some form of intervention did happen, and if it was successful, you could hardly slap the case across the Daily Record, could you?

But home educators? They are easy targets. We already have a newspaper headline reserved for us. We already have a folk-character as the 'anti-authority wrong-un'. The story then goes, a light needs to be shone on our dodgy dealings. We're 'hidden'.

The fact is that my home educated kids, like thousands of others in your land, are out on your streets, in your scout huts, village halls, community centres, museums, galleries, shops, parks, seasides, and transport systems.

I know the argument then goes, well, these kids obviously aren't learning anything because they're not sat at desks.

Home ed kids are not learning about society? How people work together, what needs, interests, desires bind us? They're not learning how to fit in, how to shape events, have a voice and be a part of debates, even when they are right in this society, right in the heart of it, taking part in it?

Well, at this point, my radical suggestion is, don't believe everything you read in the newspapers, especially when it's supplied by large organisations with a vested interest in solving a problem.

The election looms not only for the main parties but for all those large (and small) organisations and corporates who do business with governments: the interests who provide oil to the machines, the backing, support, infrastructure, and whisper of all the social problems they can readily solve.

So this is not an educational debate. It's a battle of interests. A competition for power. And in it, whose responsibility is your child?

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014? Get the Hell out of my House

2014, you were shit.

You were, in a minor cosmetic way, better than 2013 when I spent several months face down in a bucket of zinc, expecting to explode and die without ever having the chance to use the epipen, but really, 2014? You were worse, far far worse than 2013.

2013 only brought me a worry about instant death, but 2014? You bought the prospect of a slow, slow lingering life, not by having my heart simply ripped from me (that happened in 2003), but by stapling my eyelids open to watch the pieces of heart be jumped up and down upon, then kicked about this planet, like so much broken stuff that the prospect of mending it all seemed as far as jumping to the moon.

But 2015, you are going to be good to me, are you not? You are going to be lovely and kind and healing and generous and gentle. You are going to be straight down the line, honest and true. You are going to be funny, witty, and wise. You are going to make me laugh with such big rolling bellylaugh laughter that I am glad to be alive and glad that it is 2015, the year when everything just said safe.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Yeah, the rest

Just so I don't forget, like. Apart from Berlin, the monthly home ed triumphs. We need to record them, in case I reach the end of the month and can't recall what we did. Not any of it.

1. The lantern parades: local, various, some burning of a dragon involved.
At one point in all this festival of light and lanternry, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger attended a workshop with our local wicker-botherers, Festive Road, which was being recorded for a programme, but I can't recall which one, nor exactly when it was recorded or broadcast. Apart from that, much wicker bothering was done.

2. More British Museum, more V&A, more British Library.
I am afraid we are regulars. You can probably find me in the friends room at some point, slumped against a cappuccino. The kids are old and wise enough to go an explore on their own accounts, so long as they come back to tell me interesting stuff they found out. That's the rule.

3. They went to the Globe, I went to the RSA.
Yes, I managed this splendidly: I booked the offspring into an event at Shakespeare's Globe then I sloped off with Dig to his Club of Choice, the RSA. I have no idea what education the children experienced, but I gathered it was community based, and involved singing.

4. Latin, Glob Cit, Tiger's rock climbing, and the Media education.
The normal round of lessons continues, including mother's Film Family Fun Night, which this month has been sci-fi based. The geeky Plan-9 and the prescient Brazil.

5. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
The lovely, funny, witty and insightful Simon Armitage reading his Gawain version at Sam Wannamaker theatre. (I was very restrained and did not throw panties.)

6. Opera.
Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are opera goers. They don't get it from me, but daddy Dig. I am working on it all with the elbow-length evening gloves and the up-do. This month the offspring clocked up Glyndebourne Touring Opera for Turn of the Screw, then the MET Opera (cineworld screening) with Wagner's 6-hour treat of the Meistersinger.

7. The Imitation Game.
The Travelling Christmas Aunty did her tour of family duty; keen to provide new and stimulating experiences for her jaded travel palette, we took her off to the cinema, having worked out that it could have been fifteen years since her last visit. (But do not tell her this: we are now hard at work on what we think should be her bucket list. So far we have thought about pushing her out of an aeroplane (with a parachute) and burying her alive. We read this experience has been therapeutic for some people in Germany.)

That's it. Someone said Christmas is coming up which means we have parties to attend, and I do battle with holly wreaths.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Feeling weary

Things are stirring in the home ed 'hood. After a (relatively) long period of quiet.

Not simply the trouble-making of the NSPCC, but the Sunday Times article, conflating out-of-school children to vulnerability to abuse and exploitation. Then further debates on changing guidance on children 'missing' education and 'questions in the house'. My guess is the registration and inspection debate will be the gift to home ed for 2015.

Some proper botherers are out for us. They simply can't let us alone to get on with an education. Any link of disreputable behaviour will do. Any suggestion that we are not caring parents providing a fantastic opportunity to live a childhood, or that we are providing the time and space for our kids to grow up in their own unique ways. Nope, none of that is useful for the culture the botherers want to build. Their story is to strew fear, uncertainty, doubt. Who knows what home educators are up to? Training up mini jihadists? Abusing children physically, emotionally, sexually? The secret 'invisible' people undermining normal society?

Please, could home educators just be a bunch of mild eccentrics, gentle people, independent minded people who take on huge family responsibilities? Could we be celebrated as people following philosophies of education that reach well back beyond the Victorian schooling solution?

I'm sure the botherers need to suggest that if all home educators were monitored, then this would address every suspicion they raised for you. Then we all lose. But this isn't an educational agenda, even though that will be the message with the push for earlier and earlier engagement with outsourced learning, closer accountability of childhood, more pressure of league tables, standardised testing regardless of how unique is Tinkertop, greater surveillance of how you're interacting with your child in the home.

It all means less contact time between parents and kids, and more monitored time between parents and kids. You have to wonder what society they're trying to build.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

That was a lesson and a half

We took the kids to visit Berlin. We cranked up a few journeys around the museums, with a few oohs and ahhs of the sights.

I particularly liked the Bauhaus Museum and the Deutsches Historisches Museum. And the upstairs  German Art exhibition in the Brohan Museum. We visited a Christmas Market! And I drank Glühwein in the frosty cold! The Berlin Wall exhibitions were on the list, of course, as was the sight of the reichstag, the Brandenberg Gate, reviews of the lovely Neil MacGregor's observations, and our ongoing, wide-ranging discussions on European economic policies and post-war European politics.

Yippee! say the home educated innocents, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger!

(One day they will be grateful for the parents they had.)

I can't call one particular line of our enquiry in Berlin a 'highlight', because that word triggers all the wrong connotations. But the most memorable lessons in humanity came from the Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the exhibition at the Topography of Terror.

I am grateful to my parents. In 1974 they took me out of school for a tour of Germany and Austria. They found it difficult to navigate their relationship with Germany, or to talk about the Second World War, so they took me and my brother to experience together the modern Germany, then walk through Mauthausen Memorial. They left us at times to think out for ourselves what would our values be? Values of individual moralities when faced with social coercions; how we could be led into states of agreement, denial, complicity, resistance, fear or a belief in right and duty. How societies converge, part, forget, remember, move on.

And that's what I wanted to give Shark, Squirrel and Tiger.

The memory of enjoying a holiday; seeing beautiful historic buildings, exciting modern developments, the boredoms and panics of travel, then feeling the texture of earth under foot, touching walls and doors and gateposts, moving through cold, practical spaces of death and survival. Such a visit for me in my same-teenage year was a more profound education than I could have gained by sitting in a classroom, staring at a black and white photograph in a school history textbook, waiting for breaktime.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The NSPCC fighting for children

What's the real crime we home educators commit, as we encourage our offspring up your shops, about your high street, down your parks, and in those workshops at the local museum?

We're visible to you. But we're 'invisible to the authorities'.

Word in the 'hood is that we'll hear a little more in the news about the 'seven case reviews published since 2008'.

Then it'll be much, much more, about how 'the authorities' need a compulsory register and an ofsted home ed monitoring team.

(And just when I was a-teaching Shark, Squirrel, and Tiger how to be independent, I'm reminded in that link that really I should tell these kids how they should strive instead to be counted, bean by bean, as a global asset.)

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Clawing my way to a new normality

Thank goodness November has come. October was Rubbish.

But! October will not have as it deserves. It shall not be blasted into micron particles, nor scattered through the universe, never to be assembled again. No! Good things must come from The Evil that was October. Or I am not my mother's daughter. Then, here are the good bits.

1. The British Library.
We are Friends, BritLib and Me. Our friendship is the Direct Debit type (surely one step up from hard cash over the counter).

You can expect to see us strolling hand in hand down King's Cross - me wanting to ogle their lovely books, and them, purring coo-coos at me, making come-hither glances from their shop front.

The only blip in this new affair is that, to pursue it, I have to again pretend it is for our 'home education'.

My protestant misery streak must be coming out. I cannot just say, 'I'm joining the BritLib because I want to walk into their exhibitions when I like'. It has to be because it is useful for a cause greater than this simple satisfaction of not bothering to book a ticket for their (excellent and fun) Gothic exhibition; I must tell myself that throwing my bank account at them is improving for the Griblets; perhaps morally virtuous for the whole family!

I wish I could get rid of this streak. It is annoying.

2. The V&A.
I'm friends with them as well. This is my present to Tiger, who wants to spend days at a time wandering in their hallowed halls. Really, we only can manage one day a month. I like the V&A, of course I do, but I have yet to swoon in their company. Maybe a little more exposure to their lacy embroidery will help. Speaking of which...

3. My Knicker Drawers.
Each of us has a purpose in life. Mine is in my Knicker Drawers. It is going well. I have some brilliant commissions from lovely people, who I admire most of all for trusting me to create for them books of fancy, whimsy, idleness, intent, purpose, poetry and pleasure.

4. MET Macbeth.
Let me pretend we popped over to New York. (Don't tell anyone we went to the live screening at the cinema in Milton Keynes.) But I am a Big Fan of live screening! If you do not indulge in this, you must! Find out the theatre you can enjoy without the train travel, and go!

As an adendum, I also took the Grotlets to the re-screen of the National Theatre's Frankenstein. (Shut up about the certificate 15. They are old enough.)

5. Latin.
All scholarly stuff. Add Global Citizenship IGCSE, the STEM lectures at the local school, and various Future Learn Moocs and other curriculums the Griblets are following in a not very intensive or regular manner.

I suppose I should be on the case everywhere, but the reality is, I'm not.

I introduced the Gribblytots to the exam system last year, so Job Done. Yay Me, Tiger Mother! As far as I'm concerned, they now know what exams are about. They can choose where they go from here, whether they take lots of exams, not very many, whether they wing their way, or whether I have to place a large bribe behind the waterpipes at the local college.

6. Neil MacGregor.
He of the British Museum, the lovely voice, and the wonderfully informative series on Radio 4, Germany: Memories of a Nation. A home education could be had, sat at the kitchen table, eating jam butties, listening to the radio. (Hang on a minute! That's how we do home ed.)

7. Outdoors.
Not simply our evening walk by the Co-op skip. But the wandering in the healing paths of our beautiful natural world. (Or as much of the soothing wilderness we can suck up between the A5 and the A421.)

The best of all (if you are a practising teenager) is running about the woods in Wide Games, organised by a wonderful home educator who I rely on for all small and large matters, from diary management to remembering how to breathe.

I suppose I should also include, under Outdoors, Tiger's Climbing Club and our ongoing Scuba fanbase, aka Shark, off with her underwater diving chums, once a week.

8. Shakespeare.
Specifically, Love's Labours Lost. RSC, understudy performance. See it February if you can't make Stratford. (Live to cinema 11 February 2015!) We have maybe six plays to go before I achieve my (largely pointless) aim to have Shark, Tiger and Squirrel see all Shakespeare plays before age 16.

9. The Queen Galadriel.
Tiger, not to be bested by sister Shark (already dun a week on the sail), snatched a place on a weekend crew with the Cirdan Sailing Trust.

I like the way the Trust positions itself as working with Children of the Disadvantaged. Well, count us in! Consider that joining a sailing crew is our very own Social Inclusion Project.

10. Into Film Festival.
We saw Maze Runner. I don't recommend it. Sexual threat sublimates to cartoon antics (Are you the only girl in a tribe of boys? Throw rocks at them from a tower); terrible script (the character who is told to Shut Up! Shut Up! is female, couldn't you guess) and the bizarre premise of the whole thing.

Say you had a group of teens, preciously immune to a terrible disease that took hold after the earth was destroyed. What would you do? Get them to a lab and study their bloods? (Let's ignore even how the lab exists after civilization is destroyed.)

But No! You would not do blood tests! You would build an enormous mobile concrete maze. You would make a hole in the middle where your teens can live. You would stock the maze with robotic flesh-eating spiders, then watch your teens try to get out. When they do (I spoiled it for you now) you would tell them you never expected they would survive! Before blowing out your own brains. (Or not.) Effective cinematography, a trashy storyline. With robot spiders.

But film is big at Grit's. We sometimes hang out with the local Independent Film Group.

11. Geology.
The Festival of Geology. A fixture of our annual calender. It is always delightful, surrounding ourselves with the gentle geologists, animatedly talking granite. I have put the Pliocene Forest at Sutton Knoll, Rochhall Wood, on our list of things next in Suffolk.

12. Local politics.
Obviously I am not content to drag my Grofalots to the sub-sub-sub-working committee on the future of the Arts charity in Smalltown!

(Probably Not Going To Be An Arts Charity Any More, thanks to a bunch of self-serving devious bastards trustees who disposed of the charity's assets in preparation for closing the lot down. But who said anything about money? Not me. That would be an allegation.)

But I am determined my offspring learn Practical Politics. I took them to a discussion about Milton Keynes architecture, including talks by English Heritage and the 20Cth Society.

13. Sitting in Lidl car park Luton, hugging a bottle of rum that Shark Made Me Buy.
Buying alcohol for my 14-year old daughter is my Parenting First. I am PROUD. Shark said she wanted either meths or rum. I thought about this, then concluded I cannot drink meths. I bought the rum in Lidl because I am usually there on a Tuesday night (woodcraft folk), and Lidl must be cheap on rum, no?*

14. Crude and vulgar language.
Recently I had a brush with a member of my own sex. It was a depressing and dispiriting experience. Mostly, I am a woman led to foolishnesses by my own head. I wonder, What is reasonable? What would be an intelligent course of action? I have developed some sense of what is right and what is wrong based on experience, observation, and thoughtful consideration of the options. Let's think about it.

Pft. I wasted hours and 40,000 spoken words attempting to reason, how, um, I observe that some women, er, women who maybe want to advance their careers? - well, perhaps they use morally doubtful, what I would think of as dubious, exploitative, underhand techniques - perhaps massaging of feelings, blahblahblah, some sexual hinting with some emotional control, and stitching the vulnerable victim into a need relationship, blahblahblah, possibly using the source book Honey Money as inspiration (please don't buy it), perhaps where trade can be had from a teensy bit of hair flicking? But then, blahblahblah, squeezing on the bullying and threatening and foot stomping and the screamings of disloyalty and betrayal if the goods aren't delivered; pulling the strings of the heart, not the intellect in the head; emphasising the change of heart, not the change of mind, as the how to get where, and the means to get what they want. Um, I think the short-hand phrase is emotional manipulation?

See? What a speak of blahblahblah.

Then someone summed up La Femme Fatale with commendable precision. She's a Prick Teaser.

I wish I could have said that. Hail vulgar language. Let it be my guide.

October. Some good bits with the kids. Otherwise, what a fucking disaster, with the vomit brought up by a encounter with a manipulative Prick Teaser dumped on top.

*It would be cruel to spoil this story with its additional bit of information. That Shark is taking a Future Learn course on experiments, such as extracting the DNA from a banana using washing up liquid and meths (or rum). I told her we did DNA already. But then I reconsidered. I reasoned that if we had rum, I could drink it, and blame Shark.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The other September triumphs

Home ed round up. This is how it is now. Wot I did wiv the kids this month. (Except Steampunk and Hilliard, which I see command separate entries.)

Otherwise: quick flyby to throw stuff from the land of parental responsibility before I go and boil a bird's wing.

I have a question for you skeleton botherers. Like, how do I actually strip back all the bones to leave them clean from all the yukky stuff without damaging the bone connecting bits?

Honestly, I bet learning anatomy by practical experience with a dead bird was once as common as fish gutting in a capable woman's know-how repertoire.

1. Medea at the National, except at the live Cineworld screening instead. Totally loved it. I really sympathise with those unhinged Greek heroines. They exist to demonstrate the depths and lows of a single-minded pursuit. Madness becomes normality. Oh yes, I can do that sort of manic chaos any day of the week. Superb performance from Helen McCrory. When the play ended, the bloke behind me breathed, as if for the first time in two hours, and murmured, That's what I call theatre.

2. Global Citizenship course. Kids are doing this with Dorothy. I love it. Someone teaching them how to write an argumentative essay (not me) and they're not smashing up the house or anything! They just do it! (Probably because it's not me trying to get them to do it.)

3. Latin. Hic, hac, hoc. We all get to chant it. I am the worst in the class, but the teacher is good to me. She never makes me stand in the corner facing the wall.

4. Grand Budapest Hotel. Film night. A lovely, lovely film. I thought it was delicate, tender, funny, and wise. Evocative, beguiling, beautiful, silly, whimsical and true. Everything. A treat.

5. A multi-storey car park in Peckham, for the Theory of Everything's version of Titus Andronicus. Billed as immersion theatre, but not really; a sort of ambulatory site specific theatre, with rival gangs locked in a turf war. I wondered, Am I going a bit far with this Shakespeare fetish? Had it been disappointing, I might have thought so, but the whole was done remarkably well, good pipe crawling and abandoned car jumping by the cast. Brave and energetic, I'd say. It may be rewarding to start exploring these theatrical avenues. So if there's a version set in Tesco delivery bay at midnight, I'll be there.

6. Under-17 car club. Putting the kids back behind the wheel after a summer break. The Fire Services Training College in the Cotswolds. I know it sounds unlikely, but in this rural idyll they keep a crashed plane, a collapsed building, and a train smash alongside various collisions, hazards and disaster sites. And the kids drive round it all, while we passengers count the body dummies. I am not on crack or anything. It's all true, and I'm not allowed to photograph it.

7. Night games. Stuff in woods and fields, creeping about with torches. (Cross reference August / Wide Games / Home Ed and it all should make sense.)

8. Climbing club. For Tiger. I am drawing the line at snowboarding. No way.

9. Launch party of photography by An-My Le at MK Gallery. Beautiful, rare photographs have me thinking and wondering for much, much longer than normal reportage photography. Because these aren't normal war reportages, of course. Part film set, part visual poetry, all thoughtful, beautiful pieces.

10. Comedy of Errors at the Globe. A great physical toot-de-toot is made of a very silly play. Enjoyable, and only a bit provocative for an old Grit, what with woman bemoaning the stupidity of man. Tell it like it is, girl.

11. Squirrel's Astronomy weekend. I have no idea. She got picked up, she got dropped back home. The most I've heard from her about this was that she and Monster got a group of elderly astronomers to join in with a game of Werewolves.

12. Dig is in Australia, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taiwan. I thought I would just use the blog as a diary on that one so that when I'm sectioned and the children have to take themselves to a park bench, we can all point a finger of responsibility to someone.
An-My Lê
An-My Lêat MKG. The photography

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Hilliard Ensemble perform Gesualdo, Tenebrae Responsories

Took Shark and Tiger to Highbury & Islington.

I've obviously got the wrong impression about that place. I thought it was a posh side of town! How wrong I was! We could barely weave a way through the police riot vans to reach the Union Chapel. Then the drunks, and the wildmen, lunging through the streets, unable to stand. I held Tiger's hand. Welcome to Highbury & Islington.

A shop keeper had covered all his booze with cardboard. On it was written, no alcohol sold one hour before kick off time, then one hour after match end. I asked, what match could prompt this? I wanted at least Satan vs Peter.

Don't ask me the answer he gave; I forget already. I went there for another place to be moved, and to hear out our battle of human impulses for hope, loss, pain, forgiveness.

The beautiful voices of the Hilliard Ensemble. Gesualdo's Tenebrae Responsories.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

A Splendid Steampunk at Lincoln!

Fatigued by the world? Jaded and disillusioned with leisurewear and churlishness? Or simply tired of the mad, bad ways of too many people who take themselves far too seriously?

Then put it in your 2015 calender now. A note to spend just one day at Lincoln, with the Steampunk friends of the Asylum.

Here is a wonderful oasis. You will find not only of a delightful gentility, but a relaxation into a world of good manners and good natured decency. A warm welcome is extended to your whimsies and creativities; applause will be forthcoming for your unique and individual approaches to life, and you can always rest from the lashings of glowing good natures to imbibe tea, biscuits, and gin.

If this all is not quite enough, then a splendid couple you have only just met will happily loan you a pet dragon on a chain to stroke while you have your photograph taken.

To all the inhabitants of Lincoln, the Assembly Rooms, the splendid organisers, volunteers and helpers, the agreeable and convivial steampunkers, the very nice young man at Ti Amo, and the Old English Chippy on Burton Road, a heartfelt and happy thank you.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

The other August home ed highlights

Traditionally, home educators stay at home in August, hiding. We hide from queues, more queues, and ridiculously long queues, the object of which seems to be for an over-priced commercial racket of any description to rip money out your bank account then spit in your face. (Because you are a family with children. I can find no other explanation.)

But in August, even we home educators go out sometimes. We cannot chain children to their home-school desks all day long. More's the pity.

So here are August's best bits.

Except for RIFT, which I told you about. And Shark's coracle making. That deserves a diary entry all of its own. Although you can forget any pictures. Finding the pictures for Shark's coracle making broke my soul, so I'm not going looking for any more.

1. RSC, Two Gentlemen of Verona. Understudy performance. Which means, cheap and excellent. So we don't get to see the bright names in an understudy performance? Tsk. We do get to see superb RSC actors doing what they're best at, so no loss.

2. A King Lear workshop. Run by me, apparently, although since the children are Shakespeare experts I don't know why they shouldn't run it. Tiger, Squirrel and Shark say I made a mistake about the Duke of Albany while I was demonstrating sword thrust technique. They are right. I think my punishment was too much of an over-reaction. They should forgive and forget.

3. Failing to go to the Milton Keynes Film Festival. I dunno, we just forgot. And it was free, dammit.

4. Sorting out bank accounts for the offspring. Second time we have done this, with a different bank from the first time. The first time, the bank spelled everyone's name wrong. When we tried to correct it, they made it all worse. So we withdrew the 7 pounds 45pence each child has slaved for, and we took it elsewhere. A triumph. I have been threatening to do it for years.

5.Dig is in and out of hospital scenarios. Life is a bastard, there is no getting away from it. Why do I get given a husband I love and then life has to creep about trying to steal him from me. Bastard, bastard, bastard.

6. Antony and Cleopatra at the Globe. The one with Clive Wood and Eve Best. It was delicious. The formula broke by casting Antony with a face like a beat up TV detective, rather than serve up the beefcake we're normally offered. Anyway, in homage to its deliciousness, I have decided to grow my hair long and go a bit Cleopatra.

7. The lake. (Not a play. Actual watery-water lakes) Both of them. The sub-aqua one and the windsurf one. All kids do something. Parents split water-watch duties. It's an achievement.

8. Holy Warriors by David Eldridge at the Globe. I enjoyed it, although a thousand years of history in a couple of hours is a bit ambitious. But it made a great talking point for the kids, and helped me explain Christianity-Islam-Judaism on the train home.

9. Running about woods. This is so normal, I forget it. The Wide Games, organised by San. She and her entire family are brilliant. Even the ones from America. And the dog. If home education never did anything else, it put me in touch with this most remarkable of families, and for that I am life grateful.

10. The Proms. Yes! A triumph of musical mayhem, with a weekend pass to Richard Strauss (not the waltz one); a weekend of Salome and Elektra. Brilliant. Totally loved them. Including the corpse stamping at the end of Electra before she's consumed by the fire of her own rage, distress, revenge, hurt, and chaos. You have my sympathies, sister.

11. Disobedient Objects at the V&A. Very good. A bit text heavy on the minus side, but on the plus side, they did teach us how to make a bucket bomb.

12. Some other stuff. Oh I don't know. Cooking, mooching about the house, kids reading, etc etc etc. Opening envelopes for the exam results. Yes, everyone got a grade, and no-one got a Grade E in their first ever exam. That's not very exciting, is it? But I didn't feel it was right to end at a number 11, that's all. Call it my OCD.

Friday, 15 August 2014

The overnighter with RIFT

I spend a Friday night with the possessed.

When the madman asked me to dance, you can bet I leapt off that sofa and took up his offer.

Tiger hissed WHAT ARE YOU DOING? but, daughter, consider this: the last time ANYONE asked me to dance was 1974. So I don't care who's asking, nor the fact that one side of him is drenched in blood and his hair is plastered to his face, I'm not missing the offer. It might be the last time I get this invite, EVER.

But this is not downtown in Smalltown at the Queen's Head. With witches emerging from total darkness in an underground car park to get us in the mood, it can only be RIFT's immersive overnight Macbeth, staged in the classic brutalist Goldfinger building, Balfron Tower.

(Yes, that architecture needs protecting. So we can all look at it, realise it is a horrible warning, and then we can all chant, We are never building anything like this ever again.)

Well, I thought one or two of the initial newspaper reviews were at times a little grudging, so don't read those. Listen to me instead. It was fantastic. Clever, thoughtful, well planned, carefully executed, a strong cast and a superb Lady Macbeth (who still spooked me a little when I saw her on the DLR next morning going off to get some kip, probably) but with enough layers of storytelling woven together it should keep any Eng Lit student happy for hours. And I still say all this, even after they locked me in the toilet.

Next time RIFT is staging one of their immersive theatre experiences, you must support them. Pluck up your courage for an experience you won't forget, and go. Take your sleeping bag if necessary.

I suspect the newspaper reviewers fled to their dorms and were asleep when the zombies came round. I was in the room where the weaklings were hiding, and we locked the door.

One great home ed outing! Thank you, RIFT.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Overcome by the urgent need for a boat?

Shark builds a coracle. She learns carpentry skills, uses dangerous power tools, avoids taking someone's eye out with a stanley knife, then she sets off up the Thames (with a paddle).

If you too are overcome with the urgent need for your very own water-based transport, contact Alistair.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Ephemeral Pin Up

Okay, I know this is a niche interest group, but there are people out there who make it their life's work, looking at signs. For them, I include this happy mix.

For everyone else, just wondering what goes on at a home educating festival in a field, this does.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Aldeburgh to Minsmere

Just warning everyone. There will be a point in my life when I stay a whole summer in these parts.

I will be wearing sparkly pointed shoes and carrying a battered co-op shopping bag while my children attempt to lead me by the arm while I am chatting up the charming young PCSO.

(At least that's how it happened this year.)

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

2015 Memo for Red Rose Chain

This is your instruction. Next summer, visit Suffolk. Go and see Red Rose Chain, Suffolk's brilliant theatre group, cavorting about from a summer base at Jimmy's Farm for their annual Theatre in the Forest.

Whatever they do, it's excellent. This summer, we watch a well crafted, energetic, and clever performance of Comedy of Errors.

Outdoor theatre in a lovely location played superbly, intelligently, with larger-than-life physical comedy, great voice projection, a controlled pace for the audience to be surprised, tickled, delighted, played, wooed and won. Evidence of a theatre team working together at a level that's better than good.

Then see you next year. For what, they won't say. (But I'm betting on The Tempest.)

I don't suppose I could have a batch of free tickets now, could I?

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

We humans, we like it to change. And then we want it back the way it was.

Here we are, educating teens at home. (Or rather, in HesFes week, in a field in Suffolk.)

Sometimes, negotiating this teen home ed lark, it's tricky. Things change so fast. Sometimes, when you're not looking.

I can count these tricky bits on my fingers.

1. Children change. Shark, Tiger, and Squirrel. They changed. The stuff they liked last year, they don't like this year (fish, horses, copper beating, Shakespeare and cake excepted).

2. Teen language, attitudes, ideas and values change. It's not the same as in 1973, is it? I have trouble keeping up.

3. I changed. Thank someone's lord that I am no longer required to lay flat out pretending I'm a rowing boat. Neither am I needed at the 10+ Social Club in case of a punch up over the lemonade. At their age 14, now my attention can wander. I need only to maintain a loose affiliation with the bonds of motherhood to satisfy my teens. I can thus dedicate hours of once-maternal-pleasure to stabbing dead cow hide and fondling silkworm poo. I definitely changed.

4. Our home ed activity range changed. Thousands of kids are home educated to age 12! Plenty of optional activities at primary! Then there's the drop-off from age 13. Museum/gallery/science park type workshops (easy to find) are mostly built around primary KSthis and KSthat. Money for old rope, because it comes down to sticking and gluing, poking insects, finding the hidden wotnot, and doing a worksheet. But if you home ed past age 12, you'll find a massive withering-upon-the-vine of the workshops available. Which seems to morph into swotting at home with a text book and curriculum.

5. The friends changed. Once, it was noise and limbs, bramble-clawed legs and chocolate cheeks. Now it's plaited hair and bangles, camomile tea and musing. I watch my teen hippies meet their many-ways-to-skin-a-cat-philosopher friends discuss ambitions in film making, conservation, wolves.

With all this change-this and change-that reflection on living, I am moved to reflect on what we do that stays the same.

Some things don't change (much). Like our annual walk round Framlingham Castle. My routine setting the camera on black and white because I proudly retain the technology skills set of a medieval peasant. And Mr Whippy ice cream in Stowmarket, licked while sat on a bench in the cemetery.

Ah, happy is the repetition.

(Sadly, I do not have a photo of the cemetery.)

Monday, 28 July 2014

Overheard HesFes

Grit is in the mushy stage at the home educator's festival, weaving flowers in her hair, grinning foolishly, and watching your society's future doctors, film-makers, engineers, academics, musicians and lawyers run about, mostly without their pants on, or dressed as leopards.

It'll wear off. As the week goes on, we all sink smellier into the mud; the hair freaks out; the showers fill up with dog-washing toddlers, and Stowmarket supermarkets swell with rampaging middle-class hippies desperate for fresh-baked focaccia because the campsite supply of Warburtons ran out on Wednesday.

But we have our ears to the ground. (Sometimes literally. My new tent is quite small.) And the goss we're hearing:

'Why are we here?' (Small child standing outside campsite; he has my sympathies.)

'Send in the guinea pig. If the guinea pig dies, pee in the bush.' (Teenager, outside main toilets, two hours after arrival.)

'When I bake the computer, that's normally when I have to stop using it.' (Coffee bar adult.)

'I cut my finger on the toilet. It's the same toilet I cut it on last time.' (I am still trying to work it out.)

'Put Wuthering Heights in the tent. Steppenwolf can go in there as well.' (Showing Doreen that home ed is not all feral running about.)

'You spilled blue ink over yourself. Wow. Was it exciting, using a pen?' (But sometimes the feral is still there.)

'What can possibly go wrong? That should be the HesFes motto.' (Outside the office.)

'If the police come to chuck you off, it's nothing to do with us.' (Inside the office.)

'This crowd is different. Yeah, laid back, gentle.' (Car boot trader, commenting on the sudden surge of the blue-haired, hunting down pillows, blankies, books, cooking implements, and kiddy board games. Ahhh.)


Sunday, 27 July 2014

Hello, hippies

Yes! Here is another joyous unprompted missive from Grit, mother of all three of them. When will these letters* to the void stop? Not until the offspring reach age 16. Then I can bribe the local college to take them in. I will kick my heels in joy, knowing 'twas a job well done, preparing my innocents for failure in their life chances - a summing up I heard expressed this week by some minister-or-other.

We live in the usual story. The cultural message is: nothing other than school academia can be glorified. If a child is practical, artist, agriculturalist, embroiderer, wood-botherer, then forget it. Your child failed. Failing to bag top grades in at least 10 subjects at school means, apparently, the end of all life chances. Go straight to a park bench. Do not pass Go. Take a bottle of vodka.

Well, failures like us just need to wangle the system. Maybe 200 cash will do it, stashed behind the water pipes in the science lab. If it works, I will let you know.

Enough of that. We noticed Gove went. I don't think this bit of window dressing will make any difference. Just make me more cynical, maybe.

But wouldn't it be a great job if there was some sort of mass rebellion against the bright and shiny Asia schooling system that's coming our way? We can see it shaping up nicely: private companies picking up the testing structures; interview techniques for your 2-year old, to help them get into the 'right kindergarten'; the imperative on parents to prepare 4-year old Tinkertop for her formal class; computer delivery of more subjects; who needs a teacher when you have personalised remote tech support?; a single curriculum; outsourced educational packages which parents buy for out-of-school support. A shift from public-funded education to short-term business investment.

This is a shift to the marketing of the schooling system - they are huge and juicy budget centres waiting to be tapped - and for that to happen, we need socially compliant consumers. Nak all to do with education, and in all the 'personalised learning' there's no autonomy in it. No independent, individual thinking needed. I would encourage anyone to drag the yoof out of school, except that I think maybe there are enough home educators now.

If we have any more, then the government will think it imperative to control everyone. Even me. The feral ones out here will face an imposed curriculum and monitoring.

Except we won't. Thankfully, we have a huge streak of obstinate bloody mindedness that speaks otherwise.

Which means I am at HesFes with the hippies; the annual group of home educators who congregate in a Suffolk field. I am frankly unusual, with my non-blue hair.

Tiger suggested I should keep this a secret, and not tell you, on the basis that if word got round, then undercover educational psychologists will infiltrate the gathering. Shark said this was nonsense. She pointed out that all the ed psychs, ministers of state, and Doreens in local council departments who would come to scrutinise this lot are from financially restrained departments, and they simply couldn't afford to pay the overtime.

* I must remember the point of these letters is not my stream-of-consciousness but an educational record, to show thinkers and wonderers that education outside of a normal school structure is possible and, indeed, FUN. Recently we have achieved the monthly English group, Shark's sub-aqua, Squirrel and Tiger's weekly windsurfing, Tiger's climbing club, the visit to the British Museum mummies exhibition, a trip to the Sam Wanamaker Theatre to hear the Crystal clan deliver Renaissance songs sung in Original Pronunciation (yes, we are that niche), an excellent tour of the Classical Archaeology teaching galleries in Cambridge, the Global Citizenship group, and the fortnightly Latin group (fear ye not, Doreen, at the council desk. The exam is in 2015). See? The world didn't collapse outside the school gates. Life was interesting, and an education can be wrought in any local community.

Friday, 18 July 2014

In praise of the partners of creatives (or, what we have to suffer)

Dig is home. (Until he returns to Hong Kong, that is.) But don't I know about it? Because he's here writing, which means yes, I suffer. Like Dante in his circles, I will experience all 128 pages of book-creating pain.

I think it has reached page 16. But the experience is already so bad that I have half a mind to post the architect of this distress back early to Asia with a letter that reads, Here, you have him, and welcome. P.S. I drained the bank account.

But my sympathies are not with the mangled creative spirits of him and his ilk, not at all. Quite frankly, I have heard it up-to-here with their afflicted geniuses battling tortured souls to wring out distilled wisdoms and wondrous thinkings. And don't they go on about it?

No, my sympathies - my quiet expressions of empathy, my supportive glances, and fond hand-holdings - are with the person who has to live with it all. I sympathise, totally and utterly, with you partners/wives/husbands to these work-at-home-at-the-computer-screen types.

Just for the record then, here's what we partners to the tortured creatives have to put up with.

1. The hair pulling, groaning and sighing.
Starts before page 1 is even attempted. One week in to a 6-week process and we have to watch how the tortured soul is on the verge of breast-beating and clothes-rending. If, one morning, I discover it writhing on the floor chewing the carpet, well, I recommend stepping over the soul wracked with pain to get breakfast because a bowl of Frosties is preferable to wasting effort on your vocal chords saying Are you alright down there?

2. The distracted demeanour.
Specifically, the tortured soul spends weeks staring blankly at walls; gazing to a remote point by the left ear of anyone making sounds (commonly known as talking); ignoring any person, event, or situation (including minor house-fires and collapsed ceilings); and forgetting how to breathe. This last near-fatal forgetfulness is combined round here with dramatic hand-raising over the keyboard in a prolonged moment of word-based genesis.

3. Uselessness.
The tortured soul cannot do any practical tasks, none at all. No putting out the rubbish / helping mend the gate / hanging out the washing. Nor can they answer any practical questions like What do you want for dinner? or Did you put the iguana in the fridge like I asked you to? (This is the only fun we get, just forgive us. The tortured soul can't hear us anyway.)

4. No sense of time.
The rest of the household has a sort of pattern (even if, in Shark's case, the day starts by crawling out of bed at 11am). But the tortured soul has trouble keeping up with simple, basic clockery, confusing night and day with morning and supper-time. It is like you are permanently jet-lagged. Personally, I could cope with this temporal dislocation, because I have troubles myself with the hour hand, but this lack of time-sense is a killer when combined with Creative Issue Number 5.

5. Distraction.
Oh yes, we all suffer from this. Have a difficult form to fill in? How about the ironing! The stairs need cleaning! (No matter if you live in a bungalow.) The dusting is urgent! Well, it is ten thousand times worse if you have a 128-page book to write. By page 2 the entire study needs a re-build and the kitchen needs dismantling because the kettle is in the wrong place. If only I were joking! One morning at 5am I came down to find Dig sawing up my cupboard.

6. Smell.
I apologise for this, but truth will out. Personal care routines are the last thing on your mind, admit it. The tortured soul may forget to, um, wash behind the ears, shall we say? Partners, wives, husbands, we have to put up with this lack of grooming until by page 7 you have turned into some hairy sprouting alien creature we can only approach if we are holding a lavender pomander and a broom handle. I have considered just spraying the soul with the garden hose. (If anyone has tried this, I would like to know whether it worked.)

7. Irritability.
Of course we partners of the tortured soul are not all indifferent to the suffering! We love you; we want to help. Sometimes, you may even ask us to help! Perhaps with a bit of reading, light editing, or a safe person to whom you can explain an idea in infinitesimal detail while we grunt yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, and meanwhile plan the daily meals for the coming year. But then what happens? After we helped? You rouse yourself to irrational anger, stare in disbelief at the monstrous wrong we have done to the integrity of your life's work! Your vision! (Moved the comma.)

8. The need for The Other.
This, I observe, is an essential ingredient of the creative soul. It must find an oppositional thing/object/dog to explore and test the boundaries of the tortured ideas in progress. Sadly, the partner/husband/wife must take this role when all else has been broken and the dog run off to lick its wounds (or in that fine example of Eric Gill, sit down for a while). This is a truly miserable haunting to inhabit. We, the partner/husband/wife, must be The Other. Someone to kick against. Yet we must be both sympathetic to the genius (you are doing great, your book is wonderful, etc. etc.) and simultaneously be made the scapegoat for all disasters, wrongs, and why, why, why, after 12 months, you're still on page 9.

9. The way life needs to be lived now, before it can be further writ.
Such pleasure is not only reserved for fiction writers! Non-fiction writers, biographers, composers of reports, policy documents, training manuals and workshop materials. You are all the same. Serious, in-depth research is needed, possibly for years, before a single sentence on the political implications of the comma can be committed to page 3. The history of Argentina may be related, so worth stopping everything for a month's further study, and maybe a 2-week visit. The implications of the 1925 trade agreement between Burkino Faso and a grocer's in Hexham could be crucial. Better delay page 12 than get the facts wrong!

10. The awful, awful, deadline.
If it were a play we would now reach Act 5. The dreadful pit of fiery Hell with the Master of Despair, Lucifer himself, swinging open the fearful door, yawning to embrace your tortured soul. But wait, Satan, wait! He is only on page 13! Truly, the tortured soul now embarks on a tremendous gnashing of teeth. Everything would be alright if it wasn't for the bloody awful audience expecting so much! And the publishers who are always on your back! And the printers who mess it up every bleeding time! The warehouse staff who sent the last box to the wrong place! They're in on it too! The dog has run off with the cat, the comma was moved to fatal effect, the Other isn't speaking to you and there's no-one left to blame but yourself. (Better start redrafting that email to explain why you just missed Deadline Number 3, Extension 4.)

But every cloud has a silver lining, does it not? We partners of the creative souls are strong, and constant. Loyalty, steadfastness, blinkered stupidity, call it what you will, we know it will come right. We can see the touching and affecting vulnerability you can show, in all the horrible 128 pages; the boy in the man or the girl in the woman, we know how you struggle for the ideas that must, somehow, be true to the vision.

Let us keep hold of this, that is my way, because round here it may be the only thing now keeping the creative soul from the door with a suitcase launched at his head. The hopefulness that when it is all done, we partners, wives and husbands can look back and hear, I'm proud of that. And you were right about the comma.

Monday, 7 July 2014

I count the small things

Have I lost you yet? Have I? My statcounter suggests three of you are still here. Welcome! Welcome! Sit down and have a cup of tea!

Yes, all three of you. Two of you may want to move your chairs, however, because I still satisfy a niche market in vacuum cleaner porn. (A photo of my Dyson is strangely popular in one German household.)

Anyhow, the gentleman (I'm assuming, I know) will depart soon enough, and we can get on with the report of educational matters for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, detained as they are at Grit's pleasure while she indoctrinates them outside of all normality.

Well, first off, I am living in the House of Teenage. If I recommend a book / article / MOOC, or suggest any idea in any discipline beyond 'What we can have for dinner', then I may as well have damned the day to Hell, sent horned devils flying in its wake, and sounded the trumpet to mark the start of the apocalypse.

Precisely, parentally: I now stay away from 'stuff we are learning'. I contribute very little to it. Not much that I can say to my teenage brood is of much use, has any sense, brings any merit or worth, nor may even be intelligible, never mind intelligent.

But I am much comforted! Especially by reading how half a teenage brain closes down. (Probably just before it stares at you in disbelief, tramples on your humanities, then slams the bathroom door in your face.)

But I can still say some words that have value! Such as 'Do you want to go to the Globe' and 'You can have pasta for dinner'.

Then let us have a count up since the last missive!

1. The Globe. Specifically, Titus Andronicus (marvellous, brilliant, dark); Julius Caesar (wringing every word out, with real tears); The Last days of Troy (had to swot up on Homer before we went).

All the Gritlings are happy at The Globe. We are now nerdy types who arrive at 11.59 to the groundling queue, then chat with the one person who has waited since 11am about important questions of the day, like 'Who have you seen on stage wear boots with zips?' and 'I wonder what happened to the Renaissance bootlings to bring about this anachronistic footwear catastrophe?'

2. The RSC (Henry IV Part 2). Utterly professional and tippety-top with the delights of Oliver Ford Davies and Antony Sher lighting up the stage. I disagree though with the pamphlet. It is not a 'heart-breaking conclusion'. Buy me a gin and tonic and I'll more than happily share.

3. Other theatre stuff. West Side Story (procedural; needed to be done), plus an outdoor Midsummer Night's Dream with London Contemporary Theatre (disappointing and lacking in energy), and La Boheme at the Royal Opera House (schools performance).

The one problem I have with all this artsy-fartsy background is that two of my brood now want to be scientists. I am not 100% sure how to help them achieve that, beyond throw cash about for tutored science courses and hope the local college looks upon them kindly.

4. The IGCSE in Global Citizenship. I utterly, utterly, recommend this course. Dorothy is tutoring the Gritlings along with a.n.other, getting me off the hook. But I get to enjoy the benefit of rattling on endlessly about anything and everything, from Sharia law and the history of women's rights, to the geography of Nigeria and the population of Yemen. The Gritlings tune out after five minutes, which is even better. No one can stop me.

5. Pasta for dinner. We have achieved precious little else, unless I count Latin, an art workshop with Fimo, and Shark, Squirrel and Tiger sleeping out in someone else's garden overnight. (Their mother, I have been told, was kind. Whereas when they stayed all night in our back garden under a bit of old plastic hung between two trees, I locked the back door, which meant they had to wee in the bushes.)

I think that could be all. It is not much, I know. I am scouring around for other details to record. I am keeping up with the laundry, bought a garden bench to replace the busted hammock, am over the worst of the minor breakdown. Apart from that, nothing to report. xx

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Talk to your teens

Grit: Hullo Squirrel! Would you be willing to help me with the laundry?

Grit: Hullo Tiger! Would you be willing to help me with the washing up?

Grit: Hullo Shark! Would you be willing to help me with the cooking?

Shark: Uh-oh. You've been reading those parenting books again.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Still afloat

You and me both, let's breathe a sigh of relief. It was the right thing to do. Pare this blog to a grudging fortnightly post on all educational disasters triumphs. I quake in fear at what I'd be spilling from misery grit's life now, becos it All Goe Rong.

Well, let's get it out the way. The All Goe Rong. In the last two weeks I have made a great nuisance of myself in many areas, to wit: matrimonial, financial, sisterly, professionally, and, worst of all, am now persona non gratis at the Village Hall. Then I had a fight with a taxi driver.

In the taxi driver incident, I would not normally involve myself. Normally I would be too busy, protecting my cowardly arse, peering out from behind the local tree/Squirrel/lace curtain. But I felt I needed to wade in because a) it was happening at my gate and b) a young man was screaming I've just had a baby! It was in a pitch that suggested he was about to follow with And now I'm going to thump you! Unfortunately, the fule taxi driver - unaware how Grit was brung up with a bare-knuckle mentality when someone is roode to her and her kind - treated my helpfulness in a less than gentlemanly manner. While my arms were windmilling at him, an off-duty policeman arrived promptly at the scene to bring matters to a calm conclusion. (In case you're wondering, I will not be prosecuted.)

See? All Goe Rong is only partly due to a handling breakdown on my part. Other people have played roles in it. Like the ungallant behaviour of Mr Taxi; Dig taking an extended holiday fieldtrip in Japan under doubtful circumstances; close family members getting married on the sly; people continuously asking me, Are you going to pull out? Are you going to pull out?; the High Street Bank changing my finances without telling me; and the emotional trauma of all local politics, specifically the ongoing saga of an untrustworthy cabal of trustees suspending our local arts charity, then flogging Smalltown's beautiful and historic Grade II listed theatre to a bunch of Evangelicals for less than the price of a 3-bed semi.*

Of course, in all these Gone Rong times, some things remain alright!

I am loved (by people I feed, mostly). I have a roof over my head (do not count the hole for the drip). And I have friends in people like Ellie and Peepah.

Everyone needs friends in their life when life is shit, do they not? I can recommend Peepah for telling it like it is, and Ellie.

Everyone should have an Ellie. Ellie is a delight, because she is a compendium of stuff you can't make up. Like the tale of the woman who stays on this side of England because she can't cross bridges, or the story of the man who attacked his washing machine with a mallet, or the consequences of impulsing-buying a bargain four-foot block of granite. (On that score, everything will be fine. You merely need to hire industrial lifting gear, remove the kitchen window, cut a hole in the brickwork, re-lay the kitchen floor with a concrete pad to take the weight of the granite, and have it all sorted by collection day, Tuesday.)

Ellie also did something else. She sent me a dead bird through the post, one that she'd found in her garden. Wrapping it in plastic and sending it second class over a bank holiday suggested some lack of thinking ahead re the actual decomposition, but it has nonetheless kick-started my new collection of dead birds.

To this end, I have had a very useful conversation with a man hunched over a bacon sandwich at the back of a crystal healing shop on the subject of how to strip baby bird skulls in a way which doesn't include sticking your dead bird in a saucepan and boiling the brains off it. I needed to have this conversation, I really did, because now I have quite a collection and I want their skulls, so I was hugely grateful he took it all in his stride and merely chewed thoughtfully on his bacon sandwich while I explained my dilemmas.

Other moments have helped me calibrate how fortunate I remain. Not least the long, sad conversation with the homeless man in the car park at Lidl in Luton. (This is how I spend my Tuesday evenings, thanks to Shark.) Find ways of being kind to your fellow humans, that is the upshot. We all, at times, walk close to that perilously thin crack in the earth; one side everything is fine! And on the other side is utter chaos and disintegration, with the terrible logic of depression pulling you down like gravity into a chasm.

But! There are the real successes! Like the joy of seeing my daughters take control of a dangerous vehicle with the Under-17 Car Club (although Tiger managed to dent the inside of the driver's door after a particularly difficult reversing-round-a-corner). Then we had a fine, non-wet day! Squirrel created a lovely fire from twigs, the local newspapers and 200 boxes of matches. And I decided to launch my Titus Andronicus range of Garden Furniture! (Not really. I'm fantasising there really is a place for a set of plastic garden chairs splattered with immovable red paint.)

Then, most astonishing of all, a sudden drive to Ipswich Dockside to deposit Shark on a tall ship to become part of a youth crew, learning how to sail a proper big ship at sea.

Yes, I picked her up today. I was anxious about this all week. My daughter, floating about the English Channel with a ship load of home ed students. It will sail back into Portsmouth like the Ghost Ship. Eerily empty, bar a strange mist.

Her tall ships experience was not like that at all. It was a no-frills real experience where she had a proper taste of life as an active and responsible crew member. She is all filled with new words and phrases that she speaks with real knowledge and respect, like bosun, heads, tender, and the skunk got hanged. Even better, she has also learned how to arm wrestle, swear, and play cards.

But I consider my ups and downs. As Shark proudly holds her certificate for Competent Crew, this one success alone probably outweighs All Gone Rong, and for a few more weeks yet.

The Queen Galadriel. Proof of life, not sinking yet.

*allegedly. They are handy with the lawyers.