Friday, 18 May 2018

What does 'education' mean?

What does it mean, this word education?

For the lazy, it just means 'school'.

The school this month says it means exams. They say, It's all about exams.

For some people in government it means oversight.

My neighbour says it means SATs.

I hear, for the little'uns, it means tests.

In one of our national newspapers this week 'education' means approve, monitor and inspect.

These definitions don't sound right to my ears. They all sound a bit uninspiring. Is it so? Education has become not curiosity, wondering, experimenting, learning; the time to explore.

Education means learning the mark scheme. This week, at school: What do we think of 3.2 in the mark scheme? Oh my broken heart, for what education means. I still want education to mean, What do we think of King Lear?

Well, you work it out. What do you mean by this word, education? (Careful. You might pick a fight with the school, your neighbour, or a national newspaper.)

Otherwise, outside, from over here, education is philosophy. Education never meant tests, exams, learning the mark scheme 3.2.

It means, the freedom to explore whatever you like.

Thank goodness then, we still have otherwise than at school. But we're holding on to that, only by the skin of our teeth.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Think very carefully before you're bullied into home education by a school

Beware. Times they are a-changing.

The laws and guidances pertaining to home education might be changed by the time you read this.

At present, there are no laws, no statutory duty and no powers for government to oversee, monitor, register, control, inspect, or interfere in any way whatsoever with your choice of elective home education. Neither are you required to register or seek approval from any local authority to educate your child at home.

In home education, we have enjoyed a sort of trust tradition. The state has trusted the parent, believing that the parent knows what is best for their child. Here is an implicit understanding: a parent will move heaven and earth to support, encourage and develop their own child’s interests, abilities and aptitudes.

But times, they change. We have entered a world of suspicion, surveillance, monitoring, tracking and targeting. Civil liberties is a contested area.

But the government has powerful clients like Capita and Pearson whispering of solutions to these issues. They run very nice databases and big educational-technology projects. Wouldn't it be 'right' if all citizens could, 'for connected purposes', 'be embraced' by the new opportunities that a technology-driven world can offer?

In this new world, governments and corporates could work hand-in-hand to 'help' us all, and bring about 'social cohesion'. Surely there's nothing wrong with a bit of data sharing of your child's emotional, educational and welfare needs?

Home educators, with an insistence on parental rights and freedom to eschew educational database compilations and choose what ever field they damn well like for their child are, in this happy new world, more than just an awkward squad. We must appear as awkward as dinosaurs with attitude.

For many years, as the pressure is applied to all citizens to conform, the government has ‘had a go’ (to put it mildly), at the image of us off-beat home educators, treading our own paths. Once, we were seen as eccentric hippies. The worst that was probably said of us was, 'Let them get on with it. They are harmless and bonkers.'

Over the last 20 years, as we have been seen as more 'dangerous' to the vision of conformity, then the campaigns to bring us to heel have become more vicious.

Now home educators are routinely cast as child abusers. Terrorists. People with dark secrets to hide. People who need to be watched. People who are up to no good. Feckless. Inadequate. Mentally unstable. Mothers who have Munchhausen's Syndrome by Proxy.*

My personal favourite is that my children are invisible. (I must have imagined them all along.)

But now, we have a very specific problem in the world of home education. Schools. Schools are joyless, soul-sucking places which no longer let kids run about and be kids. Kids are now proto-customers for whom their parents are indoctrinated into believing they must buy verbs and number lines. Otherwise their child will never get a job. (The jobs don't exist, but shhh about that.)

Some parents (quite rightly IMO) tell the schools to fuck off. Parents and child choose instead to run about in the woods and learn about beetles.

Some kids, trapped in this miserable SATs factory, simply go bonkers. (Not surprising.) The schools then tell the parent to fuck off. Or, 'Why don't you 'home-school'?! The parent then has a miserable time; isn't dedicated to home ed, has no philosophy about education, and thinks the answer must be in a text book, somewhere. They sink or swim.

Think very carefully, then, before you home educate. Instead of attending to the basic structural and social problems - the trust in you as a parent, the pressure on government from corporates, the demands placed on schools by government ministers - all the attention will focus on You.

You will spend all your time looking over your shoulder, wondering what is coming at you next.


Make provision for local authorities to assess the educational development of children receiving elective home education; and for connected purposes.

Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

1 Duty of local authorities to assess children receiving elective home education

(1)The Education Act 1996 is amended as follows.

(2)After section 436A (duty to make arrangements to identify children not receiving education), insert—
“436B Duty of local authorities to assess children receiving elective home education

(1)Local authorities have a duty to assess the educational development of children receiving elective home education in their area.

(2)Local authorities have a duty to provide advice and information to a parent of a child receiving elective home education if that parent requests such advice or information in relation to their obligations under this section.

(3)A parent of a child receiving elective home education must register the child as such with their local authority.

(4)Local authorities must assess annually each child receiving elective home education in their area (hereafter referred to as “the assessment”).

(5)The assessment set out in subsection (4) must assess the educational development of each child.

(6)The assessment may include—
(a)a visit to the child’s home;
(b)an interview with the child;
(c)seeing the child’s work; and
(d)an interview with the child’s parent.

(7)A parent of a child receiving elective home education must provide information relevant to the assessment to their local authority when requested.

(8)The Secretary of State must by regulations made by statutory instrument specify—
(a)the arrangements for parents to register a child with their local authority under subsection (3); and
(b)the methodology of the assessment.

(9)A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(10)In this section “elective home education” refers to education given to a child at home following a decision by their parent to educate them outside the school system.”

2 Guidance relating to elective home education

(1)The Secretary of State must update the guidance for elective home education 
for local authorities and parents to account for section 436B of the Education 
Act 1996 by the end of the period of one year, beginning with the day on which 
this Act comes into force.

(2)In updating the guidance in subsection (1), the Secretary of State must have regard to—
(a)the expectation that elective home education must include provision of supervised instruction in reading, writing and numeracy, which takes into account the child’s age, ability, aptitude and any special educational needs and disabilities, and
(b)the views of children and parents who elect home education.

(3)The Secretary of State may carry out a public consultation to inform the guidance set out in subsection (1).
In this Act— “elective home education” refers to education given to a child at home following a decision by their parent to educate them outside the school system; and “local authority” means—
(a)in relation to England, the council of a district, county or London borough, the Common Council of the City of London and the Council of the Isles of Scilly;
(b)in relation to Wales, the council of a county or county borough.

4Extent, commencement and short title
(1)This Act extends to England and Wales only.
Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill

(2)This Act comes into force at the end of the period of two months, beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.
(3)This Act may be cited as the Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Act 2017.

* 'At our first interview Mr Badman was interested in what I had to say. His opening question was to ask me if home educating mothers suffered from Munchhausen's by Proxy. I thought this to be a curious starting point - that of questioning whether home education is a symptom of mental illness.' Memorandum submitted by Dr Paula Rothermel FRSA, Educational psychologist expert witness.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

The Law doesn't matter. This is Revenge.

The first thought I have on seeing a copy of the Times article - how police are tracking home-school kids - is, Revenge.

The fact that Lords and Ladies are supporting this - a police action which has no statutory basis - shows how much of a toss they don't give about the law.

They're taking revenge. Last time, you see, we got away with it. We protected a fundamental principle of law. We protected the legal duty we all have, when we citizens hit parenthood. You, parent, get to choose what education fits your child.

Learning - it isn't about verbs and nouns, facts and figures. It's the type of world your child knows; the type of world they are shown as aspirational; the type of world which makes us proud. 'Learning' means who they interact with; how they use private and social space; who they feel accountable towards; who they see as authorities in their world. 'Learning' means all the unwritten rules, the codes of behaviours, the way we can challenge those codes; who can break them, who cannot.

All these intimate, intricate power relationships we stitch into our everyday, which we casually gloss under that word. Education.

But I can see how one law - declaring a parent's duty to educate their child - simply gets in the way. It gets in the way if more powerful people than me are trying to readjust a world of structures and hierarchies and obligations. In our new world, they need compliant citizens who don't ask too many questions; who don't criticize power too deeply; who don't ask that most dangerous of questions: Why?

In someone's vision of society you need to demonstrate all your activities in a public way. Imagine a society where your actions can be monitored, regulated, authorised. Perhaps governments and business work hand-in-hand to pass your identities and personalities between them: to better manage your compliance for other regulations, sanctions and, um, social improvements. Let us then sing our new hymns: Our society will improve! We become a better people! In our hearts is the sun!

In this utopia, some behaviours can be addressed as anti-social, fined and punished. Some behaviours are rewarded. Some behaviours modified. How is your e-behaviour credit balance doing? The score which combines your attitude to learning and your receptiveness to engagement? Welcome to our new age: Social Panopticon.

But are you failing to agree to certain rules? Did you fail to engage in the market this year? Did you fail to show us behavioural compliance with the consensus? Did you fail to demonstrate how you would like to be embraced by technological progress? Um, I think we're now on the territorial fringes of totalitarianism, aren't we?

We old dinosaurs stand in the way. We unhappy band of home educators. We who are not trying to replicate school at home. Clinging to old fashioned, quaint ideas, like The Law. My band, my tribe, those laws, we all get in the way of social improvement.

Me, I won't buy a fridge to help me make online purchases, I'll simply do without a fridge. I won't change my energy supplier, but I'll turn off the lights and lower the heating. I don't live by the consumer world. I can repair things. I can make things. I am resourceful. I am crafty.

What can I say to the Lords and Ladies who are now eagerly supporting illegal action?

Know the world my children know. They know to trust themselves and their own judgements. They know they can change the world. They know that they are valuable people who will touch the lives of others in many positive ways. They are independent-minded, strong, and determined. They are inspired by the powers, crafts, talents and ideals of ordinary people. Not with people who assume power over us.

They know that governments around the world are corrupt. They see how money doesn't reach ordinary people. They know that unbridled corporate power leads to division, greed, and makes a new type of slave-owner. They know that many who take it upon themselves to lead can be easily seduced by money and power.

They also know that home education is just one type of educational structure and in itself it's not a problem. The problem is with shit parenting. And some parents are shit whether they offload the kids to school or shut them in a cupboard at home. If you want the statistics on that, I bet I'm on safe ground to assert that more kids who go to school are abused, beaten up, made into terrorists and nut-jobs by their parents than kids living outside the mainstream schooling routine.

Your basic problem, Lords and Ladies, is this. Schools have become joyless, miserly, soul-stealing exam factories.

Schools who have one eye to their customer base are desperate to off-load kids who are not making them look good. The very kids who need social support. Schools are suggesting to parents they might like to 'home-school'. They're using home education as their cover. Schools, not home education, should be your proper focus. Unless you are particularly vengeful.

Look how governments have demolished and destroyed what children love to do - feel free, run outside, explore the world, engage in hours of child-led play, ask questions of adults who do not know the answer, find out things with people who want to explore as they do.

Governments have destroyed this childhood because these children will grow up to create an adult world which is out of their control. The adult world created by free-thinking people will be dangerous to the controlling, organising powers. We have adults who ask Why? and who feel powerful enough to organise and act. They can create a world of spontaneity, exploration, and radical challenging to traditional vested interests. If you were on the controlling side, wouldn't you want to stop this type of world, dead? And take revenge on those who try to keep it alive?

I'm not engaging with the worlds of Soley and Deech. They represent a future that my children won't have. My children will go about this world, bright sparks, bright satellites, bright thinkers, who'll always ask, Why?

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Who's into Art Deco?

Look, it's a free 1930s armchair, which looked great in our retro office with art deco mirrors and theatre studio lights.

For God's Sake, will someone please take it off my hands?! If I have to take it down the tip, I'm going to be distraught. It's FREE.

Don't suggest ebay, auction, trading site, freecycle, local noticeboard, a reupholstery specialist, the local art school or the local theatre props person.

If you want it, get in touch. This is the closest I've ever come to begging.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Families who...

This family has moved into new territories.

But my emotional attachments to the landscapes through which we lived our lives, they are still strong.

Our ways of living were informed by our alternative educational choices. Those decision points, in turn, were informed by dozens of well-springs.

At first, we picked our way through practicalities, observations, and loves. We drew on our anti-authority dispositions, our arrogances and ignorances. We bluffed it out and marshalled our forces because, once we embarked, we knew our decision must be the right one for us.

Looking back, I don't regret a minute of our home education journey. Although there were days which felt like a life sentence. Some days felt like a hideous mistake. Plenty of days felt wonderfully, gloriously, free.

Now, in our new landscapes with fresh problems, I need to choose how to support the community that, in one sense, we are no longer part of. But ideologically, emotionally, we stay. Right there.

Changes to the law affect every parent, and every family who have children to educate, by school or otherwise.

What choices we can make, everyday, in this world.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

I don't want time. I want timelessness.

Emin's phrase is all over the news, setting off my jumping bugs. I am told, this is a love letter. This time thing, it is a love thing.

But the thing about love, for me, is that it throws me into timelessness, not time.

I want that. I don't want time. Time is defined. It has a start and a stop. When I am in it, I am counting; clock watching. I am enclosed, bound from this hour to that hour. It will surely end. I was indifferent, or bored, or I wanted it to end.

That was my time with you.

But when I am in love, then I leap off time; this moment, it was a moment, but it breaks free of its ticking weight. It is timeless; it does not stop. This collision, a cherished moment, a coming together, we can last beyond clocks and the tick tock of their hands.

You can keep your time. Clocks, I can wind them up, pack them away, fold them down, because we do not stop. What survives of us, is love.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Day 2 Chemo Cycle

Dig's lying-down day, cradling a plastic tube, and a bottle. The bottle, not artisan gin, but chemo-mix, delivered to Dig's arm via tube.

He must carry this apparatus around for 2 days. And nights.

Days, it's easy. The bottle slips into a pocket. Nights. Um. We thought, What? What do we do with the bottle? Where does it go? At first, I was terrified of my sleeptime. I would find myself holding onto the tube, now sleep-morphed into a train carriage strap. Then, grabbing hold of the bottle, slumbered into ticking timebomb, I would throw the lot out the train carriage window. The screaming would wake me up.

Thankfully! (You have no idea how much!) The dreams never happened like that (maybe Liam Neeson came to save the day, just in time). Dig secured the bottle into the crook of his arm, and slept, on and off, slowly growing used to the procedure of holding bottle before 360-degree turning.

But we are not only reminded of chemo by means of tubes and bottles. Dig feels its effects in other ways. Room temperature drinks are best, because with extreme reaction to cold, fridges are human skin meeting polar ice cap. Loss of sensitivity in fingers and toes mean Dig stares at his hands, wondering what happened. And, with extreme dry skin - think heat-grizzled river bed - Pliazon has become our new best friend. Pliazon calls itself a 'regenerating, moisturising and normalising cream'. But that is underselling itself. It is soft relief, a gentle freshness, and a reason to smooth hands over the skin of a loved one.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Day 1 Chemo Cycle

Dig spends the day in the Oncology ward. He is keen to get down there before 10am, because all the best locations are by the wall sockets. Then he can power up various devices with which to pass the time.

I take him down, but I won't come in until late afternoon and pick-up time. Perhaps that is mean of me, I don't know. Instead of coming in and staring at the patients, the floor, the drips, the fluorescent lights throwing a bleak, bland light across us all, there is only the endless television, washing the walls with daytime programmes about car crashes on motorways and how to plan your dream home. I leave to use the time instead in all my practical ways - stitching books, ferrying children, stocking up foodstuffs, visiting the garage, making plans for this summer's garden.

And I tell myself that a chemo ward is not really the place for visitors. I feel in the way, taking up valuable space with my clutter of bags and flasks and books and coats. The floor in the centre of the room is kept purposefully clear. People are lined along the walls, where nurses can access arms quickly, respond to bleeps, position drips and wheel trolleys in a trice. Occasionally there is a great flurry. Modesty curtains are flung across rattling rails; there is the sound of retching, quiet talking, bitter laughter.

There is a leaden quietness about the methodical processes here: it reminds me of an industrial setting, a closed warehouse with set procedures and conveyor-belt timing. Nurses tick sheets, check charts, move patients, raise arms on pillows, balance bottles and drips, concentrate on injections. I feel my feeble attempts to be jolly are misplaced; forced, not spontaneous. I am adding to pressures and obligations. My few jokes are soon exhausted. Without me, Dig can relax and doze. He will have been given a strong antihistamine before the chemo drip is begun, to make sure his body does not react in shock to the poison. This will make him drowsy. Chemo drips take hours, and hours.

I can see the nurses do what they can. They've arranged four seats round a circular table with Homes and Gardens. They've put LED lights round a hand bell, which promises bright sparkling jubilation when someone completes their chemo course. It is a promise that this will end. Cards and notes are pinned to the wall: thank you, thank you, thank you.

When I bring him home, I feel like skipping in the bright sunshine of today. We have escaped, released, demob happy. But not yet. Not yet. Along Dig's arm runs a tube feeding into his body a poison mix held in a small plastic bottle. He tucks the bottle into his pocket for safety and I can disappear the sight of it. For moments, the shortest of times, I can forget, and say, Today I cleared the seat in the garden. I bought potatoes. I paid the electricity bill. I picked up Squirrel at the library. What chatter can be made of an ordinary day.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

48-24 hours before it begins again

This is what happens in the 48-24 hours before Dig's chemotherapy cycle.

We start with him already frustrated, fed up, disconnected (having spent several days unwell in bed), and unhappy. He's also suffering hiccups again, intermittently, which are not hilarious, as they should be. They cause reflux and abdominal pain while preventing talking, eating and breathing like a normal human being. Cue bleak mood and expression of weary forbearance.

But! On the bright side! Beautiful Husband Dig character-shares with Luverly Wif Grit, the following unquenchable strengths: a strong streak of bloody mindedness, severe independence, quiet obstinacy, and visions of how things might be, if only we could get there.

Shared motto: We have to be imaginative enough to think of it, then brave enough to do it.*

Step 1. Go to hospital for blood tests. I don't go with him, because the test usually takes only a few minutes, and involves the drawing of blood (I have to avert my eyes, or risk passing out).

Today the process takes two hours 'on account of an Easter backlog'. (He probably just fibbed about that, and crept off to scoff a burger from behind the tyre shop, even though he has been banned from doing this by the hygiene certification rule.)

The blood test, as explained to us, is checking he's fit enough to begin the poison cycle. It might involve a neutrophil check, which is his white blood cell count. Under 1? He's in hospital. A bouncy 3.2? Soon he'll be at the starting line in the oncology ward. White blood cells fight the infections that he's almost certainly about to contract.

Step 2. Start taking steroids. These are teensy-tiny tablets. Swallowing these results in a clear-up of all the things you've ever been suffering from. On the other hand, prolonged use of steroids will turn you into a flobby colander before killing you, so thank goodness these are just a quick chemo blast.

Dig's state of mind at this stage swings between weary chemo-worn routines of I don't want anything, to moments of optimistic outgoingness, the sort of energy that expresses itself in: I could just eat a burger from the van behind the tyre shop.

For my part, the experience is not so much procedural needles-and-pills. Instead, it is all emotional complex stuff. I have already done the change of status from Wife to Partner to Person who stands over there-and I cannot remember her Name; back to Wife and Partner and so on. Now I must add another character type to my portfolio and it is Carer.

Shifting persona into Carer can be hard work, especially for a person who learned from her mother (like many other women, I suspect) bon mots such as: Stop whining and pull yourself together. No-one's going to do it for you. No-one's interested in how you're feeling, you just have to get on with it.**

Being a caring-type person who should use none of the above phrases is an adjustment I make. Some days Dig makes that adjustment easy. Probably because to look at his sorrows reminds me of his needs, his vulnerabilities, and the horrible process he goes through daily. Then time and attention is my day.

But this is how things stand as we edge towards Day 1. For me, a sense of powerlessness, and a great deal of fear. To Dig I give the better part of me. Care and love.

* I recognise this motto could be equally used by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, but ours is meant in a good non-killing-kings way.

**I don't want to pass these attitudes onto my daughters, but I probably do. Girls, I'm sorry. I blame my mother.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Beat that, Beyonce

Beyonce, if you need a perfect life - because, let's face it, yours isn't quite good enough - then we can swap places, and you can have mine.

Grit's life, more or less as she went about her business and texted to a variety of friends and family.

Oh! #myperfectday.

> Are you still sick? I just rammed the car into a metal bar, dented the door, and smashed off the trim.

> I have bought a bin.

> I will get potatoes from Lidl.

> Of course I drove back and picked up the trim. The garage can glue it back on.

> I bet I can get the dent out with a hammer.

> I also smashed the sidelight. I hope you do not want peas.

> I am at the dentist.

> Shark hates me.

> Does that mean we do not have to pay the £500 fine?

> Yes, I am taking her climbing. I have driven her up the wall. HAHAHAHA.

> We are going to A&E.

> We are coming home. He is malingering. They say clear off until you are dying.

> Thank you. Please say nothing to my advanced driving instructor.

Monday, 26 March 2018

3 Negatives, 3 Positives

1. Planning blight.
What are you doing next Tuesday? Living with cancer treatment turns our calender into a tombola. Pick a date. I might be able to leave the house for more than one hour. Or not. We might be at hospital. I might be recovering from 2 hours sleep after a night spent on a plastic chair in Accident and Emergency. We can't plan next Tuesday like we can't plan a holiday or secure a day trip.

2. Income drop. Sudden, severe, scary.
The accountant has called Dig's career path, adventurous. As in, we work on our wits and make an income from what we can. So far, twenty years on, it worked! But our client hears that word, cancer, and the income of 25k drops to 12k overnight. Maybe it will disappear altogether. Say what? Disasters come in threes? The icing on the cake will be rep from the VAT office come round again to scrutinise the accounts because we have no invoices going out.

3. Increased expenditure in unexpected areas.
Who knew I would need to buy a plastic sleeve? And another one! Thanks to the first being thrown away by accident. Um, maybe because it looks like a plastic bag with a string at one end. And the hospital car parking! Parking the car at the oncology ward, I whisper my gratitude to those people who fought to get free car parking for cancer patients. If it were not for you, my last and treasured one hundred pounds would vanish in a trice.

1. Gratitudes.
I can chronicle the mood swings, tears and temper tantrums, the sleeplessness, terrors, anxieties, hiccups and nausea, and I will. All with the usual and pervasive tone of woe and mortality. But we're still laughing, sitting together round the dinner table, getting jobs done and notching up big successes. Like the children's playhouse, end of garden, now project-planned for conversion into Squirrel's writing shed. Looking forward to that summer clear out, paint from scrapstore, freecycle, old desk installed with home-made bookcases. Ta-da!

2. The people we meet.
People who live another day, ring bells, clap, laugh, tell stories, find beauty in the everyday, count blessings, chase butterflies, watch birds, ask how are things, forgive me, say hello, and simply smile, when I am searching in my heart for the tiniest thing to be glad about.

3. Family and friends.
People, I love you for being so warm and happy to share your thoughts for us. The only downside to this is that I am usually very bad about keeping you updated. I keep resolving to do so on the blog. (Which I know I will do badly.)

My 2 and 3 there, they sound the same. Maybe they are enormous positives, growing beyond numbers.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

It's not all cancercancercancer

No, indeed. Life is not all cancer. Some of it is theatre! Not theatre of the operating kind, but of the dramatic and fateful variety. Tales of ne'er-do-wells, villains and bad choices, fortunate findings, unhappy women and unhappy endings. Ah, the theatre! Love of my life!

Example: Hedda Gabler. The National touring performance. Now, not coming to a theatre near you (unless you're at this moment in Dublin). We travelled to see this in Northampton. Except we didn't see it. Someone needed an emergency ambulance half way through, and the performance was cancelled. We tried to see it again in Milton Keynes last week. When there was snow. The performance was cancelled to stop us travelling to the theatre. A fact I found out, after I'd travelled to the theatre with a car load of ticket holders.

Example: The Birthday Party. Pintery offerings at the old comedy theatre, London. Plot: Disturbing happenings in a front room. Glad it isn't my front room, although it sets the nerve endings a-tingling, simply by knowing that everything chilling and disturbing happening in your front room is also very ordinary. Would you like a cup of tea with your toast?

Example: Passage to India. Northampton. I didn't go. I gave up my ticket to the Travelling Aunty who had a jolly good evening out with the gritlets. The report back was, 'like the book except on a stage'.

Example: Imperium. RSC, Stratford. Brilliant. I loved every minute of it, this study of Cicero's life, played wonderfully by Richard McCabe, and taken in great gulps over two Saturdays. The construction of the episodes, by zooming in on the players entering Cicero's life, made for unputdownable theatre. I particularly thrilled at Caesar, thoroughly unctuous, played like a horror show that you can't stop watching. I could watch it all again.

Example: Twelfth Night. RSC Live/Cineworld screening. Strangely, I didn't enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed other interpretations of this play, although Adrian Edmonson is a treat to watch. Here, too much emphasis on Victorian singalongs for my liking. But, having paid a dollop and a half for sets like that, I don't suppose you can do much else but use them to put on a musical.

Example: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Young Vic/NT Live. (Not Live at All / Encore screening.) I don't think I even tried to get tickets for this live. Sienna Miller without her clothes on? I don't have that amount of money. Thank goodness then, for the Encore screenings, suited for hand-to-mouth merchants like me. All the cast were excellent. The set was perfect. Costumes, sound, lighting, the lot, an example of great professional theatre.

Not theatre, but like it: Knickerdrawer Notebooks, stitched with story in mind. Every book is a book to play with: story, drama, character and, um, theatre. As soon as you hold one of these in your hands, it's a world waiting to be transformed.

(I have to do some marketing somewhere. This weekend, Central Milton Keynes, Stall 13. Vintage and Handmade Show. Come and see me and let's talk drama.)

Monday, 26 February 2018


We have a conversation, all day, everyday. It is, basically, the same conversation, with minor variations. It goes something like this:

Have you taken it?
What is it?

What is it now?

Take it again.
What is it?

What is it?
Perhaps it'll go down.

What is it now?

What is it?
Right. Ring the hospital.
No. I'll take it again.
What is it?
They said 38.
They did not.
They did.
Take it again.

This conversation goes on, and on, and sometimes I ache with the immobility of it, the confinement of it: this is a conversation I cannot leave. I am trapped by it, listening for those numbers to rise, or to fall. By their rising or falling, my actions are decided.

At a temperature reading of 36.6, when the ear thermometer can be laid to one side, there is no conversation needed. I can leave the room, go back to work, drink tea, pop out for milk, muse about the evening.

But as the thermometer beeps, 37.1, I am edgy, watchful, cautious.

At 37.5 I am pacing about the room. The listing of numbers, like a rehearsal, a bouncing of sounds back and forth to each other, this ordeal is in full swing, and we cannot stop.

37.5. 37.6. 37.5. 37.4. 37.7.

On, and on, it goes. At night I sleep in my clothes in case the numbers stop, which they must do, at 38.0.

Day, or night, morning or evening. It doesn't matter. At 38.0, a different set of actions begin. I pick up the hospital bag and wrap scarves around my husband. I run and fetch the car, and order him to wait in the hall and not go back to settle in his office in his stubborn, stubborn way. Fifteen minutes later, I drop him at the Accident and Emergency unit which is the entry point to fluids, drips, bags, wires, tests and staying by his side until we know he will be rattled away on a trolley-bed to an isolation room in a ward where I can visit tomorrow.

These numbers define my life. They are neutropenia. And Dig is in hospital, again.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Chemo Hiccups

Day 2 and the bed is shaking.

At 3am, this reminds me of a once-upon-a-time state. The early days when we couldn't keep our hands off each other. Oh how I wish those days back again! Surely there's nothing to stop those wondrous days returning! Apart from age, exhaustion, children, absence, separations, grief, loss, broken hearts, surgeries, sprains, strains, injuries and arthritis.

But here, in this mocking echo, the bed is shaking. With great heaving gallops. But I know no pleasure at all in this rhythmic shudder. Because these are the chemo hiccups.

They should be funny. Because hiccups are funny. They make the wearer jump, add surprise to any sentence, and give the most serious scholar the air of an unintentional buffoon.

As the bed shakes, I try to find the chemo hiccups amusing. I really do. But truth is, they are wearisome, troublesome jolts that show no signs of stopping whether it be midnight, 3am, or alarm-clock time.

Cold water and surprises are no remedy. My never-fail recipe (sip water through a straw with your fingers in your ears) works not one bit. Sipping hot milk, nada. Standing on one foot, upside down, both eyes closed, deep breath, key down the underpants, nothing works. After several days, and nights, Dig's diaphragm is painful, his muscles are exhausted, and I haven't slept a full night since last Tuesday.

Don't send me remedies. These hiccups originate not in an unsettled stomach or unbalanced airways, but from the vagus nerves, running neck to colon, shocked from the poison that floods Dig's system. I console myself. We are reassured by the Macmillan nurses. After a few days, the hiccups will subside. Medications are available for reflux, aches, muscle spasms and troublesome breathing. Not so readily available is remedy for broken heart, or grief.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Counting the days

Before this started, I was already in a bad way with time.

Time was ever a tricksy sun-and-moon arrangement that bewildered me. In my head I try to hold on to it: a single moment, a hand clasp, a kiss, an arrangement of flowers, and I look up to find the day has passed and the month is ripped from the calender.

I have often thought myself lucky for my inabilities with clocks. It creates a detachment, for here are moments of timelessness when I can wonder, and dream. I have been fortunate. To live outside of set hours is to be open to spontaneity, to distractions, diversions, and wanderings.

But now, now, I live to a different rhythm. I live in Cancer Time. I have lost the reminders of Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. That patacake rhythm that clapped me through the weeks and placed some structure round my wanderings. Now I live with numbers to mark the days. 1. 2. 3. They tell me what to do.

I count them out. Write them in pen to my diary. 1drip. 2pump. 3flush. 4. 5. 6. *Beware 7-12.* 13. 14blood.

The numbers are important, because they dictate my actions, outline my freedoms, define my behaviours.

This is how I know them.

1. I drive Dig to the hospital and leave him in the Oncology Ward where he is hooked into a plastic tube delivering a Chemotherapy drug. The drug enters his arm through a line which people refer to as a picc line. He is marked; pin-pricked. As if a map of his anatomy is pin-pointed to the exact location where this drug must enter. A fine line tracks into his body, from the outside to the inside; plastic to flesh; colourless liquid to living, breathing human. He stays there all day.

2. He is at home with a small bottle and tube through the day. He sleeps two nights with a small bottle by the bed. This is easier than I expected. At first, I thought I couldn't hold him through the night, but we have found we can place the small plastic bottle to one side to hold one another.

3. I drive Dig back to the hospital for the bottle and tube to be removed, and his arm cleaned. This is a process which the nurses call flushed. It is a word like a reward. We won. Dig is demob happy, but will be tired, and sensitive to cold, so Day 3 means that I turn the heating up and keep the rooms at coddling temperature. I overheat. I sometimes try and fool him, and slide the thermostat dial down a notch or two, but his body shivers, and back up to 20 that number will go.

4 to 6. We have learned this. Go out. Go to the cinema. Go to the shops. Walk, if that's possible, along the road and back again. Work. Answer emails. Write a little. Read a book. Be distracted by ordinary things. These are the pleasure days.

7 to 12. The chemotherapy drug works by killing what it can, including the body's ability to fight infection and keep the body safe. A sign that infection is taking hold is a rising body temperature. If Dig's temperature reaches 38, I leave a note for the children and pick up the bags I've packed. We spend the night in the Emergency unit. After 4 hours, Dig is given a place to lie down. Blood tests are taken and fluids are given. I doze on 2 chairs pushed together. By 5am we know whether Dig is coming home, or staying in the hospital for 3, maybe 4 or 5 days. The first week, he came home with tablets, 3 times a day. Week 2, he stayed in isolation 3 days until his body's ability to fight infection recovered. The magic number, when he can come home, is 1.

13. We can breathe, assess progress, count blessings, look at the diary, count numbers.

14. Blood test. Before each chemotherapy cycle, Dig has a blood test to make sure his body can take the poison we hope renews life. The cycle starts again with 1.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Thinking it through before I begin

It's taking me some time to think how I want to write about life, living with Dig's cancer. My uncertainty stems from my precarious position. This is uncomfortable. I don't know the story. I don't know what will happen. I can't be certain about anything. And I can't yet answer this most basic question: What is this bomb blast that surrounds us, as we get up every day to tread our normal paths?

A large part of me answers, then don't write at all. And certainly not in public. Head down, keep going. No one is a part of this, except us.

But I respect the shared human knowledges that come through text; the hand-holding of folk wisdoms; the comfort of the written word. Blogs, forums, anecdotes, discussion lists, interest groups. They've all been friends to me. They are reminders; to do lists; promissory notes. Don't forget this will happen. Be prepared for that. Watch for the impact of this drug. Have you tried this? Did you remember to ask when you had the chance? Maybe our experiences can be useful, from me to you.

But then again, I know that my purpose for writing is utterly selfish. Here's my self-indulgent therapy of a tippytappy keyboard. Words remind me to have a goal, a focus, a point. They help me put one foot in front of another, and remember what I'm doing. Now I want to record the days to know that they were here. In them, we lived. And through them, I know I can find my cold eye to turn on my own experience.

But what is this story I'm telling? I don't want it to be drugged up with words like Oxaliplatin and  Fluorouracil. You can find places enough for those. I want it to be a story with love and gratitude, kindnesses and bright sides. And humour. Because if we don't laugh, we don't survive.

But there are moments, many, many, when the path's all messed up; the words are jumbled, and not much meaning will arise. But if you're facing cancer, that just might make sense.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

How many battles would I like to fight?

Not content with Dig's cancer diagnosis - for which the blog will morph into a whining pile of self-pity larded with too-much-anatomical-information* - I could choose other battles too!

1. Lord Soley Bill. Oh, you school choosers! How fortunate you are! You are cocooned already by the Corporate Curriculum. Your frogs are a nice, warm temperature. You know nothing of struggles out here, in the land of the free. Our frogs are still fighting.

We won't be free much longer, if LS et al. get their way. We'll all be at gas mark 9. No child left behind? Every child matters? There is a pragmatic behind that. These days, every citizen is an asset waiting to be stripped for the $$$$$ payback. The education budget translates into a lot of yachts.

2. Or I could choose the ongoing misery that is Squirrel's School. The battle is simply this: to get the school to stop treating Squirrel like a person of no independent thought, and start treating her like a young woman who has chosen to be there. The irony is: Squirrel is the least likely person to cause them problems.

Squirrel is laid back, easy to get along with, widely educated, articulate, fluent, an A-grade candidate who just asks Why. Yet the school cannot figure this, throwing themselves on techniques of reprimand rather than discussion. Not surprisingly, they have made for themselves a basic problem: that Squirrel doesn't fit the conveyor belt they have built. They have been creating consumers of facts, but Squirrel is a producer, creator, original person who makes her own destinies. She wants the school for 3 A Levels, not for their insistence on detailed scrutiny and control over her every action.

I do not know how you school choosers handle schools when they turn ordinary kids into problem kids. For a parent, it must be a long journey into emotional pain.

What I do see is that the Modus Operandi of the school is attempt to divide parent and child. It feels to me as if there must be the School Rule Book paragraph 1.3: To divide and rule, insinuate/use downright lies. Paragraph 1.4 probably suggests offering stuff like, 'your child is best supported by supervision to address their underperformance'.

I feel fortunate to be able to calibrate this nonsense by 17 years of self-directed learning in a virtually non-supervised home ed environment. This at least I can use to assess the quality of school 'supported supervision to target underperformance' (a seat in the library independent learning hub, on her own).

3. Myself. Yes, I can beat myself up any day of the week for various shames, guilts, losses, griefs, despairs and sorrows! Currently, I am in battle with life itself, facing (not for the first time) a profound overhaul of all my assumptions, expectations, wishes and desires.

Looking on the bleak side, this moment is something I am used to, this teetering-on-the-edge moment; knowing that I'll be leaving behind what is familiar and comforting; knowing that I am about to be pitched into the strange, fearful, bewildering, unfamiliar, scary. I feel ill-equipped to deal with it all, but know too that I'll be thrown into reliance on my instincts to chart a way through, and that will make a different person of me, once again.

* might be useful, if you face the same

Friday, 12 January 2018

Candidate for worst day of 2018, so far.

1. We receive an email from Squirrel's prison. Previously, on Prison Update, we have suggested Squirrel needs a slightly more flexible timetable. Without the attentions of a school for the last 16 years, she has self-educated to A-grade GCSE standard, and can do private study, thank you very much.

But! Squirrel's prison insists! Squirrel must be present in school for all her non-contact 6th form day. i.e. from 8.30 to 3.15. Even if she has just two contact hours that day. She must present herself at the extensive self-learning hub (aka library).

The library, I need add, consists of one shelf books, a desk, and a chair. Here she is supposed to 'study' while being supervised. Mmmm. Supervised study looks an awful lot like being chained in solitary confinement as in a monk's cell. Tell me, is this the Modern Expectation? Fine, then, study away! But if study means educating yourself with the aid of 7,000 books, five computer systems, an office equipped with uptodate software, her private space with all stuff, books, resources, own networked computer, and Planet Internet, then, um, come home.

Sorry to pull rank, you crappy-equipped crappity crap prison, but we can do better.

But! Squirrel's prison says she needs to be in school, alone and chained to a desk if she is to perform. They also added, for good measure, some acronyms, and the novel idea that Squirrel needs to be in school because then they can give support. Squirrel has worked out that this support must mean the 'Independent Study Self Learning Hub Supervisor' (aka librarian) shouting Be Quiet to the 6th formers hiding in the space under the stairs.

2. Shark had two teeth extracted. Shark was all, Uh? what is your problem. I can have two teeth extracted any time. I'm taking that in my stride, so stop whining, because it is embarrassing. I nearly passed out.

3. A pot of cream threw itself, with full Verdi operatic drama, out of the fridge as I opened the door. The cream splatter was over my shoes, the floor, under the fridge, across the wall, down the curtain and in my face. It was the La Traviata moment of fallen cream. Mop-up took an hour.

4. I had an Angels and Demons argument with Tiger over a pack of balloons.

5. Dig finally told the children about his diagnosis of cancer. As every Good Husband know (learn from his Good Wif Grit), you introduce bad news only after eating dinner.

6. Donald Trump is still heading up the USA, sending us all to global warfare, so what does anything matter? We're all going to die anyway.

There is no bright spot to any of this, except number 6. La famille Grit now has a new phrase for any family member exhibiting pugnacious behaviour, ill-tempered hostility or general belligerence. Don't start getting Presidential.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

12 Days of Christmas: what day is it?

I have lost all track of time. The Christmas tree is down, on the stroke of Twelfth Night, as is customary in these parts. Clearly, that phase of the year is done for us.

I have lost time because all my attention is focused on Dig and the kids. The kids are back at their respective prisons, and it has come hard to all of us. Dig, he of weak and fragile constitution, requires special attention, so for him, I am attentive, and consider myself candidate of Best Wif Badge.

But I learn much! Never having done much Good Wiffery, I now find that some elements are important to this culture called Good Wif Service. I discover that Dig's requirements include the following:

Muffins. (Part 1) They must be scored properly otherwise 'it is all horrible'.
Muffins. (Part 2) They must be served at the right temperature otherwise 'they are inedible'.
Water. Must be served tepid and in a thermos flask otherwise it is squeally noise.
Paracetamol. Capsule type, not effervescent nor breeze-block type. Otherwise it is 'uughghgughghg'.

It is intriguing, I can say that, learning new things about one's partner of nearly 30 years. How lost time is all about reflecting.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

12 Days of Christmas: 9

I've had enough of this Christmas lark now, thank you very much.

I'm clinging to my 12 days only to fulfil my fantasies of wearing my Tudor smock and burning my evergreen next to the pig pen.

That is what I have decided to do, by the way. I am going to become an old woman. Maybe an old woman peasant fitted to some Central Asian state, circa nineteenth century. In my mind's eye, I have padded felt clothing and my middle is tied with string. I am in retreat. Perhaps I have heard about the railways, but my donkey is just fine. Also, I have a ladder to mend the roof. And I live alone. No folks pass this way. I will eat the pig next year. This year, grass.

This is my new fantasy, because times are hard. They are going to become quite, quite Worse. It is possible that for a while I will become mad.

Anyway, because we tell each other that life is filled with bright sides and lead silver, for the time being I still hold onto my Cineworld card.

Rich rewards then, because today we see the Cineworld advance screening of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

This film is fantastic. All hail to McDonagh's writing, which pulled no punches at all and hit me straight between the eyeballs. That is a rare treat, to be punched in the face by a writer of uncompromising words. And splendid acting. I want Frances McDormand to go on and on, forever. See it, as soon as it comes out, for a perfect study of characters in a small town exploring extreme states of vengeance and justice.

Unless you like romantic comedies to take your mind off 2018. In which case, avoid.

Monday, 1 January 2018

12 Days of Christmas: 8

New Year's Day! Dig has bought me, amongst other treats, a radical year, in the shape of the Verso Radical Diary.

Did you know, January 1st 1994, is the day that Zapatista forces overtake towns in Chiapas, beginning an ongoing revolution against the Mexican state?

Personally, I wouldn't trust the leaders of the Mexican state any further than I can throw them, what with the border drug wars, reported corruptions and missing students. But strangely, they did briefly get my sympathies last year when Toddler Trump got into the sand pit.

Troublesome times, this 2018, when one is thrown into sympathies with torturers in order to avoid association with an unhinged narcissistic sociopath.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

12 Days of Christmas: 7

New Year's Eve? Really? I don't think so. I think someone has a-hold of that time machine. They have  behaved in a reckless and foolhardy manner, set the dials this way and that, pressed the knobs and exploded the buttons. Their dials and adjustments are all wrong. Mine are right. It is not New Year's Eve. It is Year Something-or-other. Time for a nice Cuppatea.

Because it makes no difference at all, this changeover from one number to another. I already lurch like a drunkard twixt states of resigned gloom, and a peaceful acceptance of the world and my load in it.

As in: Life is okay, except when it is shite, like now, only going to get worse, then chin up, not so bad, there's life in the old dog yet, except there isn't, and we're all going to die. What am I going to do when that happens? I must mend the shed roof before it falls in. etc etc etc.

What does a number change mean then, to such a brain as this? I cannot even claim the fashionable glory  that is bipolar, more just that I am human. Particularly a human who hasn't had a huge amount to complain about from one year to the next: no wars, no forced displacement, no refugee status, no immediate threat of violence, not held as a domestic slave. On the other hand, I get just as much human pain as anyone else regarding death, failure, despair, loss, grief, and those states of life which have no shades of humour to lighten my load. (Although for humour, believe me, I have looked.)

The upshot is, on this evening of evenings, we all watch The Martian.

I conclude after 3 minutes that I'd be dead. Probably self-inflicted, by pulling off my own helmet to scratch my nose, the Martian dust set off my sneezing. The film finishes obligingly at 11.52pm, when I put out the bio-bin into the yard (it attracts the rat if I leave it in the kitchen), then I get back to the front room just in time to clink glasses because someone said, Oi, what are you doing? Come in here. It's 2018.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

12 Days of Christmas: 6

Let the neighbours in! We have spent all year pissing them off, so they're owed a drink on us.

This tradition of 'Open House' began for us when the Gritsprogs were tiny, when we all howled with intent. By way of apology, I scoured the cabinets and cupboards for anything resembling alcohol, ripped the packet open on a Tesco cheese selection, tuned off the lights, lit the candles so no-one could see the grime and chaos, and I opened the front door. The invite is, you can stay for five hours or five minutes, depending on your day, and bring nothing except yourselves and your other(s).

We have varied the event (a little), to the effect that these days I am ready with a tribal cooking pot involving yesterday's stewed aubergines. The bottles invite your own intriguing cocktail invention, and at some point I slap down a Dirty Flan (recipe takes 5 minutes and the entire confection costs £1.70). Regarding etiquette, we have only one requirement, and it's Help Yourself.

Then you are welcome to join us! Except I'm not putting it on Facebook, because I'm not aged 12 or socially disconnected to the point of dementia, and you just have to show up at the right time. We only had one guest I didn't recognise. Okay, it turned out to be the son of my oldest friend, but he had grown another foot in height as well as a beard, so I can be forgiven.

This year we did not dress Steampunk (thanks to organisational delays), but next year Wendy is coming in a ballgown, and so will I.

Friday, 29 December 2017

12 Days of Christmas: 5

Tra-la-la! It's a perfect day to visit Gritty Family! In the beautiful, weather ragged landscape of Suffolk!

Imagine, how we can walk by the fields, along the country roads, through the woody patch and into the pub!

We have to imagine it, because by 11am I am tearing open an envelope that tells me my driving licence is expired and the Contact, Capture and Destroy Central Intelligence Unit is threatening me with £1000 fine when I so much as mentally conjure up an accelerator pedal.

I should have ignored that threat, jumped into the car, and driven to Suffolk. Last year the local pub brewed me an excellent non-alcoholic mulled wine, and three of those set me up nicely, about 7,000 calories a glass, but consider it just another sacrifice to make for Christmas with family.

Yes, I should have ignored that letter. What should have alerted me was how it was written: in the spirit and style of the TV licencing 'Enforcement Division'. They too are coming round this afternoon with The Boys to take me to court, smash up my life, and kill my dog*. It doesn't matter that I have a TV licence, that I have previously told them I have a TV licence, and that I pay every month by direct debit. This is of no concern when there are ransom demands to send out to the law-abiding with pictures of dead dogs and bloodied bandages.

But I didn't ignore that letter from the DVLA, those happity-chappity-chums who say, if you drive with an expired licence, we will fine you £1,000, take you to court, smash up your life and kill your dog. I paid attention to it. I went to the website where I am told to go (or pay the Post Office an extra £4.50 for the human contact). At the website, I quickly became trapped in Web-Jail and it took two hours to extract myself before I was confirmed Legal. In other words, I had handed over the appropriate money and was now free to go. Except that it was too late, and my window of opportunity had slid shut.

Several thoughts struck me in the course of this procedure.

1. I wanted to become illegal, take to the highways, go to Suffolk and drink. Therefore what sort of fool had I aged into? Leaping to attend to government instruction? I shall do something about that in 2018.
2. It's probably not even a government department anymore, but Capita and Pearson, our twin-headed corporate overlords and my pet hatreds; they who are charged now with asset-stripping every citizen in the UK to ensure our children are indebted and our grandchildren are sold as slaves.
3. How like Hong Kong is the UK, where citizenry responsibilities are settled by the kerching of a cash register.
4. How fecking awful difficult it must be for people to claim benefits (only available online), and how the system must be designed deliberately to ensure they give up. It took me two hours and I wasn't trying to get anything out of anyone's claws.
5. The Tories are as bad as Labour and they are both desperate to hand over our lives to their corporate chums as they spin round the revolving doors of profit and the lot of them can go to hell in a handcart. Say what? Now I am legal, I'll drive the bastard thing.

*We don't have a dog. Shark keeps a pet fish called Brutus (both Cassius and Julius Caesar died in tragic circumstances), so I suppose dog=fish, it's all the same to the Contact, Capture and Destroy Central Intelligence Unit.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

12 Days of Christmas: 4

I have no idea what happened on this day, so for the record, it's no use asking. That is the problem with this holiday. All the days get messed about and I become timeless.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

12 Days of Christmas: 3

Let's Go Out!

Feels like we've been inside since the eighteenth century. Also, I have lost track of which day I'm on.

Usually, I struggle with Time. I can just manage if the first question I ask on opening my eyes is, 'What day is it?' and the answer is a day I recognise. Take this routine away from me, and I am hopelessly  lost. Call a Monday by a different day, and this is like putting a blindfold on me, spinning me round, and pushing me off a cliff.

Must be time to go out. Then to the British Museum!

This is a journey, like each day, now fraught with danger. Is London Midland NorthbyNorthWest about to do any of the following? It is like a Hitchcock suspense film! Will they:

a) Cancel all the trains
b) Cancel the train we arrive to catch, so we stand on the platform for 45 mins, at temperature 1C.
c) Start, then stop the train we are on, for two hours, maybe more, who knows? We can while away the time watching our lives fade into the distance.
d) Start and stop, start and stop, start and stop. Our plan to get off at Cheddington and walk home seems viable.
e) Break down, either going to London, or coming out of London.
f) Take us to London then cancel all the trains home, so we must crawl home via StPancras to Bedford and hitch a lift across country with someone who says 'It's alright, I'm a headteacher'.
g) Refuse to sell us tickets (ticket office shut, machine not working) then try and sell us, on the train, Group Saver Discount Day Return Flexible Journey at a total cost of £175 for the five of us, thus prompting a ten-minute argument with the ticket man while the other passengers join in.
h) Throw everyone off the train at an unknown station in the dark, then drive the train off, while all the miserable passengers huddle round the solitary swaying light bulb positioned over the closed station building, which offers no facilities anyway.

We were lucky! Today, (h) happened to the ingoing passengers, not us, and we avoided (b) because we were late.

The Scythians stayed put while we went down to meet them, but if you are keen to catch them before they depart, then hurry up.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

12 Days of Christmas: 2

Boxing Day! SALE DAY! Thank you to all shopaholics. Go at it! Buy! Buy!! BUY!!!

You know you must have those desirable tops, blouses, skirts, trousers, jeans (all sizes from 10 through to 16 please) and add black evening gowns, leather jackets, leather trousers (I am sorry that I still love them), and shoes. Buy walking shoes. Shoes about town. Boots, plenty of boots all colours, low heeled to no heeled. Throw in a pair of kittens for old times sake. Then large comfort jackets for standing in fields? Tick those on your must-have list. Also, I have a weakness, as do you, for jewellery both dainty and bold, discreet and statement. Both ways are good: with the right jewellery, is it not true that the moment is made?

Anyhow, once you have acquired all your wondrous goodness and your wardrobes are bursting to exhaustion, please recycle by taking all your old (and new) to the charity shops, where I will be very grateful that you love Sale Day, and I don't need to acquire any debt to wear Zara.

Thank you.

In other news, today we are mostly eating carrots, on account of them now being 6p at Tesco.

Monday, 25 December 2017

12 Days of Christmas: 1

Christmas Day! Yippee! Four hours eaty-drinky, followed by four hours in front of tellybox watching, allthefamily, Jeeves and Wooster, boxset gift from the Magic Universe because Shark dun read the books.

By the way, everyone hate us, we never did Santa, not no way. Santa is an awful lie.

Tiger says she would have been scared witless, to never sleep again, the horror, the horror, some bloke, you never saw before or since, lumbered into your room, you all otherworld and vulnerable, and he crashed about in hot stinking reindeer poo stench, and smashed windows to get in and out because you have no chimbley in the sleeping room. Please do not let him come in, mama!

Squirrel says she knew forever No Santa because mama stands naked-foot on upturned Playmobil sailors at 1am and swears like a trooper. It is how Squirrel learned the f-word.

Sharks says she believes in Santa. She has the bestest dripping sarcastic voice, carried to service and for purpose, to all incidents, events, circumstances, small children, and Mother.

Dig, he beautiful wondrous husband, has a little panic squeak as comely wif Grit suggests re-using the wine glass for the Monbazillac (left bank of Dordogne River) because she is all 'uh-washing-up' and he is all There is Proper Way of Doing Things and cheese-after-fruit. Now relax, proper order restored.

Things learned, read, need to chant: Enjoy the moment, memento, there are things of bright beauty that sparkle along the ordinary way.

Saturday, 23 December 2017


How time flew. I could live that time, again.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

'I don't care. I do it'

Simple lines like that won me over, totally, in The Disaster Artist. I thoroughly recommend it! A funny celebration of what makes an anti-success: a character's single-minded passion wrought with a high score on the off-beat-wackometre.

Yup, I loved this film, from beginning to end. The scriptwriting and scene selection was careful to engage me and not lose me; the character of Tommy Wiseau was picked out on a line of affection and aversion; and the whole story both toe-curlingly painful to watch unfold, and so generous and big-hearted that by the end it's clear how the world's only made a better place when it's filled with mavericks, oddballs and wackos.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Gone in a second

Photographs! Of Steampunks in Space! Huzzah! We had a splendid time! Celebrating all wonders given to us by Verne and Wells. 

Pictured in a flash, Squirrel in vagabond urchin mode: Scavenger, Scraper, and Mikron Manufacturer. Grit as Travelling Booksorter and Thread Shifter.

I spent all my money with Verne Industries (again). But we now possess the Essential Surveillance Eyeballing Door Protector, so we are content.

I found a fairy on the table, so set about photographing it. For a stitchery project, naturally. They are difficult to trap, and even more difficult to photograph.

Then I stitched some more books with the femme fatale and feather combo.

Thank you to Tiger who suggested putting the camera into slow speed mode to capture the twirling fire dancers in the Secret Garden.

And the moon! Wow! Didja see it? Didja? It was enormous! As big as a house! I padded through the midnight streets, peering between the gaps in houses and legging it up to the allotments, taking crappy photo after crappy photo, and Shark comes home from the opposite route with a much more lovely snappity than I could manage.

I thought how, a few months ago, I was dreading the dark days and the blacked out nights. But walking through the dark and cold of Moon Night felt like a private embrace; a welcome into all the quiet nothingness. I shall take to the midnight streets again for my sifting of seconds and eternities.

Monday, 4 December 2017

This is a practical day

We are turning out cupboards, wrenching demons from their lairs, and shovelling the remains into sacks, wrapping them up for the recycling. It is a necessary act. Dig has written, all his life, thoughtful work, all considered, well-received.

The bones of one book was turned out today. Demons poke from its pages. It was a story of language, but it became a story of censorship. Dig still feels it keenly. Revised, heavily edited, compromised, ideas removed, broken down to conform to business intention. Adopted as a set text, the book was stripped further, research banned, references cut. In the process, removal of intelligence, thoughtfulness, careful wording. I suppose all academics know this life. Read it for the English Language Teaching world, where it's called the parsnip test.

Dig has kept the original papers for the book he wanted to create but wasn't able. Given his rate of production (think the Slow Professor), then we can be ambitious to imagine he'll prioritise writing the book he wanted. He has saved the papers. I love him all the more for that, if it were possible, for his loyal commitment to ideas; his refusal to compromise on thinking. His intellectual rigour and determination to follow his thinking is admired by many more than me.

Our daughters, what can you take from this? Every day, do one small act and make the world a kinder place. Make positive, push that day forward, force the hours round the clock, then you can look at each day and say, Today, I did that. A smile to someone you don't know. A kind gesture. Saying 'thank you'. Exploring, one step at a time, how your own values, commitments, and determinations are made.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

And the Winner of the Competition is...

A perverse bit of me is glad that Squirrel is mis-matched to her new school surroundings. Assumptions she has previously made about the world are challenged on a daily basis, while the school is similarly struggling to comprehend her view at all.

Suggests to me we should have a pool of mis-matched students who go round institutions just to front up to them.

Today's school absurdity is the Charity Hamper Competition. Each form must create a food hamper to give to charity. I think, fair enough, spirit of solidarity, co-operation, giving to others. I would prefer a more political strike, but I understand schools don't generally see their roles as providing bricks with signposts to a banker's home address. So a charity hamper? Fine. But then the school makes a competition out of it. Thus reversing the entire meaning, because now each form must wrestle with the problems, How can we win? We need to make that form a bunch of losers. Our hamper must be best. Competition to be the best charity giver. Why not go the whole hog, and spend the income from the charity stall on medals and prizes.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Not Playing Santa

Squirrel is the single student in the (mixed age) form not to join this year's Secret Santa.

The others look at her, baffled. Why wouldn't you join in? Squirrel shrugs. 'I can't see the point of buying a present for someone I don't know anything about. And it would be obvious if I started asking someone what they like, just to buy them a present they probably don't want. If I buy a present for someone, I want it to be because they are a friend and not someone whose name came out of a bag'.

The students might be baffled, but I'm not.

Squirrel has an alternative way to see the world. One where friendships are made through shared values and mutual understandings; where giving and receiving matters because of the people involved. And not through relationships made as a consequence of being consumers, where giving and receiving is a matter of transaction through retail purchase. She makes friends, and doesn't cultivate them via a shopping mall.

Respect to the young woman.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

'Will no one think of the children?'

JeezusBejeesuz. The government - aka Soley, Deech, et al. - is coming round to 'protect the little children'. Mostly, Parent, if you are reading this, your children need protecting. From the likes of you. 
We all know us parents are notoriously abusive and never think of our children, but only our own selfish wants and needs. 
Too right, I tell the home educated yoof - Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. For years I've been avoiding getting out of bed at 7am to cart you off to prison school! 
Shark said Soley, Deech, et al. should try listening to some kids in and out of skool, instead of listening to Ofsted and the Daily Mail. She also suggested that education was supposed to cater for the individual and not just serve the interests of government. (She has obviously been radicalised.)
Squirrel, frankly, was shocked. It takes a lot to shock a laid-back Squirrel. She was shocked at how rude you are, you Lords and Ladies, when you are supposed to set an example. As a result of your insults, you're not invited. 
Tiger said, Shut up, I have some art to do and it is more interesting than Mrs Deech.

Dear Parent. You should know what is being said about you. Basically, you do not have the interests of your child in your heart; you are not fit to protect them, and the decisions about their educational upbringing should not be yours. Go and find out at least. If Tinkertop goes berserk in her local school, and you decide to take her out of it for her mental health, then make sure you know a little of the landscape.
'I have not had a great deal of involvement in education and I do not claim that much knowledge of it, but one reason why I got involved with this issue goes way back in my own past, to many years ago when I was a probation officer. I knew then that the parents of children who took them out of school seeking to abuse them knew that they could hide the child.' Lord Soley

'My Lords, this Bill is the mildest possible remedy for what has long been recognised as a risk—a situation that is not good for children or society. I have supported the noble Lord, Lord Soley, on this before and I am very happy to do so again. If I had my way, school education would be compulsory unless parents could prove that they had good reason to avoid it. Then there would be compulsory inspection and assessment of the home-schooled child’s results in national exams. I am aware that there is an almost hysterical reaction from home educators to any proposal that might be seen as protecting their children. That reaction is in itself good reason to want to keep an eye on the situation.' Baroness Deech

'Parents have rights, but children also have rights. Children have the right to a well-informed education that goes well beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. That is the first right. Their second right is that they can study in a community, however small or large, that is secure and safe, with safeguarding of their interests.'  Lord Baker

'The principle in the Bill that we need to know more about these children—who and where they are and why they are not in school—has to be right, and I very much support the aspect of the Bill that would do that. If we want to collect those figures, we must have a way of doing so. If we want to safeguard the well-being of the child, we have to know about them and talk to them. We have to know who is educating them and where they are being educated. We have to check what is happening to them.' Baroness Morris of Yardley

Second Reading
12.46 pm
Moved by Lord Soley
That the Bill be now read a second time.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

And the worst bits

The week, without the best bits? Gloom. Misery. Despondency. I no longer know who I am, where I am, nor whether I had any purpose when I started out. I lost myself.

I will pin much of this blasted life on the reshelving experience. When I became lost about the letter K. But this is only the start of The Great Endeavour! Dear reader, if you pop over here once a year, be assured that next year you'll still be hearing about it.

In practical terms, I am stripping back one of the three habitable areas of the house in a (five? three? two?)-year plan to rent it out and eke my meagre income before I die, penniless, having spent my last pound on theatre tickets and gin. I imagine I will find my tenant for the attic flat in the manner of a withered and destitute Victorian hag crawling the city streets. Surely somewhere there must be an impoverished artist in need of a garret?

The stripping, by the way, is going very slowly. So far I have emptied two bookshelves and put a Marks and Sparks coat (too small) into a sack where it will help Mrs Oxfam buy a goat.

The children are also lost in gloom. There is much to blame, but let us choose The Great Endeavour.

Basically, I am touching their stuff. This is disturbing, naturally, because you wouldn't like anyone touching your stuff. All I can say is that I am not doing it in the dark. (Although I confess I am doing it while they are not at home.) Also, in consolation, I am touching my own stuff and it's destined to mostly go to the skip. But I must remain balanced. Every cloud has a silver lining. (Not every cloud, obviously. Some only contain lead.)

I have clear shelves and can move bookcases.
The Help the Aged charity bookshop is doing very nicely.

I have reviewed all my life through hoisting these acres of books between rooms, and I have discovered that most of my life was filled with unfinished.
The books on Chaucer alone reveal my ambitions were so low as to be non-existent, and that from the very beginning I have achieved sod all.
Time moves quickly. The book I thought I would read remains where I put it, twenty years ago. I still haven't opened it, and even though I know that no-one gets a second chance after time slips out the door, I know too that I'll never read it now.

Friday, 24 November 2017

All the best bits

1. Anthony the Carpenter called. This falling-down house possesses large wood and glass doors, hand built in the late Victorian age and lovingly sited as an entrance to a room (somewhere under piles of paper and crap) that me and Dig like to bicker about. Is it called the Dining Room? Or the Boardroom? Or the Room Full of Crap? We put a ladder through the glass on one door and mended it with a plastic sheet glued to the remaining glass daggers. We have lived with this stylish solution for, um, dunno, seven years? But the time is right for a carpenter who knows what they're doing to restore our fine aspirational living. Anthony the Carpenter called and he might fit us in before Christmas. Or not.

2. En famille to Murder on the Orient Express. I thoroughly enjoyed the moustache.

3. I filled in Shark's biology form. With an actual pen. This is no small thing. Not by accident have I created a life for myself where I have had little to do with them. Forms are like discovering you put curdled milk in your tea. They put me in mind of when me and Dig tried to sell books. People would send us an order form and a cheque, which we would lose. After 6 months we would shovel the pile into the shredder without a note of guilt or embarrassment. Indeed, this capacity to have a complete lack of responsibility or interest with forms makes me the perfect person to teach the gritties how to deal with them. Rule 1. Fill them in, completely wrong and hopelessly, immediately as you receive them and bounce them back to where they came. Rule 2. Find a secretary or other friendly agent, and get them to fill in the form for you. (Pay them if necessary.)

4. I posted a Knicker Drawer Book to a young lady who will dress it up superbly and make a wonderful piece of art. Hurrah!

5. I ran a workshop for home ed kids. I forgot what simple fun it is.

6. Watched Leviathan on the iplayer. Completely recommended. Although if you like romantic comedy and narratives where the little man wins against all the odds, possibly not one for you.

7. En famille again to Glyndebourne's travelling Hamlet at Milton Keynes Theatre, plus pre-show talk. Excellent. I loved the aspirated H's before the Hell with the sliding strings against Hamlet's unbalanced head. But I feel I am the last to know about this (only has Plymouth to go) so I'm unlikely to make my next career as an opera critic.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The Exterminating Angel

Saw the MET Opera screening of Thomas Adès The Exterminating Angel.

In preparation, I spent the afternoon watching the original Buñuel film on YouTube. I recommend it, if you like surreal. It is a rollicking good ramble into inertia descending into madness, and getting us wondering about our the inability to control one's own fate, or even get up and leave the room through the door. Would we smash a hole through the wall instead?

The opera, first-rate! The music was wonderfully supernatural at times, thanks to the Martenot, which brought touches of cult sci-fi spookiness to the mix.

A gentle way to fill a day, and I am both instructed and improved. The children weren't involved in this experience, on account that their life has narrowed considerably since they began A-Levels, and it's now all ticking boxes for them, and madness in the music room for us.

One positive story ...from the USA

The BBC has put up a positive story, albeit from the USA. For once, a story not riven with the suspicion that all Otherwise Educators must be up to something.

100 Women: 'Home-schooling helped me break the glass ceiling'

One line strikes me as absolutely true, given the woeful stories that Shark, Squirrel and Tiger bring home about the behaviour of some schooled peers with adults and younger kids: 'Another advantage was the social learning. Because we were with mum wherever she went we met a lot of people. From young to old, I was able to converse well with anyone.'

But I'm sure the Beeb could find a successful woman in the UK? Just think of it, with an autonomous home education background? Huh. Maybe our home-based home educators are more cautious about shouting their triumphs through the crowd. I wonder why?

And - just to disappoint potential employers, Winifred Robinson, the NSPCC, Lord Soley, and a selection of journalists who shovel out their copy from the Ministry of Truth - we are up to something, but the something is education.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Stay or Go?

In defiance, I am moving books.

Some are moving back to the charity bookshop from whence they came. (Cue weeping, gnashing of teeth, rending of cloth.)

'Giving and receiving' I say to Shark, Tiger, and Squirrel in my best sermon voice, 'are two sides of the same coin. We have received, and now we give.' I am not actually tearing The Lost Kitten from my innocent child's sweaty grip, but it pretty much feels like it.

I know, I really do, and I am sorry, honestly, truly, deeply sorry, that right now I am messing with what it is to be human. I have fingers in minds. I am messing with identity. I am messing with growing up. And I am messing with love. But my eyes are set on a clear shelf. Accessible only through someone's heart. The Lost Kitten has to go.

When I began this monumental clear out of books some weeks ago, the process was slow and tentative. There was soul searching. Nature in My Back Yard and Let's Explore Water might be cherished by someone! But now, the trickle is become a flood, and into the charity sack I am shovelling Chris Packham together with Lucy Daniels, Willard Price and multiple copies of Maya Angelou (why do we have eight copies? I think I must have stolen them in some birdcage-related madness).

Classics (including minor 19thC American) you can stay, mostly because I don't want to buy you all back again when Squirrel acquires a reading list. Thomas Mann and D.H. Lawrence? Complete Works? Debatable. Mann, I never finished one book yet. (The long night of the German soul not being high on my pleasure list.) And Lawrence? Although my teenage self loved Sons and Lovers, everything since then with Lawrence just went downhill. Squirrel has to make her own mistakes.

So I am like Caesar with my thumb as I pass along those shelves. All primary fiction (okay, except the ones I love), out. Fairy stories, stories from cultures around the world, short stories, in. Borges staying on his shrine, with candles and red velvet. Zola and Pooh Bear, in. Malcolm Bradbury, David Storey, David Lodge, one book only. David Almond, in. Acres of young adult fiction; fiction 1970-2017: by negotiation. (If you're reading this Squirrel, let us peruse the stash in civilized discussion, this time with tea and cake. And remember I also have a soft spot for tales well told of fantasy, history, and dysfunction.)

Now this is where we stand (or standoff). It is me vs every writer who sits on the shelf staring back at me. I have to regain at least 30 metres of wall, and someone's got to blink first.