Friday, 2 December 2016

The Tempest, RSC

I hang around the back of the curtains at Theatreboard these days, but I'm hoiking out this post and doubling it up here, for the use of home educators looking for a video-Shakespeare theatre experience:

Took four 16/17-year olds to see The Tempest at the RSC yesterday. Much discussion followed, including sharp observations (one at college studying theatre). For those interested in teen views, here are 4 teen critics...

1: Wanted the stripped-back and bare versions of the play in the style at the Globe (pre-Rice) with 'actors in the raw' without props, so they were going to be difficult to please ... Teen critic complained about the opening scene with the actors not moving while the ship sloshes about ... they wanted the physicality of the actors bashing themselves about the stage and hanging onto ropes, as one would presumably do in a real Tudor storm; they thought the beginning showed the actors over-relying on the cinematic experience, or acting so as not to be in conflict with it. I think they ended the evening quietly impressed and won over by the beautiful brightness of colour and the imaginative use of image, but after they'd begun by whining 'This is not cinema, I want theatre' then it was hard to come back from that.

2. 'Stunning' Hugely impressed by the riot of colour and image; they enjoyed Ariel's turn as a hologram but complained about image twitching - we couldn't decide whether these were momentary glitches or a deliberate fractioning of movement to echo a style of electrical interference, Ariel being a spirit of the air, an'all (the latter interpretation is fine by me).

3. Enjoyed the costuming generally; very appreciative of the bones of the ship and how adaptable that was as a set; thought the Caliban costume was 'great' and loved the attention to detail on Caliban's fingers and fish fins; also loved how the characters on the island seemed to get muddy feet as they went though the play, as if showing they really were on an island; loved how the play had a bit of everything - opera, slapstick, anguished screaming and frivolity.

4. Found a lot to think about in the relationship of Prospero and Ariel, as in Prospero seemed to love Ariel more than he loved being a wizard conjuring spells with a stick (and who wouldn't want that?); commented how Russell Beale's performance brings out the menacing side of Prospero - they've previously seen Roger Allam in the role and they noted how very different were the interpretations. In the Allam version Prospero came over as resigned but bearing grudges, impetuous and given to rash judgement; with Russell Beale, Prospero comes across as much more considered: no-one wanted to get on the wrong side of him because he'd be vengeful and dangerous. As Prospero screams in Ariel's face, we all felt here was someone with such internal rage and sorrow, he'd be capable of anything.

Personally, I loved the presentation of this play. I thought the combination of sound and light and image was a knockout wonder, and I loved how it brought back the Masque to a proper status, and seems to mark a moment when we can have a new way to explore imaginative theatrescapes. I'd love to see it again in the cinema run, to compare how it works on a screen. Simon Russell Beale is wonderful, and I didn't feel the acting was at all compromised or weakened by the image show. So, from me, a lovely, lovely show. Moving, and visually WOW.
 
And if you have an opinion on it, then share it: http://theatreboard.co.uk

Friday, 25 November 2016

Black Friday, Day of National Shame

Yes, I hate Black Friday.

Everything about it. The name; the way we adopt an American cultural import without critical reflection; the global retail box shifters who drive it all; the insidious advertising preying on our need for security; the impulse purchasing that the day normalises and celebrates; the embarrassing photographs of people humiliating themselves in shopping rage over a flat-screen TV.  I cannot find one good thing yet to recommend it.

People, spare a thought for your independent retailers! They're not box shifters and discounters. They work hard everyday to create a shop and a trade that works for you and them. Think - ahem - of crafters and makers! Like the poor lady book-creators who stitch and bind by the midnight hours, just to put a crust of bread on the table for the children (and three teen-tickets at a fiver apiece for The Tempest at the RSC). They - we - cannot afford to offer you a 60% discount on a hand-made item, crafted with love, sold in a shop that we all work hard to support.

The whole Black Friday import is no more than a way to get you to support everything bad about global consumerism: the culture of underpaid and exploited workers in Asia, the overworking and bullying of retail staff, your own personal debt, and a great big toot for materialism. Meanwhile Black Friday rejects the things that should form part of our lives: honest fair-dealing trade, meeting the sellers and makers, and celebrating your independent shop owners.

I'm thinking all this, then I walk into the office, where Dig says, 'When do you need the car today? I'm thinking of going over to Bicester Shopping Village. I need new shoes and it's Black Friday.'

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Post-16 choices

Some discussion these last weeks about choices for post-16 home ed kids. What next? Work? College? Loafing about? So many things to do!

I'll chip in, for the benefit of family and friends, and to cause pain to one wing of my extended family who, let's face it, are basically Scared by Strange, aka Tiger, Squirrel and Shark. Home educated all their life? How is that possible?

Then here's the choice of three typical home ed kids aged 16

Squirrel. Last seen heading off outdoors. She visited the nearest Agricultural College to look up courses in forest management. The lure of the chainsaw is strong. Visits beckon, to pig farms and silos. Discussions about badgers and tractors. We have started listening to The Archers. Maybe she can marry a farmer.

But Squirrel cannot decide between Outdoors, or Art. When Not Outdoors, she is found cutting things up and sticking and gluing and composing very fine sketchbooks. From my consensus-seeking view, I have reminded her that many dedicated and original artists work outdoors! Howabout our local Linda Johns! Anyway, Squirrel is taking a year to think and to apply somewhere for a course in something for 2017. Whatever Squirrel chooses, I have promised her close involvement with a falcon.

By-the-bye, Squirrel has a clutch of IGCSEs at Grade A. At school, I strongly suspect this quiet academic industry would have condemned her to No Choice. The staff would have discounted Art (not a real subject). Squirrel's aspirations to living off-grid in a wood wouldn't blip on their radar. No, they would have geared her into 3 academic A-Levels and then 50 grand's worth of debt in a subject she didn't, at heart, want to study, because, basically, she wants to live outdoors while sticking and gluing and that, to my mind, is fantastic way to live.

As an aside, I also want to tell you about Squirrel's mission for your youth, should she ever become Minister in Charge of Primary Schools: "All primary schools should be knocked down. All primary children should be educated in fields and woods. Why are children sitting in rooms? They should learn how to conduct themselves with Nature. What do you mean, 'what if there is a thunderstorm?'. Oh alright, they can have a Shed, but only to wait in while the thunderstorm passes."

Tiger. Taking a year to begin Latin A-Level online with Cambridge, while teaching herself Ancient Greek, Old Norse and Anglo Saxon. She notes Cambridge University "has some very interesting courses". High achieving academic goals are both her strength and weakness: if she gets less than 90% from her online Latin tutor, then all is lost and, in Tiger's view, proves she's not able. We parents are working on this, while wading through her piles of papers on Runic and Phoenician scripts, to achieve perspective.

Otherwise, Tiger loves Art, and has composed lovely sketchbooks which improve all the time. But no local Sixth Form offers Latin, Anglo Saxon and Art. She may settle for conventional A-Levels in History, Art, Something else, and continue to teach herself at home.

Shark. Gets up early each morning to attend a local Sixth Form College for conventional A-Levels: Physics, Biology, Maths, Engineering. Shark chose this route and, despite my whining, she has our complete support! But we are all experiencing the Culture Clash. Shark cannot believe how much is done for kids at school. "They don't even have to look up the Specification!" (I am reeling over the cost. Blimey, if anyone tells me how state schooling is free but home ed is expensive, then I have no response for you, except the evidence of my own bank balance.) Otherwise, continuing to enjoy Sea Cadet / marine life, even when we are the furthest point from the sea in all directions we can get.

There you have it. Three very different people making their own decisions! Just think, if it had all gone wrong, we could have had three children with suppressed ambitions, facing futures they never chose with passion, or simply bullied into changing life goals, each being told to fill in the UCCA forms, whether they wanted to or not, then doing so only because they couldn't think of anything else to do, and anyway, 'everyone else seems to be doing it'.

Hurrah for choice! Yes, your world still needs Artists, Scholars, Engineers, and people whose life goals include living off-grid in a wood.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The IAM course

I am learning to drive, second time around.

The first time I learned to drive was London, Hanger Lane Gyratory. Good training for Bletchley High Street, where I passed some sort of test in the 1980s. But since then, I have driven everywhere in third gear, badly.

So I thought I would learn it all again. I am now sitting with an observer on a weekly basis taking the Institute of Advanced Motorists course. I pore over videos like this. Then quietly slip out to have a go at my parallel park.

I totally recommend the IAM course, if you have any type of nerdy streak, any type of compulsion to get things right, or have children rising 17 about to hit the roads and you - parent-driving-teacher - are scared witless at the thought of sitting next to them while you approach an actual roundabout.

There are just a few obstacles causing me difficulty.

Left and Right. These two are quite confusing, are they not? So when the observer says Right and you turn Left, there is an awkward moment while we all work it out.

Directions in general. When the Observer says, Follow the road to Buckingham, I think, Where the hell is Buckingham? I know we're now only 3 miles from it, and it's around here somewhere, but unless I drive at it on my normal road, I have no idea whether to turn left or right. Embarrassing. Especially when part of the course is learning to observe the road sign you just drove past.

The commentary. Advanced drivers are supposed to say things like Accelerate. Third gear. Pedestrian. Dog on lead. Mirror check. Limit level increasing. See how concise it is? I am getting the hang of it. At the moment I am more in the way of, Accelerate, ooer, are you sure? What gear am I in? Oh dear I can see a Pedestrian. Ha! They have a dog on lead. It's not going to leap into the road if it's on a lead. Unless they have an extending lead. They are downright dangerous. Does that dog look a bit sad to you? I can see them in my mirror now. Was I supposed to Give Way back then?

Driving round for an hour in the car worrying about the planet. Because, on an IAM course, you're not driving from A to B with a purpose, you're driving the route A to B for the sake of it, just in a smarty-pants way which does not end upside-down in a ditch (an incident which we passed on my second time out). I force myself to quell my worry about my extravagant use of fuel, mostly by consoling myself that my bad old ways of driving in third gear was the most wasteful I could get.

Conclusion: It's consoling, comforting, and makes you a more aware driver. As in, did you ever know those things about kerbs? I have driven past kerb sides for 30 years without ever realising they come with their own stories. So yes, an IAM course would make a great Christmas present if you're stuck* and have ever wished your fellow-driver would slow down, speed up, take that corner more precisely, miss the dog, not crash the car, or be able to tell you stories about the kerb.

*I am not an ambassador and this is not a sponsored post, I am just in the middle of starry-eyed enthusiasm.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Advice to my daughters

I have been listening to Susie Orbach on Radio 4 In Therapy.

This is an all-fun road trip into the human psyche!

But it is undeniable that she helps me narrate my day's emotional baggage. (In my handbag-of-life today: slodgy grudge; sharp resentment; a slice of injustice/righteousness; a spike of pure hatred with extra acid attached; a weak diluted combo of humanity juice; offal slop; dash of tenderness and wistfulness. Yours?)

But, after thinking long and hard about life and all its wisdoms, I emerge with three bits of gold for you, my daughters.

Girls, three gold lumps should be enough; you can have one each and share them out when the going gets tough.

1. Have you noticed this? The pair relationships that endure are the relationships where you can change, and you both allow for that change; where you both can renegotiate how you live. In a changing relationship that endures, you can work out a new normal, and find something you want; something you can grow with.

Like your mother and father! We have nearly put each other under the patio on more than one occasion, but we are still here, together!

But listen, I realised how important this is - that relationships must change - with my own mother, when our relationship took a new turn after you were born. The fact that the Grim Reaper decided to then carry off your new Granny almost immediately is one of life's cruel injustices: we had a new relationship to negotiate, mother and daughter, and we never got that chance. But the fact that I knew we would both manage that readjustment gave me the knowledge that, despite everything I'd said aged 13, it was a pretty strong relationship we had.

Conversely, if your relationship changes, and you don't like it, can't say anything about it, feel it's all gone wroong, maybe know in your insides that you can't handle that change, then chuck it in; it's run a course, and things aren't going to get better. Maybe that relationship was based on one dimension: mutual interest, a short-term goal, lust, the pairings of enemies against a greater threat, whatever. It won't last. Go and create a relationship that can change as you do.

2. Be true to yourself. You have a moral code, albeit one that you might argue with, make compromises towards, try and ignore, pretend ain't there. It is there, and you will know when you cross it, because you do violence to your own being. It's too simple for me to say 'don't cross your own boundaries', but if / when you do, then know it, forgive yourself, and make redress with yourself to bring yourself back to a state you can live with. Don't lie to yourself or make excuses. Be honest. Call a spade a bloody shovel, and if you've used one of those to bury anyone, better fess up. Also, go and see Hamlet, and contemplate how you might have made a less bloody ending.

3. If you do blunder about the world, heaping humiliations and miseries upon your own head and the heads of others, then know this: we will always be here for you, we elderly parents, for as long as we are standing, perhaps together, for which refer to Gold Lump 1. You are our tribe, and tribe members look after their own. We will look after you*, and we expect you will look after us. Think what your Granny would say! Blood is thicker than water. (And don't make me spill either.)

*Unless, as I have cautioned you, you choose to become a drug taking lady of the night, in which case you first will have a lot of explaining to do.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

'Good fun' Probably doesn't make for a great story.

Tuned in to Radio 4 just in time to hear the miserable child saga which leads to this week's Children in Need appeal.

Today, Skye is experiencing yet more misery with feckless irresponsible parenting: the bonkers dad (not even a 'real' parent) now attempts 'home school' with some conspiracy theories based around 9/11.

The drama depends on it - listeners who live in Mainstream Land where children are looked after, schools are safe community places where people care, and school dinners are free - expect 'home school prison', don't they?

Give us a drama, a book, a talk, an article, and the moment that trigger is given - home schooling - then we good, attentive audience all know what's next! Feral, chaotic, uncaring; starving neglected children and a lot of running away.

Incidentally, Skye and Dexter do a lot of running. I could say, well, at least this feral chaotic life is keeping her physically exercised. Imagine her peer group. They haven't run anywhere for days. They all sit at desks for hours because the school playing fields were sold.

Yes, take my tone as: I am wearily unsurprised. Home education - or, to give it the 'official mainstream label of home schooling' - is once again the casual, stereotyped meme of child deprivation. A means to an end in a saga of misery.

Tiger, Squirrel and Shark would probably give different interpretations to the words, 'home schooling' and 'home education'. As would the hundreds of kids in our community who have been, um, outside Mainstream Land, yet - get this! - happy, looked after, fed, living in the world, able to choose their own paths, not bullied, not abused, not beaten up, not taught conspiracy theories by feckless druggies with mad dogs, but just, um, educated.

What we home educators need, is a bit of help in this cultural loading of stories, books, plays and articles.

At the moment, it's all stacked against us. We don't often get stories telling Mainstream Land about our good bits; we usually get teen dramas where we are given roles as folk devils and ne'er do wells. Where home educating parents are uninterested and uncaring, where kids who don't go to school have no idea about social values.

We got a heroine of sorts in the form of Mina, child in David Almond's Skellig. Mina didn't go to school but was 'home schooled' (even though there was no evidence of school, only evidence of autonomous education, so wrong label); but she was still represented as being very much alone and outside society. Hmm. Home ed kids have lots of friends. The friends they have are in a different world than Mainstream Land, that's all.

Home Ed Land has greater mobility and flexibility; friends move in and out, move away, appear and leave. Friendships can be short-term and intense as they can be long-term and enduring:  Tiger, Squirrel and Shark have grown up with friends from age 5, and still dearly miss Short-haired Bee who left for Scotland. It's different, or it's just the same, I expect, to Mainstream Land. I dunno. Discuss at your leisure.

But if you are spreading some cultural knowledge in this week's misery-fest of the 'home-schooled' Skye, then please, remember, home education needn't be a short handle grab for misery, exclusion, despair, pain and child neglect. Tell some stories where - after all the difficulties we parents face and the negative assumptions made about our kids - home education can be just simply, quite good fun and a great choice in life.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Parents evening

What are you supposed to say, as a parent, at school parents evening? What should you not say?

Dilemmas like this go right over my head.

As any reader know, I have no courtesy and not much politeness strategy. I have, however, sat on the other side of the desk. As teacher, I have said things like, Tinkertop is a delight to have in the classroom! or Tinkertop is a proper little madam, but now I've met you, it all makes sense.

But tonight I am Parent! And as parents, we start off with Design and Technology.

Pause, while I recall the interviewing admission tutor, refusing to enter Shark for A-level on the grounds that she is home educated and therefore five years behind. (Grudge number 567, Volume XII, CP 25/2/1321/2.)

But Shark talked her way onto this course, and we learn she's looking at an A-grade, probably thanks to her oblique home ed perspective, so we can move on. No real problem either with Physics and Biology. I have been waiting for Maths. Where there is a big problem, and it's called The Maths Teacher.

Now what do you do, you parents? Because I cannot just sit there and shut up. At home we hear a constant complaint about Maths Teacher.

Shark's report is that they are disorganised, don't give any appearance that they're actually interested in maths, writes up stuff wrong on the board to be corrected by the class, dismisses student problems, and fails to answer questions with clarity. Shark is worried that, if she relies on Maths Teacher, any higher grade is under threat.

So that's more or less what I tell Maths Teacher. Then I ask how they are going to attend to organisation and pay attention to detail? By the end of five minutes I am tapping the desk pointedly asking for a different teaching approach in the class, with Dig wading in with questions like, What is the point of daughter coming to school?

I would just like to say, at this point, that I used to dread parents coming in like this. But unlike Maths Teacher (got defensive) I knew that I deserved a telling off.

Because, by the requirements of the day, I was dreadful, and a thoroughly useless teacher. My teaching fell far short of what was sanctioned. I was supposed to teach a National Curriculum approved anthology of poetry, so I locked it in a cupboard and instead put a broken umbrella on the floor with an old tin can and a crumpled newspaper, then assaulted everyone with metaphysics. But at least I had the self-awareness to know that the style of teaching I wanted to do was not the type of teaching that the Ofsted-approved world was moving towards. So I left.

But I do not expect Maths Teacher to change, despite us giving them an E grade. I don't expect them to suddenly find any passion in maths, either. They are one of those long-serving bodies who are ill-equipped for any other career, without much reflection on the job they do, and failing to see, or care, whether they are inspiring any child within a 50-mile radius. They are in it for the next 15 years to retirement. Even in my short teaching career I could spot them, and surely other parents can, too.

Meanwhile, Shark is planning a Maths self-teaching schedule at home.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Selling the church lecturn

I reproduce this here, since some of you are local.


I bought this church lecturn, not from a vicar with a problem, but from a secondhand shop specialising in curios.

I thought this lovely oak lecturn would be BRILLIANT, placed decoratively in our late Victorian house, holding up the Family Diary - which is the same as the Bible in our house. You want to suffer for all eternity with Satan and his little pixies? Then mess with MOTHER'S DIARY.

Just look at it! It is ELEGANT, SIMPLE, and DELIGHTFUL. Really, I cannot say when it dates from, because it is a simple style; non-fussy, a generous tilted top, and with a discreet rim to hold your big books; height measures 47ins up, floor to front, and 52ins up floor to back. About chest height on a medium sized person. PERFECT.

But the lecturn was too big for the hallway.

This is the problem with fantasy, is it not?

You tour the junk shops and salvage yards, convincing yourself it will fit, if only we move the anchor.

I moved the lecturn into the kitchen, which it immediately transformed into a restaurant. And it still didn't fit.

Then I moved it to the front room. It stayed there for a while, positioned elegantly in the front window, until someone knocked on the door thinking we were something to do with the council and where could they get new bins?

I moved the lecturn into the children's room - but whipped it out sharpish when they started using it to hold up knitting - and I moved it into a corner of nowhere, where it has sat in the dark feeling sorry for itself.

Now! I bought a printer's box, so the lecturn has to go!

But I think it would look very lovely in your home. I'm not peeping through your windows or anything, just saying I think you are probably the person with enough style and presence needed to own this beautiful piece, and have it in your home, holding up your most beautiful and treasured book.

If you want my lecturn, let me know. I do no deliveries. And I'm not wrapping it up for the post. For collection only.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Difference? Home ed and illegal schools

Branwen Jeffreys on BBC Radio 4 Today spoke clearly: an illegal school is a setting where more than five children are present 'full time' (I assume the boundaries of school guide her education reporting, so she means kids are at the setting between 9am to 3pm).

Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools - who quite rightly is concerned about public money being used to place vulnerable children in unregistered centres with poorly-qualified staff - then went on, at the end of the piece, to gloss it all, home education.

I would just like to point out that Home Education is NOT the same as an illegal school.

Here are TWO DIFFERENCES. They are Great Big ones.

1. Home educators draw no public money to home ed our kids.

2. Home educators do not send kids to a centre for 6 hours a day Monday to Friday.

Michael Wilshaw knows what he is saying, when he uses the term 'home education' to mean all education provision that is not mainstream. He knows the difference between home ed and illegal school settings. But he hopes that you don't.

Because what's on his immediate wish-list is Registration for every child. You may want this approach or not - it's up to you to argue your point of view - but to advance his agenda, Wilshaw should have the decency not to lie to you. There is a difference, and he knows it. But he would like to make you think that home educators are doing something illegal, dirty, dangerous, and wrong.

Now, if you want to know more, then know the debate in home ed land about the use of public money to fund home ed.

Some home educators argue that we should receive state help for exams, text books, syllabus provision, tutors, invigilation fees. It can be frighteningly expensive, depending how you do it. Seven hundred quid to get three kids through their Global Citizenship course, and roughly a hundred pounds each child for each exam, means I haven't bought a new pair of shoes since 2002. (Barnardos charity equips us all at £1.99 a pair.)

In my view, if we accept state money for exams, then we also allow the state to scrutinise us in our home, tell us how my kids are to learn stuff, and dictate their rates of learning. That would cut a fundamental freedom of choice - which we all enjoy - about how to live our family life. My kids have learned most of their stuff autonomously, with some structures as they've needed: they study for an exam in one year, not two, and if their study means spending most of the day in a field, then that's what they need to do. I trust my kids to learn the way they need.

Let's just say, the debate about whether home educators should accept state money will continue, for sure.

The second point - sending kids to a centre for 6 hours a day and assuming this is 'home education' - is frankly a bizarre thing for Wilshaw to claim, and it shouldn't stand up to any scrutiny at all. One of the reasons people pull kids out of school is to free them from this constraint. This blog has been fairly typical of many home educating styles, and how many days were there for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to see the same setting?

But Mr Wilshaw, you know we use the mantra, The World is our Classroom. It is about as far away from the concept of school setting that we can get. You know this. My request to you is, whatever your aim, to get it, at least be decent. Don't lie.

Monday, 7 November 2016

In love with a soup maker

Yes, a soup maker. Soup Maker is not a metaphor. Not a metaphor for a naked man wearing one of those PVC aprons with cursive writing over his delicious middle, like 'souper douper soup maker'. That is fantasy only, and one cannot be in love with fantasy.

What I am in love with, is an actual soup maker, as in a kettle-ish machine with an On button and a whizzy stick for blending. This is Love as in Need.

Because with only a potato and a carrot, I am conjuring wondrous home goodness for Shark and for me and for everyone who wants delicious soop from a thermos at any time of day!

In the nature of all new love-struck yearnlings, I want to share my love with you. Here are my favourites.

Add to all below a goodly amount of the finest sold by ethical enterprise, Daily Bread Co-op. The delicious Marigold. (The stock, not a rubber glove.)

Sweet potato and ginger
My absolute favourite. A huge sweet potato and a thumb lump of ginger.

Pea
Potato, onion, big lump of frozen pea.

Celery and cumin
Potato, celery, cumin.

Sweetcorn
Tin sweetcorn, onion, potato

Red pepper and garlic
Potato, red pepper, garlic.

Old Familiar
Yesterday's dinner, with added water and rubber glove. Today, it was yesterday's pearl barley and yesterday's suede.

Vegetable
Anything in the fridge, or grown in the veg patch. (Not much there. Those carrots were puny! And the slugs ate the cabbage.) But! I acquired four bags of kale from Tesco bins at 10p each, thus ensuring tomorrow's soup contains kale.

Carrot
Potato, carrot, something from the spice shelf, best before date.

I think we have the hang of this now.

All I can say is, buy a soup maker! It is one of those things in life that you think DUH, I am not an IDIOT. I can make soup ALREADY! But then! When you actually have a loverly soup maker, I guarantee that life is made easier. I simply stick the soup in a thermos and leave it on the kitchen table. Lunch is sorted.

PS. to anyone who thinks they might be able to make money from this post because you can get me to review soup makers, don't bother. I will be a sad disappointment*. As in, I can't recall the brand of the one I bought at Costco, even while I am in love with it. I think it's a Russell Hobbes, but don't push me and I can't be bothered to go and look.

*I do however accept free bags of chocolate with no strings attached.

Friday, 4 November 2016

The pointless misery of the school English class

Okay Shark! You've had nearly two months of this! You can see now why I home educated. To make DAMN SURE that in the morning you could wake up with Rowling and Pullman, in the afternoon carouse with Chesterton and Dickens, and in the evening, go out with Shakespeare. And THINK NOTHING OF IT.

Because to my way of thinking, this is what your reading should be about - the freedom to wander about life, history, cultures, and everything in between. No book on the shelf is banned and I never set reading lists. They are pointless chronicles of misery and guilt. Read what you damn well like.

So the school is unpicking my intention, obviously. That is a purpose of these institutions: to separate children from family cultures. You can say that's a good thing, or a bad thing, or an it-depends-thing. Have your own debate.

But they are using the following means.

1. Telling you you must do English. It is non-negotiable.
When asked why? because Shark has been allocated, at 6th form, a resit class, when she's not a resit student and already has a pass at IGCSE in English Literature, so she already meets the requirements for prior attainment, she is told it is for 'a lot of complicated reasons'. Which basically means, we're fobbing you off with guff so you submit to us. Guess what, Mrs and Mrs School? Shark now says she hates English. THANKS FOR THAT.

2. But the English teacher doesn't turn up.
Because there isn't one! Well, a new appointee did arrive for one week. Then decided the job wasn't for them. Maybe they had a breakdown. Maybe they fled the country. Who knows? We all know how unstable are English teachers, coming over a bit Blake and Quincey.

3. The cover teacher turns up.
And they can't give a fuck. They teach History. But from the skool's pov ... English - History, History - English. It's all the same, innit? Words, words, words. Anyone can do that! Dear Mrs and Mrs School, you are sending out a message that English? It's just that thing you MUST DO. Nothing special.

4. The cover teacher changes every day until a temporary teacher is hired bloody asap.
Oh! We're 6 weeks into the term and no-one learned Shark's name because there's no point.

5. Shark has been picking up work from the office.
What is the point of this? she asks. No-one collects it, no-one marks it. It is just stuff you must do.

6. Aha! Someone talks to her!
Admittedly, I have to email the school to find out 'what syllabus she must be put on for complicated reasons', and at the end of it, she finds out it's Of Mice and Men. This is a book we've read in our Home Ed Reading Group! But Shark does not want this dragged out for 6 months while we all slowly die of pain. Her critical opinion of this text is that 'it is depressing, especially the second time round', which I agree is fair enough. I have told her to answer a question on another book when she gets to the exam. Meanwhile, dig your fingernails into the palms of your hands. That worked for me, with Ezra Pound.

7. Why does school assume all students can't be bothered?
Now this really PISSES ME OFF, Mr and Mrs School. In my experience, what you assume is true tends, in time, to become true. Standing on my soap box - which already levitates, powered by moral righteousness - I have assumed all my children are brilliant readers capable of reading everything from Dostoyevsky to Joyce to Dos Passos to Anglo-Saxon riddlings, to I Love Dolphins. Hey! GUESS WHAT? Admittedly, some authors are yet on the shelf, waiting to be found, but IT WILL COME TRUE. Such is the power of that assumption. It's only a matter of time. So why, why, why, do Mr and Mrs School assume the people - the same people they are charged with inspiring and inflaming with reading passion - cannot be bothered, so must be lectured and nannied and hectored. Really, now they got the very people they made.

So soon after this short blast of school, I can feel Shark's reading pleasure recast as a drag and a chore and a problem.

Mr and Mrs School, you are damaging and downright dangerous. If I ever had times of doubt about the venture of home education, then two months with you has made me dispel all my doubts. We did the right thing. And I hope that when Shark is done with your miserable experience, that she bounces back to normal, and wants to wake up with Austen, all over again.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

An outdoor life beckons

I take Squirrel to King's Cross station and put her on a train to North Yorks. She never was going to be an indoors girl, so I may as well offer her up to the moors.

She's managed to find herself a volunteer weekend on a conservation site, digging holes for butterflies. I ask as we wait for the train, Do butterflies live in holes? She tells me wearily that butterflies rest on the ground. Prickles and thorns and sticky jack stuff tangle up their heavenly glory, so they sometimes need a five-minute sit down - and a hole in the ground is a great place to have a rest.

I know how they feel. I wave her off after our gruelling journey to get here of trespassed train lines and halted hours, and I have to face the same on my lone return home.

This is the first time Squirrel has travelled by herself for such a distance. I tell myself, don't worry, she'll be back in a few days. As I watch her pass through the ticket barriers, I look at the commuters, eyes ahead, in a direct line to Platform 2, marching at double speed like a spine with a single aim: get to the door of Carriage 3 and your best window seat as quick as you can, and ahead of the rival next to you.

Squirrel is oblivious to them. She turns to wave. She turns to wave again in a few paces, or I think she does, because she may have inclined her head to look at the arches and the spans of light criss-crossing above her, then perhaps she caught my eye, so waves again, as if she'd remembered about me all along.

She meanders at the side of that human road, dipping right to left to look at some new distraction. She gives a final wave and a distant smile. Then out of sight. Those butterflies are lucky to have her on their side.

Friday, 28 October 2016

I might keep a diary if it would keep me

Managed to get in on a wine-and-nibbles do from the Society of Authors. I note in passing that Dig has probably written about ten million worrds less than me, and most of his wrords were written in the twentieth century, but such is life. He is the author, and it's his name as Member and mine as Guest.

Truly, I do not envy the job. Blogging is my level. Blogging has no plot strands to stitch together. I don't have to think too much and I can wander off to stitch a real book. I can pick up and drop worrdrs when I like. And I have no contract with any reader. I can tell you details of what's on the office desk and I remain untouched as to whether you are delighted or bored. I guess the characters wander about in my world as much as in any wrordy thing, exhibiting all the usual human madnesses of sulk, anger, tenderness, mischief, resentment, regret. But I don't have to fashion their lives and spend hours picking the right expression to make you like them.

Anyway, I went hoping I would get much caustic humour at someone else's expense: meeting a room filled with Ed Reardon types, the average age of which is 60 and the coffee table book Love Your Goldfish the career highlight seemed like promising territory.

There was a bit of that, it is true. I met THE DUCHESS who said I AM A DUCHESS, DID I TELL YOU? I AM A DUCHESS. And then I met the lady who hadn't written as much as an address on an envelope for the last 15 years, and the very elderly lady with poor eyesight who confused me with someone who worked at the British Library.

Wandering about the room again I also met someone who lived in Thailand where it's cheap and, after meeting again with THE DUCHESS, I INHERITED 10,000 IT WASN'T MUCH, I looked about hoping I could quietly watch someone properly triggered off by meeting someone else who was fantastically successful. Because if it's any world like the academic world, underneath the smiles about the contract for My Little Book of Kittens, there are knives. And I know exactly the type of format to bring them out - it's a small room filled with Ed Reardon types who've been sat at a computer keyboard all day long before coming out blinking into the world where they are fed two large glasses of wine and a mini-pizza.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Hurrah! End of Rice Rule at Shakespeare's Globe!

The best news I've had all year. Rice's tenure is coming to an end. Hopefully, the Globe will be restored to the original vision that Sam Wanamaker aspired to, yet never saw completed.

Shakespeare's Globe was an integrated brand, sent all around this world with the wonderful Hamlet. The whole lot cohered - the theatre, the exhibition, the message, the workshops, the education, the products, the shop. The whole worked beautifully.

And someone comes along and smashes it all up. Without respect for the ambitious vision that made this place possible; without respect for the talents who built Shakespeare's Globe to a global brand; without respect for the scripts or even for the audience, who were told they didn't really want all that inaccessible crap they'd grown to love and, if they said they wanted it, then they must either be pretending or stupid. So Rice went about on the grand mission to cover up the space, lose the unique acting force required on the Globe stage, erect barriers to the audience, put out sets cribbed from the National, turn the show to a musical, cut the language, and then belt out sound through a booming amplifier so that the last bit of nuance and delicacy of voice is smashed up and gone.

Thank you, to the Board of the Globe, for bringing the experiment to an end.

More than I can say, I'm looking forward to seeing the actors back on the simplest of wooden stages, stripped of props and lights and electronic noise, showing us great stories, ripping the heart from these lines with no more than their own voices, their physicalities, and their shared construction of great drama with the audience in front of them. That's Shakespeare's Globe. Nowhere else in the world can do that.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

All in love with Emily Portman

One of the bestest things about having children is the range of music they bring to your house.

Thank God it's not Slipknot, but Emily Portman's Tongue Tied from the Glamoury. Beautiful dark storytelling for October. Inspiration indeed.

I recommend to my daughters in turn, Angela Carter's Bloody Chamber.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Half-term! Yippee!

Hallelujah, I get all my children back. They get me out of bed before dawn to drive everyone to a wood to go deer stalking. Ahh, the good old days.




Friday, 21 October 2016

and another thing...

Yes, there's more. Not only are we finding out how skool makes every student, parent, and teacher accountable by requiring them to produce pointless pieces of paper on demand - and thus keep pointless paperwork travelling back and forth across everyone's desk - we are now finding out how much detailed surveillance and monitoring goes on in Shark's world.

And I had no idea how much information I can gather on my Student Shark daily without her participation in that process. Thanks skool, for suggesting that I creep about the internet, stalking my own daughter.

It is downright sinister. What is this assumption skool makes about our relationships? That I can't just ask Shark, and I can't just talk to her? No. I have to use databases and digitised record sheets to find out her movements between 2.00pm and 2.05pm. And if I miss that target window, then I can just check her learning level stage (subdivided into 4 sections).

Frankly, keeping a beady eye on my daughter's hourly movement as regulated by and connected to her learning stage should not, in my opinion, be a normal state of my parenthood. This level of surveillance on a 16-year old kid from twin guns of school and parent is stomach-churningly wrong. It's like we're all living in some horrible database.

Stupidly, I want us all to feel like we're not being watched every minute of the day and our movements reported on. But I'm obviously out of step with the modern world. Maybe they could sell me a Readjustment App for my condition.

People, are you happy with this? Are you all feeling that spying on your own kid is normal?

I had no idea what a weird world you were abusy building while we were making cake and calling it Geology.


Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Let off steam, otherwise explode

I've been extraordinarily tight-lipped over the last few weeks, but really I want to say, School? It's all shit, shit, shit. It's brought about such huge changes in the way we have to see life and live our days, that I think it's possibly the crappiest idea you people ever had. Except maybe nuclear war and Isis/ Is/ Isil/ Daesh. They could be worse.

But I am doing this for Shark. She is sticking to it, this thing called School - thing that makes me get out of bed at 6.30am and not start work until 11am - even though they have thrown every bit of their crap at her. Which she then brings home, in various states, for our evening's supper pleasure.

For me, on my part, I am trying hard to control my urge to smash things up, set fire to someone's car, shove dogshit through letterboxes and go and live in a hut made of sticks like a proper hippy.

On that latter point, I have done some research, like a good capitalist hippy, and researched buying woodland in South Bucks, on the basis I could go and live in it, like Captain Fantastic. (Do not tell me that is a film. It is a documentary.) But Dig made me figure out how long it would take to save up to buy 1 acre (9 years by my income stream, assuming I don't eat). So what? I am not giving in, and have opened a jam jar to fill with 50p pieces.

Here, I am confining myself to one complaint only. On odd moments when I am at a wit's end. Perhaps it is a question. WHY oh WHY is there so much pointless admin at your invention called School? The staff shove mountains of paper on students who have to shove it back at them.

Like the 'Assessment Folder'. No-one knows what is this idea, 'Assessment Folder'. We managed to raise kids over 16 years without it, but now, apparently, 'Assessment Folder' is essential. What goes in it? 'Assessment'. We do not know what that is. We are told, the results of pop tests. What? What are Pop tests? What? Who was the lead singer of Bay City Rollers in 1979? That sort of pop test? Or maybe the results of tests given in weeks 1,2,3,4, of any subject, at any moment. Because now there is no difference between teaching and testing. You just deliver the subject and deliver the test and mark the test like you are some fecking robot. Then you put the test into your 'Assessment Folder'. Jeez. Pass me the bastard matches.


Sunday, 9 October 2016

First days at School, age 16

Observations from Shark:

They say we have to spend 20 minutes with a tutor and it's for our benefit. No it isn't. We do nothing in that period apart from sit around. They hold some of us back for 20 minutes so they can moderate the numbers of people going in and out the dining hall.

Why do they call all the women teachers Miss? It is patronising. I mean, you can say Sir in a patronising tone, but it's a lot easier to sound demeaning with Miss.

They tell me it's my choice and then they tell me what they want me to choose.

It has taken me ages to work out what she wants when she says, 'Look at X,Y,Z for homework'. And now they've moved me into a different group. I don't want to go.

He says I have to do the English Language Resit class. It's not helpful. It's not what I want. I enjoy English and I want to do it in my own time. They will teach to the exam. Lessons will be all exam focused and that will put me off it. And I'm not a resit student.

He said all this stuff and I thought, 'You just don't want to say it's for the convenience of my Administration System'.

Tomorrow I'm going in dressed as a Goth, just to unsettle them.

I know the best way to disrupt everything. It's to put up your hand and ask questions they don't want to answer. It really messes up the flow.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Three hours well spent

Imagine ... you are walking one day through a wood. There on the ground, right in front of an old hawthorn, is a battered and tattered book, bound in worn leather, the colour of dusky orange earth.

You pick up this old book, glancing this way and that, to see who might have dropped it. How strange!
The back of the book is skewered with a thick red pencil made from a hewn tree branch, its centre carefully hollowed and stuffed with what look like dried juices of ripe holly berry. And the cover! It’s like no ordinary cover you’ve ever seen before.

As you turn the gnarled book in your hands, the shape speaks softly to you - here are a pair of stiff pointed ears, sticking right out the top of the book! And there! From the inside, a tuft of white beard!

You glance over your shoulder, and stuff the book quickly into your woodsman’s bag, because - you know it now for sure - this book belongs to one who lives close by. This book is a book dropped in haste. Someone scurrying with the urgency of escape - perhaps to the bundle of roots they call home - let this book fall from their grasp. This is their book! And soon, very soon, they’ll return quietly in search of it, because between its precious pages are the spells that whisper to the reader where to seek the tendrils of Gold that coil within the earth.

This is the most precious book of the wood. For this is the Book of the Troll.


Story notebook range for anyone who ever loved a fairy tale at Number 38. But only for October. Hie thee hither!

Friday, 30 September 2016

Moment to relax







and think about lovely books to hold. For Knicker Drawer Note Books, go over here.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Thank you, Captain Fantastic

Yes, see this film. Captain Fantastic. Beautiful, funny, disarming, ambiguous, winning, truthful and, most unusual, it didn't make me feel, well, huh, here's the lonesome loony freak!

It's a film about the clash of cultures. Choose, alternative or conventional. And it focuses on themes of upbringing, parenting, what it is to create a society and a culture; what your knowledge is, and what it does to you and the world you create.

It's one of the first films I've seen which takes that most unfashionable of subjects - education - and treats it with respect.

While home education (British English!) and home schooling (US English!) take so many different forms, those who walk the walk as well as talk the talk, we all share one thing. We lead our kids a lesser-trod route round that wood.

Once you come away from 'normal' and create your own style of 'normal' - however you do that - then we can each feel judged by the group we just left, is that not right? We don't fear their judgement, that's for sure, because by the time we set out on our alternative paths we're usually so strong-armed in our own wisdom/ righteousness/ cussedness/ bloody-mindedness that, frankly, we don't care what anyone says. And that's a premise which this film takes for granted and means we can all breathe a big sigh of relief.

Wearing my critical hat, there are moments I want to take issue with, and we talked muchly about the ending, which can be read two ways. To conventional schoolers, it will say, in the end, you submit. But we see what submission means: the world that the kids grew and knew about - woods, fields, animals, outdoors - they now access only through books. It's a disconnected, abstracted connection. The family has lost a shared narrative. And there's so much more to say about that.

But that's the absolute beauty of this film. It doesn't judge, it doesn't provide answers, it doesn't condemn, it sees both sides, and gives you the space to think about both. It's a film which says, there are no answers, only more talk.

And for me, I'm just so very grateful that it said, 'Your alternative family? It's fantastic.'


Thursday, 15 September 2016

Removed! The Comments from Shakespeare's Globe Discussion Forum, Macbeth

Comments Removed by Moderators, presumably for the Weasel Arse and Buggeroff.

Yes ... I think you are right. In the early days I heard the argument that Shakespeare's Globe would become an 'Elizabethan theme park' admired by tourists alone. That was proved so very wrong as the Globe became a centre for scholarship into theatrical practice and culture at a time of massive transition in the 16th/17th and 20th/21st centuries. But it is ironic that now I really do feel this theatre is becoming the 'Elizabethan theme park' once dreaded - yes, we get the shell of the theatre only with an abandonment of cultural study.

And phew, I also feel sorry that, no matter what the range of questioning put to the Globe, the standard copy-and-paste response of 'experimentation' follows. Dear Globe, you were called *Shakespeare's* Globe for a reason - you're not called *The director's latest experiment which we're putting on at a reconstruction of the Globe*. Your argument of 'experimentation' does not address the questioning of what you are now there for.
Removed

I posted a similar comment ... with a critique similar to yours. My comment has been removed by Shakespeare's Globe. Maybe your comment will be allowed to stay?!
Removed

We have been Friends of Shakespeare's Globe for years. You were one of the most original theatres in London. In every play we saw - and we have seen many - we were rewarded with the knowledge that the cast had spent rehearsal time wrenching every physical expression from the scripts.

The actors, without props of hi-tech support, presented these characters to us stripped back and bare - so very little else on stage, the presentation of Shakespeare's plays like this was borderline folly. It was incredibly brave.

Shakespeare's Globe rightly travelled about the world as a beacon of originality. And Shakespeare's Globe pulled it off! The support of the beautiful crafted stage; natural light; reconstructed costuming; an exploration of Elizabethan culture; the supportive exhibition; the groundlings - it created a theatre of breathtaking bravery.

The very first time I visited the Globe, ALL my education and understanding about Shakespearean theatre was turned upside down. I am indebted to both Rylance and Dromgoole. It was thrilling. I slapped down my Friends money the same day, then set about recommending Shakespeare's Globe widely. We brought children to you as groundlings to see your startling new approach. Here was a theatre that no-one else was attempting. I was delighted to support how Shakespeare's Globe was helping to kick into being a new form of Shakespeare studies.

Now! I find I'm relabelled and discarded as a 'purist' and 'traditionalist' for mourning the loss of your original vision. But you need to tell people honestly that under Rice your previous approach is gone. The message you send around the World needs revision. In these performances, to me it looks now - without that central unifying focus, purpose and vision - as if you're searching for what you think must be popular - you're grabbing at lights, sound, put on a song because all shows must have a song, revise to the absurd, drown the words with sound, get to the next set piece because integrity and coherence no longer matter - Shakespeare's Globe is become just another London stage.

Yes, go if you want cheap and accessible theatre, then Shakespeare's Globe still great value. Yes, go if the RSC at Stratford is too far! Yes, go if you like set-piece songs (thanks to Webber). Go if you like a whizz-bang-pop that's there, well, just because. But if you need that astonishing vision of authenticity, then I don't know where to recommend. Sadly, it used to be Shakespeare's Globe. Now? I can no longer recommend it.
Removed

And the message I sent to the Moderators:
HEY, SHAKESPEARE'S GLOBE STAFF! It's looking to me as if you don't want to hear my comments, especially if they're in any way critical! After many years of study of Shakespeare, starting with a degree covering the stuff, then I believe I have earned the right to an opinion. I have praised the Globe around this world, and brought people over from Hong Kong to be with us in this very special space, and now I'm not allowed to comment?! Okay, then I will use other channels for sure.

Weasel Arse and Buggeroff.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Think about that






One of the benefits of home education is that you can work from home, especially using your skills.

When we started work from home (before children, and not on my Knickerdrawers) we opened a company account, hired an accountant (we still use the same firm), and the bank kindly called us a 'lifestyle company'.

I'd like to say that, except for a brief attempt (in 1999? can't recall) to employ office help (it was a disaster), we have not grown our company at all. We work just the same, probably by some measure surfing a poverty line (we don't have a flat-screen TV, and the last time I bought a pair of shoes not from the charity shop was 2002), but we have spent the days doing the things we like to do, chugging through the years with some of this and some of that. It has all been the most happy time.

This year I have found that making books is become more of a delight, so I might do some more. It will be unprofitable, of course, but hopefully I can justify the leather to make some more. Who can tell? The kids (they always come first if you make them your lifestyle) might come up with another clever idea about how we can focus our days. Making adjustable wings for the Steampunk community perhaps?

But I know that September can bring about a major reflection in a life. People begin their commute, pack the kids away, settle down, I hear, to normal. Then some might think, I wonder if there's a different way to live?

Well, you could dream about that in a Knicker Drawer Note Book. I've probably made one, just for you.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Too Much OPINION, Thank You, Lady!

Get me! I'm censored!

Tsk. I spent years supporting Shakespeare's Globe, shoving hard-earned cash in their direction, toot-tooting its fine achievements from the rafters, singing the joys of just being there, and dragging people from around the world to stand in the Pit - that sacred space.

And now they've removed my comment on the dreadful mashup of Macbeth from their discussion lists.

I didn't even use the words bugger arse weasel or kerfuffle.

What is it? Am I too dashed CRITICAL in my middle years? Too much purple in the clothing? Maybe I analyse too much. I look at stuff from the start, middle and end; I look at voices and acting, singing and dancing, comedy, tragedy, history; the problem. Maybe I ask why.

Dear Shakespeare's Globe. Why the dreadful sound system? Why the mash-ups? Why are you wrecking stuff that wasn't broken? Why are you alienating your Old Friends?

When our membership renewals come about from the Gritty household, I'll let you know.

Meanwhile, does anyone want my 4 groundling tickets for IMOGEN, 25 September?

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The home education igcse results

Yes, if you're worried about the home ed journey, don't be.

Frankly, I chewed my fingers back to the elbows. I needn't have.

Shark picked up an A* in Maths because she likes Maths.

Don't imagine for one moment that I taught it. I have trouble navigating the 1x table. Assessed, I come in at about 9-years old on the maths score system. Nope. No teaching from either me or the Undeniable Husband. Shark taught herself. She decided on the syllabus she wanted, supervised the book purchasing, asked for a quiet place to watch YouTube, and off she went.

I want this small tale to reassure you. When children find their own motivations, when they follow the paths they set for themselves, when they like something, there's no stopping them. Enthusiasm and interest cannot be beaten into them. But it can be beaten out of them. So if you're looking in dismay to Tinkertop, who in September seems to be losing her love of stuff, then we have different ways to skin that cat.

This year, Shark's delight was matched by Tiger's love for Latin, and Squirrel's natural flair in EngLit.

We're happy. No-one has to re-sit; and no-one had to go to school to get the end result.


Monday, 8 August 2016

The worst one ever: Macbeth smashed up at Shakespeare's Globe

I cried. There are particular lines, you see, spoken by Macbeth.

Macbeth shows the consequence of choice. You make the right choice? All is okay. You make the wrong choice? Your life as you know it, as you want it to be? All destroyed.

But can you always know? How do you think, in the fire of the moment - through all imperatives, chaos and madness - which choice?

So when I hear these particular lines spoken, the ones that make sense to me, they make me cry. They are so painfully true. If I hadn't turned the key; if I hadn't walked into this room; if I had chosen a different course of action, life would be so very different.

But everyone laughed. They laughed because the lines don't matter and the pointless/inexplicable child on the stage was helicoptering his arms. Because Macbeth is a comedy, right?

Stupidly, I thought the play was a tragedy; I thought the drivers were ambition, falsehood, make the wrong choice?  Hope, despair, consequence.

But it's not. In Iqbal Khan's vision at Shakespeare's Globe, Macbeth is a comedic, episodic mash-up which takes your wisdoms, feelings, ideas, consequences, and smashes them. Then we all laugh.

It starts early on. With a comedy King Duncan.

Sam Cox is an outstanding comic of the stage, perfect creator of a sodden Stephano. But in Khan's version of Macbeth, Sam Cox plays King Duncan, directed to be a buffoonish clown. That's when everything starts to unravel. I think, if a buffoon is a King of a warring state, then he would have been murdered already, because surely no warrior would accept a weak clown-leader. And, when he is murdered, everyone would rightly sigh, Thank God! Now we can have a proper King who carries a sword! So, having a Comedy King doesn't work. The only way to make it work in this version of the play is: Don't think about it.

But a Comedy King also gives me another problem. When he's murdered, I don't care. He never touched my heart in his vulnerability, in his trust, or his kindness. Then where is the need for the Porter scene?

I was introduced to Macbeth by an old-fashioned dramatist who told me the Porter scene in Macbeth is there to relieve you of your need to express your emotion. After you sucked in your breath and held it there, suspended in horror at this boundary-crossing profound act of murder, then you need to let out your breath long and loud. So Shakespeare gave us the Porter. We can safely release that emotional charge. But in Khan's version, the Porter is just funny. That's all. Just funny. Don't bring any fancy schmancy traditional notions of emotional catharsis here!

Which tells me how, in this interpretation of the play, the emphasis is definitely on the superficial. No depth, no psychological tension, no echo of feeling. It's an exhibition of sound and noise.

For example, Ray Fearon's Macbeth shouts. He SHOUTS A LOT.

'HEAR IT NOT DUNCAN' he yells, and I think, 'Hush! You'll wake up the whole castle!' Macbeth's shouty declarations (probably directed as a Victorian villain) are in contrast to Lady Macbeth.

Now I really like my Lady Macbeth to be a fire-and-belly woman in lust for power. I wasn't sure what Khan liked from his Lady Macbeth. She didn't work as a seductress because there was no pacing towards that end - Macbeth gets a quick snog, accompanied by audience whistles in an atmosphere of passion that would be okay in a bus shelter - but she's not given the space and time for dismantling and unsexing herself for power either. That moment is overtaken by a bit of evidence burning when you can get the lighter to work. In the end, we get Tara Fitzgerald twitching a lot, making silly kissing noises and flapping about a bit.

But Macbeth is a comedy, right? We can all laugh at everything. And I mean everything.

The audience laugh when King Duncan's corpse is discovered - the delivery of the lines by Malcolm invite you to do so. The audience laugh when Lady Macduff is murdered - the murderers are so funny! The audience laugh at the mental horrors of Lady Macbeth as she sleepwalks - her twitching is hilarious! Then we all laugh when Macbeth is hooked, on the fulcrum of self-preservation and self-sacrifice - when we should feel the pain of this predicament. Here, he can't decide whether to wear armour or not. Tee-hee.

The lines are spoken for the joke in mind and the actors are directed to humour. By the end, most of the lines felt like an operational difficulty to propel us to the joke. When the speeches are over-long, someone comes up with a pantomime moment to keep the audience stupid.

But there must be saving graces to this production, surely?! Er, I could try the originality of the four witches. Um. Every skoolchild know Macbeth has 3 witches. No! Wrong! Not 3 now! Four! Four witches!

Smash up tradition and it all comes apart. Here I am, foolishly thinking three is the magic number; the supernatural number of the Catholic trinity as experienced in dangerous and reforming Tudor times, when the Church reformers are looking at Catholic belief as superstition, when danger lurks in believing in three. Anyway, put that nonsense out of your mind if you see this production with its Four Witches. We don't want the audience to start engaging in Deep Thought, do we?

Howabout the amplification at the Globe? Those enormous speakers that thrash out booming sound! It doesn't matter that I couldn't hear what Banquo said. Listen to the spooky noise! It didn't matter the whole drama got swallowed up in a whooo-whoooo-whooo through the speakers! Enter into the superficiality of the theatre, why don't you!

Howabout song? Every West End production must have a song, right? The words of the witches will do, okay? We'll sing those. Except, in the original clipped speeches of the witches and Macbeth, the words tell us of a subtle power shift between imagination and reality; resolve and doubt; power and subjugation. Take those words away and sing them over the speakers and we lose all that. We just get the spooky song.

Which is okay because we also get Chucky the spooky doll and the Son of Macbeth, the pointless/inexplicable child on Khan's stage who ends the whole sorry mess by sitting on the throne after Malcolm's coronation, paving the way for Macbeth II. Coming soon to your Cineworld screening!

And that's about it. A performance that is bereft of intelligence, emotional content, coherence, integrity or respect for the script or for the audience. At one point Squirrel whispers, 'Is it an amateur production?'

Take note, Globe! Squirrel (this is her 8th Macbeth) hated it, said it was the worst one ever, this version of Khan's Macbeth, played out lamentably at this once-great Shakespeare's Globe, under the new direction to 'experiment' the hell out of every and any play they can.

But there are plus points. Your actors are wonderful. Just here, miscast and misdirected. The puppetry was good, and the crowns twirling in the air a gentle ghostly reminder and foretelling. Nadia Albina a natural on this stage; the best of the lot. And it didn't rain.

On the train home, we all found laughter in the corny flapping bats which made the stage look like a Hallowe'en Party. And we all found common ground in agreeing Iqbal's version was a mess, through and through. No-one cared whether the Comedy King was alive or dead. No-one cared about Macbeth and we'd all wondered about leaving half way through.

Me, I was made smaller and less of a thinking person by the lines which I wanted to be so full of significance, but which were thrown away because in the great new enterprise, they just don't matter. So I cried. And everyone laughed.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Fancy Flâneuse!

Interesting article this morning on R4 Today programme about the Flâneuse.

I'm a follower of Phil Smith's work and his devotion to walking, and I'm looking forward to reading that new book on my wishlist: Flâneuse: The (Feminine) Art of Walking in Cities.

And I'm really looking forward to enjoying the leisure time when I can truly indulge this sport.

But, R4! A dog-end treatment from your tinkly-piano department. Oh dear. The soul, the melancholic, the wistful regret in those lingering notes! Your tinkly-piano department undermined the whole point of the piece. The idea of the Flâneuse to me is not so I can become the wistful fragrance of an invisible woman, hollowing out my mourning soul in quiet introspection to the slow melodies of your C notes.

Walking is to create a vibrant, imaginative and creative space: a practise which means I then find home and stitch paper to cloth to leather with a visceral urgency more resonant of a remix of the Dambusters thrashed out by a Wagner-Heavy Rock mash up. But wouldn't that challenge your stereotypes?

Thanks anyway for the article.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

HOLIDAYS ARE NOT HOMESCHOOL

Jeezusbegeezuz, what is the matter with this world?

Kids on HOLIDAY should be 'brave, fun, and up to no good.'

So here's a holiday reading list from Me and the Man who Thinks, aka Dig.

Who's Not In School? by Ross Mountney, illustrated by James Robinson.
Good luck as you try to get your hands on a copy.

People Get Ready by Robert W McChesney and John Nichols. Cos the jobs aren't there. Meanwhile, your education system now killing childhood is a big fat business to get citizens into debt, force compliance, and leave a population without the thinking independent-minded creative energy to do anything about it.

Pft.

I don't know whether to get up on a soapbox or just say, to hell in a handcart.

But that's it. Life's all about CHOICE.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Five years behind? Kiss my arse.

Shark!

She's taking Design and Engineering A level at the local Sixth Form after all.

Despite the Geography teacher at the interview, who told her she couldn't do the Design and Engineering course because she's 'five years behind'.

Talk about a red rag to a bull. I have three girls. And I have taught these girls that NO means NO.

EXCEPT when it means COME BACK WITH A BETTER ARGUMENT.

My daughter emailed the sixth form head, demanded an appointment with the Design teacher, and went along equipped with her sketch books chronicling her experiences making a coracle, octopus, and kayak.

She then nailed his head to the floor with the BTEC Engineering course she's started, and when he could no longer protest, she pointed out the Smallpiece Marine Engineering course she's taking over summer. *

She's in.

Which I hope serves as a great reminder that home educated kids are NOT five years behind. Unless you live in an institution with your head up your own backside.

But hey! This blog has also included, Here are the warts.

Shark declined an offer from the Sea Cadets to participate in Henley Regatta's Youth Doing Something On Water in a Rowing Boat Slot.

Just imagine! I would have got total Bastard Swanking Parent Rights, announcing loudly that my daughter was TAKING PART IN THE REGATTA!

Then everyone could hate me properly and thoroughly.

As it was, Shark denied me my swanking opportunity on the basis that she was the very last choice, with even the local organiser admitting she couldn't get anyone else, and observing that Shark has yet to row in a straight line.

Everyone agreed the event would have descended into an emergency rescue demonstration on water and probably it was just as well Shark said thanks, but no thanks. (I'm just plotting for next year.)


* Her team won! Twenty-five quid each in prize money for BEST DESIGN of Floating Platform Thingy at Sea!

When she got home, she couldn't decide whether to spend her winnings on a batch of CDs or a corset, on the basis that 'you can never have enough corsets'. There's my girl.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Why English SATs test Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar


What hours spent! Like dogs worrying bones, we have chewed over this question, why?

Why inflict made-up 18th century grammar on 11-year olds? It doesn't make sense! Who wants this? Employers? Is our local business saying, 'We'd employ you as admin staff ... but you can't locate the subjunctive, so we're sorry...'

The conclusion? It only makes sense if we follow the money. Money drives all. Money drives the schooling system. And maybe, if you're working for some super-large company selling educational materials, turning out exam scripts, providing online teaching programmes to take those exams, and offering the infrastructure to collect and collate test data - then maybe you also have the sales staff who whisper into the ears of national governments, 'We can handle the teaching, learning, and assessment for you! You have teaching shortages, school attendance problems, lack of standardised testing. We can solve it all, at a single stroke, just outsource the work you can't handle.'

Wouldn't the flow of money from a national education budget to corporate pockets be huge?

But this turn - from schooling as decisions based on educational issues into decisions based on economic principles - has been creeping over us for the last 20 years or so.

The Cox Report (1989) still allowed for creativity in English; but listen now. The rationale used by governments here and across the world to teach English or introduce English into primary education is not now about individual creativity or 'personal enrichment' - it's an economic argument: this country will succeed amongst the leaders of the world if we teach English.

But I've been troubled. Since Osborne announced all schools would become academies in the budget. Note that. No announcement from the Education Department, but from the Man with the Briefcase at Number 11. The decision about the UK educational future is based on economic principles. It's how English is taught in a global marketplace with standardised tests and packages.

Which is why the UK is turning to Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar. It's an economic driver, unproven,  which tells your child's classroom teacher how English should be taught; how courses should be designed; and how classes should be run. Spelling delivered on Mondays, Punctuation on Wednesdays and Grammar on Fridays.

Now just look at the use of technology in education, for which I am humbly indebted to Dig, man with two brains and a world eye view.

He tells me how there are two main lines of talk about EdTech in English teaching right now.

One is how wonderful is technology! How teachers can use technology to improve the quality of what they do in all areas of their profession.

But the other line is how big tech companies are seizing the opportunity to create learning and teaching platforms, into which are built standardized curriculums and adaptive testing. These curriculums teach the test. So there is no difference between learning and testing: the child follows the online learning course then takes the online test which scores wrong or right and brings the child back to the same line of online learning, so each time they take the test, they answer more precisely. Teaching to the test becomes a perfect circle.

But worse. It's probably anathema to say it, but the words of Sugata Mitra are becoming taken up in a way that is downright dangerous. He has the language I recognise from home ed and he's wrapped it round a theory that we recognise. But it also fits in this new world. Actually, you don't need a teacher. You just need to buy the computers with their edu-learning software.

And this means that large educational businesses - pick one you know - can sell online packages to a country's education department saying: You know this problem with teachers? They are expensive and difficult to find. You don't really need English teachers in the classroom! Look at the research. You just need learning managers.

Now tell me this ain't happening. I hear that in universities the same is taking place - PhD students are employed as teaching assistants. The role of the teacher as a professional in this society is being steadily eroded. Soon, will any school need any subject specialist?

Which is why your child needs to learn Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar. Computers can't mark poems. They can't give a grade to stories. They don't understand metaphor.

But SPAG!

SPAG is the sort of global teaching and learning you can shift online. You can assess online. Indeed, you can bring together the worlds of teaching/learning/testing as if there is no divide. Your specialised English teacher can become a non-specialised Learning Assistant, guiding the child through the use of their SPAG computer program, giving what appears to be individual feedback but what is nothing more than a pre-set pattern your child learns to get right, if they're to move onto the next screen.

The school is forever grateful to the corporate who supplied the package and who takes away all the teaching and testing and feedback.

The corporate has gratefully received the public money your taxes gave to government for the education budget.

Is it only English? Not likely. A large company - insert the name of your nightmare edu-supplier - wants to sell curriculum across the board. They're not English specialists. English is one of many subjects they can offer, and they want to sell complete packages across the board to national governments.

Hey! Maybe they can even take control of Global Scores and Global League Tables!

Then you'll know that in SPAG, your child reached number 1,356,729 in the world. Won't that be comforting.


Monday, 9 May 2016

It's in the interest of government that you HOME SCHOOL!

We home educators did a lot of good work, huh!

Over the years, we told everyone life is fab without school!

Okay, that pissed off some of you, but we also spread the actual wording of the law, which nowhere states that school is compulsory, but which states the duty to educate your children by school or otherwise - a duty which you sign over to a school when you register Tinkertop. But you can take that duty back, perfectly legally, by writing a deregistration letter.

Now, off to the woods!

Well, maybe we did too much good ground work. Because the wind blows this way.

The government is encouraging schools to enter a market place, but the market is very bad at supplying school places when and where they are needed. If you do get your child into a school of your choice, you can find children locked everyday into over-crowded classes. It hasn't helped that the government has, over many years, slagged off the teaching profession as idle, feckless, lazy buggers with too many holidays. And now, the new curriculum is turning parents off.

But there's more! The media happily reports our everyday problems of unregulated schools doing what they like. Doesn't matter whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian. Stories of abuse and brainwashing are rife. You'd think mini jihadists are being brainwashed everywhere. 

There's only one conclusion to come to. The schooling system is in a mess.

And that's advantageous. We have a government running on neoliberal lines; they want to open up the public educational market to businesses supplying learning packages; they want you to use computers which can track and monitor you; and they want to solve the problems of unpredictable school places and those expensive teachers.

What's a good solution? Home School! 

Look, you've already been told how fab this life is. The government will say 'some parents do an excellent job' to encourage more of you to take up your Section 7 duty and teach your kids yourself.

Except, it will be claimed, you're not quite up to the job. And we wouldn't want any child to slip through the net and be subject to abuse/brainwashing/neglect. Therefore, new home schoolers, you must register, use approved packages run on your computer and tied into the curriculum, so your child can re-enter the school system at any point having never fallen behind; and the government will support you by giving you a voucher to buy approved online learning from the educational supplier of your choice, but in return you must agree to an Ofsted inspector or LA equivalent into your home to approve your work.

How is government going to do it?

Step1) Send out pro-'home-school' reports in the media to prepare the ground. The media will be complicit. Let's face it, Richard, the standard of critical education journalism in this country is pretty poor. The words HOME-SCHOOL will be used everywhere. The words HOME EDUCATION will be abandoned, for these words simply won't appear in government press-releases.

Step 2) Use Local Authorities to encourage parents to 'home-school'. As more schools turn into Academies (we tried force, other methods will be found), so the LA education departments will be required to work elsewhere. The LA bods who once worked with local schools will be placed in charge of the more difficult areas - 'special educational needs', the 'traveller children', the 'school refusers' and 'the home-schooled'.

Step 3) Order a review into home schooling. Find that there is no register and no requirements on local authorities to keep records.

Step 4) Force a registration system into Local Authorities for home-school record-keeping. Your LA will then send out all information telling parents how you must be registered if you choose HOME-SCHOOL. At the moment, there is no compulsion for a parent to register and no requirement in law for LAs to keep any register. Because primary law is difficult to change, expect this shift to come through changes to interpretative documents such as guidelines.

Step 5) Parents will be told they are not up to the specialised job of covering any curriculum. After all, just look! It's impossible for most parents to 'achieve the high standards expected at age 11 SATs'! Thus you will be encouraged to buy off-the-shelf learning packages from large corporates. The job of business will be to take public taxation money for education and package it up into online modules to sell back to you.

Step 6) You must buy this stuff! Kids must work at the computer with a prescribed curriculum! Kids must then take online tests to be marked by computer! How are we going to force parents to buy into this system? Give them money. If you register and 'home-school' you'll be given a voucher to spend at your favourite corporate supplier on the packages that are linked to school. Now you are home schooling! Well done!

Step 7) You must be inspected, obviously. They gave you money and they want you to be accountable to it. And, after all, your child is now being HOME-SCHOOLED and is therefore INVISIBLE AT HOME. You could be doing anything to them! Every term the LA will meet its obligations set by central government and come round with a clipboard and tick sheet.

Step 8) We can now equip every person born in this country with a personal student number. Tinkertop, born today, your number will be associated on a big database with all the keystrokes you have entered throughout your educational career since the age of birth. Every online test you take, every computer-based curriculum you follow, it will all be logged. You will be told how this is to your learning advantage; you will be given unique feedback, your intellectual development will be supported the moment you begin to engage with your nursery curriculum. Expect tie-ins and merchandise. The online link between the Entertainment industry and the Education industry. Peppa Pig Does Big Maths Online. Approved by government, supported by the Educational Voucher Scheme for HomeSchoolers, and the test results of your 3-year old collated, tracked, and owned throughout their lives in a fantastic big data exercise!

Success! Government opened up the education system to the market; positioned teachers as support assistants thus lowering further their pay grades; the pressure on local schools is lifted by parents doing it for themselves; the responsibilities for on-site monitoring given to local authorities and the chums running shareholder corporates given access to public education budgets!

Hey, you parents doing HOME SCHOOLING! You're doing a GREAT JOB!

My only request to you, parent unit, in this brave new world, is simple: that you explore the philosophies that brought about home education.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Hello Jonathan Simons.

Grit listens to Radio 4 this morning, the day of the Parent Boycott to protest against punishing tests for 6-year olds, and now she needs urgent medical attention.

See, Jonathan Simons, how you have brought about this crippling burden on the NHS?

Everything was ALRIGHT until YOU STARTED SPEAKING TWADDLE ON THE RADIO.

Ahem. I will be calm. Listen to the Today programme just before 8am for the interview with Jonathan Simons, head of the 'right-leaning' Policy Exchange.

Okay, my hives are itching. Because who the fuck are 'Policy Exchange' when at home - ALARM BELL - this just tells me how people in the government know cak all about education. They're buying in ideas from right-wing think tanks and corporates.

But to Jonathan's interview strategies.

Strategy 1: If your child is miserable because their life is diminished, then blame schools and teachers. Jonathan encourages you to turn your anger on teachers rather than the government. If the teachers say that the tests are imposed, claim this is just 'an excuse'. In hundreds of schools everything is FINE.

Grit yells at the Radio: The government imposed the tests. They bought in the curriculum from people like you. IT'S YOUR DOING.

Strategy 2: Compare what cannot be compared. Assert how tests are the same everywhere! The UK is merely 'Benchmarked to the standard of an equivalent age in other countries'.

Grit yells at the Radio: OH DEAR. GENERAL KNOWLEDGE FAIL. Children in other countries speak other languages, Jonathan. In other languages, the grammer is more clearly marked. But the 'rules' of English grammer are not so simple! We English are so darn happy to be flexible with our adverbials and our future pluperfects! So exactly where are these simple building blocks? You're showing a pretty thin grasp of the English language here, Jonathan.

Strategy 3: When faced with the idea that other countries just do fine without testing, say those countries are 'plummeting down the international league tables'. Assert that 'we' want to be among the 'top performing countries of the world'.

Grit yells at the Radio: CHINA! You mean China, don't you! We were there when Gove and Gibb came to town: from that point comes your transformations back in the UK. Believe me people, I HAVE SEEN the Chinese education system. It is NOT PRETTY. You will lose your child to The Machine where there is nothing to offer but brutality.

Strategy 4: Assert 'we're just being reasonable'.

Grit yells at the Radio: Who's being reasonable? When was a right-wing think tank ever reasonable? Tosser.

Strategy 5: Agree that Nick Gibb was being dramatic when he claimed your life will be shit if you fail to underline an adverbial! Then go on TO DO EXACTLY THE SAME. I quote: 'If you don't have a solid grasp of ... grammar ... it's hard to access things later on in life.'

Grit yells at the Radio: WHAT???? WHAT????? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU SAYING??? (Hives are starting to swell.) Go on then, you complete and utter ignorant. Exactly how am I 'not accessing things in life?' HOW? Or try telling me how 'I am struggling all my life'. GO ON. Try telling me how I am utterly unable to be creative! Have you seen my Knicker Drawers, Jonathan? Look, I JUST REINVENTED THE BOOK. And don't get me started on how Dig 'failed all his life'. He has his own Wikipedia page. AND he's just been  hailed as one of the 50 people who have made significant contributions to the English language teaching profession around this globe within the past 50 years. I never saw how he recommended underlining adverbials, Jonathan, and I also notice you weren't in The List, Jonathan. Not you, and not your bedfellows Gibb, nor Morgan, nor Gove, so basically you're imposing a curriculum in the UK that is not being supported by best teaching practice around this planet.

Strategy 6: When faced with the blindingly obvious implication that PLENTY OF ADULTS SUCCEED IN LIFE WITHOUT BEING ABLE TO SPOT A DANGLING MODIFIER, Simons asserts: 'if you want to do anything in life, however creative, if you want to do anything artistic, you have to understand the basic building blocks of the English language because that's what enables you to go on and thrive and be successful and be creative'.

Grit kicks shit out of kitchen bin: WHAT?!! So, as an artist, Leonardo da Vinci FAILED. As did Picasso, Monet, Velazquez, Le Corbusier. THEY ALL FAILED. And, by the way, you're obviously implying that the best way to create artists in the UK is not to teach them art, but to teach them grammar. DOES THAT MAKE SENSE TO YOU, JONATHAN?

There. Now it's time to rush me to Accident and Emergency before I die of anaphylactic shock. Cheers Jonathan. Since the privatisation of the NHS is also on the agenda, I'll get the hospital to invoice you directly.