Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Ephemeral Pin Up

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

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


















Friday, 1 August 2014

Aldeburgh to Minsmere

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

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

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







Wednesday, 30 July 2014

2015 Memo for Red Rose Chain

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

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

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

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

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



Tuesday, 29 July 2014

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

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

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

I can count these tricky bits on my fingers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, happy is the repetition.

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

Monday, 28 July 2014

Overheard HesFes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xx


Sunday, 27 July 2014

Hello, hippies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, 18 July 2014

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 7 July 2014

I count the small things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Talk to your teens

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

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

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

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

Friday, 6 June 2014

Still afloat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


*allegedly. They are handy with the lawyers.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

'Even failure can be a form of success'

Yes, I find myself saying this, and other positive statements of world worth, after Yesterday.

Because we can now tick another Experience Box. Exams. Tiger and Squirrel sat the first part of an IGCSE Chemistry exam, and Shark blew up her IGCSE Geography, scattering corpses in her wake.

Strictly speaking, Squirrel did not actually, knowingly, sit her exam. I drove her to a sports hall in a school that looked like a Corporate Headquarters, maybe Corporate Admin Supplies Ltd, and I deposited her into the indifferent care of an invigilator while Squirrel's face bore a puzzled look of Exam? What is that? Am I sitting an exam? But how? I am standing up! And what is this thing, exam?

But Squirrel has a winning way of looking simultaneously charming / deluded / off-her-face / bewildered / dream-filled / hapless - all achieved while smiling, so you forgive her all, and I hope the invigilator put a pen on her desk, and I also hope Squirrel picked it up sometime while the clock did that turny-hand-thing.

Tiger, well, she surprised us all. I thought at the mention of the word exam - in fact any word that begins with the letter e and possibly has an e in it - that this would provoke the most enormous, wallpaper-chewing meltdown, where the family barricaded ourselves quivering in the cellar, calling the helicopter police to tasar her on the rampage.

Astonishingly, Tiger determined the letter A should follow the word exam and she's gone for it, having spent the last 28,000 hours with her face stuck in 450 Chemistry books. I wish her well.

Shark? What can I say, except it could be a race to last place.

We had an almighty fight about the IGCSE Geography last month - a fallen angels and rising devils sort of argument - which helped not. Shark since then spurned my generous advice about diagrams and how to hold a ruler over a river. Then, while a misplaced sense of confidence settled into Shark's exam preparation (whatever form that took), the bastards changed the exam specification, probably while I was sulkily staring into a notebook for cuddles and consolation. The upshot was, Shark had to approach the experience with the heroic daring of an Eddie-the-Eagle style assault. I expect she can resit, sometime after she has actually read the chapter on rivers.

Then yes, failure is a form of success, because it is not a failure to experience. Experience is only ever, success.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Best Made Local*

Grit will be just by the car park on Saturday! Come and see me!

Well, the old hippy will be there if her face doesn't blow up or the kids don't set the house on fire.

And if you have no idea why you should buy a hand-made, leather wrapped, personalised book, stitched with perfect love and a magical dash of creative quirk and storybook whimsy, then - to start you thinking on your particular desire and need - here are some delicious books I've stitched up so far:

First wedding anniversary - celebrate one complete year of marriage with paper. And no divorce yet!
Garden book - to collect plant notes, garden plans, weather lore.
Music notes - book to collect snatches of sound in a month-long music project.
Graduation present - made to a discipline, whether it's history, psychology, archaeology...
Story prompting book - book for the creative writer to muse with, play with, and fantasise over.
Birthday present - lots of requests for this type, personalised with name, theme, preferences.
Confessional book - made to a theme; I keep secrets.
Grandma's book - to fill with family notes, kid photos, ephemera, and words of wisdom.
Geology book - for the rock obsessed to fill with bus tickets as they visit South America.
Holiday memories - fill with your tickets, receipts, pressed flowers, sand from the beach...


Not actually a book wot I stitched. 
To see those, you'll have to go over to Knicker Drawer Note Books.


Now you obviously want to come and buy a present (very reasonable), or place an order (very reasonable), but also know that May is National Craft & Design Month!

National Craft & Design Month! is an initiative to raise awareness of the enormous amount of creative talent we have in this country. So just think! By supporting Grit's Independent Trading Company you'll also be contributing to the national endeavour of loving your local eccentric. Think of them. Without pity. Driven by love, they sit in the spare bedroom/shed/studio (under the name of craft) doing things to wood, ceramics, textiles, gem stones, paint, soap, leather (hello!) and, if the lovely lady blacksmith is there, twisting metal into desirable wall shapes.

What else can you possibly need in life? But a hand-made item made with love. Come and see Knicker Drawer Note Books at the wonderful Best Made Local, Saturday 10th May, 10am to 4pm in the Buckingham Community Hall, Cornwalls Meadow, Buckingham.

Apparently, 'this bright and spacious hall is situated just off the high street and there is a very large car park'.

There is also coffee and cake.

*Advertising without shame


Wednesday, 23 April 2014

After easter

I suppose it is time again. Another bleedin' home ed round-up.

Kid brain state of play? I have no idea.

There, the LA can wave hands in proper despair, denied the monitoring of what is going on in Squirrel's cranium.

All I can say is, from my point of view, an education is aimed at, and in some cases, provided. I mean, these kids are teenagers. How much can you expect from the soul-sucking experience that is interacting with a teenager over the breakfast table?

But here then, never down-hearted, are the present aims of my gritty provision.

1. Create, in Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, the characters of active, concerned citizens. (Synonymous: be a right nosy parker and a general pain in the arse.)

To this admirable end, I took Squirrel, Tiger, and Shark to a sub-sub-committee meeting for the working group of the town council, convened to discuss the sale of charity assets and funds management of the local arts charity (status: pffft).

Yes, I took the juniors to watch, reasoning how Shark, Tiger and Squirrel need to observe engagement in local politics by adults with very little visible humour (and much less passion), reach conclusions that are virtually ineffective.

After the offspring watched the slow turn of democracy (at the weathering rate of a pre-cambrian rockface), I insisted everyone consider the relative advantages and disadvantages of direct action. Specifically, the dead-fish-through-the-letterbox procedure. (Shark voted me down.)

2. Create all-rounded human types.

I do this via Shakespeare. Now just feel free to breathe a big sigh of relief that you're not a member of my family. King Lear at the National; a workshop on Much Ado at the local park; a quick trip to the RSC for Henry IV Part 1. Tick humanity.

3. Create people who can stand on their own two feet.

I take them rambling. Interestingly, I do not have trouble levering the gritties out of bed for walkies with the Ramblers. (Please forgive necessary self-congratulation as I look back on years of being eyeball-deep in ditches and cow shit.)

It is all good. And we learn much about the other world that is, in my frank opinion, bad. As in, the gritties juniors recently met a newly schooled-chum; she complained the girls at school talked nail varnish. The girls who climbed trees were home educated. (We are now using the phrase 'gone to the woods' as meaning lost to the nail varnished society.)

4. Create people who know stuff.

Take from this what you will, but round here it means read The Importance of Being Ernest, tackle the general problem of recycling computer waste, narrate how to drive a car (thanks to the Under-17 Car Club), watch past episodes of Frasier, and institute a chip-shop-tea-rota under the guise of supporting local businesses (when in reality mama is off with her Knicker Drawers and cannot be bothered).

You could also add, swotting for a couple of IGCSE exams.

5. Create people who are capable of being independently employed, able to adventurously embark on quirky, creative projects demanding all the skills of their 3Rs, to wit: Resourcefulness, Responsibility, and Respect.

Work in progress. Watching mama emerge from the back room clutching a Knicker Drawer creation is, I'm claiming, a good model to copy.

6. Create courteous, sociable, generous, and kind young ladies.

Capable of talking to anyone.


There. Done. Yay me. I am fulfilling my statutory duty to provide a suitable education otherwise than by attendance at school. As required by the (1996) Education Act (section seven).

Thankfully, the law does not require the LA to assess the quality of the provision. Nor does the law require the LA to insist particular subjects are covered in any particular methodical way.

If it did, I'd be stuffed.



Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Control their playtime

I had to come away and be sick.

Wilshaw praising the nursery where 'playing was well directed'. Part of that campaign to get your child into structured learning from age 2.

Parents, remember. To learn properly, structure your child's play. There must be a point to play. Do not let your child's play ramble on about unicorns and willow trees or bring in senseless nonsense like ham sandwiches. Get involved in your child's play. Stop it from being dangerously out of your control. Make it go in the direction where there is a teaching point to be made.

I have just one question about this process. When you have followed government wisdom to direct your toddler's play, made all their day your property, told them what to repeat in their exams, and ordered them to follow this educational step-by-step guide without deviation, how do you expect your child to become a creative thinker?

Fortunately, there's enough of us out here making an alternative. Find out where we meet and take along your toddler to get involved.

Monday, 31 March 2014

'How will they catch up?'

'How will they catch up?' Add expression of bewilderment.

Now you have the question posed to me yesterday in my accidental meeting when they found out what I'd kept - for the sake of social nicety - hidden. That my children have never been to school.

But by then I was tired of keeping up appearances. I was ungracious in reply. We were unlikely to meet again. I became, shame on me, a bit mean.

But the question is telling. It betrays the idea that children should not be out learning in a non-managed environment. Is it really an education? Climbing trees, wading in rivers, running across fields chasing butterflies? Children must be managed to come to a uniform level; to make this mark; achieve an expected grade, by this age. It must be so, with each new year.

It's an idea that has no educational basis. Teachers, educationalists, people who see how humans grow, know how all people grow at different rates; they learn skills at different ages; they can walk, talk, read, at their own steady pace, learn about the world, at their own steady, human pace.

Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 - this managed, monitored, bought-in learning regime made suitable for children, it's an agenda that suits those corporates now working in the educational delivery business.

Every child should learn the same things by the same age? We can help!

The argument could go like this: dismiss that unqualified teacher, kick them out, and place your child in our managed and progressive learning experience, best where we can test them, feed back their results, so you, parent, classroom supervisor, technician, know which box has not been ticked; now we all know where to focus energies, so each child can make the grade, bang on time, just when they should.

First we need to downgrade the teachers.

And we need to demand everyone is doing exactly what they should.

Then we can suggest the corporate edu-business provides every parent who cares about their child's future with a monitored child-based educational service delivered straight to your learning platform (annual fee payable).

My bet is on Pearson.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

It may be a local charity, but it's a national lesson

Fortunately! We live in a time and place filled with life lessons!
  • How to leach public money into private hands.  
  • How to go about asset stripping
  • How to behave in a way which is technically legal but which suggests you have the moral compass of an alley cat.
Yes! these ways - liquidating assets, potentially transferring charity cash into the coffers of a private company, potentially winding down an arts charity, setting up cabals of private companies to contract and sell services to each other - they're all technically legal!

We may have just a local charity, but it's a national lesson in how life works.

Then truly, I do not have much of a voice. And I, like hundreds of other local residents, have no expensive legal teams, either.

Please click over to my local arts charity - place where Shark, Squirrel and Tiger have enjoyed dance, drama, willow bashing, and buying fluffy buttons from the old ladies at the WI craft - and measure how the locals feel.

Creed Street Theatre and Arts Centre.

And if you really want to help, sign the petition to ask the five trustees to withdraw the sale of the building and stand down.

xx

Don't believe grumpty ole Grit? Check out the comments: 

'Places like these nurture creativity, bring communities together, support individuals and inspire people to face life's challenges. How can thes trustees have been allowed to do get this far? This centre must be saved for the whole MK community'

'I feel betrayed by the current trustees. This building has been a key part of community life in Wolverton and has provided a generation of children with their first encounters with the arts.'

'Community. Not Profit.'

'Creed at theatre was central to my early exposure to the arts and is a major part of why I now work as a filmmaker. I want young people to continue to have access to this vital resource and be influenced as I was.'  

Monday, 10 March 2014

Is it March already?

Triumphs! Disasters! Miseries! Cups of tea! Value packs of gingery biscuits consumed at speed in fields!

Apart from those, take the month's bits, fished from our home-educational cauldron.

1. Blood, guts, revenge, as in The Duchess of Malfi at the Sam Wannamaker Theatre. Fulfilling Part One of my historically-themed Jacobean fantasies (sub-section A; dressed). I was reluctant to pay for it to be realised, but I had to. The only way to explore the innards of this exciting new theatre next to Shakespeare's Globe in London is to hand over the cash. The theatre's first offering: Webster's bloody revenge drama.

Yes, beautiful, desirable. You must visit, obviously, soon. When the Americans hear about this place, your chances of a seat are nil. Candlelit, wooden-interior reconstruction: wonderfully done, but too, too clean; feel free to grub it up a bit with feet and fingers. Go easy on the tongues. The old ladies tell you off for licking.

As a theatre space, hmm, not sure. It's Jacobean. Both its strength and a weakness, if you bring your 21st century consciousness to proceedings. Like an expectation to see the stage? I missed the bleeding corpses at the end thanks to my half-view (standing at the back, cheapskate for a tenner, restricted view). But brilliant potential for nose-to-nose intimacy if you pay for the pit. And no feeling yourself when you're down there because you'll put the actors right off. (Maybe that was a memo for myself.)

The Duchess of Malfi, by the way, didn't quite work for me - Bosola's lines were, for example, delivered a little too laid-back and languidly for my taste. And more. (Shark, Squirrel and Tiger benefit from such critique-yak, so if you're educationally watching, you can add the hour's critical discussion on theatre experience for the train afterwards and call it English Lit.)

2. Music of slightly dangerous unpredictability, as in the live Radio BBC2 Folk Awards, Royal Albert Hall. Anything could've happened! Jarvis Cocker was there!

I indulged us, reasoning that I cannot afford four tickets to Cambridge Folk (unless someone hands them out for free), and I am running a home education curriculum in music.

Now I feel better about indulging myself! Folk is ticked! (Don't tell anyone we haven't got a music curriculum.) (Or that we don't do terms.) (And shut up about parents simply using home ed to get what they want.) You never know, I might be suddenly driven to have the little grits enjoy a Grunge-Metal-Punk mix.

3. The spice of anti-semitism or social satire? Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare's Globe. The Deutsche Bank financed production, aimed at the youth market. Damn those bankers and their educational outreach! Just when you want to despise the lot of them. (Note to home educators: try and get free tickets.)

4. A few frail Georgians at the British Library. I want to be excited about dropping this into the education cauldron, I do, but no. The exhibition reaffirmed my understanding about the Georgians but missed the crucial life stories. I left knowing about the times and all, but not much more about Mrs Miggins and her like who made it: those who rose or fell, won or lost, succeeded or failed.

Kids agreed, and we all wondered, what is wrong with learning about the Regency from Blackadder?

5. Trading Vikings at the British Museum. Yes, we got chucked out after 20 minutes. Did I know there was a private party? I did not. They should be clear about these things. I should have blagged my way back inside. Anyway, the exhibition is fine. Lovely brooches. Go and see it. Scholarly, informative, well displayed, probably not extensive enough.

On the other hand, the first reviews of this exhibition right pissed me off. They are much of a type: men revealing their blokey-jokey attitudes towards 'rape 'n' pillage', then lamenting how little 'rape 'n' pillage' they can enjoy from the British Museum's Viking exhibition. Get some learning in Baltic trade and drop the horn jokes, fellas.

6. Sleepovers with a Japanese wolf film (kids, not me); sporty things (weekly sub aqua/ monthly horse backside/ random running about woods); various groups (Ramblers/ astro /woodcraft); lady training tea parties at Lula Bops. Keeps our diaries full. Shall I count them all as the S-word?

And there was the birthday.

But don't leave us in charge of the alphabet set.


7. The under-17 car club. Aunty Dee's money well spent, in my consideration. I totally love this club, and if you haven't got 12-year olds who want to learn how to drive, find some.

This is the one where kids aged 12 sit behind the wheel of your Audi to spin it round an airfield. Papa clutches at his heart and makes involuntary leg movements towards the phantom brake pedal. Well, you do have access to the handbrake from the passenger side. This is my reassurance to Dig, as he watches Shark rev up the bashed up Citroen Berlingo and send it into two dozen cones.

But there is no loss here, only gain. So far I have missed the briefings, broke the speed limit, run out of petrol, failed to see the man running behind my car waving his arms wildly, and driven around Oxfordshire with an INSTRUCTOR sign on my car when I am no such thing. And they forgave me, so really, where's the problem?

She's in charge.

8. My Knicker Drawers.


I know I am now off-piste with the educational cauldron, and this might not be counted as education for the teen grits - unless you say it is mama modelling how not to run the finances of a crafting business - but I'm including Knicker Drawers because the Knicker Drawers is all I'm doing (okay, when I'm not trolling exhibitions, chucking money at the Globe, making a nuisance of myself in the British Museum, or watching the kids drive into a central reservation made of plastic cones). It is going well, thank you.

9. The MOOCs, IGCSEs, Geography workshops, general academic sessions etc. etc. Yes, plenty. Tiger enjoyed the ceramics workshop at the Victoria and Albert Museum, we are all enjoying Latin because it is the goddam law, and I arranged a talk with the Parks Trust about drains, so give me a big tick for that.

Also on the list is fish passion, an urban development session in the first circle of Northampton town centre (kids with clipboards), a poetry session, and a battlefields walk in St Albans (again). Here, poetry.


Which must include cake, so have Poetry of Cake. Stick a disassembled poem, word-by-word into your fairy cakes, then have the kids decide on a new word order. See what beautiful phrases and evocative ideas they come up with (paper weddings / blotted rings / dawn memories), then scoff the result. Delicious, in all senses.




Look, if you are considering home ed at secondary, then hurrah! Do it. You missed all the freebie sticking and gluing sessions for the 5-year olds, but you probably didn't want them anyway; you end up with glitter and glue as a permanent culinary addition to your mashed potatoes. Enjoy now at more considered and senior level, the many co-ops, remote tutors, and general MOOCery that you can join.

10. But, with my control issues, there must be ten items in my educational cauldron. Then add Squirrel's collection of soil, which she has ironed. If there is method in it, I have failed to find it. Look on the bright side. There may yet be some future career to be developed, in general soil flattening.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Making it to Monday

1. Progress on the IGCSE exams.
I paid the external candidate fees in hard cash. A lesson in itself. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger can see education working, and I take perverse pleasure in reducing the business to its bare basics, calling a spade a bloody shovel, while watching the exams officer count out tenners. She got her revenge. She said watch out, because next year the fees for external candidates are going to soar.

Not surprisingly, after ten years of home edukating what we like, I am mostly turned off by the whole exam-approach. Your exam today tests the candidate in this exact stuff. Not that other stuff, and nothing of wisdoms over there. Just one list of prescribed information to be repeated in this same order.

As a measure of wide world knowledge or your wit to apply it, this system lacks a good deal. Exams seem to me to be primarily gate-keeping devices, dividing up people who take them as 'good at exams' or 'not good at exams'.

Anyway, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are driven by the curiosity of what is an exam? so are giving it a go. I do not know whether to anticipate triumph or disaster. I am preparing for both.

2. Government policy on education.
Gove is forever in the news, isn't he? Did we have a Gove-free day? Continuously hammering away at something will have an impact, whether we like it or not. Cultural change is taking place. Yesterday I saw a sign for a local nursery touting for the business of your two-year old. The word play was removed and the words educational activities written in.

3. Furniture.
But better than Gove, is second-hand furniture. This has been guiding my life in the last few weeks. I am weak for a shapely wooden leg, this is true, and I already have a lecturn with nowhere to go, but I recently fell in love with an art nouveau music cabinet. I slapped my name and contact details all over it, went off with a tape measure, and by the time I returned, they'd sold it. Bastards.


Falling in love with inappropriate bits of furniture.
Like the lecturn. If Dig tidied up the office, I could put it in there.

4. The letter F.
The letter F on my keyboard is causing me no small trouble. I now have to whack it extra hard, and expect it soon to crumble altogether. Like every other letter we have, its absence will be noticed. Especially in emails which come back to me, where I look with horror at my intention to say I'd love the workshop, but I'll have to shift myself earlier to do it.

5. Film Family Fun Night.
I love these evenings, especially since Dig mended the TV so it now turns on. I have cuddled up to the kids for a great education in film history with some fine showings, among them, Frankenstein (1931),  Night Of The Demon (1957) and Branagh's Hamlet (1996).

6. The MOOCs.
If I slow down any more I shall meet the next set of students coming round on their revisit. My glacial progress is basically because I must scurry down every rabbit hole looking at the amazing links other students put out. As a consequence, I can now tell you a thing or two about bone density of females aged 25-30 c. 1452.

7. Shakespeare.
That family ambition to see every Shakespeare play before the offspring leave me in about two years' time is coming along well. Just let me count the live screening in Cineworld of Coriolanus with Tom Hiddleston at the Donmar. It's a brilliant interpretation, isn't it? Menacing, but feeling surprisingly relevant. Otherwise, I paid the equivalent of a small car for tickets in April to see Simon Russell Beale as King Lear at the National. From now until I'm in the black again, we are eating large quantities of Everyday Value Pasta (29p for a family dinner).

8. Country pursuits.
Rambling, mostly, with the elderly terrorists who have names like Jim and Frank. I like walking with these people, I truly do; even through 9 miles of swamp and a blister. These people have wisdoms to impart and experiences to share, and it is a source of delight to me to hear Shark, Squirrel and Tiger walk alongside them, listening to tales of outhouses and policing strategies from 1952.

9. Speaking of which.
Storytelling. Knicker Drawers is a gift, obviously, as the books are a perfect partner for creative writing scholars, writing students, and storytellers. (See what trouble it causes? I had to go back there, and put in the letter f.)

10. Local politics.
Shark, Tiger and Squirrel are being encouraged by me to be nuisances, busy-bodies, and local trouble-makers. I consider this to be a citizen's duty. I took them to a public meeting on the future of a local arts charity, run from a much-loved building. The meeting was a little hostile, and maybe the trustees deserved everything they got, but it is good to see the measure of support a tiny charity and an old building can rouse. I dare not say any more about it on a public forum, thanks to the legal teams the trustees employ and the techniques they use to threaten critics.

11. Educational outings.
Science lecture on car collisions; English session on Dickens; Latin lesson with Lingua Latina; etc etc. Not so many, thanks to Shark recently being off with the papa to live in a cupboard in HK.

But she has returned! Consequently we've notched up a good morning's arable and beef farming* with practical advice about break crops, wheat storage, and government payments to keep your drains in order. Very useful stuff, so it probably won't make it into the Geography exam.


*Overheard at the farm: the home ed mama chiding the home ed child, Be gentle with the bull.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Behind the home ed front

Welcome to the home ed front! Especially if you are the lonely reader chained to a council desk. Have an extra special cuddle, because we know how hard is your job, checking up on we ungovernable home ed types.

Here is your reward. Grit Skool educational endeavours and achievements. Offered up for general informed perusal etc.

Yes, mixed up with life, but that's education round here. Now please don't come calling; the door is locked, and anyway I put the bath against it, so it's tough on the reformed burglar trying to sell me dish-cloths, too.

1. Shark is in Hong Kong. She has gone there with Dig. Her priorities are to examine her rock pool, celebrate Chinese New Year with Chum Zo, and visit the Maritime Museum, now in its new location on Pier 8. Yes, she will be insufferable on her return.

I wish all parents would hoick their children out of school and enjoy holidays in term time. This would be good for you all; you could have a great experience, come home glowing, and produce children who are knowledgeable about strange matters.

Frankly, I do not understand why school-head-types say that travel is not learning anything, because when Shark comes home she will be able to recount in detail all the news about her shrimp.

2. I have moved Shark's stuff. I told her on Skype, when I was safe, and she was far, far, away. (I recently got myself banned on that medium, thanks to 'being embarrassing').

She was surprisingly sanguine about this, including my casual disregard for the sink (probably much like you, if you were off holidaying with shrimps). But! I bet this laid-back insouciance lasts only until she returns. Then I will hide in the coal shed until her red mist departs.

3. The house is peaceful. I thought, since the awkward members of the family are out the way, it would be an ideal time to remove the bath and renegotiate the toileting facilities! For the remaining quiet ones, off their faces with chemistry books and a Latin primer, I can call it a practical lesson in plumbing and interior decor or summat.

 Goodbye, bath! It was fun, but we both knew, it could never last.

4. I have attended my Naughty Driver Course, after I was caught speeding at criminal speeds in Norfolk. Personally, I think this blip was not fair. I maintain there are issues here, like, signage. Whose responsibility is it? Mine, apparently. I have to do all the thinking.

Anyway, if you have never attended one of these courses, they divide up the material to be delivered by Mr Nice and Mr Nasty. Mr Nice is helpful. He tells you how to be a good driver; better than all other drivers on the road (that includes you). Mr Nice makes you feel special and important. I am now clever for attending my Naughty Driver Course.

Mr Nasty is the opposite. He says, 'I'm not going to make you feel like a shit. Of course that is not why we are here'. Then he shows you animated sequences of motorway pile-ups and says, oh look, they were speeding, not that it's important. But the passenger died. Yes, he's dead. Dead DEAD DEADDEADDEAD. And he was only aged three.

5. Finding an exam centre is almost as gruelling as a Naughty Driver Course. We must now do unctious ingratiating to get the Chemistry and Geography IGCSE exams. One bit of me is worried about this, because I have a mouth and sometimes it doesn't know when to shut the fuck up. My other brain is reassuring. It says, Everything will be fine. Let's face it, you have a long experience of being a backsliding weed, so should be able to do as necessary.

6. A great many kids have been coming and going recently, probably taking advantage of a vacant Shark bed.

They are bringing all teenage larks to the house, including Monopoly game-board playing by rules I never heard of; mud all over the v. expensive carpeted stairs (Squirrel); loud videos of a cat in a tutu; and an assortment of blocked toilets.

I can cope. In fact, I like it, especially at going-home time when they don't want to leave. This is very flattering to me, and I hope I am fast gaining a reputation as an uber-cool, laid-back parent of teens. (This is only a half-view, of course. They have seen only my resignation of fine whatever when they set the lawn on fire. They are yet to witness my temper tantrum with the vacuum cleaner.)

7. On Film Family Fun Night, we watched David Tennant again in Hamlet, this time with the voice-over commentary by Greg Doran. I recommend it. The commentary communicated thinking, and not the normal, tedious, in-joking, with that story about when they sat on a train, inevitably followed by guffawing.

8. I have laughed at Mr Wilshaw suggesting good parents tell bad parents what to do. Is he not aware, we already have this in our culture?

Speaking as one of the problem mamas (children do not go to school; possibly broken family; maybe mentally ill; child abuse not far away; also drunk; could be dealing drugs; Who knows what goes on behind closed doors? etc. etc.), I have lost count of the times I have felt obliged to answer that question, Not at school today?

We live in England, so we check up on each other's business in our English way. But I guess he has one thing in common with Gove, even if they have had a tiff - the lesson from Mao, how the party line takes precedent; and merely to deliver it effectively requires the complicity, submission, and unquestioning agreement of the parent.

Therefore! Grit Skool lessons this week: Shrimps, Plumbing, Politics, Citizenship, What's in the news today? How to avoid death by Speeding, Hamlet, Social renegotiation of traditional board games, and Oh Look, Mother's Got All Awkward Gittery (again).

ps. Geography! I forgot about the geography. Two hours a fortnight. Includes problem-solving situations of a geographical nature in one room, and cooking in the other. In this case, High-Income Country scones contrasted to Low-Income Country scones, with some discussion about farming techniques. Not that I am an expert there, but we have a book.




Sunday, 19 January 2014

This week...

I have sustained two cooking burns and fallen down the stairs. Falling down the stairs wasn't too bad, maybe a touch undignified, but no serious damage. Until I got out of bed the next morning with what felt like a bruised coccyx (a fine word; I am delighted to use it, although tailbone comes a close second). It would make sense, I thought, since the fall was a sitting one, bumping my bum one step at a time in a rapid progress to the cellar. (I must get the decor sorted out.) Anyway, it put paid to my morning Ramblers, even though I had out my fancy boots and all.

Also out of time, I am behind on my Knicker Drawers. I have a beautiful commission for a lovely young lady and I want to do her proud. Not that I've ever met her, nor likely will, but if I pass her in the street I should like to imagine she is thrilled by the long tendril ties and soft wrapping cover of her book. May it see her through happy college years.

I bought a roof rack to take Tiger's windsurfing gear to our local lake. Stupidly, I have only now begun to consider the consequences of this one.

My washi tape arrived! (So much for the free delivery. It cost me a tenner to get it out the Post Office.)

And of buyer beware... I visited a car boot sale this week, and bought from a lovely gentle elderly man a pair of leather gloves for one pound. Then I discovered they were both left hands.

However. I have been amusing myself with Squirrel's appalling spelling. On the worksheets she submits to the indefatigable tutor, she has hydrogen making a poping sound when it is lit. I like to imagine it also softly incants In spiritu sancto as it goes up in flames.

And I am becoming expert on Brazil. Thanks to the long hours spent talking about how you can present statistics and why Brazilians have 360 holidays every year. (But I would like to add that I am not worth kidnapping by your local drug lord to extract my up-to-the-minute, world-class knowledge because actually I am only half listening to it, chipping in whenever I have a petty whine about why can't I go to Rio? Why can't the children go to Rio, etc. etc.*)

I am in continued negotiation with a local exam centre. They are now at me with demands for character references.

Speaking of the children, on the home ed front, they made it to a (cut-price) ice-skate session. Tiger also enjoyed a workshop at Buckingham Palace, Queen's Collection, on Castiglione. As a non-attendant adult, I had time to enjoy an excellent chin-wag with Mich. She impressed me hugely by knowing the local pubs and taking me to a toilet that looked like a brothel.

But forget the children! They are busy hot-housing themselves with chemistry, geography and Latin. I also had a great time talking with my-twin-sister-separated-at-birth-even-though-we-are-ten-years-apart who told me about her fab start to 2014! It involved not only punching a public servant, but also spending an uber-glamour evening out, sat on a toilet sulking for two hours while listening to the bulimic vomiting going on in the cubicle next door! (I think you can probably see why I get on with her.)

*Worse, I once went to Rio and had dinner with A.S.Byatt. Not that she'll remember. But then I had kids. The end.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

End of week review

Aunty Dee has been staying with la famille Grit all week. We put her in the cellar. It's the place we put all visitors, whether they like it or not. I simply must must must do something about the decor.

On the plus side to the cellar experience, Dig connected a garden hose to next door's boiler, ran it through the garden, in by the window, round the schoolroom, down the stairs, and into the wet room (once used as a cupboard for the old stuffed mermaid). I was very impressed with this new shower arrangement. I have a photo somewhere, and I must show it to you. (However, I note that Aunty Dee did not take a shower in the entire week-and-a-bit that she was here.)

I finally got round to watching The Thirteenth Tale. This is basically a story about three looky-likey triplety-type girls living in a falling-down house, running feral out of school, and using weaponry. I thought, that is spooky.

I walked la famille Grit over Dunstable Downs where we could show Aunty Dee the Five Knolls execution site. Here they are, playing en route with a kite; a touch Antony Gormley in capture, I think.


I also took Shark, Squirrel, Tiger and our travelling Aunty to the British Museum's gold of Colombia  exhibition. I got them in with my member's card, then went off to discover the Enlightenment with a guide called Mandy. I would have liked her to be more indiscreet about the Creationists. I bet that if she was egged on a bit, she would oblige. (I have half a mind to go back and try bringing it out of her.)

On the search for El Dorado, I admit I have a problem. If I was a Spaniard discovering South America I frankly would be appalled to discover people cutting each other up, dismembering themselves, and chucking living hearts about. I would be saying, You have GOT TO STOP THAT. It is not easy to defend a culture you simply don't agree with, is it? I am led into an uncomfortable ideological tangle. I like to keep my history simple and superficial, which is why I legged it to the Enlightenment where I can just tell myself everyone was rethinking everything.

I am suffering with Brazil now, actually. Dig is up to his neck in it, and it dominates all conversations. And that economist on R4 who claimed to have discovered the BRICs and now the MINTs? He got Brazil wrong, that's for sure. IMO, there's no chance Brazil's economy will take over the planet because the place is filled with Brazilians, and they have a party to go to.

Finally, I have joined the Ramblers. I have been threatening it for years. Even better, I surprised the Good Ramblers of Bedford by launching three teenagers into their elderly midst. Then I fended off many inquiries about why these teenagers were gallumphing enthusiastically about the mud and not sexting over the internet.

But I was mistaken about the Ramblers. I thought they were a mild and gentle retired folk who enjoyed a country walk of a weekend. They are nothing of the sort. They are like a pack of Conan the Barbarians, performing heroic deeds of citizenry, reshaping the land by pounding ancient byways, preserving us all from the Evil Lords of Enclosures - who we know would rob the public of their Common Right without a moment's hesitation. (And they enjoy a country walk of a weekend.) I feel quite suited, actually.

I see vegans are sexed up. At long last. I have been long arguing for years that vegans need a make-over. But it's typical, isn't it? As an on/off vegan for years I have been Ms Hippy Wacko, and now it looks set to be all the rage, I start drinking milk by the gallon and picking at a chicken breast.

The MOOC is going well, thank you very much. Even though I am well behind. I already emailed the organisers, asking whether the materials will be available online after the course is finished. The answer is yes. I expect the same glacial speed with Hamlet.


Thursday, 9 January 2014

'The degree is doomed'

I've been saying to Shark, Tiger and Squirrel for a while that - all things considered - I'm not expecting la famille Grit to come busting out from home education at age 16 with your conventional 10 A* GCSE exam set (x3).

Frankly, the rate I'm going, we'll be lucky if we manage one IGCSE grade between the lot of us. Not because my kid brains aint brite, but I am having awful difficulty finding a local exam centre.

Then half of me thinks, feck it, why don't we give up on the IGCSE exam route; I could direct the kids straight to A levels at college and see if we can by-pass the conventional curriculums. Let's continue picking through the subjects our way - fish; more fish; looking at rocks; reading; drawing horses; stitching orange peel together; talking about the world; walking in woods; music in the year 1445. Some good will come out of this eclectic set, no mistake.

Of course this strategy of going straight to A levels to some extent depends on how open-minded and forward thinking is our local college.

But I can reassure them. We can all watch the educational world changing right now as we live it.

For a start there are the online MOOCs, and if you are not taking one of these, you should. Know the educational landscape. Accreditation is a step away, requiring a remote admin structure to monitor a student; an additional step of submitted work; a procedure to confirm an identity; and your credit card.

Then study a range of MOOCs lasting three years or more, and potentially you have a degree, taken online, sourced from a dozen universities, all accredited: a portfolio higher education, chosen to match your existing expertise, professional experiences, amateur interests, practical skills.

So why follow that conventional slave route of 10 GCSEs, 4 A levels, and one very expensive degree culminating in 30,000 pounds of debt? It's a well-travelled road that makes less and less sense.

Which is why, as Shark, Squirrel and Tiger start to sign up for their 2014 MOOC programme, half of my brain is saying, this is so much more of an interesting, updated, individual-friendly way to study. These wonderfully open-ended courses require individual thinking and all of your study skills - the how-to-study approaches we use as ordinary out-of-schoolies - and why am I opening up an IGCSE text book with its implication that there is one way to do things and one right answer only?

Obviously I am not the only person scanning this future scenario. If you're interested in education, then go and have a gander at a blog in the Harvard Business Review.

Monday, 6 January 2014

I commend Befana to you all

La Famille Grit has this story. We stole it from a confused Italian and made it our own. But I utterly recommend it to you.

Use it, and let it become for you, as for us, the final nail in the Christmas festivities.

Yes, this little ritual story-making will finish off celebrations nicely. With it, you can attend to what the offspring wanted all along, but were too dense to tell you. Then was it any surprise, on present-opening time, how it was all a sad disappointment? Like this year. When gritlet after gritlet opened up their wrapped present in great hope of finding dangerous weaponry (not that they actually told Santa they wanted knives), but received instead one pair of socks, a tin whistle, a Teach Yourself Geometry book and a Kit-Kat with one bar removed (and no apologies about that).

Never mind! We can be redeemed! Thanks to Befana (or Befano, depending on how I remember).

Then here is our telling.

The three wise kings set out looking for Baby Jesus. They carried presents of gold, frankincense and rum. (Yes, it is like that. I told you it is our own.)

On the journey the three kings became tired and emotional after drinking all the rum. In this state they would never steer their camels on the right path! Indeed, they were soon in danger of falling down a mountainside and plunging to a certain death. The only solution was to stop their journey and hope the star stayed put while they slept it off.

Luckily! They came upon a peasant hovel, the humble home of Befana, an incredibly old and kind-hearted woman. She must have been, right? Because here are three men with hats and camels stinking of rum who bash at her door demanding a free night's sleep. Let us rest there and have a glass of sherry.

In the morning, the three wiser men got up to a delicious breakfast of gruel and donkey pee (which for a peasant is a very fine spread indeed). Then, with ne'er a thank you for her kindness, they mounted their camels and made ready to leave. Befana (kindly, old, wise) asked them, 'Whither are you going?' They became very rude and surly. One snorted We are off to see the Baby Jesus with our gold and frankincense, so what is that to you?

Befana overlooked their rude manners, but in very humble way asked, 'Can I come with you? I would very much like to see the Baby Jesus, and I have this carrot.'

The three kings became hoity-toity. They said things like 'Shut up you old woman, we are much too important to talk to you with our camels and our hats. We are certainly not waiting for you, old crone.' Then they left. (Happily the star had hung about a bit and waited.)

Now let us pause there to have another glass of sherry and contemplate the folly of men who are supposed to be wise.

Well, Befana was bloody annoyed and rightly so. She had given up her floor and her morning glass of donkey pee and for what? For some damn ungrateful blokes on camels with pointy hats, solidified tree sap, and a glass of gold (which you are sure is glitter painted on a jamjar because he would have been mugged by now if it was real gold). Cheapskates.

So Befana set off behind the rude and rather foolish men thinking I'll show them! I shall take my special present to Baby Jesus, which is even better than my carrot, and it is not fake gold, nor a bit of tree sap dolled up to make you think it's special.

That's what Befana does. She takes the special present and walks for many miles over hills and dales and mountains and rivers and swamps (you can make up this bit, add crocodiles and killer ants and poisoned apples and everything, depending on audience participation).

Then she arrives at the stables.

Oh dear! Baby Jesus has gone.

But Befana (wise, old, extremely shrewd) is not deterred. She leaves her special present in a magical place (maybe a tear in the time-space section of the stables, or a free-floating fragment in the time dimension, dunno, depends how many sherries I've had), and - get this - the special present is still there! Or here! Depending on where it is!

And that, gritlets large and small, is Befana's present, the last present, the missing present, which will magically appear under the magic tree on the magic morning i.e. January 6th (or 5th), the date we take down the tree and put it in the box for another year.

Now let us reflect how the wise men were foolish!

They bought unreasonable and inappropriate presents for Baby Jesus. They would have bought a tin whistle and Teach Yourself Geometry if you'd let them. But rum, solidified tree juice, and gold? What is a prophet going to do with gold if they go on about the virtues of giving away all material possessions? Duh.

But consider this about the old woman. Befana is wise. She brings you the present you wanted all along! In your case, my darling gritlets, knives.