Tuesday, 6 March 2018

It's not all cancercancercancer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 26 February 2018


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

Have you taken it?
What is it?

What is it now?

Take it again.
What is it?

What is it?
Perhaps it'll go down.

What is it now?

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

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

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

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

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

37.5. 37.6. 37.5. 37.4. 37.7.

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

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

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

Monday, 19 February 2018

Chemo Hiccups

Day 2 and the bed is shaking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 16 February 2018

Counting the days

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is how I know them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Thinking it through before I begin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

How many battles would I like to fight?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* might be useful, if you face the same

Friday, 12 January 2018

Candidate for worst day of 2018, so far.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 7 January 2018

12 Days of Christmas: what day is it?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

12 Days of Christmas: 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 1 January 2018

12 Days of Christmas: 8

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 31 December 2017

12 Days of Christmas: 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 30 December 2017

12 Days of Christmas: 6

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 29 December 2017

12 Days of Christmas: 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

Several thoughts struck me in the course of this procedure.

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

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

Thursday, 28 December 2017

12 Days of Christmas: 4

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

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

12 Days of Christmas: 3

Let's Go Out!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

12 Days of Christmas: 2

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

Monday, 25 December 2017

12 Days of Christmas: 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 23 December 2017


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

Sunday, 10 December 2017

'I don't care. I do it'

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

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

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Gone in a second

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 4 December 2017

This is a practical day

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 30 November 2017

And the Winner of the Competition is...

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

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

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

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Not Playing Santa

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

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

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

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

Respect to the young woman.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

'Will no one think of the children?'

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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, 25 November 2017

And the worst bits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 24 November 2017

All the best bits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The Exterminating Angel

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

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

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

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

One positive story ...from the USA

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 17 November 2017

Stay or Go?

In defiance, I am moving books.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Pump, sluice, scan, print

Yesterday, took Dig to Oxford for his appointment with the Big Machine.

To be scanned, Dig becomes (temporarily) radioactive and is laid on a flatbed to be scrutinised in 3D, good to every molecule. I bet, one day, they will be able to knock out a fully-functioning 3D-printed clone at the close of procedure, such is the miraculous advancement of medical science.

Afterwards (I went off hunting Oliver Cromwell Gin in Aldi), Dig told me this whole-body scan procedure was very dignified, as he had to remove only half his trousers, and the staff do offer a towel to defend his modesty.

I think there is probably nothing more dignified than a man with his trousers round his ankles clutching desperately at a thin towel while radioactive (no hugging pregnant women, small children or pet furry animals), so I shared with him with the dignity that will soon be mine, aka the cervical smear, when someone shoves a pincer up my doodah and I try and not punch the nurse in the face. Such is marriage! We can regard each other through these most intimate of moments!

Anyway, this scan was the second attempt. The first attempt (Monday) was cancelled due to the radioactive juice not meeting quality standards. And today (Thursday) Dig is having some drainage pumping system installed. Also (this week) was a scrutiny of the throat; a minor pokeabout which now feels so routine a procedure I don't know why we can't all have it while standing in queues for taxis or buses or entrances to museums.

I know I said (last week) that it's not all hospitals, but this week, it is.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017


On reading the words Lockdown Procedures with Squirrel's name, my first thought is What has she done?

Dig explains it to me. How in these days of perilous living - where going to school is made to sound like the normal equivalent of an afternoon's stroll through Raqqa - all students must know how to survive. They must throw themselves under desks to avoid chemical spillages; pretend no-one's in the classroom to avoid the proximities of dangerous dogs; communicate without telephone in case of serious weather, and learn how to spot a nutcase who doesn't know the lockdown procedure.

Dear xxxx, xxxx has sent you a message :


Dear Parents/Carers

Lock Down Procedures
[ ] On very rare occasions it may be necessary to seal off the school buildings to ensure that students, staff and visitors are safe in situations where there is a serious security risk in relation to the school premises.

A lockdown is implemented when there is serious security risks of the premises due to, for example, near-by chemical spillage, proximity of dangerous dogs, serious weather conditions or attempted access by unauthorised persons intent on causing harm/damage and/or a student/member of staff/visitor who may have the potential to pose a risk to staff and students in the school.

The procedures are not intended to alarm anyone, students, families or staff members but just as we have to have a fire evacuation procedure, so too we need a lock down procedure.
[ ]

All students will be reminded about the procedures in tutor time over the next week, and this will be the first time they have heard of lock down and the school seeks your support to reassure your sons/daughters of the purpose and importance of the procedures. We understand that in the event of a real lock down it is likely to be upsetting and stressful for everyone. We ask that you consider the following in relation to your role in the situation:

If necessary parents/carers will be notified as soon as it is practical to do so via the school's communication methods – school comms text/email and/or website.

Depending on the type and severity of the incident, parents/carers may be asked NOT to collect their students from school as it may put them and their child at risk.

Students will not be released to parents/carers during a lock down.

Parents/carers are asked not to call school as this may tie up emergency lines and students will be instructed not to use their mobile phones during lock down.

[ ]

As with the fire evacuation procedures, we will be practising the lockdown procedures with students over the next couple of weeks. The lock down warning bell will be a continuous ring for five seconds with a brief intermittent pause before continuing for five seconds etc.; it is not the fire bell and only staff will be able to sound the lock down warning bell.

[ ]

That'll be something to look forward to, I tell Squirrel. Increased general anxiety about unpredictable and invisible threats, with the prospect of facing your own powerlessness in the face of imminent death! Let's not think about perspectives, probabilities, or bring any critical awareness to any day whatsoever.

Next week, we can enjoy the mental health awareness lesson.

Now make sure you're home in time for tea.

Sunday, 12 November 2017


Over from Studland, to where the Devil sleeps, disguised as a rock. Or a pillar of chalk made from the drowned. Either way, a breezy, beautiful walk following the night drive around Bovington military tank range. A touch of the old days, at Old Harry.

Friday, 10 November 2017

On this journey

It is not all hospitals. Today the car went in and out the garage, double-quick, to prep for the weekend road trip, and I'm keeping a gratitude diary. Shut up Planet Sensible. I am in the hippy mumbo jumbo general crapiness of the new therapy age. I have to try something and it's the most positive thing I can think of. Anyway, I'm noting what is good without the God but with the um, just positive. Today, Dig's MRI scan. Also, I have begun 3am fretting about things like uncontrolled ivy and bookshelves and commissions and needing to find a way through that is both kind to the people who are looking to me, and also gentle on those people who will start asking. And a daily pause for reflection helps impose an order where, under the stretched surface, it feels like there's no order at all.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Clearly having no positive impact

Squirrel is scathing about her experience of the school's sessions on 'confidence building'.

When she tells us about her lesson on 'How to Keep a Positive Mindset' she looks as if she would positively like to hear glass smash.

Then she gets onto the subject of the video. 'Some white male footballers' she begins, 'a few musicians, and Einstein. Out of the dozen examples of people demonstrating a positive mindset there was a woman who went on to be a TV presenter, and the sum total of her negative experience was that once she got a comment that wasn't very nice at school.'

Squirrel tells us how she commented (loudly I hope) that in all the examples of successful character building in 'How to Keep a Positive Mindset', only a handful of examples were women - rather then the 50% she was counting on - and she would have thought that 'out of hundreds of years of women trying to change society where you needed a positive mindset everyday, there'd be more than a few pop stars and a TV presenter.'

Finally, her parting comment was this: 'My life since age 13 has been to carefully correct negative views of home education and why I am in it. I've sometimes gone on a walk to have someone assume I'm illiterate, been expelled, been excluded, been suspended, have behaviour issues, or something is wrong with me. When I was walking across that field with the woman who'd been talking to me for half and hour and she finds out I don't go to school, all she can say is 'Well you look normal'. I think I could tell anybody 'How to Keep a Positive Mindset' and I wouldn't need a video.'

Then she went upstairs to get on writing her novel.*

*She won't tell me, so I'll just assume it's a novel.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Thrill of the Frill

Making the Knicker Drawer Note Books for you lovely people out there has been one of the most satisfying strands of my life. Not least that I know, when people arrive at my stall, that I'm not the only woman in town who thrills to the frills. All that leather, paper, net and thread combining in charming and bonkers ways, depending on how the mood takes me and the starting points you give me.

I feel, most of the time, that I am a miserable glum bastard with a heart of lead and a dead soul, but the stories you tell me send me eager to my stitchery witching. Thank you to all you amazing people who, in this early November weekend, told me your stories of who you are, and how you're going to note, draw, doodle, stitch, pin, glue, tear, bend, stain, and happily trash your note book. If you have one for the sea, take it to the shore and get it wet. If you have one for the woods, scatter it with earth and bind it with leaves. And if you have one for your soul, then fill it with the breathings of your heart.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

I hope you never thought life was easier on the outside

I am on the outside, it is true.

For most of my time I have found lovely, inspiring people out here! Yes, some are bonkers. (I keep the real wackos close to my heart for later.) But bonkers, certainly. Religious inspired, some. Philosophical anti-authority types, plenty.

We have a touch of the Romantic wild child spirit permeating this family, also true, so I've made sure my tribe know Blake was a key part of that movement and as mad as a bag of badgers. But he had a few things to say that we should discuss! (As in, when he talked about 'free love', was he advocating that only for miserable men?)

Anyway, we are out here, living in contested terrain. We are fragmented. Home educating for different reasons. As different as you can imagine. In truth, a list of types doesn't do us any justice - apart from give a brief respite, allowing the beseiged author to find another coping strategy to deal with the rest of the badgers in the same sack.

But the problem with fragmented citizens is that we are not easily herded. To be picked off by any large organisation with an agenda, those large organisations need to find a common hook. A single rallying point we disparate crew all might agree upon. Freedom! Money! The right to bear arms! (Although, as Squirrel points out, you cannot take a bear's arms without there being trouble.)

Edu-business is one global operation that needs home educators to cohere around a single point. Aided by government, they force one idea of education. To get a good education, you must buy it! (And you can read a lorry-load of stuff in this blog about those attempts.)

But here's another organisation who often comes to herd us all, rallying around that flag of freedom. The Homeschool Legal Defence Association (HSLDA).*

HSLDA? Thanks, but No Thanks.

That is the polite Grit form. Others might use more vulgar language, like Fuck off, nutjobs.

Remember, themes come in pairs. Freedom to be unpredictable brings confinement and regulation. The HSLDA, by its very presence, will help herd us on that path to registered home education.

Once we're all rebranded as home-schooling, then it's easy: in will step the twin globs of Capita and Pearson to solve the problem of how to secure your 'good education'.

Please, can we all stay diverse, oppositional, fragmented, and frankly badger-like, clawing each other's faces off in our own home-made sack of shit?

And for those of you on the inside of the society - maybe unaware of what a mine-field it is out here - HSLDA is an American organisation that is known ... hang on, here's the Wikipedia entry, which does just as well.

'...criticized, from both inside and outside the larger homeschooling movement, for its ties to the Christian Right and its advocacy for various conservative political and religious causes, some of which are unrelated to homeschooling. For example, HSLDA opposes same-sex marriage, claiming that it represents "an attack on parental rights." '

And that's just the start. Nutjobs.

*Edited, for discretion. (This post really should be titled the People's Front of Judea)

Monday, 6 November 2017

Navigating culture clash

I have told this to Squirrel. If you dump school, then please, for now, keep a written record. It will be treasure, your insights and observations about the way the world turns.

And I agree. Squirrel, you're like a feral child wandered into civilisation from the jungle. Finding that the jungle, with all its packs and tribes, now seems a lot more straightforward, sensible, ethically defensible, practical and sane than the four school walls you find yourself bounded by.

But it means that I cannot record all Squirrel's experiences - this blog would turn quickly into The Squirrel Show - mainly because those moments are hers and she owns them, but goodness, I wish I could. In her end-of-day round-ups she makes me laugh. She has an astute eye that pierces the weirdness of the place.

Last week she comes home bewildered (again), having received a letter to congratulate her on achieving 100% attendance. 'Why are they telling me this' she asks. 'I was there! Do they think I can forget where I am?' Today, some self-assessment form, which she drops to the table in contempt and says, 'This is pointless. They want me to write down just what they said to me. And that's not self-assessment.'

But one good thing is come of it at least: I know our home ed life created strong bonds. Days like today, with their endless and remote classrooms filled with pointless demands, these days send us all back home together, fleeing for evening comfort where we can eat as a family, jostle for space in the kitchen, complain about who sits where, then companionably watch television together of so-very-bad sitcoms. For so brief a time, all is as it should be, before our world is cracked open again by that insistent demand of an early alarm clock, and the beginning of another school day.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Grim, grim, grim

Huh, that's what we thought for some years, no?

Home 'schoolers' are an emerging terrorist threat. (Knees jerking) we might be crazy radicalists creating mini jihadists out of sight where no-one can tell. (Netpol release of Prevent-linked document and don't ask me to find that blasted thing again.)

Pah. We have done that already to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. I can warn you. They are not like normal kids. None of them have iphones (can't be tracked); none of them are on facebook (can't be tracked); none of them spend hours 'chatting' on social media forums (I think one of them put up a theatre review somewhere); and all of them are quite happy to read old-fashioned books while lolling on sofas (out of sight in their private spaces, so can't be tracked). What's more, they are pretty much independent thinkers, and have their own views on how things work. Basically, try ruling over them.

It all fits, of course it does, with the Soley Bill and the public outrage whipped up in advance, thanks to stuff like Winifred Robinson's 'in-depth' research.

And what the hell is a Consumer Watch presenter doing with an education brief anyway? (Duh, I forgot there ... we now have a retail educational business, with a 'sticker price' on each degree, so um, yeah, Consumer Watch fits right in with Edu-Business.)

Bah, it's hell-in-handcart time.

Better things to do... like read Imperium by Robert Harris. I'm thoroughly enjoying this (although the prospect of standing three hours at the back top gallery of the RSC production of the same - only ticket I could get - not so enjoyable a thought.)

And relistening to Emily Portman's The Glamoury. I think I am in love with her, not in a creepy way, just in the wonderful inspirational way she conjures with bones and feathers which makes me want to stitch books just like that.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Also, I heard that story about the wolf and the pigs

Live in a shed in the woods.

That is Shark's opt-out solution to our latest news of pain, which is Amazon opening the front door of a person's home to leave parcels inside.

I can't see anything wrong with Amazon's plan at all!

(Your screen should be melting now from the undiluted sarcasm I just injected direct into its little backlight veins.)

People in my world are ultra-ultra cautious about letting anyone into the home. It could be because, in happy home ed land, the house looks like a skip (that someone tried to set on fire as an afterthought when they left the teatowel under the grill) but basically, yes, skip is a fair word for a non-tidy-up effort on a routine family day.

But the other big reason we auto-types have for not letting in, let's say, the people who represent the state, and most particularly that of their 'education department', is that the home ed householder may have no guarantee (or basic trust) that the state official will arrive without holding a clipboard of tick-box state requirements. And home ed houses, especially of the autonomous variety, do not generally look, or run, like school rooms. We do not have a white board. We do, however, have a robot made of old junk called Grapple.

Not letting people into the home (unless they're invited, we had a tidy up, and we are actually at home, as in standing in the kitchen with a cup of tea/glass of wine to greet you), well this is so fundamental a law to my life that Edward Coke is cited round here. You can find out about him here.

My money's on the following scenario. We all place the trust of our door-opening system into sanctified Amazonian hands. But then! A miscreant delivery driver is revealed in a compromising situation (I dunno, maybe with six napkin rings and half a grapefruit), at which point legislation must be drawn up with immediate effect! Legislation will be necessarily enforced by the state who award themselves permission to pursue the corporate agent into the home: in all good PR they become the regulator of evil corporate expansion and the saviour of our citizen souls at the same time. A way ahead that can't fail. Except for the fact that I lose all round. My kitchen, front room and lady bathroom just became the new contested area between global corporation and (inter)national government, and Coke, lying dead with a stake through his heart, is trampled at the threshold.

Needless to say, they're not having my front door key, the bastards.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Journey of empowerment


I am hunting around for the gratitudinous. I have come up with this blowsy breezy walk, or memory of this walk, atop and over Ashridge, led by a lovely, lovely geology scholar, okay she was on crutches, but that just shows how dedicated she is, and although it was a few weeks ago, now seems like an age, I am very grateful for that day, oh yes I am.

It puts me much in mind of that ambition I have, which is to become a tramp. I have always wanted to be a tramp, ever since I read about Mr Polly in my teenage years, and while I accept it seems an odd coming-of-age story, the story struck a chord because the chord was already there. I had seen tramps in London on a day trip aged about 5 and I thought they were wonderful. Who cared if they were a bunch of decrepit drunks? To me it seemed like a wonderfully pioneering way to live, with all your treasured belongings strapped about your middle, and anyway, I shall be a different type of tramp; I shall take a month to tramp about, and I'll do that in an empowering woman-way in the nature of a flaneuse about a dérive, the claiming of the route ahead, and I won't pioneer this in the urban environment, not bloody likely, but through a strung-out selection of English market towns, hopefully with some charming inns and hostelries like the Potwell Inn, which have a soft bed and a proper breakfast, and then I'll be out again in the bright and beautiful morning to tramp the countryside and photograph stuff. Fields, probably. And that's what I'll do, that's how I'll live, oh yes I will.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Outside, not wanting to come in

I am outside again. And not with the shrubs, trees, or tweety things. Outside this society. Melancholic and in search of upmarket literary expression, I shall go and find Camus' L'Étranger. (Not in the original French, obviously.)

It won't make me feel any better. I will simply be made more absurd, more alienated, and even more outside, just looking for the bastard book.

This is on account of the stupid idea someone had in 1990. The stupid idea called, Let's knock out the ceiling and put bookshelves in a roof recess. Guaranteed to look amazing! It has only guaranteed that any book not looked at since 1990 has gone twelve foot up. And Camus will be there. To locate him, I need only to take a pair of military night-sight field glasses, scale a ladder, and scan the horizon as if fearful that L'Étranger will become Le Sniper.1 This would be typical. It will be the icing on my cak du jour. Old books firing bullet-words at me.

Anyway, Camus twelve foot up is not the point.

I am an outsider. Again. I do not understand this society. I feel a frustrating concoction of incoherent rage plus raging indifference. The upshot is, I am shrugging my shoulders and tutting.2

Here is the thing which starts it. It is a thing I do not understand. I am alienated from it. I click through a discussion that promises (Women and Power) and I discover this really means Should I have botox or not, especially when my husband says I shouldn't?

As the discussion gently doesn't drift from this subject but continues with enthusiastic answers around yes/no, there is a lone voice (not mine) gamely shouting No! This is a Pointless Discussion! You should not conform to socially-created images of yourself!

Everyone ignores Lone Voice Woman. She gives up, and the debate fizzles out with the consensus, It's your money and you can do what the hell you like, why not dump him? Divorce seems a bit of an over-reaction to me, but there you go, the modern woman's freedom to choose, huh?

But Lone Voice Woman is right. It is mad to botox anyone's face. Or any bit of anyone. Especially in the search of cosmetic perfection. A face is an authentic version of a person. And what is wrong with authenticity?

But I know I am out of this society.

Botox is the equivalency of some extraplanetary orbit of my world. The furthest my skin travels is with Vaseline and Coconut oil.3 Hair has gone the same way. I gave up with the bottle of brown hair fluid some years ago, and have grown fantastically grey. But I am in love with it! Why should men get words like flint, gunmetal and steel, and it's all good, like wisdom, distinguished, handsome, and all women get is old, faded glory, ashen and dull. I am become my own ambassador for wise grey.

Pft. I resolve to stay an outsider. Ambassador for the outside, or alienated from the inside. Either state will do. Don't care. Off to drink tea and eat biscuits. Wisely.

1 Watch Woman Power in action in the fantastic short film Le Sniper
2 I am British.
3 Not only cheap, but doesn't contain plumping or filler materials. I am creased, and I like it.