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.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Dear 2013...

...I am glad to see the back of you.

Furthermore, 2013, please do not bother coming back, not even when I have dementia, and confuse 2023 with 1963. Please absent yourself. Recollection might tip me over the edge, send me dotty-do-lally, and have me wandering about Smalltown in my nightie wearing my second-best pair of antlers.

Why, you say? I speak, specifically, of My Little Year of Medical Miseries*, for which I am in remission, but which utterly ruined my otherwise happy days, as can be evidenced by the following low:
Me: I can eat white rice.
Dr: You can drink milk.
Me: White rice and milk?
Dr: Sure! Your body can live on white rice and milk. For a long time!
(pause)
Dr: Why are you crying?
Apart from that. 2014 promises all good news! The griblets burst into the year via Alice in Wonderland courtesy of The Hat, who took them ice skating and dining in a post-show haze of general bliss.

The little grits might have imagined 2014 could promise for them what it seems for The Hat, to wit: international travel, party, party, party, concert, another party, and a turn about an ice rink.

I disabused them of that sharpish, by reminding them I am having a miserable time on their behalf trying to find an external exam centre for IGCSEs. Not a good start. The previous centre used by home educators is now declining us.

I know I am under stress with this one, because of the nightmares. Last Friday I sent the demons packing but woke myself by the soft incantation of my comfort word (which I know will be looked upon with kindness by those who have a similar fetish); stationery.

But I am forever annoyingly positive, or forever in search of that which lifts me up. So I zipped the clan over to Cambridge Early Music to enjoy the fantastic Les haulz et les bas with the utterly brilliant Ian Harrison, he who manages to turn the shawn into some new jazz instrument of the twenty-first century. Highly recommended if you are into folk music from 1456.

* No cure but sit it out and wait for it to go; chronic condition; the sort of thing I wish on my worst enemy, the man at number 82.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The education predictions for 2014 (and on)

I'm having this discussion, mostly about the secret world of Michael Gove.

Not his kitchen arrangements, or the way the housekeeper organises his sock drawer, obviously! But what are his educational visions inspired by his Damascus visit to China? (If you see what I mean.)

My current thoughts are roundabout. But here I'm calling them predictions.

1. Education as a business. When wasn't it? But I'm expecting to see it gather strength across all educational outlets.

2. Learners become consumers. More shifty footwork to be done. For example, whose responsibility is the learning experience? Especially in accreditation. If you buy a service (Tinkertop's Physics course) and in the terms of its trading standards it is deemed to have failed (Tinkertop gets a pathetic Grade D) then someone's to blame and it's not going to be Tinkertop.

3. Probably why the political class don't want to unseat primary education law. If it's the parent's job to educate Tinkertop, then it must be made their fault when Tinkertop turns up with her Maths Grade E, even when the dutiful parent signed Tinkertop up to the local Bash Street Academy. If the law changed to imply her education is the responsibility not of the parent but of any other body, then party support from the edu-business might no longer be forthcoming.

4. Yes, the parents must be the ones to blame! They must be the administrators and technicians for the school too. Their administrative co-operation must be enforced, somehow. This has been happening in one way or another for years, but I'm waiting for when our school-choosing neighbour complains how Bash Street has announced they're running an exciting new online learning opportunity. All parents (or at least those who would like to show they care about Tinkertop's education) are requested to sign in for the online homework group run every evening between 5-9pm. Parents are expected to supervise this exceptional learning opportunity. (Not that it's obligatory for your child's education! Only if you care.)

5. Expect a growing publishing opportunity for gazillions of guilt-books marketed direct to parents, roughly along the lines of How to Get Tinkertop Flying Marks in her English GCSE!

6. England's schooling system starts to look a bit Chinese.

7. But soon you can enjoy all the benefits of a regulated private market, with thousands of private schools offering many types of educational provision run by educational suppliers running independently with government approval, or part-funded by government. (If you were attached to the idea of a state education system, reflect what happened to the dinosaurs.)

8. In which system, any type of teacher who wants to support a state system is downright annoying. They must be weeded out, as they will only make life difficult for other interests. From Gove's point of view, it would be better if they just shut up. First, let's have any professional status stripped from them, so no-one listens to them. Then, they can be true servants, administering the internal paperwork, completing the exam admin, and monitoring the presence or absence of children for the benefit of other agencies. Child traffickers, say. (In data sets, not bodies.)

9. A little less practitioner resistance would assist the increasing opportunities for large-scale business involvement across all expanding record keeping, accreditation, administration and monitoring needs, using data fed from individual schools. 'Free' schools will be particularly helpful in turning up new opportunities, as their back-of-house admin must be outsourced.

10. As the role of the teacher in the actual teaching process declines, they must be put to use elsewhere. They are good at admin jobs, no? PGCE courses will increasingly have modules devoted to online target delivery and online student assessments.

11. Technology-driven educational programmes will spread. Crikey, even I'm doing a MOOC. The model will be adopted and adapted everywhere. Some 'winners' and 'losers'. Maybe the traditional bodies will lose. An OU staff member I spoke to recently (senior, so you'd expect they'd know what was going on), had no idea how MOOCs are organised, indeed had barely heard of them. (Worrying.)

12. Home educators, there is no escape. Registration, is it inevitable? Imagine a situation (we have uncontrolled migrants, running loose!) where every child must be registered in their local area with an educational supplier, and every child must be signed up to an approved scheme delivered online. Then the learning delivery organisation couldn't care less whether Tinkertop's in school, in the library, or in the garden shed.

13. All parents will be required to register their little Tinkertops on a suitable examined or assessed course because we only want to know the strengths and aptitudes of every child! Is that unreasonable?

14. As part of a registration process, all parents must prove residential status. (Remember the uncontrolled migrants, running loose!) If you apply for a grant, or expect to support in part or in whole the school fees, then you must submit details of household income, employment information, the taxation paid and the benefits received. This'll stop those migrants from dropping their kids in a school on a casual basis, and you'll all be brought under the eye of the tax system. (This is a previous Gritty prediction; and I note now how public employees are invited to think how it would look from the point of view of the immigration officer.)

15. As the where-you-can-take-it and the how-you-can-take-it educational market fragments, then central control via national testing becomes the means by which uniformity and conformity can be maintained. Expect 'essential' national exams if we are going to enter into 'the international market' and be 'global players' with 'world-class' scholars in a competitive 'global arena' etc. etc.

16. Leaving administrators to head up organisations and implement the decisions; headteachers who've worked in business development and marketing at Microsoft, for example. Not practitioners, not people with on-the-ground experience, and not people who necessarily have the full picture, but paper & screen-based operatives preferred into positions of power who are themselves implementing requirements from elsewhere.

17. The free use of doubletalk. I kicked enough against delivery of the curriculum when that began to dominate the edu-lingo-babble in the 1980s but it didn't get me anywhere. I expect it will all go on as Tinkertop continues to receive her entitlements, opportunities, rights, common goals, and national targets.

18. Tinkertop? Yes it's all about you. Preparing you for school from birth? Project begun. School aged 2? Project begun. Homework clubs and breakfast clubs and weekend school and holiday school? Project begun. Mama's supervising your homework? Project begun. Years and years and years to go, with you sat at your desk learning exactly what we tell you? Project begun. We just want you to reach your full potential.

Now, what are you thinking of, standing on that ledge?

Friday, 27 December 2013

Becoming spasmodic

grit's day is changing, oh yes indeed. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are growing up; the heavy-hanging awareness of being suddenly called to account by a Local Council is receding; and I am about to throw myself into that other great purpose of my life, my Knicker Drawers.

I hope the everyday blog has been helpful, in the sometimes, and maybe between-times, as a routine voice of ordinaryness, encouragement, inspiration, suggestion of places to go, things to do, showing a home ed way of life not so very different, but very different once stepped outside school.

In truth, the daily diary is becoming so very less important than so many other projects. My Knicker Drawers are growing very large in my life. And now, in place of grit's day, I need to follow those other lines of thinking and doing. It is there where I need to pause, consider, reflect on a whole first year of business from craft, plan, pay back some of my intellectual debts, experiment, explore, create new beautiful pieces, focus on those I want to reach, book some larger shows, and talk to people who can help.

I shall keep grit's day as our educational record, rather than an evening place to go. I'll post when I feel the need, or when I remember to take the photograph.

Love, Grit xx

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

End of term report?

English. We do that monthly reading group, so are wading our deliberate, slow way through the canon, with as much loud reading as I can manage. Audio disks help. As do movies. Also, leaving the offspring alone for days so they can sink properly, deeply, into eighteenth century airs, raising their heads only for beans on toast. Suffice to say, this approach can raise bibliophiles. I murmur, half to myself and half to Squirrel, 'Sense and Sensibility? We should read that'. She answers, 'I already did. Twice'.

Maths. Don't know. Dig has paid money for a new computer resource bank, and he has been gamely teaching programming to the Gritties Jnrs. It all sounds logical and procedural, so I'm counting it as maths. Shark surprised me the other night by saying she found statistics easier than she expected. Statistics? I have no idea what she's on about.

Latin. Lingua Latina keeps us in order. She manages fortnightly homework, makes us all play games, and comments on the appallingness that is Shark's handwriting. This week it is the Latin Christmas Party, which involves cake, cake, Latin and cake. Otherwise, I support the Classics endeavour; Shark, Squirrel and Tiger have begun reading Homer's Odyssey in all its variations, tellings, and retellings. And you can bet I shall be soon getting out Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn.

Geography. Cake all the way on that one.

Chemistry. Thank goodness I farmed out that one! It's so relieving and relaxing to be an administrator; I am almost totally relieved of the pressure of responsibility. The fear of failing to be entertaining and informative with a bag of caustic soda and a pint of vinegar has almost totally left me.

Do the Gritties do any other subjects? Maybe they do, but they mix the day in a seamless segue of many disciplines, skiving off to watch Horrible Histories, then commenting loudly on Henry VII or Vlad the Impaler. Sub-aqua diving, weekly, if it counts as sport for Shark, and then wide games for them all. Wide games is coming along brilliantly; it involves running about trees trying to pick off an enemy.

Everyone is doing splendidly. (Apart from the handwriting. Spelling. General organisation. Physics. And time-keeping.) Now, what else can I say, but gold stars, all round.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Carmen at the ROH

Superb performance at the Royal Opera House. Home educators can apply for the schools events, even if the language coming from the ROH can be a little teacher-heavy; doesn't matter if you're in a large or small group.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Universities UK? SHAMEFUL

So I gather together my FEMALE children who are GIRLS; my DAUGHTERS who are named - for the purposes of their underground FEMINIST activities from this point - Shark, Squirrel and Tiger.

I gather my children round my kitchen table and, with great restraint, do not show them how to create a home-made incendiary device.

No! I am grown up. I advocate other non-direct forms through which to demonstrate, protest, register my civil disobedience, and generally name-and-shame Universities UK, such as here, in my tiny allotment in blogland.

Because here is this week's situation, girl children of mine, my Women Warriors.

A Speaker (Mister X) says he will happily take up his right to freedom of speech in a university setting. But. Only if you, girl children, behave in ways of which he approves.

Such ways are simple. Sit where he wants you to sit, behave how he requires, and next year, in possibility, dress how he wants.

And why? Because he has a genuinely held religious belief. This, according to Universities UK, trumps your rights to freedom of choice and freedom of association. Your rights are of lesser worth than his. Because your rights are based on a history of movement towards equality for men and women, and his rights are based on a sky god.

SARCASM ALERT *** SARCASM ALERT

Yet gender segregation may be very wise!! Because, as every man knows, a woman's vagina is dangerous and irresponsible. Vaginas run amok at any moment, tempting men's dingly danglies. Men, who are weak, and unable to control making a blithering idiot of themselves at every opportunity, need to be protected. So, we could lock up all owners of vaginas in black shrouds where the vulnerable male is spared from such wanton temptation.

SARCASM OVER *** SARCASM OVER

I find a list is useful when my stomach is in full boil and the fingers are all jabby.

Daughters, have a list.

1. The moment anyone tells you they have a genuinely held religious belief, do not allow them to use this to claim authority, power, or moral ascendancy over you. Their belief does not give them more rights than you.

2. If any situation, constructed by people who have a genuinely held religious belief, denies you an equal freedom of choice or a freedom of association, then speak out on that injustice.

3. If anyone demands special treatment as a result of their genuinely held religious belief, question their demands closely. Equal male and female treatment in public places, social settings, and on a university campus - which should value intellectual rigour - is your right. Social niceties can oil the way or obscure the view. But they do not replace your right, and expectation, to equal treatment.

4. If anyone tells you that because of this genuinely held religious belief then we must respect and make normal the separation of people at a lecture/speaking event in a UK University, based on their gender/skin colour/hair colour/class background/ability to draw an orange, then I, Mother Spirit, expect you, Women Daughters, to protest. LOUDLY. Make your protest known at all levels in this society, from the top to the bottom, and back again.

5. If a speaker tells you they will only take up their right of freedom of speech if you, Woman, behave in a way that he demands, then you can be sure he is about to say exactly what you can't trust.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Find your local STEM

Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. We attend the Christmas set at the OU today. Honestly, these lectures can be audience aware, age-appropriate, and as a home educator you get to think, thank goodness someone is standing up talking about techie stuff they know.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Dürer

Tiger joins the Central London Art Group for a workshop on Dürer, held at the Courtauld Institute. Me, I'm thrilled to see those beautiful fluid lines expressing character and mood in every turn. And isn't he handsome in those self portraits? Tiger, she's less excited. Maybe he didn't draw enough horses.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Monday, 9 December 2013

Probably out of step with the nation


Repeating the Christmas nativity story. In Latin.


(Ignore the one with the metal detector. He cannot keep his trumpet aloft.)

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Gone to market (day 2)

Selling my lovely, lovely notebooks at Marston Vale forest centre. I said farewell to my favourite witch confection, offering magic wand, animal bone and blackbird feather, but the homage to Sherlock is still waiting for the right customer to come along.




Saturday, 7 December 2013

Forget about the market (day 1)

Mama stands all day at her craft stall, selling lovelylicious notebooks - which I would happily describe to you in intimate detail until your ears fall off - but her achievement is of no significance today.

It is that time of year when Smalltown disgorges onto the streets in its wicker-and-fire festival.

Newcomers, you may see this in terms of its sinisterness and perversion. And I could not explain otherwise, really, because no-one round here knows why. Like all fine local traditions, it just is.

Fetch Edward Woodward. His time is come.









Friday, 6 December 2013

Making wreaths

So it felt like we were creating funeral wreaths for Mandela but, honestly, that was not in my mind when I set the dates for wreath making.



And this one is nearly circular.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

And the paper-based evidence

Yes, education of your recognisable variety goes on.

Thus be assured, ye maiden chained to the Local Council Drone Desk. We home educating clans do stuff other than lolling about, reading books, complaining about schools today, swotting up on Latin because we're all terrified of the fortnightly Latin teacher, and going squishy-eyed at cute baby seals. We have Geography sessions!

Admittedly, they involve cake, somehow, but they also necessitate maps and tribal warfare team games.

See, sorted. Now don't look to count them as neets, thanks.




Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Film Family Fun

...I made Shark watch Jaws.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Let's copy China. What a great idea!

Well, here we are, living in home ed la-la land, then I have to go and spoil it all, making reference to the outside world, the one that starts at the line where my front door protects us (even though the door handle always falls off); the door stands there still, door to my home, gate to my castle, place where Mr Gove and all the little Ofsted pixies will never tread, unless I am ambushing them with boiled oil and a dead goat, if they dare.

Anyhow, PISA.

What a ridiculous thing to do. Rank your country via tests for children, and then judge yourselves as failing this and failing that, we must make the children work harder. They are slackers, loafers, and they are causing our country TO FAIL.

Are you all turned mad?

Say, I have a great idea! Why don't we create an international ranking of creativity, then issue all four-year olds with an orange, command DRAW THAT, and rank England better or worse than China, based on the International Creative Orange Quotidian Indicator Assessment Framework Initiative. I could listen to John Humphrys shake his surly locks and sternly ask how could we English, nearly Jerusalem, be quite so bad at the ICOQIAFI. What has gone wrong, so very wrong?

Pay attention to PISA then, if you must, if you want to construct little Chinese-copy-scholars whose days start at 6am, and whose homework ends at 10pm, for this will save you the playgrounds maintenance.

Be aware, be very aware, playgrounds for children over the age of five are virtually non-existent in your PISA-loving world. You will find a youth training camp, sure, but the PLA do not approve of play with a y: all that free-ranging, free-thinking, free-shifting, imagination-mixing, possibility-enhancing, multi-perspective-making, childhood play.

But when you've had enough of being told Tinkertop, aged 6, is never going to be good at PISA - she's a failure at representing her country, she's not making the grade, she's not taking the weight of our national expectations, her performance is too poor, and all is lost, lost, lost, you damned parent, this is all the fault of your low ambitions - when all she wants to do is dig a frikkin' hole in the ground, then remember, home education is still, as yet, an option.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Geography at the shopping centre

Dear Central Milton Keynes Shopping Centre, I would just like you to know that Squirrel is outraged by your sales and security staff.

Here we are, all fired up with Chapter 4 of a Geography IGCSE - in which we must find out how raw materials are processed then sold, what LICS are, and how Monsoon pull that slippery branding trick on a frock stitched in a Chinese Special Economic Zone - and we don't even get thrown out of your shoe shops. It simply isn't good enough.

I set our lovely home ed Geography group the activity of finding out where goods have come from. For this one, Squirrel and Shark decide to take themselves off to a shoe shop. Shark sat down with a clipboard while Squirrel picked up every boot on sale yelling out the country of manufacture. Shark solemnly wrote it all down. (Brazil, mostly.) After ten minutes, no-one had challenged them. No-one at all. Shark began flapping her clipboard about and Squirrel began sticking her head under the display racks, shouting out random nation names in the hope of being arrested. Mexico! Spain! India! Burkina Faso! Nobody paid them a blind bit of notice. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Now this could be the ordinary range of behaviour any ordinary teenager can exhibit in a shoe shop in Central Milton Keynes on a Monday morning, when we are all supposed to be under threat by terrorists and extremists, and they are supposed to be in school.

If so, I am delighted. Squirrel, as I said, was not. She felt it was the duty of all shoe shop uniform holders to come out their holes and provide a free lecture on third-sector economy. Failing that, to kick them out. I suggested next time, they could ask for a floor manager and pump him with questions until he covertly bribed them with chocolate to go away. After all, it was a strategy that worked in Tesco.


Catching up with a gentle economics questionnaire in CMK's Winter Wonderland.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

This is where they can lead you


This is Toddington Service Station at 3am.

I only post the photograph here so you do not need to travel yourself to stand in the small hours of a Sunday morning, in this happy location on Junction 12 of the M1.

But if you were to be seduced by the bright lights of Toddington Service Station at 3am, then you could stare rigidly ahead at nothing in particular, until a member of the all-night staff asks you if you are alright.

Thanks to lack of sleep and not because you are smashed on vodka, but he is not going to believe that, you can wobble slightly, fall over your own feet, and respond with slurred, incoherent speech that you are just fine and dandy, whatever that means, I have no idea, the brain was still in bed just off Junction 14, I distinctly remember leaving it there some time ago.

Well, the Woodcraft Folk only made me wait half an hour, so I suppose I cannot be too cross with them.

And if you were midnight skating at Ally Pally, thinking you were turning up for a quiet spin round the ice, then hoards of strange juveniles appeared from all over London, the Shires and East Anglia, I suppose you have a glimpse of their bizarre ways, too.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Thursdays probably drive me to it

Had a minor breakdown last Thursday (denting and crumpling variety), and only now got round to remembering it.

But I would just like to say, it bothered nobody much at all, which is how I want it. All good friends went into efficient auto parent-teacher mode, taking Shark, Squirrel and Tiger off me and commanding me to put my feet up: within hours Peepah had the juniors away to the afternoon's STEM lecture, then fed them, wrapped them up warm, and took them on a stargazing night at Bedford Observatory.

Within a day I was back to normal. Well, normal enough to read To Kill a Mockingbird before going round to San's house to watch Gregory Peck in the film of the same.

See? An education in life goes on as normal. Home ed need not stop because the parent-teacher starts the day flat out on the floor, snivelling. There are people who help, truly help, with big hearts and practical hands.

I am not repeating the same crumpling today, but I note that it is Thursday, and I did manage to wangle events well enough to get Dig to take the little grits off me yet again. They went to the Galapagos while I stayed in Jamaica.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Quiet day list

I feel some sort of checklist is in order. Admittedly because another day passes when I haven't got a clue what is happening (gone notebooking) and I feel a list may help me deal with my control issues.

Shark. Has seriously fallen behind her sisters in Chemistry assignments posted weekly to Sam. If I ask her if she has any pages to post for Chemistry or Physics, she gives me a fixed stare and says in a firm voice that she is doing it. I am not sure what doing it means when it looks like reading a book on the sofa, but I console myself with the knowledge that Shark is one force of nature who will do what is necessary to get where she wants to go, in her own time and her own way. No threats, nor hufty-pufty parenty pressure will have any impact on her. Her handwriting is, however, appalling, and I am giving her merry hell for it.

Squirrel. Behaving oddly, so everything is normal. She has become inscrutably teenagery of late, shrugging indifferently at me and hanging out mostly in the cellar, having taken up residence with her computer in a pair of old cane chairs that I strapped together in the woeful hope that from this act would emerge some sort of chaise longue. At the time, I rather fancied bringing a touch of eighteenth century aristocratic glamour to my interior design. In the cold light of day, it looks like someone strapped a couple of old cane chairs together in the cellar and a Squirrel sat in them. Anyway, she is quiet and producing the filled in Latin worksheets, so I'm not disturbing her.

Tiger. Gloating, with a vengeance. She is up to date on Chemistry, Latin, Geography, Horse Knowledge, and Goading her sisters, and has enthusiastically begun making a model of a 4-foot horse from willow withies, wire, clingfilm, tissue paper and an electronic circuit so that it glows. It must have articulating legs and a tail apparently, or the whole thing is rubbish. She has worked hard on the knees (do horses have knees?) and shows me the tail proudly. I say nothing except It is very good etc etc etc. I know better than to confront her about anything. She shares this characteristic with her sisters: a quiet determination to pursue some inner driving need, for which they have taught me, better not thwart it.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Antony and Cleopatra at the RSC

See Antony and Cleopatra at Stratford with the RSC. This is in keeping with the gritty agenda to equip Shark, Squirrel and Tiger with an education of all the world, via Shakespeare.

I'm brave. The Guardian saw the best of things, the Independent didn't bother reviewing the play, and it had an 'utter dud' comment from Charles Spencer of the Daily Telegraph. Makes me wonder what axe he has to grind.

But it would be ungenerous to wonder about that axe. Or pick out, say, the sentence Jonathan Cake, who I always think of as Jonathan Beefcake because of the rippling musculature which he so often seems touchingly anxious to show off, since - for a maidenly Grit - grabbing an eyeful of the adorably handsome Jonathan Cake's rippling musculature was a particularly uplifting moment, and one worth cherishing; maybe she has gone over that scene in her mind a few times, couldn't say.

But could Charles be upset at how this Ant&Cleo is placed all wrong? Not in Egypt but Haiti? Eighteenth century at that, black vs white, French vs slaves.

Agreed, it is odd, but this open-minded family approached it as if it was a good idea - Julius Caesar was set in Africa, and that worked brilliantly. And it provided an opportunity for this lot of smug bastard home educators to swot up on eighteenth-century Haiti, so who's complaining?

Okay, after doing that, I didn't feel the parallels stood up to a great deal of scrutiny, so I stuck to wittering on to the kids about colonialism and how setting it under the French rule made for a great costume opportunity, what with gold dangly epaulets and tight britches.

The performance itself was sound but somehow not exceptional; Cleo was all sex rather than politics, Ant was a great swaggering, winking creation from Stringfellows, and Octavius was appropriately cold-hearted, insincere, and downright mean.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger liked it, gave it 8/10, but I have a feeling it's one which will fade into Grit's middle grey, except for Chukwudi Iwuji, the way it was set in eighteenth-century Haiti, and Jonathan Cake's rippling musculature.

But I'm glad they set it in a hot country. Howabout Aboriginal Australia, say in the middle of a hot, hot summer, just as Jonathan Cake has to go native?

Monday, 25 November 2013

The promise of art leads me to penury

Take Tiger to join a London-based home ed art group.

These particular creatives (organised, dedicated, 100% focused - if you see them working their way round the V&A, do not approach or attempt to distract them from great arty purpose), are to be found this month in the bowels of the British Museum, holding to ransom a Japanese woodblock expert for four hours, extracting from her all knowledge of Japanese woodblock printing techniques until she squeals*.

They are proper wrong 'uns, this home ed art lot.

They are leading me into bad, bad ways, I can tell you that. Within a couple of hours of Tiger finishing printing her Japanese bird I am come over all Amaazzing ooh ooh oh! Look at that birch plywood! then I'm off over here ogling Japanese Vinyl and Hosho Pads, feeling an urgent need for a 'Fancy Leather Dabber Shiny', and totting up an order for a stack of wood and some carvers.

Expect another art route to ruin.

*Workshop availability probably tied into the British Museum's present exhibition, Shunga: Japanese Art, which, no, I am not taking the gritlets to see. I couldn't face the lengthy explanations of what he is doing with that stork.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Everybody's happy

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger go here.

I was effusive with my thank you's, mostly because the organiser didn't have us down on the list (even though I was holding the tickets) and still let us in, but partly because the very kind and generous staff and remarkably handsome young man were removing the children from me for a five-hour block.

Five hours! This allows me to hang around the Member's Room and pick up men.

I did do, too! Okay, it was Dig, flying in from Hong Kong en route to Morocco. The Member's Room is an ideal place to put him on a sofa and pour coffee into his face, while I can read a book about Anthropology in Latin America to research for a notebook commission.

All in all then, no bad day.

I think there's a film from it, somewhere.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

What's on your list?

I first assumed the Meeks were home educators (outdoor education wing, survivalist tendencies, possibly militant Jesus set, because who else is going to build the shelters come judgement day?) but then I found out they were safely in the bosom of normality, so unlike several thousand alternative educators living off-grid or dragging the kids round the Atlantic, their activities can be happily endorsed by the Daily Mail.

Their list got us started early anyway, planning the happy family goals for 2014.

We can ignore Tiger's, because they all include horses, and I can feel my hives starting up badly.

Shark pips up that we all should have a go at weaselling, and next time not in daddy's office. Then she says 2014 has to be the year for whale watching or else. Apparently I promised it for 2009 and what happened then?

I say I rather fancy glamping. Or a stay in a yurt. I will not put on the list the 2013 triumphs, like being carted off to A&E in the back of an ambulance, receiving yet another Notice of Prosecution, or having the hamster die. (Or was that 2012?)

I will put onto the family list a visit to Spurn Head at Hull, some Peak District rock scrambling, an ill-advised watery pursuit, and yet another bash at hearing the nightingale sing in a wood in the dark. Bastards.

Apparently I am not allowed to add goals like Teach Yourself Maths to GCSE Level. That, according to Squirrel, can only remain the stuff of hopeless aspiration.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Popular culture? Fail.

I told the kids they had to prepare themselves. We are going to watch Dr Who and his 50th anniversary programme.

They stared, blankly. No-one has ever watched Dr Who in this house. We don't turn on the TV for a start. No one knows how.

But this is a big cultural event, I insisted. Everyone, all over the world is watching! I distinctly remember growing up with Patrick Troughton, my favourite. Intense, with a touch of the unpredictables. I gave up at Sylvester McCoy.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger looked at me piteously, like they are meeting one of the afflicted. But they have not yet developed subtle avoidance techniques to duties and obligations, like exiting the room, sharpish. So I plan to figure out how the TV works, then sit them in front it with a packet of ginger nuts, quick as a flash.

I had my arguments ready. I said, As home educated children, it behoves you to recognise and partake of popular culture. Without knowing society's significant cultural moments, the signs, systems and semiotics, people might think you, my poor home educated child, are excluded! People may receive the erroneous impression that you are out of touch, unable to take part in society, unaware of everyday common normalities!

'I know all about Dr Who' snapped Squirrel impatiently. 'It is that man who plays Richard II.'

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Perfect for bibliophiles

I have a new love, and it is this. BibliOdyssey. Obscure, off-beat, eclectic. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Shark said keying an Audi is okay, but posting dead fish? Definitely not.

One of the bits that make up this grit is determination to bust ignorance about home ed.

Yes, it's like getting all argumentative because someone on the internet is wrong, but I can still do my bit for this community, and that is through ordinary information.

Politics is not how I want to give my time. How draining is politics?! Blimey, last month I went nose-to-nose in a local arts argy-bargy and I'd done my bit after the first round. It seems to me, in all local politics, you must chuck into the bottomless pit your days, your emotional reserves, your intellectual time, and a chunk of your sanity. Be a stronger person than me to keep your perspective.

But home ed politics? Turf wars, big egos sitting aloft on moral clouds, unpredictable bedfellows and a basic lack of trust - two weeks with this lot and you might even sympathise with the local authority. Nope, I can't be in home ed's political thick. Get involved in everyone's problems, and everyone hates you anyway. It ain't for me, which is why I remain grateful to those who persist in it, what ever their forms.

But I still want to help, right? So I show any passer-by how home education works for us. We don't do school at home; we don't do autonomy, and we do both of these in any one week. We mix anything and everything, living and learning, label it how you want, and I make sure I unchain the kids from the radiators once a day at least.

So this is one big reason why I keep grit's day going. To show home ed as normal, to show what my kids do, where we go for the S word, and to indicate some of the rich resources around - for which you don't need to pay teachers, you don't need to sit Tinkertop in a classroom, and you don't need a CRB-checked leader with a teaching certificate. Home ed can be anything your child needs or wants. It can be exhilarating, and it can be the worst decision you ever made. On the same day. And sometimes in the same moment.

So it depresses me hugely to see articles like this. The report Richard Garner refers to explicitly excludes home educated children. But would you know it from this article? Doesn't this article, raising that image of kids out of school, just ask you to consider we're all swilling round in the same pot of uneducated, anti-social delinquency?

A disregard to factual accuracy, the ignorant mixing of school and education, the dramatic language of prey and abuse stalking the text. That just made the issues of we 'out-of-schoolers' a little less clear. It made my life a little harder. It made it a little more hazardous for Shark to walk alone to the secondhand bookshop next Monday morning. It made our culture a little less tolerant, a little less understanding, and maybe a little less forgiving.

Worse, this article rides on the back of a greater, unseen force. Yes, there are politics afoot in the world of home ed, and there are people gunning for us; they are pressing to put those registrations in place, they want the monitoring to be there, they're looking for another job in Ofsted. The idea of home ed - as the invisibles, the unmonitored, the unknowns, the unaccountables, the cruel abusers of the preyed upon - it all adds up to an easy target where something must be done. And articles like this always take us closer to that event, simply by spreading ignorance.