Monday, 30 June 2008

Dig's day out

Today is Dig's day. We have to visit the Porthcurno museum of underwater cables. Now if I break my promise to him and say Hey! Let's not bother! Because here's a beach! then he may not stab me in the head, but any bets of a holiday romance are definitely off.

In truth, Grit is not particularly looking forward to this museum. Dare I admit that to this good-time girl it just sounds, um, a tad boring? I console myself with the thought that it is the sort of thing I have to suffer for the sake of husbandly happiness. And the fact that I enthuse to the children about it over their morning bowls of Cheerios, even though I might be dreading every second of it, is because I want Shark, Tiger and Squirrel to enjoy the visit alongside daddy Dig. Who knows? It could be a bonding experience. Anyway, I do not want them dragging long faces in the museum with a look of self-sacrificial sufferance, because that is my job. I do that best, and spending five hours in Porthcurno museum looking at an undersea cable while the sunshine is sparkling on the sands outside is the best way I can think of to make my life miserable and suffer some more.

Now of course I am not going to admit that the visit was quite interesting in a nerdy sort of way, and that I learned quite a lot about communication in general and undersea cables in particular. Neither will I admit that Shark, Squirrel and Tiger had a brilliant time and didn't want to leave, crying Can we come here again? They had to be dragged away to Porthcurno beach, so engaged were they in making codes and semaphore flags. When they weren't doing that, they were sitting in rapt attention to a complex explanation of the history of international cabling, or drawing maps of cables round the world and doing jigsaw puzzles of the British Empire. Best of all was the hour spent sending Morse code signals to each other - which means shouting out the exact words they were about to send and then banging on the button randomly before someone yells back across the room, What's that you said? Say it again! I can't hear you! Shout!

No. Rather than admit undersea cables are interesting and that Dig was right and Grit was wrong, I'll let the photos speak.

Mummy Grit: Look! The sun is shining! We are next to a beach!
Tiger: But I don't want to leave! It is fun! And I just have to send this!

Sunday, 29 June 2008

A day out for Shark

Last night we screech to a stop in Hollywell Bay at 6pm, on the dot, to collect the keys to the caravan. Just at that moment the owner is climbing into his car to speed drive away, probably giving up on us ever showing up when we said we would, and in revenge contemplating forcing us to spend the first night sleeping in the car.

We dump the stuff at the van and head to worship the sand on the beach because it is not yet raining and every rain-free moment in the next week is a miracle to be treasured.

And today, when we wake up, the first thing we have to do is get into Newquay and spend all day in the Sea life centre. This is a promise to Shark, and if I break it, I may as well stab myself in the head because she will do it if I don't.

Shark is desperate to get here. She is literally clawing at the car windows to be let out on the seven minute drive into Newquay. We have toured Sea life centres in Hastings, Birmingham, Tynemouth, Great Yarmouth, Hunstanton, Brighton, Weston-super-Mare and others I have probably blasted from my memory in a haze of flippers and fins.

But at the sight of the Newquay centre, I can forget all the pain. Shark explodes in happiness because she loves fish. Fish are her friends. If she could climb right now into that tank to kiss that pig nosed turtle, she would. And because she is reading, and reading lots, she is suddenly bursting out with interesting information. Like 'The common cuttle fish has lateral fins extending on its left and right body margins'. And this after I have just asked her something like 'Would you like apple juice?'

But I am learning to be careful, because if I look at her stupidly, she will tut and roll her eyes and say scornfully 'Every idiot knows that'. But if I just pour the apple juice and grunt 'uhuh, oh wow, really, wow', even though I have no idea what she is talking about, she will follow it up with 'the shell is cream and capable of colour change red to black' and other stuff about tentacles and shoreline visibility.

And today we spend hours in the Sea life centre, oohing and aahing, and Shark even manages to track down one of the staff on duty and demand answers to questions like, How did you get to work here? and Where do you get the fish from? like she might be contemplating a life in a sea life centre as an extension to life at sea.

So here is Shark. The day belongs to her.

And the pig nosed turtle.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Renewing our marriage vows on the A30

Good news! The Grit and Dig marriage has survived the five hour drive to Cornwall with triplets strapped into the back of the Kidmobile! And not only that! It is strengthened and bettered than it has ever been! Or at least since 7.55 this morning when we had a big argument about an egg.

And why? Why? Because Grit is smart. And clever.

First she has avoided the marital bust-up in the middle of the Cotswolds, which goes 'this is all your fault, how do you get out of this place when there are no signs, not anywhere, I cannot read the map, you are not listening to me, stop the car, I am getting out, no-one knows where we are, now look. We are doomed to drive round hills looking for the M5 forever until we are forced to eat each other to survive and that is all your fault as well'.

Well we avoided that scenario thanks to smart Grit. She remembered to bring the Satnav. Even after she fed everyone eggs for breakfast and planted out cabbages at 5.30 this morning because hey, she can't sleep for fear over what we are about to do, and she may as well plant vegetables because it is dawn and she has to do it anyway, otherwise Tiger will not get in the car at 9am. And OK, just as Dig is turning the ignition key in the car at 9.04, he only has to say once 'Have you got the Satnav?' before Grit says 'Ooops' and hops out the car sharpish to go and unlock the house to retrieve it.

And the second reason why Grit and Dig are still married is that to avoid five hours of triplets punching each other she is drugging them. The smart Grit managed to throw Squirrel, Tiger and Shark in the library yesterday morning where they stocked up on 20 hours of listening pleasure, including The Borrowers, The Hobbit, Egyptian Myths and Legends, The Lottie Project and Fire, Bed and Bone, which is the story of the Peasant's Revolt in medieval England of 1381 told through the eyes of a talking dog. Seriously.

Well the drive is going fine, mostly, with Satnav lady saying Turn right and Turn left and Homily saying Don't put me down the hole, and Grit has just suggested that we stop the journey for a while in Devon to look at the Finch Foundry, when Dig starts screaming. Man screaming, like AAARRRGGH! Then, with a cornering technique worthy of Silverstone racing track, he suddenly pulls the Kidmobile off the A30 and plunges us into a D-road that has cart track leading to nowhere and a rusted five-bar gate at the end, and while he is doing that, he is shouting 'I don't know where I am going! Only you can help me now!'

When he has calmed down and mopped his brow and I say I have forgotten the aspirin, he says that he can no longer listen to Homily down the hole because it is driving him mad. And I tell him that he is lucky. Because if Squirrel had got her way yesterday in the CD library section, he would now be listening to four hours worth of a fairy who has lost her handbag and needs help from Kirsty and Rachel because it is the last day of the holidays and time is running out.

But really, I am pleased, and might love Dig more than ever. Because did you hear that? He said Only you can help me now. You see, in the midst of his despair, he calls upon his helpmate. Possibly because at that moment I am a better gamble than the RAC. But no matter. Our marriage is strengthened.

One more tender moment like that and I could be in honeymoon mode.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Disasters come in threes

Hey ho, we're ready and packed. Now we just climb in the car and face certain death on the M5 motorway to Hell. But wait! Because...

At 4pm we get an email. The email reads something like 'We are taking you to court'. I'd like to say it's from Big Bro who thinks sending me rude jokes by text is funny. Or I'd like to say it's one that suggests if we pay a shed load of money to some ex-president's wife now in refuge in Nigeria and who needs only a few thousand to help transfer her 60 billion US dollars, then she'll file court papers on our 10% behalf, and we'll get rich quick! But no. This is an email from people we do business with. Well, we tried to do business. We started production on their book. We just can't finish. Because they won't supply the missing pages. How hard can it be to supply the last pages of your own book? All we need is the pages they won't supply, and which we've asked for, hmm, let's see, is it six or eight times now? And when we ask them, they send us an email which goes something like the following:

Dave? Dave? Is this something for you?

And that's it. Why don't they just send the ruddy pages and we can get on with it? No. In these days, hiring a lawyer and taking us to court for breach of contract is easier. Much easier.

But that's not enough for Friday 27th, which should read Friday 13th, because at 5.30pm Squirrel starts rolling around the floor gripping her stomach.

It takes roughly 1 minute 23 seconds for the totally unqualified Doctor Grit to convince herself that Squirrel has appendicitis and will die without emergency medical intervention. So she air ambulances Squirrel in the Citroen Berlingo to the local health centre, runs straight in screaming See my baby NOW! And while we're waiting to go in for that emergency appointment, Squirrel whimpers I feel a bit better now mummy. Right now, suffocating her with my hand over her face seems a pretty fair option while I remind her that she did this to me over the meningitis. I tell her to shut up pretty quick because a girl with appendicitis does not start complaining in a loud voice that her sisters will eat her strawberries. Emergency doctor says it might be trapped wind. Then gratifyingly, he adds that appendicitis is a possibility.

9.30pm. Tiger howls she is not going to Cornwall in the morning at 9am because we have not planted out her vegetables.

After negotiation, she agrees to let me get up at 6am, go outside to the vegetable patch and cover myself in mud and cat shit and plant out six cabbage plants.

Thursday, 26 June 2008


We are each packing a bag for Cornwall. Packing a bag to go on educational field trips - if the Local Education Authority is listening in, we are not allowed to call them holidays - is a job I give to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. I always have done. Not, obviously, when they were six months old, but as soon as these kids entered that period of consciousness which meant that suitcases, back-packs and bags were just places to stuff every large and small object, cuddly toy, lego brick and torn up bit of paper in sight, I thought, Right, if you want to bag everything up and carry it around with you, fine. It'll teach you good travel habits.

Admittedly mummy Grit and daddy Dig did not at first set a good example, because moving out of the house to pop down to the Co-op involved taking the kitchen sink and eight dining chairs. But you can't travel light with babies, can you? And worse, in their first year of life, we were living between two homes, one in Buckinghamshire, one in Northumberland, packing up clothes in one house and doing the laundry in another. And while we were doing that we were carrying everything - and I mean everything. Saucepans, kettle, travel cots, bedding, 36 bottles, three high chairs, emergency food, clothing, 140 nappies, survival tent just in case we broke down on the A1, and Pooh bear, who routinely made a break to escape around Scotch corner service station toilets at midnight.

It might all explain why, at eight years old, there are times of crazed bagging-up frenzy, even when we aren't going anywhere. And last time we went to the theatre, Squirrel said she was taking her own chair. I said that's a good idea, because then I don't have to pay for your seat.

But the pack-a-bag training led somewhere useful. At three years old, and incidentally on a first trip to Cornwall, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger were charged with packing their bags for the week. As it turned out, and thanks to some miserable clients in Naples, the Grit and Dig week-long visit to Cornwall shrank to four days with an all-night working session before the five hour drive. But in consolation Shark, Squirrel and Tiger had packed all their bags months in advance. Mostly with some lego and one wellington boot.

In those days I just clapped my hands and said 'Very good!' and then checked up when everyone was asleep, pulling out the screwed up paper and entire cuddly toy collection and packing instead something useful, like clothes.

Well now I don't check. I reason that Shark, Squirrel and Tiger have reached the point where they can work out that strapping a cuddly penguin to their tummies doesn't keep them warm on a cliff-face to the Atlantic, and if they haven't, then they soon will when I get out the penguin and washing line.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Train, O2 andTutankhamen

We travel to London, by train, because I am scared stiff by driving. This is from a woman who, in 1983, took her first driving lesson on the Mad Max route which is the North Circular and Hanger Lane Gyratory system. I was aged 23 and dressed up like a New Romantic with a Thompson Twins haircut, which only adds to the horror.

But the thought of spinning uncontrollably on that massive roundabout today, in 2008, dressed like a down-beat middle-aged woman, screaming alongside three kids swinging punches from the rear, while I have no idea which exit to take, is a vision enough to make me gladly hand over my month's pay to a train operator. A year's worth, if they ask.

Once in London, we head to the Tutankhamen exhibition at the Millennium dome. Or I should say, O2. Looking up at the gigantic stretched roof, it reminds me of a tent, an encampment for displaced persons and refugees, for people who have lost their way. It doesn't make me feel good. I feel like a drifter, with no map and no idea where to go; I feel we could wander aimlessly in any direction, but I don't want to go in any, because none look inviting.

Inside O2, there are theatrical stage-set buildings which look like they're made of fibreboard and plaster and might topple over if we give them a shove. They house cafes, restaurants, bars, and ticket offices which provide directions for us simply by being there and creating channels to flow through. Yet despite these, the whole structure feels empty, and I rather wish it had been left a large vacant space. At least by running through it we would impose a sense of purpose and, in our home ed way, call it kinetic art.

And it just does not feel right, this big transitional space, as a setting for Ancient Egypt. I want that to be about the permanence of people and the endurance of objects. I have high hopes for this, seeded by all our work at home, with our pictures and books on sphinxes and mummies and treasures locked up inside sand. In anticipation, I hope we've covered enough to merit this. The glory and golden bits I have done, but not the gruesome hook-your-brains-out bits, because I am too squeamish. I have studiously avoided descriptions of how to mummify dead bodies. In desperation for gore, Shark has made herself a canopic jar in which she keeps boiled sweets.

Once inside King Tut's bit of the tent, we are plunged into semi darkness and left to grope our way about, dramatically, because this is atmosphere. Then we have to withstand supermarket music which is probably supposed to take us back in time 3,000 years and not just be an irritating noise that has my hand instinctively reaching out for a tin of chopped tomatoes. The faux Egyptian music is only quelled if we listen to Omar Sharif buzzing through the hand-held audio guide. But I cannot say he offers much more to me than I could have gained by reading the information panels which accompany the artifacts.

This is all the problem with the Tutankhamen exhibition. The O2 location of it; the piped music; the wraparound show; the Hollywood celebrity, gambling on a birthright. And all this is distracting and irritating. These things are the ephemera which fail to enhance our understanding of the artifacts on display; they simply get in the way, and I have to be steely jawed to ignore it all.

But most important, we are here for educational purpose and have to get our money's worth, even though we've paid the school rate. Mummy Grit and daddy Dig round up Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, wrestling them away from their play chums with whom we've met up to tour the exhibits, and give everyone a good talking to about getting an eyeful of Tutankhamen's chair and necklace, because it is a long way to Cairo. And we ask them to concentrate on the objects themselves, and ignore the music, the stage lights, Omar Sharif, and the prison warder standing in every room burning eye holes into me just in case I'd even think of whipping out my mobile phone to snatch a quick snap of an inlaid chest and thus undermine the corporation's lucrative picture rights.

But the objects are beautifully crafted: a delicate golden diadem held aloft in a case with its snake head peering out; the solid, sturdy dagger found protecting the mummy; the small gold and azure blue canopic coffinette; shabti figures; small chairs and inlaid chests.

At the end, Squirrel, Tiger and Shark declare the experience good and the objects nice, possibly showing there needs to be some lessons round here on descriptive language as well as Ancient Egypt. But all in all, I count the day as a success and achievement and well worth the school rate.

And, of course, the cost of the train fare home.

A miserable Shark on a train.
Shark, please consider the alternatives.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

There is always a downside

7.47 am. Waking up, the day starts well. The night has been surprisingly restful, even with a sickly Squirrel occupying a large part of the bed.

7.49 am. The day takes a sudden downward turn when mummy Grit swings her legs out of bed and stands up with one foot in the sick bucket.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Going someplace soon

We book a week's holiday in a caravan in Cornwall. This is OK, except that I want to go to Devon, Tiger wants to go to Dorset, Shark wants to go anywhere there is sea, and Squirrel doesn't care because she is lying on the sofa, ill. I argue that Jol is in Devon where I could have some quality chat. Tiger says there is a stegosaurus hiding in the Dorset rocks, and it may still growl. She would quite like to find it. Shark says she wants to get her hands on some dolphins, and Squirrel is making a funny hhhfffflll noise.

Anyway, none of the arguments matter because Dig has won. We're going to Cornwall. I say it will rain. I console myself that having the Atlantic tipped on our heads is better than what will happen in late July when floods of schooled kids will be washing over all the UK, sending holiday prices for their beleaguered parents shooting skywards. Look carefully at the stars because in August you can see the pound signs entering the stratosphere. You don't have to wonder much why the Grit and Dig family home educate when you witness the rocketing cost of a school holiday caravan, and one in North Wales at that. We home educate because we are mean.

Anyway, apart from serving the objectives of escaping UK holiday August, and doing home educational stuff on communications, the Atlantic Ocean and rain, a caravan holiday in Cornwall will also be about working together as a family.

On this last point I am not absolutely sure. I watched the TV programme about triplets on Channel 4 and the point about the relentless competition over everything is spot on. We have had rotas here about who walks through a door first. Can you believe that! The arguments got so bad over first-place access to the front door that it routinely ended in a brawl and fisticuffs at the threshold, kids rolling around on the floor yelling and screaming, daddy Dig shouting threats about never going through doors ever again, and mummy Grit stepping over three small screaming bodies in tears wondering at which point life had become a prison sentence.

So what better than a trip to a caravan in Cornwall in the rain. The first challenge to test the family mettle, is the six hour drive to get there. This will probably will feel like a six hour drive through the pit of hell. Please don't suggest a DVD.

We leave on Saturday. Who knows. We could all work very well together as a family and learn a lot about rain. Or the children may all kill each other by Monday. And we may be divorced by Tuesday.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

I'm having problems remembering

Dig says that one of my problems (yes, just one, don't ask him for a list) is that I only ever remember the bad things. So we could all have a wonderful time, like holidaying on the Amalfi coast, where you would think nothing bad could happen, and all I will recall is 'That was the time Shark disgraced herself at the ice cream parlour, Squirrel was mauled by a wildcat, Tiger screamed obscenities at the back of the Church, I had a breakdown when the triplets were invited into the apartment filled with decorative glass bottles perched on a glass topped occasional table, glass doors and stairs, and we weren't talking to each other'.

But I will go with Dig's theory, because I am sure there have been good things too. Here is a picture of Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, on an outing to the seaside at Seaton Sluice. If you are aged three, ice cream is a good thing.

Until you swing the ice cream to stop your sister making a lunge for it, and the sweet white cloud springs from the cone to land with a splat onto the gravel of the car park.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

21st June 2008

Today is so bad I want the date ripped out the calender and blasted into space on the back of a rocket never to return.

I can only say that the day has involved a great deal of weeping, fighting, loss of dignity, and has ended with the entire family grounded, possibly for the next 47 years.

At seven o'clock in the evening we are not at the local music festival as planned, but in separate rooms, staring sullenly at the walls, while we are called upon to consider what went wrong and how we might avoid such warfare in the future.

The first resolution I make, again, is don't get involved. Triplet fights mean that at quarter past four in the afternoon they are gearing up to slaughter each other. If they are left alone, by half past four they will be happily playing alongside each other. A mummy Grit coming along and having a big shout just makes things worse.

But we must look on the bright side. If I do not, sometimes I think I may kill myself, possibly accidentally through blood pressure; possibly deliberately by walking into a lake determined not to come out.

So here is Richard III, drawn by Squirrel. We are following his progress through June and July.

I know he does not look good, but bear with me. Because by this date, June 21st 1483, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, uncle and protector to the future king of England, Edward V, indefinitely postponed the boy king's coronation. Soon, the young Edward and his little brother disappear and Richard of Gloucester will become King Richard III, to be slaughtered at the Battle of Bosworth.

There you go. There are bleaker futures.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Everything takes a long time

Today is an endurance test, and really, I am not up to it.

The problem starts because I have too much to do and not enough time to do it in. I already gave up the English Heritage workshop, although I later kick my own shins when I realise, as things turned out, we could have fitted it in.

You see, even though I am overloaded and overwhelmed with places to get to, people to see, home education to do, laundry to wash, I still beat myself up because I think I could have done more. I could have been better organised, I could have planned better. I could have fitted more into the day. I wasted valuable seconds of the day being disorganised.

This is all ridiculous, and I've told it myself often. I know with kids I can create any plan I like and then, when I think everything is in place for the military-timed operation to GO! GO! GO! I am stymied. All is lost. Today Tiger will only wear white socks. White socks? White? I hadn't thought of that. I planned for pink! I didn't plan for white! Next time, cover all bases and plan: pink in the house and white in the car!

Seriously, getting ready to 'pop' to the library in the city centre can take two hours. The library is a ten minute drive away. We have done that. Two hours! And then of course we are so late we have to have lunch before we go, so make that three hours. And possibly four.

Of course I know what would be logical and sensible. It would be to stop planning anything, expect less, shrug my shoulders, utter all of that whatever and shit happens stuff, because, quite frankly, this is a better option than a nervous breakdown on a layby on the A6, which is something else in our busy schedule I have to make time for today.

We are driving to a birthday party, which is our first engagement of the day. Of course we are late setting off. And I nearly caused a traffic accident about Northampton. And I have been driving round Wellingborough for nigh on an hour looking for a turning to a place name. I have beat myself about the ears in a layby, rung Dig, rung the woman who's expecting us, looked at the map, driven round Wellingborough again, and stared red-eyed out of the window in despair at the car crash on the A6 thinking ten minutes earlier, that could have been me.

When I do find our destination I am kicking myself all over again for my deep ineptitude. The place name has been sitting by a roadside staring at me all along and I may even have driven past it twice. Worse, it is writ in large fluorescent letters on a sign so huge that it would dwarf our house by comparison. I do not know why I am so bad at this, finding my way without my saviour sat nav, which is sitting at home, as powerless as me. I just am. I have serious navigation problems. I would think 'north is somewhere over there' and drive happily to oblivion if the road would take me. In fact I am sure I have driven north while complaining about the sun setting directly in my eyes. It is that bad.

Well we do arrive at our destination - a birthday party - three hours late. This has a consequent wreckage all of its own and it is not just in the chocolate, crisps and cake. We are so late in arriving, really we should turn round immediately and drive straight home again if we are to be in time for Squirrel's ballet lesson.

At the sight of the swimming pool and cake, Squirrel quietly decides to miss her ballet lesson this week, which is a very brave decision I tell her, but I seethe all the same. Because if I knew she would give up ballet today in advance, then I could have fitted in the English Heritage workshop after all.

There you go, I'm doing it again.

With pressure on Shark to get out the pool and be quick about it, we arrive home from the party just in time to make the narrowboat trip that several people have spent several days organising for us. I simply cannot explain this event. We became bizarrely tangled up in some local architectural celebration in which a highlight was to sit on a narrowboat. It so far has involved several phone calls and three changes of narrowboat times.

But we, fresh faced, panting and gasping from a birthday party in Wellingborough, arrive there on time. The narrowboat doesn't, because it is running two hours late. We get sent home with a bottle of fizzy white in lieu, and told that the organisers are sorry, because they could have fitted us in, if they had known just how long these things take.

Do not worry, I say to the lady who apologetically hands over the fizz. Because if there's one person who is destined to everyday repeat the lesson of how late things can run, and how long everything can take, it's me.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Photoblog Thursday

Printing workshop. Grit now wants a proper screen.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Grit's choice

Dig takes the kids out for the day. Well, OK, the afternoon, because first he makes a few telephone calls for work and then I make a picnic lunch for everyone, and then he can actually depart.

Now what can I choose to do with my afternoon off? Do I skip into town, splash out on a new perfume, sparkle with a new lipstick, or even try a new hat because hey! I might be a person who could wear a hat! We never know until we try! A new hat might just point me in the direction of being a new person! Or maybe I will wake up tomorrow with my new hat and look like Audrey Hepburn because where there is a new hat there is new hope, right?

Of course I do not choose those things. Perhaps because there is no hope. Or perhaps I am a woman in despair. In despair mostly, at the state of the bathroom. So I eject Dig and the kids from the house because Something Must Be Done.

The bathroom we are referring to here is the kid bathroom. It was not always the kid bathroom. Once it was MY bathroom and I painted the walls white, and hung white and gold stuff everywhere and when I was in that beautiful palace of a stylish bathroom I felt like a Princess who had just eaten the last Turkish Delight and got her fat tummy tickled by a perfect prince.

And then three toddlers arrived from nowhere and overthrew me. No-one was interested in taking returns or even offered to come and collect them. They were here to stay. And to bypass the screaming and squealing at bathtime, Mummy Grit, over three evenings, went downstairs, probably in despair, and painted stuff like this all over the walls, ceilings, tiles and doors of my beautiful white bathroom.

Apart from Mr Tiger getting whitewashed three years ago when Shark said he was going to eat her, they have remained more or less there, on all the bathroom walls, tiles and ceiling, long after we have outgrown them, staring and grinning at us, just like that.

The problems started straightaway. And my first problem was one that I did not forsee. Because in this egalitarian household of ours, we could not then say to our child No you must not paint on the walls. We could not say Well I know mamma painted on the walls. But hers looks like art and yours bloody looks like scribble, so YOU cannot paint on the walls but I CAN. And so, to the extended arm to metre height of a toddler there is a huge lot of daubing in paint, crayon and pencil, and we have put up with this because this is the KID bathroom, and this is one of the by products of EGALITARIAN HOME ED.

I would like to say the kids are the worst culprit. But there is problem number two.

Several years ago we had a constant drip drip drip in the office bathroom which adjoins the kid bathroom; a steady seep of water trickled through and soaked off most of the plaster to knee height. For several years Dig declared 'This is nothing to do with me'. Right, matey. Just as well you did not use that line when three screaming kids arrived because if you did, you would be standing there right now without fingernails.

Now my third problem is a consequence of all this kid and water damage. Which is unfortunate, because no one can reasonably use this bathroom without first being chemically sedated, or having a bag forced over their head so they cannot see the mess, and then pushed into the bathroom and told By the way, there is problem number three. The toilet does not work.

I cannot remember now why the toilet does not work. It just does not. Ask Dig.

If this was not bad enough, there is problem number four.

In pursuit of knowledge and a well rounded education, the bath, sink, shelves and toilet top have been a main place of science experiment for the last eight years. Here we have exploded fizz bombs, made sludge, painted Blutina's hooves green, tried volcanoes, boats, ice hands and put soil and oil down the toilet.* Consequently, there is quite a bit of collateral damage from industrial strength paint and chemical product.

If only the problems could all stop there. The green forest background now hides mould, spider webs and darkens the entire room so it looks like a mildewed cave in a woodland. Confused, a blackbird flew in here the other day and when it finally escaped, was so drenched in mould and cobwebs it looked like Miss Haversham straight out the Amazon.

Well I can take no more. I have to clean up. First because this bathroom is going to be ripped out and replaced, and I cannot bear to have the workmen actually see the bathroom in the state it's in, and second, because we may have a visitor passing through The Pile and I am thinking Ohmygod what if she wants to use the bathroom?

So I arrange for Dig to remove the Gritlets so they cannot see what I am about to do to their Gritlet sty which is attack it with a large can of whitewash and other cleaning essentials.

After three hours scrubbing, whitewashing and weeping, I am recalling Mr Pooter painting his bath red. He clearly used the wrong type of paint. I have to remove the top millimetre layer of the entire surface to get our bath clean. And after an hour, the top of the non-working toilet still looks like this:

And this, sadly, is how I choose to spend my free afternoon. Or forced to, by necessity and despair. Scrubbing a toilet top, washing down mould, pulling off plaster and whitewashing walls.

I bet Audrey Hepburn never did the like.

* Without parental consent.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Grit learns to knit on the A5

Shall we have our education structured? Or autonomous? This is an issue I struggle with.

Sunday, I am smug. At the end of the day I have something to show. There might have been no fights and I have read a book about crime and punishment in Ancient Greece. We may even have filled in a worksheet and found out what happened to Socrates without being overwhelmed by tears, drowned by screaming, or hijacked by unicorns. We are structured.

Monday, I am smug. I follow what the children are doing, timing myself with careful comments I reason might add up to a direction they're going in, and I run about fulfilling needs, answering questions and supplying pink tissue paper just at the moment it is wanted. We are autonomous.

Well I am not sure what education we do today. It could, of course, be manic and despairing.

The day does not start well. I feel harried, like miniature devils are running behind me at full pelt with pitchforks, when Tiger announces that she wants to knit a saddlecloth for her favourite toy horse, Moonbeam. Only we haven't any wool, thanks to mummy Grit becoming distracted last week by dummies at scrapstore, forgetting what she went in for, and coming out instead with a large sack of pot pourri. This is something you cannot knit with.

But Tiger must have wool. And I can get it, if I leave now. Scrapstore is five minutes away by car. So I tear along there and buy 12 balls of bright orange wool and hand it over. But oh dear. Now there is no time to knit a saddlecloth because it is time to go to French.

No problem, says Mummy Grit, brightly. Sit in the car and knit on the way to French.

What am I saying? Am I mad? Have I gone stark staring bonkers? Apart from the fact that I have just broken my absolute rule 'Never use knitting needles if there is another human within 500 yards', I clearly just assumed there that Tiger knows how to knit.

So off we go, and five minutes in, Tiger is wailing. It is all pointless! she howls. I cannot do it! Mummy Grit is confounded. How do you mean you cannot knit? Didn't Aunty Dee teach you last Christmas and you spent several days sitting close by her, knitting orange, yellow, blue, pink scarves for Dancyhorn and Blutina and Lem? I cannot remember how to begin! wails Tiger. And when I say wails, hear the howling cry of despair, of betrayal by her fingers and her memory, that would melt the heart of an ice queen.

Mummy Grit is heart broken. I am driving along the A5 and want to help my little girl in so much distress it is breaking me apart and crumbling my soul. And yet I cannot tell her what to do, because I cannot knit either! Why don't you drive the car, Tiger, and I will sit in the passenger seat and learn how to knit! For a second there, it's possible. I could shout out driving instructions to Tiger while I remember a knitting lesson my mother once attempted forty years ago, probably before she stuck her head in the gas oven in despair. And in the midst of Tiger's heart rending sobs, it actually seems like a perfectly reasonable and fair idea, one I will explain in a clear, loud voice to the police.

Then, while I am considering the practical problems, like her feet will not reach the pedals, and there might be wreckage, I say, Look, no problem! I will just pull into this layby here and I will try and remember what to do from forty years ago because you are so upset now in tears of betrayal and frustration, that anything is possible and logical, right?

And so Grit veers the car into a layby on the A5 and there learns to knit from first principles and a raining day lesson forty years ago. Even though there is groaning and sighing from Shark and Squirrel where I can shout It's nothing I wouldn't do for you! I can fetch that faraway motor memory in a second; it is probably only reached in times of maximum distress, where the pressure poundage per square inch is so great it creates a focused channel that allows me to pick that distant skill up as bright and shining as a new pearl. Clearly I can disregard the gas oven finale on the A5 where there is clear focus and no gas oven.

Within ten minutes I have delivered up this memory and shown Tiger how to start a knitting line and how to transfer the stitches from one needle to the other and we still are only five minutes late for French.

Now how shall we do our education today. Structured? Autonomous? Or manic and despairing.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Staying put

The at home day. This is a day to do all the jobs that have been left undone for the last month because every day we go out.

Going out, meeting people, visiting places, joining in workshops, taking part in lessons and being involved in the world are all obviously an essential part of our home ed life, and not done just so I can laugh hysterically in the face of people who say things like 'Do home schooled kids ever go out?'.

Of course you can have too much of a good thing. And to those people who do say to me, regularly, 'The only thing that worries me about home education is the socialisation', I can only answer, I agree. The socialisation can all get a bit too much if it is everyday, so sometimes we must say No and stay at home. Because if we do not, the laundry does not get done, the sink never cleared, nor the floor swept, the milk bottles never washed and put out, and the hedge never cut.

In fact let's holler about the thing today we are so proud of, and let's shout it out to planet internet:

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Multifaith celebration

In the Grit and Dig household, we are not religious. For that we use the knuckle-biting faith, which is to say as little as possible and hope for the best. When it comes to actual involvement in war and peace, Mummy Grit wags her finger and sermonises with wise statements that she finds in fortune cookies, like From little seeds grow big trees, a catch-all parable which she has been using to spiritually guide her brood for the last eight years.

In general educational terms, for all needs religious, we get down the What I Believe book, find out about Ganesha, go and look at a mosque, drag the Gritlets off to meet sulky nuns and monks with moths, read parables from the Junior Book of Bible Stories, light candles and incense of various colours and odours, and borrow stuff from the library, like the Qur'an. Mostly that last one I admit to impress the librarian.

I think this is the right thing to do, when you are not religious. It is to bite your knuckles. Then talk about everything religious and faith-based, what elements these belief systems share, what they contribute to society, and what help individuals might get from them. And let's face it, I have even considered finding a god somewhere myself when I am in a dark, lonely place and wondering if I should take up religion or crack cocaine. In the end it probably won't matter, because whatever I do, I expect I shall be proved wrong. Someone will be keeping a book somewhere, and the day of judgement will come and I shall be kicked out of a comfy cloud position for all eternity and blasted into some dark and miserable stinking hole with no water supply like our cellar bathroom.

But we hope by this all-round religion method that our children grow up tolerant and aware and wise, and able to understand the various states that motivate people to do what they do, and reach for what they take, bomb or book. Right now though, while Tiger is screaming the house down because a sister said what she wanted to and that's not fair, and then Squirrel gets told off for being lippy and Shark tries to slap me round the face because I give in to a hormonal fit of the giggles, well that elevated and wise position seems a little hard to reach. But in the cause of teaching tolerance there's a lot of daily knuckle biting we do in the hope that it will all come right in the end.

Well today I am handing over the teaching of religion, belief and motivation to the Buddhists, because it is the annual multicultural celebration at the Peace Pagoda. I like the Buddhists, I really do. It's not only because they give me a cup of tea and a free curry once a year, it's also because round here they are so laid back and tolerant of just about anything. Even the sight of Shark, Squirrel and Tiger rolling about in a field trying to claw each other's faces off because someone touched the daisy chain and said it was theirs when it so clearly wasn't and is someone going to pay for that mistake. Even when that screaming wrestling bout is happening right in the middle of the celebration of peace, one of those Buddhist monks will turn round and give us all a big, big smile, and I think if he can achieve that calm smile in the middle of this chaos, just shave my head and pass the orange robes to me right now.

So today we go to the festival and I tell Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to remember that it is all about sharing cultures and being tolerant and not hitting your sister or calling her a fat cow. OK I made up that last bit about sisters, but not about the fat cow because I note that terminology is creeping around now in our front room. And I'm sure it is nothing to do with mummy Grit getting cut up last week on the A5 roundabout en route to a French lesson, it is just the dreadful way our society is disintegrating in respect and manners.

But today it will all be OK, because this festival is very easy. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger listen patiently and nicely to all the speeches, and it is the easiest lesson in tolerance and understanding and sharing things, even your free curry with mamma, that I could possibly have put in front of the Gritlets all year. We get wisdoms to take home like From little seeds grow big trees, from all the major religious groups. We get speeches from the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Pagans and then round it off with a Celtic blessing. They miss out the Pastafarians and Flying Spaghetti Monster but I think it would be hard to bring in a group all the way from Kansas. But I bet the Buddhists are so laid back that they would not ban them or say 'way too silly'. They'd let them in and help hand out free tee-shirts.

And the day is splendid, and tolerant, and lovely, and sharing, especially the curry, which I get several plates of, and Squirrel gets to go back into the tea tent eight times and swipe the sweeties and share them out between her sisters before I end up apologising and ticking her off before flippantly suggesting that next time she stuffs the sweeties in her socks. Then I see with horror half an hour later the little madam is back in the tent stuffing Chupa Chups down her boots.

When we've all been tolerant and sharing with each other long enough, the Buddhists give us apples and send us home. And I do believe that the knuckle-biting method of faith will work in the end, because I am sure something has rubbed off. We get no screaming, fat cows or fisticuffs for a whole three hours, fifteen minutes and forty-two seconds, or until a fight breaks out over a DVD of dinosaurs.

Then Mummy Grit separates the warring factions, wags her finger and shouts about how we have been so tolerant and nice to each other all day long and what benefits came from it, like free curries and Chupa Chups, and then I ask everyone to remember this, above all things, and it is From little seeds grow big trees.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

In the nick of time

We are invited to a birthday party. This is great, because it is a pool party, and we haven't been swimming for ages, so I can tick socialisation and swimming, all in one go.

Going to the pool party which starts at 6.45 actually means forgetting all about it while pottering in the garden, losing track of time because the clock doesn't work, then realising at 6.20 that we are going to a pool party and it starts in 25 minutes.

Now comes the horror that is the realisation that we have no cards or presents, nor have prepared swimming gear. Worse, I have not fed the children since midday. Since they are now wading knee-deep in satsuma peel and have picked out the centre of the loaf again leaving the crust behind like a sloughed off skin, I deduce they are starving and need immediate carbohydrate. Without that, we will not get through the next hour without a major triplet tantrum. That three-way explosion, of course, will be perfectly timed to blast the pool apart just as everyone else is singing Happy Birthday to the happy children for whom the adoring mamma and pappa just paid a wheelbarrow load of cash to hire out a swimming pool, lifeguards and inflatable submarine.

There is only one solution. Run around the house with hands clamped to head shouting Ohmygod! Ohmygod! Ohmygod!

When that is done, jump in car, covered in soil and smelling of courgette fertilizer, and rocket on two wheels straight to Tesco while simultaneously shouting instructions to Dig about where the swimming costumes were last seen, last week in a pile somewhere over there. At Tesco, run through the present aisle, grab two gift bags and stuff them with sparkling glitter pens and drawing paper then run off to the Green and Black's chocolate department. I may be in an hour of need, but there is no way we are sinking to dog chocolate.

At the checkout, rip tags off goods and write happy birthday messages while checkout woman narrows eyes and stares. Hand over large quantities of cash. This is one problem solved by throwing money at it.

Drive home, screech to a halt outside the door, shout at children to get in, throw packet of fruit scones at them and drive off. Drive back to shout at Dig, who is still standing at the side of the road and who didn't get in quick enough. Shout. Drive off while Dig has one foot out of door and say it is all his fault because he should know what the time is and I told him there was a pool party on Wednesday and he should bloody well remember these things because I am covered in soil.

Arrive at pool party 10 minutes after start. Shoo children about, order Dig around and look at water. Need drink, large gin and tonic would do except there is no bar and glass is not allowed. Observe we are the only people I can see who are wandering about with presents in gift bags and lock presents in a locker. Then slump on bench, pick fight with swimming pool attendant over air humidity, take a deep breath, and relax.

There. Another successful arrival, which counts in the Grit book as better late than never.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Life on the edge

We all have a super ego, right? Like in our heads we are to think of ourselves as beautiful, or confident, or daring, or free-spirited. And I like to think of myself as roguish, because, you know, I have done exciting things. I have done foolish things, and I have done dangerous things. OK, don't pin me down, I can't actually think of exactly what right now, but give me time and I probably will.

But how cruel is the world to a self image! And especially from children.
Shark: What are the dangerous and exciting things you have done?
Mummy Grit: Er... er... howabout sleeping in a hammock in the Amazon jungle? There might have been snakes.
Shark: That was ages ago.
Mummy Grit: Well, crossing the road in Delhi. I am still here to tell the tale.
Shark: That was before we were born.
Mummy Grit: OK, you tell me what I have done that you can remember is dangerous and exciting.
Squirrel: Well sometimes you park in a parking space and we are not sure whether it is a paying car space. And that is dangerous.
Mummy Grit: Why?
Shark: You might get a parking fine.
Tiger: Yes! That is dangerous. But it doesn't mean you are very exciting.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Trapped by trash

Dash to scrapstore. Tiger needs plastic tubing. She has a design for a water-powered car and says she is desperate. Squirrel wants more plasticine because she wants to create a farm and the only modelling clay we have left is white which apparently is no good if your sheep are purple. And Shark wants wool. If the knitting starts again I may have to kill myself.

If you don't know what scrapstores are, they are a lifeline. They are a blood supply to home ed. And for junk monkeys like us they are as close to heaven on earth as we can get. Scrapstores collect tonnes of business and manufacturing waste materials around the UK every week and then we stock it mostly in our back room; stuff like factory over-runs, off-cuts, rejected materials, excess goods, dismantled shop fittings, and production process by-products. Five minutes in a scrapstore can yield us paper, cloth, wood, paint, plastic items, cardboard; all of it in every shape, size, thickness and quality and in all description and style.

When I get the lorryload of new stuff home, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger squeal with delight at the boundless creative possibilities and then reduce all that potential and possibility to something like this:

Today while I am at Scrapstore I see these:

And I wonder how I can explain to Dig that these are just what we need in the back garden.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Is this normal?

If I were left alone long enough and could make up the events my life, I would go ahead full steam. 'Today I am kidnapped by aliens disguised as albatrosses and they lock me in a cell with an android who says the only way to escape is to feed sardines to the twenty-eight penguins on guard duty who will turn into mice'.

Today's actual events sound a bit like that. And that saying of San's keeps coming back to me. Is this normal?

Today's home ed outing is a visit to a working Benedictine Abbey. I haven't arranged this; it's thanks to a local organiser and, although Grit is not religious, we think the Gritlets should learn about tolerance and respect, so they can be tolerant and respectful just like mamma.

Naturally, we are late setting off, for which I blame everybody else. The abbey is a 40 minute drive. I even think I know where it is. But there are 30 minutes before the time when a monk is going to talk. Typically, I have no petrol in car. All of these things will not matter, I think. I might know where the abbey is, and we will just have enough petrol to find it. I will buy petrol there. Such is the nature of hope. I forget that I do not actually know where the abbey is. Or that abbeys do not sell petrol.

Twenty minutes later we are lost. The abbey is not where I would like it to be. Mr and Mrs Taylor say it is their house, and it is private land, so clear off. The Sat nav has no power in it, and I cannot charge it up in the car because last year someone stole the charger. It is not a good time to recall that monks shut themselves away in the countryside for years.

Off we go again. I have to go in a direction. The petrol gauge says now definitely there is no petrol in the car. I estimate we have 20 miles. I tell Shark, Squirrel and Tiger who are all complaining about dinner, that I am ditching the monks and aiming for a petrol station. I ignore the groaning and ask, What is the alternative? Is it to drive until we stop, on an English one-track lane with grass growing in the middle, surrounded by fields and hedges, in the middle of nowhere, then stay there forever and probably die from starvation because we are looking for a monk? Would you like that? Would you? Or would you like to fill your faces with flapjacks on a petrol station forecourt? You choose.

When Grit has been instructed to point the car in the direction of flapjacks, she does so with renewed hope. She creeps along, turning here and there, trying not to put her foot on the accelerator. We crawl through a little village where there is no petrol and suddenly we pass a wobbly road sign. Bell Lane. Bell Lane! That is it! I am sure that is it! I have Bell Lane written down on my scribbled instructions from midnight when I did my thorough preparation for this trip. The abbey is down there! I swing the car around, suddenly confident that if I get stuck in the abbey with a hungry Shark, Tiger and Squirrel, the monks will get their prayers for petrol answered pretty fast.

We arrive at the end of a tiny twisting lane. We see another car ahead, parked in front of a locked 5-bar gate. It is Dee! Yippee! A face I recognise! We are saved! This is the right place! I was lost and now I am found! Right now I could jump out of the car and dance, even though we are in the middle of nowhere with a locked gate and no petrol. Dee says she has been punching numbers in the box to open the gate and nothing has happened. She has rung the organiser of the trip who is not answering. She has tried pushing at the gate and it doesn't open. Grit tries all the same, like it is all going to happen, because miracles happen, like you find an abbey when you were looking for a petrol station. After five minutes of trying to break in, a cross-looking man arrives on a tractor and asks what we are doing trying to break into his property. We say we are looking for monks.

When the farmer has cleared us off his property and given us instructions on how to get to the abbey, we crawl back up the tiny twisting lane. At the top of the lane Shark announces, 'There is the sign I read on the way in!' Even in the midst of this despair there is joy, because this is reading in action! Shark can read! Grit asks what does the sign read. Sharks answers, No entrance to Abbey.

Well the abbey is right next door to the turning that we took; there is the organiser, flapping her arms on the grass verge, shouting Car park back down lane turn left! Grit turns the car round again and heads off down another lane. We park the car, with only one small bump to an indicator lamp, which is OK because it is not ours, and then I repark the car somewhere else sharpish, and we walk back to where the organiser was standing. Only the organiser has now disappeared, along with Dee. How do we get in? thinks Grit. Grit and Gritlets wander about some outhouses. No-one to be seen. Grit considers climbing in through a window in search of monks and then sees a little wooden door set back in a wall. Of course! she thinks. This is a door! So I bang on it. No answer. I bang again. And again.

I am about to shoo everyone away when suddenly door opens and a nun appears. Nuns? Nuns? Do monks and nuns live together then? This is confusing. Grit is overwhelmed and would like to sob. Forty minutes late, no petrol and no monks. No wonder people arrive at Church doors in despair and weeping.

Grit gabbles to the nun that she is here on an educational outing and please let this be a place where there are monks because she has no petrol and the organiser has vanished into thin air. Well at this, the nun gets snippy. She looks down her nose at Grit, which is pretty good for a nun who has the physical stature of a five-year old, then the nun doesn't let Grit finish asking about the monks but sharply says she will look at the diary; turns on her heel and walks away, leaving Grit standing at door shouting. Grit is in turmoil. Not only has she just caused a nun to break her 25-year vow of silence, now I feel a sudden urge to make smart comments and start shouting rude names. But you cannot shout at nuns. You cannot call them names. Or get cross because they just cut you dead and disappear down corridors.

The nun reappears and curtly says the monks are through the arch. Round the corner, turn right, you cannot miss them. Then shuts the door. Grit is a pissed off Grit now and vows never to be a nun ever ever ever, not even if she is paid a million pounds. However the instructions are true.

Grit and the Gritlets find all the home ed group and two monks, one of whom is elderly and looking about to fall over, and the other who is an ex-headteacher monk getting cross. Apparently someone asked him a question which he says is asking him to justify his existence. He sounds pretty snippy to me too and I wonder what the question was. Do you really believe in God? Are you a secret Buddhist? Apparently it is neither of these, it is Do you vote? Politics and religion, there you go, two subjects you should never discuss. I guess if I had asked Can you get away with wearing yellow underpants? that would've been OK.

Even though we have missed the talk and all but the last question, we get a tour of the abbey. We get to peer in through the nun's garden to their back windows before the ex-headteacher monk gets out his pet moth to show the kids. Then I'm thinking Can it get more bizarre than this? Here we are looking at a monk's pet moth miles from anywhere and I have been told off by a nun already and wondered what underpants monks wear. Can home ed get more surreal?

Now at the final bit of the tour the ex-headteacher monk leads us all into the chapel and asks everyone to shut up and put bits of the furniture back. And for a few quiet minutes I sit there praying for petrol, even though I do not believe in God, but probably might start now for a petrol station. And just as I am thinking about this great void between knowing and unknowing, faith and reason, hope and despair, the door opens and the Jesus Army arrives.

So today, this is where you can find Grit.

'Today I have been trespassing twice, committed an act of vandalism in a car park, run out of petrol at an abbey, am kidnapped by the Jesus Army, locked in a chapel with three starving kids, a politics home ed group and an ex-headteacher monk who has a pet moth. And the only escape is back through a priory full of snippy metre-high nuns.'

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

In training

Human beings are amazing, are they not? Every experience they have in life is filed and stored away as a tiny memory somewhere on that enormous super-dooper computer brain. Then one day, when the need arises, out of that stored experience will burst an idea of what to do; your hidden experience guides you, even though you never had this situation before!

So mummy Grit is smart and forward thinking. She takes her babies on an army assault course. She prays that one day, should her little Squirrel, Tiger and Shark face mortal danger, locked in a burning building, forced to escape through caves, wrapped up in seaweed or having to jump from a very high up place, then somehow, because of this day's memory, they will know what to do. This life protecting experience will guide them and save them.

Of course, because this is the real world, this exercise will probably come in handy, ten years from now, when mummy Grit and daddy Dig holler Good grief! What are you wearing? You are not leaving the house looking like that! Get upstairs right now and change! Because if you attempt to step one foot out of this house we will barricade the doors and tie up the windows with ropes and bike locks!

OK Missy! You've had it. Right. Now see if you can get out of this house wearing THOSE SHOES and THAT SKIRT!

(To be repeated in 10 year's time wearing stilettos and a pelmet.)

Monday, 9 June 2008

This is the life

Tra la la! We're studying the Romans at Verulamium Museum in St Albans.

Look! here's Squirrel by the artefacts! With a worksheet!

OK, we did that for 55 minutes, 20 seconds.

I admit it. I am trying to make myself sound good to impress the structured home edders, whose blog ring I would like to join. There are some very interesting blogs there. Here's one where I shall nick ideas from. Honestly, if you ever get stuck with what to do with kids during school holidays, you could do worse than wander about in home ed land.

You see, now I'm trying flattery. I cannot find a blog ring called 'Chaotic and disorganised home ed' or anything like that. Or a blog ring called 'Rolled out of bed, panicked, shouted OHMYGOD SQUIRREL CANNOT READ! Better DO SOMETHING QUICK!! Blog Ring'.

Now, on the basis of 55 minutes 20 seconds, and some flattery, can I join the structured home ed blog ring? Can I? Can I? Hey, don't forget those 20 seconds! I reckon, by our previous attempts, we are now probably tipped over into a personal best of 'highly organised'. Especially when mummy Grit rips the worksheet out of Squirrel's hand to put it into a folder so that she actually has proof that we did something, and she does not lose it in the back of the car like last time.

But because I am truly honest about our failings, I confess that afterwards, we did this.

That's right, mucking about in St Alban's fine water park, scoffing jam sandwiches, enjoying the sunshine and complaining about the toddlers who take over EVERYTHING. While mummy Grit chews her fingernails thinking OHMYGOD Squirrel chose the picture worksheet AGAIN! I am sure this means today she CANNOT READ. Either that or she is BONE IDLE.

Now, would you have us? Even though I can put my hand on my heart and lay claim to being a woman washed out at sea in a rubber boat, steering a course between deep ignorance and idleness, and all without a paddle.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

London Wetland Centre

We home educators get about, don't we? You have to consider the alternative, which is to sulk in the kitchen and swot up on fractions. And it is summer, and we are in respite before the floods of July and the cruel storms of August.

Anyway, this is a coach trip planned so far and long away as January. Squirrel says I have no excuse to be late because I have been given enough warning.

It is all thanks to the kiddie RSPB group that Shark, Squirrel and Tiger adore. If I miss this once-a-month gathering, my children kick my shins and issue dark threats about what they will do if I ever miss it again. After it, they are filled up with wonderfully useful information for at least three days, and these sparkling jewels of knowledge will drop out at the tea-table or over breakfast. For a few minutes, or before my eyes glaze over, I can be informed about the wing length of three variety of albatross or the characteristic posture of wrens singing, as opposed to not singing.

Well I wish I had listened now, because on the coach trip, the organisers - who feel the need to keep us entertained at this point and not slumped over in a daze because it is 8.15 in the morning - hand out a quiz sheet, which is very hard indeed and one needs to be acquainted with birds and wildlife things to get through it, or even tackle question 1. Cheating under these circumstances by bribing the six-year old opposite with a pink boiled sweet I think is quite acceptable. I get to question 2 and wish I had a yellow boiled sweet as well.

Of course my grudging condition is not because I do not like birds and things wildlife; it's just that I do not share a passion for these things, or one deep enough to be joyous about being dragged from my bed on a Sunday morning, and forced to consider the wisdom of Wellington boots. One duck backside looks like any other duck backside to me. And although I might become momentarily inspired by the glory of a robin kicking around on a tree stump, I am sad to report that soon enough I sink back into my bad ways of hurling stones at magpies. Now, at 6am this morning I am packing picnics, cursing at a cloud, and wondering about those Wellingtons. This is not usually a good start for a sulky Grit who does not function well without the slow wakeup call of coffee.

I should not have worried. Not about the Wellingtons, nor about the spare changes of clothes, nor about things to amuse us on the coach, or probably about anything at all. The Gritlets are all delighted at their outing and raring to go. In fact they don't want much to do with me at all. One of the few communications Shark offers is to chastise me about forgetting the binoculars before telling me to keep three paces behind.

And I am left to wander through a day like that. It is very agreeable. I chat with Mr W. who confides in me that monkeys throw sticks at him, and I chat with Mrs B. about whether monks could wear bright yellow underpants and get away with it.

Meanwhile the children have their own, finer knowledges to pursue. They have a pond dipping session organised for them and then they are off with groups of their own choosing to wander round wetlands of the world. I don't see Shark again for some time until she eye-spies me skulking in the shade of a birdhide and demands ice cream. Then Tiger taps her wrist and say she needs fifteen minutes in the gift shop because she has a timetable to keep and must be in the Fritillary Meadow at three o'clock otherwise she will not complete the full circuit and be in the Discovery Centre for three thirty. None of this detailed planning, I can say, is the organiser's doing. They have pushed off to spend the last hours of the day photographing a duck's backside in a reedbed.

I feel relieved in some strange part of my being to have so little control over the day, the knowledges contained within it and the planning of the hours. The children have it all between the timings of the coach, and they use it wisely. I feel I do not need to wonder who is where, or worry that Shark has disappeared, or busy myself with much thought at all, because Tiger has got it all sorted. She has already charted her progress round these hot, curving paths and lapping waters so meticulously that all I need to do is tag along behind.

When the day is over and we are gratefully eating fast pasta I say I can share with them the photographs I have found of Marsh Arabs building their reed houses, like cool cathedrals rising from the water. We talk about how people need wetlands, and the children offer up all their jewels of the day: the height that reeds can grow, the blue lips of ducks, volcanic nesting sites, the peat swamp forest, the frogs that you can find, garden plants we must encourage, and the best bit of an ice cream to lick: the ending or the beginning?

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Let's study lichens

Studying lichens involves a lot of this:

And then, back at the research station, a lot of this:

Thanks to the three leaders of this lichen-studying expedition, trekking across the Greensand Ridge with Shark, Squirrel and Tiger in tow, equipped with magnifying lenses of most descriptions, I can proudly claim that we are now lichen experts. Words like Diploicia canescens do not trouble us, nor send us into a hot flush.

Apart from that, I will observe that all the lichen experts were very nice gentlemen who all had very fine beards.