Sunday, 31 August 2008

Keeping an open mind

Travel is amazing, don't you think? One minute here you are, in familiar surroundings. The next minute you are on a mountainside haggling with a man who is holding a yak and trying to sell you a sharpened dagger which he swears on his mother's life is a souvenir and not a murder weapon. And, at that moment, with the sun shining, the yak lowing, and the two-foot blade only the price of a loaf of bread back home, it actually looks like a reasonable deal and surely the airport staff will be delighted and say No problem! Just pop the scimitar in the cabin baggage!

Of course the experience could go badly wrong and you could journey home wounded, humiliated, mugged, broke, or with post traumatic stress disorder, but the one thing that travel to distant lands never fails to instill in me is hope. Hope that on the mountainside it might not be raining, so you can actually see the yak and the view. And hope that as you travel on, you will discover new places in the world, new people, and surprising new experiences in yourself too; opinions, values, understandings, compassions, beliefs.

I have believed that home education is our travelling. Everyday. And best of all, for these most precious of insights we don't travel further than our own backyard. Here we meet those people whose world views, knowledges and understandings are so different from ours that I am astonished we find common areas to talk about at all, apart from the surprise that it isn't raining.

We have taken the children by the hands and led them to look at the world through the eyes of anglers, birdwatchers, miners, historians, monks (Benedictine and Buddhist), biologists; we have learned from experts in bats, lichens, trees, fish, engines; we have seen the world of miniaturists, astronomers, archaeologists, sailors, artists, farmers, engineers, Vikings, earwig enthusiasts, and zombied out drug addicts. (OK, I made the last one up, but give us time.) And as we go on, searching out these people with all their wisdoms, I hope that in each of their ways, these wonderful, significant people will lead us to new knowledges, both of the world, and of ourselves.

And this, I say to myself, and possibly Dig and the Gritlets, is exactly why we are going to Pontins. To learn about people, the world, and ourselves. So Grit, you have had your pep talk. Now get packing.

Because you see I might have done the worst thing possible for a home educator. Already made up my mind. Over the last 24 hours I have, possibly alongside Dig's quiet show of no enthusiasm, convinced myself that the Pontins experience will be like Cell Block H without the fun.

For my huge lack of enthusiasm about this project - possibly now so large I could pour into a double decker bus only a fraction of this hopeless doomed gloom - I could, of course, blame the weather. Because the sky at five this evening looks like the sky at seven this morning. Leaden grey. With a bit more rain. Nevertheless, with merely hours to go before departure time, some preparation for this journey has to be done. So at nine this evening I do not so much pack, more throw into a couple of holdalls an assortment of possessions, some wrenched directly from the washing pile, and then tip a jumble of different sized shoes into a plastic bag, and hope that when they all disgorge at the other end, some will match.

Of course I do not allow Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to catch me morosely packing with a face like I might be holidaying to meet the bluecoat daughter of death in the Pontins pit of hell. No, to them I say every new experience is like a wonderful gift, because you never know where it will lead, who you will meet, and what you will learn.

And silently, I tell myself, what I should learn must not be I will never do this ever ever ever again.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

When things are going badly, take to the fields

Things have gone quiet in the Grit and Dig household. In fact I may have miscalculated. Booking four days at a down-beat, dead-end holiday camp, the only review of which I find describes it as a complete nightmare, is now sounding as good an idea as blowing a chill wind or hammering the final nail in the coffin.

Dig, for one, is not jumping up and down squawking for joy at the thought of being locked up on a Pontin's holiday prison somewhere east of Norwich instead of in a five star hotel somewhere west of Paris.

Admittedly I say to him, a Great Yarmouth Pontin's holiday camp may be something akin to a deprived council estate. Except because this is Pontins and not the council deprivation and social problem zone, we will be attacked by bluecoats, bad singing and sequined suits, all in a beer soddened working men's club stinking of chip fat and Silk Cut. So what? It gives the children the possibility of learning about life in all its hideous glory, and they may get to see that not everyone in this country lives with four bathrooms.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are remaining cautious. They have not exactly heard about Butlins and Pontins and I am encouraging them to keep an open mind. This requires not telling anybody about where they are going and saying it will be a surprise when we get there. We can even visit the Dinosaur Park at Lenwade on the way. Shark says she doesn't want to go to that either because the noises sound real. But look Shark! I say, the brochure reads, What better way could there be than to spend a day out with your family at Norfolk's top family attraction? Shark says there are plenty better ways and some of them do not seem to involve any of us at all, but do involve several parrot fish and an octopus.

I just cannot win.

There is only one solution. Go where everything feels normal and well adjusted.

I get everyone in the car and drive to a field at the back of Newport Pagnell. Seriously. They're not just a motorway stop you know, they're actually a medieval town. And they are having an open day for their ancient common land. And when the locals open up their fields and shout Come and look at our old field! then Grit and the Gritlets are there.

Wondering about the exact location of those civil war earthworks.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Hi de hi!

Dig! Do you remember sweeping me off my feet and transporting me to Cairo, all in a sparkling moment? Do you remember how amazing that was? And how, when we there touching 40C, you whispered to me 'Let's find the spice market! I think it's just down there!' then led me blindly round the streets of the abattoir in the afternoon sun for three hours, putting me a whisker away from a coma! Do you remember that?

Well, sexy wife Grit says it's time to repay your romantic gesture!

Because, darling Dig, so accustomed are you to first class travel and business lounges all around the globe that I think you need a change of place, a new scene, a fresh outlook to spur you on. And just as you lifted me from my life in fields, or covered in paint and glue and arguing about wiggly eyes, then I must transport you away from the first class lounge where there is free wine and free food!

But forgive me, because my circumstances are a little more constrained than yours. From my budget I have to buy lentils, yellow paint and glow-in-the-dark frogs. But we've vowed to give each other as much trouble and grief as a human being can muster, and all for the rest of our lives, so I think I'd better get on with it and let you have it.

Because I have booked a four day stay, for all of us, with a bunch of home educators in Norfolk. At Pontins.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

The den building challenge

Here's a den.

That's quite a professional looking den, for a kiddy den building game, don't you think? That's an art house den, suitable for the Venice Biennale or the North American Rainbow Gathering.

Or how about this one?

That's a cool den. I could use that at Glastonbury.

Then there's this one:

I could build this simple den in woodlands round Berlin, then join in with the Love Parade.

I quite like this next one. There's a touch of the macabre about this, so it might be suitable for the Near Death Pilgrimage in Spain.

And here's a den, built by Shark. She's not working in a team because she is working on her own. Don't go near her, that's my advice. And if you tell her the fence post will never skewer in the ground, she may kill you with it.

It took her an hour and a half to realise she can't skewer a fence post in the ground, so she ties it up between two trees with some string. But oh dear! We are hunted by grizzly bears! Shark does the pragmatic thing and drapes over it the flag of Nigeria. There are no grizzly bears in Nigeria, which means we should be safe.

And while Shark was building that, Squirrel and Tiger were building this.

The fashion designer's goth den.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Flying Squirrel

Squirrel attempts flight by jumping off a concrete rabbit while wearing a pair of dragonfly wings she has made in an art workshop.

The attempt is unsuccessful, but this shows what a determined young girl is here, and how deserving she is of that title, True Grit. Even in the face of disaster, humiliation and defeat, we Grits never give up. Squirrel just climbs back on that concrete rabbit, and has another go.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Days don't come much better than this

I had a dream last night that the car had no fuel in it. I couldn't afford to fill it with fuel, so I just closed my eyes to that fuel gauge and carried on driving, hoping the problem would go away. And guess what? It did! The car just kept on running, even though there wasn't any fuel in it.

At some stage I got out the car and ran into a phone box because my mobile didn't have any battery power, and I rang Dig and told him to come quick because the car had no fuel and it might stop working. And then magically Dig arrived, even though he is right this moment in Germany, and he sat next to me in the car that was still going places even without fuel, and then we started looking for the kids, because somewhere along the line, I'd lost them.

This state of lost childhood and no fuel was sort of hilarious to us, and needed us to check into a posh hotel, something a little seventeenth century, and have a few drinks and some hysterically funny conversation before coming out again to drive off in the car with no fuel. Really this was the best dream ever and I didn't want it to end. In fact when I woke up I carried on thinking about what fun life should be, with no fuel. And possibly no responsibilities either.

And even though the car is really very low on fuel and I am totally without funds for that, never mind, because thanks to our excellent parks department who put on an art and craft walk in a wood, this is what Shark, Squirrel and Tiger achieved this morning...

Before going off for a four hour swim with Am while I manage some tip-top quality chat with Jol.

After that I think I could even try driving with no fuel.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Looking ahead

Today, Grit has applied herself to the creation of a timetable for the forthcoming autumn period of home education.

It is foolish, really, given that this is our home ed anthem.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Lessons from a Viking in a field

Here I am, burdened with the responsibility to provide an education for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger.

Our education could mean lying flat on the sofa watching Teletubbies and Big Brother. I could interrupt Tinky Winky to do English language and shout out I'm sure that was a verb! Noun! Adverb! Then we could do the same in the afternoon with geography and history, like Where is Eastenders set? and How long has Coronation Street been running? and I guess we could spend our days in this privileged home education way, never needing to move our arses further than the front room to get a good solid understanding of British culture. We could even drink beer and eat chips everyday and call that a domestic science lesson. And do you know what is the best thing about all this? No-one would stop us. That's right. In home ed land we can do what the heck we want.

But do you know, there is a state in the Grit home ed household, and it is called conscience. When conscience calls, it asks sternly, Do you really want your children to be functional only as Mr Blobby sofa slobs who can finely distinguish the vowels in Tinky Winky's speeches, or reel off the E-numbers used in a packet of cheap bourbons? Or would you like your children to know about the Vikings of middle England?

When conscience calls on Grit she becomes all penitent and sorry about those bottles of beer, packets of biscuits, bags of crisps and the loafing around on the sofa watching Tinky Winky, and she jumps up and demands everyone get up right now and come to a field at Rockingham Castle because we are studying the Vikings. Yes. As of now, Shark, so put the crisps down.

So everyone gets in the car, even Tiger who says she is feeling better today and will come to see the Vikings so long as there is no education at all and that I don't try to teach her anything, and I lie and say That's OK, the Vikings are really Tinky Winky in disguise, and off we go.

Once we are here the little Gritlets seem to expect they can sit under the shade of a tree and scoff the picnic. But at the sight of a bloke dressed in a skirt and waving a sword Grit is overcome, so she naturally starts intoning all her Viking knowledge in one long stream of non-stop education. She just cannot help herself, and defends herself by claiming she is just making conversation about the Vikings and she is not teaching anybody anything and what do you want me to talk about at a Viking festival? Ceiling fans? Table mats?

Unfortunately the Gritlets are now well argumentative and Tiger says I am the worst mother in the whole world for trying to teach her something and she's never going to walk with me again now I've done the worst thing possible and brought her out to the Viking show when she never wanted to come and I have forced her. So I do the childish thing and say Fine, I'm never talking about the Vikings ever ever ever again, so there.

Because I am now acting like a five year old I stomp off to look at a tent and don't care whether I am being followed or not by the revolting Gritlets. They do scurry behind me anyway, possibly because otherwise one of the wandering Vikings will bend down and speak to them. And so we all arrive at the Viking surgeon who is demonstrating the healing power of his saw and who shows us his model of his cut off foot. I note that seems to cheer up the sulky Gritlets and they start listening to how Viking surgeons might have adopted Christianity and burned crosses into the flesh but that could have been Thor's hammer, so you could hedge your bets.

After twenty minutes we know all about Viking surgical methods, payments and insurance schemes and I keep quiet about that talk possibly being educational, but I just note quietly that there didn't seem to be any trouble about that when it came from a bloke wearing a skirt, and not from mummy with a compilation of Viking information in her head. This is one of the principles of home ed: it is fine so long as you are not teaching anything. And if someone else teaches the very same thing, and especially if they have a model of a cut off foot in their hand, then their words are treasured as gold nuggets gathered from the pool of eternal light.

There doesn't seem much of a job left for me to do after the surgeon but suggest we watch Eric Bloodaxe being slaughtered in battle.

Here the Gritlets sit entranced while Eric Bloodaxe gets a sword through the belly and out squirts red blood because these reenactors are getting pretty professional and have stocked up on all the film set stuff to make those battle scenes as realistic as possible. Here the Gritlets learn again about Vikings beating up Saxons and vice versa when really, Shark turns to tell me, they were all the same kind of people and, did you know mummy, they were just fighting over land and resources, you should study the way they lived and the clothes they wore to know that they were the same tribes but with different rulers. And I nod and say really? That's interesting because I had always suspected that. And then the Gritlets are clapping away like fury at all the dead bodies strewing the battlefield and Tiger is all but punching the air to shout Down with Bloodaxe!

And then all the way home I am told all about how the Vikings and the Saxons are pretty much alike and how the dividing line of England must have run with raids and how they must have got on too and traded and settled and married and made language and religion and how they cooked chicken and made wool and created the land that became England.

Which just goes to prove that when my conscience demands that I provide an education I should just put Shark, Squirrel and Tiger in a field and then stay out of the way. Because there is really no substitute for a man in a skirt and a bucket of fake blood.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Not a relaxing time on Dunstable Downs

Tiger is flat out on the sofa, drugged with pink fluid. Over her snoring body, Daddy Dig says he will look after things now, so off we go because she will be quite safe. I doubt it, but Squirrel and Shark need a break from the hospital ward we have built out of the front room. They have spent several hours bouncing round the room like it's made of rubber, and I am in danger of going mad, so I agree, and bundle them into the car to drive to Dunstable Downs. Here, while Shark and Squirrel throw themselves about, I hope to relax, because a woman with little sleep needs a simple path, like watching the clouds pass by while engaging in some Celtic imaginings and MrSoftee ice cream eating.

But it's never that simple is it? Lazing about, watching kites, eating ice cream and saying that cloud up there reminds me of a bottle of beer. Because it is Dunstable Downs Environment Day.

The jolly young woman at the craft table suggests Shark and Squirrel follow the nature trail 'because', she says with a broad and winning smile like an outdoor studies student in her first year at university, 'you will see some wonderful nature and it will only take you half an hour!' If there was an award going for cheery group leader, she would win it. Even her hair bobs up and down enthusiastically.

Well as everyone knows, Grit is a sucker for a field, so off she goes, with the remaining healthy Gritlets trotting behind her, anticipating a quiet relaxing stroll along the hilltop.

If only it could be so. Within five minutes Shark has a big squeal because the printed nature studies booklet is blown off by the wind, then she drops all the crayons and everything stops for twenty minutes while I retrieve the booklet from a prickly bush and work out how many crayons I can hold in my bra because no-one has any pockets. Then we see a dog and that takes another fifteen minutes of Squirrel making breathless whimpery noises while perched atop a wooden pole because she is convinced it will savage us to death, when all it wants to do is collect its slobbery rubber ball. Next we have to photograph a butterfly that won't keep still and that takes ten minutes and some jumping up and down in frustration. When we get to the post where we have to do a rubbing and find out about a red kite, I listen to a big argument about who knows more about red kites, birds and dinosaurs - Shark or Squirrel - and that takes thirty minutes. It takes twenty minutes while we wait for a man to throw himself off the cliff edge. Then we go back to stalking the wildlife, taking CCTV photographs of their every move to prove we have been up a cliff and in a field all at the same time.

Two and a half hours later I stagger back into the visitor centre, like a clapped out old banger with its engine missing. That and two arguing kids and two completed trail booklets. Miss Enthusiasm is bouncing up and down with her matching hair while Grit in her dotage is all but flat on the floor waiting to pass out with nervous exhaustion and the least relaxing time she has had of it since that time in Borneo when she thought the plane was going to crash. And did I ever deserve this persecution by relentless Squirrel energy? Because a voice pips up, 'Mummy! Red kite masks! I want to make one of those!'

Friday, 22 August 2008

Not wordless Wednesday but pissed off Friday

Friday morning, to be precise. About 1am. When Tiger suddenly takes a dive for the worst. Her temperature soars to that of a glass furnace and she starts rambling about rabbits, possibly eating her toes.

Everything would be under control by 1.15am with some of that pink fluid called Calpol if it were not for Mummy Grit and Daddy Dig, aka Laurel and Hardy, crashing about under the eaves looking for the medicine box before arguing about best before dates, then taking to the bedrooms waving sick buckets at the distressed patient and arguing about the amount of pink fluid you can fit in a spoon. Poorly Tiger endures all of this and more, including the spilt water and lights shining in her eyes until 2am, when Laurel and Hardy trip over each other on the way out of her room and she can get in some proper recovering kip without the pantomime.

Come 7am, things don't get much better when Shark wakes up*, fresh and bright as a daisy and declares it is Tiger's naming day so we are all going to have fun. Mummy Grit, who is going to die through sleeplessness thanks to her ongoing ministrations to the sick, suggests Tiger's naming day might be better done some time else and she is not cooking cake. This sends Shark into a downward spiral of moaning misery from which she does not emerge until 4pm when I force her to go sailing so my ears can have a rest. Squirrel wisely keeps out of the way and occupies herself cutting up bits of paper to form a Saxon helmet.

And so, miserably, moaningly and sickly, Friday passed.

* Shark survives on nine hours sleep a night. Is that normal? She has never done twelve, never ever ever, despite the assurances of the health visitor who said that babies sleep twelve hours a day and will probably need ten hours at least while growing up. The woman should be struck off. Twelve has only been possible with drugs and vodka.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Animal Olympics

Our lovely parks people host the Animal Olympics. Fortunately this involves no animals whatsoever, unless we count a bunch of kids running about in a field, while their mothers, fathers and childminders all congregate together in the craft tent and try and work out the instructions to make a mangonel.

This mangonel-making activity has nothing to do with animals competing in the Olympics. It is, however, a useful team-building exercise in understanding obscure and complex instructions. Granny Maureen is rightly feted as the engineer of the day thanks to working out the middle elastic band technique which allows successful catapulting of bits of gravel for well over a metre range.

I admit it is not visually terribly impressive, but that bit of gravel in the wobbly bottle top can hit a cat within a metre range, so long as the cat is nailed down.

Apart from Grit doing that, Tiger, Squirrel and Shark do this:

Make a bird from bits of paper before sitting down on the grass and declaring 'I feel sick'.

Bursting into tears because Shark will not wear the cardboard snail costume and do the snail race where the prize is an Olympic gold medal. Tears are an effective strategy because Nikki from the parks department takes pity on you and puts on her own snail costume and challenges you to a race. She gamely comes second, which means you get the gold. Wisely, the jury does not attempt to challenge this triumph, even keeping quiet about the observation that the snail cheated by getting up and running the last bit.

Being a snake. And an eagle. And a bear. And a tiger. Shark does all of these things with an instructor, teaching us how animal movements are part of the martial arts experience. Shark then declares 'I want to learn karate'.

Thus a good day in a field was had by all.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Smug grit

Look! It is not all despair, misery, pestilence and death! Here is the proud result of the swamp that is otherwise known as the Grit vegetable patch!

We did have a family carrot. Sadly, being only 15 mm long, it met with an unfortunate accident after rolling off the kitchen surface.

I stood on it. I thought a photograph of a flat minature carrot might not be so impressive.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008


We are in a field. It is Learn About Insects with the parks department. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger hunt bugs, make bee spinners, and irritate me with magnetic caterpillars they think I will allow to be stuck on the fridge. Mostly I hope they are educating themselves about revolting creepy crawlies that make a mummy Grit squeal and reach for a spare shoe with which to pound the little insect to death while shouting DIE! DIE!

This is of course not the attitude a good home educator should be teaching to her young offspring, which explains why we are here.

At the end of the session Shark, Squirrel and Tiger plead for one last turn round the bug hunting field.

Morris, one of the park's departments younger members, readily agrees to take us. Morris is quite excitable. He leaps up and down at the sight of a daddy long legs. He grins in delight shouting Brilliant! Brilliant! at the sight of an ant. He is a thoroughly good influence on Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, who soon enough start to mimic this enthusiasm for every living creature that is otherwise disgusting and lives under a rock. Soon they are squealing and pointing too, and collecting revolting things in jars.

Now find me an earwig! shouts Morris, and everyone scampers off to look for these loathsome creations. Find me an earwig! Have you found an earwig? pipes Morris, galloping around the field, pointing at rocks.

Then, foolishly, Grit kicks over a stone. Lo and behold here is the earwig. At this point I should have shut up. Instead I make the mistake of pointing indifferently and with a curled lip to this revolting specimen of insectdom. Morris leaps up, bringing Shark, Squirrel and Tiger along with him to ooh and aah at this repulsive sight.

I have some interesting facts about earwigs! says Morris, breathless with delight. Would you like to hear them? Shark, Squirrel and Tiger look at him, eagerly. Well, says Morris, Earwig mothers are not like ordinary insect mothers! Earwig mothers make very good mothers! They stay with their babies until they are big and, do you know what? They wash their babies all the time, licking them clean!

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger look totally absorbed by this nugget of information. Grit, however, is feeling distinctly queasy. And, continues Morris. Not only that! Earwig mothers feed their babies! Then Morris looks at me. And so do Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. And you'll appreciate this, mum, he says at me, beaming from ear to ear, Earwig mothers lactate from their skin! How helpful is that?

I can only say to Morris that referencing my motherhood status in terms of a lactating earwig is quite a depressing thought. And it has not made me love earwigs, either.

Monday, 18 August 2008

One of life's ironies

Squirrel, Tiger and Shark take to the fields with pitchforks and rakes. This hay making fest is a creation of the landscape services section of the local council. They would like school kids to stop lolling about at home, and get out into fields. We get out into fields most days, but I'm not telling them that.

After ten minutes of this performance, Grit plans to turn the hay-making experience into a bit of educational art history. If we're doing OK she'll then have a go at a discussion about the life of agricultural labourers in the eighteenth century. If the wind's sailing in the right scholastic direction, she may even try and get in a bit of the Peasant's Revolt.

Then the woman from the council turns up. She is very impressed. She doesn't know Squirrel, Tiger and Shark are home educated, and I don't tell her. She thinks they are a good example of how the landscape services section of the local council is getting schoolchildren into fields during their school holidays. She even suggests Squirrel, Tiger and Shark pose for a photograph so that she can use them in publicity shots to encourage children to find new things to do after school.

Well, Squirrel, Shark and Tiger are the only children who've turned up, so I can see her point. And since we have stuck up two fingers to their educational provision, I happily agree.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

In pursuit of an education

Dig sighs Oh dear. And really, we should listen to him. Because Grit and the Gritlets have a new hobby.

OK. I admit. It will probably last a week, make everyone cross, suck the entire family into terminal financial decline, send us off into fields, and bring chaos and disaster into what could otherwise be normal, ordered, stable lives. But. I can use it for an education. And I am converted. So just order the stuff and here's my credit card.

It is miniaturism. I know. Don't tell me. It is folly. But I am helpless in the face of Tiger's enthusiasm. And with the price I'm paying for a scaled model of a replica Victorian tin bath, you should hand me the cut-throat razor now.

This is all the fault, again, of that thing we call Home Education. Here we are, one minute happily sauntering past the charming shops in Hay-on-Wye, and the next minute Grit and the Gritlets are in an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole: a doll's house shop. For two hours. Mostly on hands and knees with Grit listening to her delighted children discussing Edwardian interiors, while she praises the manufacturers of small wooden items for making her children so informed and educated and able to sustain a coherent three-way conversation without screaming, packing punches, rolling on the floor or leaving the shop in tears and without dignity.

You can see why I have been sold on the doll's house solution.

In fact, in this wonderful shop, after five minutes, Grit is positively enthusing That's a bargain! Readily she agrees to pay the price of a small car for a set of miniature cutlery! Hey! She is even dribbling over the cute little pushchair! Even though this is something that Grit never did, not even when she was pushing the triple buggy uphill with three fat little dwarfs strapped inside while considering competing for England with her biceps. Nope, not once did she consider that moment cute. But here! One twelfth scale! And look! The cute little pushchair wheels really turn!

Well the deed is done.

And now comes the rationale. Because, I explain carefully to Dig, this is a fate that had to be. And of course we cannot be satisfied with the enormous doll's house that came out of the pile from Northumberland. No. We never were, actually, I remind Dig. We always had to lock it up. And do you recall why? Because everytime that doll's house appeared, Squirrel, Shark and Tiger had a big fight over it because in reality you cannot get triplets round one doll's house, and too frequently the sofa was taken by violence. And that included scratching of eyes, pulling of hair, and blood.

Honestly, I argue, about this I have a second sense. There are some items we can buy one of. Like the maths game. Of course this item will be of no interest to anyone and will be discarded within seconds. There are some items we can buy two of. If we want to witness mayhem leading to certain death. Remember the buckets and spades? And there are some items we must buy three of. The push chairs. With Squirrel, Shark and Tiger streaming down the back lane pushing three dollies in trolleys it looked like a scene from Death Race 2000. But it was necessary. Like doll's houses. And, I say to Dig, Tiger says she wants to build hers, so what better education can you get than this, eh?

You see, I tell Dig, with period replicas of doll's house interiors, we can do maths, history, design and technology. Almost the entire teaching of the National Curriculum in one go! In fact, if I speak French while we're gluing the bits together, then we've cracked it.

And Dig! Just think of what we can create! Look at this! Surely we can do the same with a few bits of fabric and some wood!

Reader, I win. Without a minute to delay, it's off we go! Dig even gets whipped up with the enthusiasm of the moment and gets out his saw, glue, nails and clamps! Howabout that! Family Education!

Checking the bits...

Gluing the banisters on the wrong side...

Leaving the half-finished shell on the table, abandoned,
while we think about what to do with the banister problem.
Grit now thinks that giving the instructions in French is a bad idea.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Ritual triplet greeting

We fetch Squirrel from her mountainside adventure holiday in Wales.

I suspect this week away from her adoring family has been more taxing for Squirrel than she expected. Ten minutes after seeing us she bursts into tears and says she dropped her trainer off the fire escape six days ago during a fire practice and it is on a roof. Daddy Dig goes off to retrieve it, which he discovers is quite straightforward if you are an adult and can see a ladder, and then he suggests it would have been very brave of her to ask that a group leader did this very thing moments after she dropped it.

Squirrel blubs fulsomely and mummy Grit is both mortified to think that all week her daughter has had to hop, and gratified to think she had the presence of mind to pack at least three different changes of footwear.

And then, all happiness and footwear restored, Shark and Tiger engage in the ritual that is the Triplet Greeting.

Running full tilt at your sister to rugby tackle her legs, knock her to the ground and then engage in an unseemly scrum rather resembles a reenactment of The Battle of Bosworth. Which is just what I tell the surprised passers by.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Gone fishing

I take Shark and Tiger fishing. Can you believe that? I can't, so I took photos.

Now in my opinion, fishing has to be one of the most pointless pastimes anyone can ever do. I simply cannot understand it. Standing around in water all day long, freezing cold, wasting time. But Grit and Dig live with this maverick character who is unstable, unpredictable and can suddenly take us off at a moments notice to any field in Britain, and they are called Home Education. At the drop of a hat, because the opportunity has arisen, and Home Education is running off at a clap over to a field, then there we all go chasing after it, blindly hoping that somewhere along the path we will get some of the education bit fixed into the children's brains.

Well this morning we have all had a conversation about the wisdom of following Home Education to this fishing expedition. Dig, who is sensible, says we will all be led off again into new enthusiasms that last a week, and if we take up fishing seriously and start bringing fish home, then he is leaving. Grit thinks it is probably unwise and keeps quiet about her secret salmon-eating habit. Tiger says she wants to wear her new pretty pink sandals, and Shark says she will only come fishing if the fish do not get hurt. As a caution, first off I leave Shark sailing, and then take Tiger along to find out.

We cautiously advance to the waterside and make the kind of enquiries which mark me out as a complete fishing idiot. Like 'How do you catch the fish?' 'Do you hurt the fish?' and 'Is that fish alright?' Then we are told all the rudiments, like rod, line, maggot, and barbless hook. The fisherman even catches one little fish while he's explaining and shows it to Tiger who hangs her nose over it in timid curiosity. He reassures us it can live out of water for ten minutes and don't worry, he's not going to hit it on the head and cook it because this is the kiddy fishing day, and anything caught is put in the tank they've set up at the van.

Then this little fish, held tenderly by the fisherman, actually moves in his hand. It doesn't so much as move, sort of twitch, but for Tiger that's enough to send her into panic mode and rocket propulsion. She simultaneously screams and jumps six foot into the air from a standing position, like MY GOD! That thing's ALIVE! The fisherman thinks this is hilarious and suggests she has a go. You'd think that by this demonstration, she's not cut out to be a fisherwoman, more of a fashion designer, but to her credit, with some proper instruction from an experienced fisherman, who can teach her things like maggots have a round end and a pointy end, all results her catching the largest fish that morning for the kiddy tank.

When Tiger's had her turn, it's time to fetch Shark, straight from sailing. I pick her up and she's clutching her certificate to say she's got Stage 2, but with her instructor, Mr Smooth, wagging his finger at her and telling her to come back and practice her tiller extension, whatever that is.

Shark, with appropriate reassurances about barbless hooks, then goes fishing. Shark loves fish this much.

Make that THIS MUCH.

Shark loves fish so much she wants to cuddle them, even though they are wet and slimy and revolting. Not to Shark. She thinks they are the best creatures on the planet and on some days would probably trade in her mother and father for a couple of trout she could keep in the bath. I'd only concur that on some days Mummy Trout would make a better conversationalist and probably a better parent than Mummy Grit.

Shark holds the fish she catches. She strokes it, wide eyed in delight and smiling with pleasure at feeling its little body wriggle. She's taught how to hold it so she doesn't hurt them and you can almost feel her wanting to give that little fella a big smackeroo, just for being a fish.

At the end of her time she doesn't want to leave, saying she wants to come back and learn how to fish, so long as she has barbless hooks. And then guess what? Mummy Grit finds herself proving Dig right, and becomes absorbed in deep conversation about angling clubs and fishing and standing in water in winter and for a few moments it all makes sense, why anyone would want to do this at all, and it seems perfectly logical and reasonable and fishermen are indeed the ears and eyes of the water, and the lords of the lakes.

Well even though I end the session converted and with a promise to Shark that she can come on the angling teaching session in October, and I will join her, she still will not budge, gazing into that water as if she wants to grow gills and a tail, preferably right now. Fired up with fish I then say to Shark I may have to bring you round to consciousness by slapping you round the face with a wet herring. To which Shark proves her love of fish forever and ever, because she replies, 'I would quite like that, so long as the herring doesn't mind'.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

And I'm not getting out of bed.

Grit is ill and in bed and is not malingering. She denies that completely. Being in bed, ill, with all kinds of ghastly diseases straight imported from Cairo is horrible, she tells Dig, so get up and sort out the children's breakfast.

I think I may even have a cold. I am sure I can feel one coming on. Yes, I know that means you Dig, will have to look after the children.

Grit is not getting out of bed, OK? Now, just to make sure about that she will wave the children's sick bucket at you.

It is not being aggressive to wave a sick bucket, I am just letting everyone know I am ill and a sick bucket is a sign of illness. Now clear off! And don't forget to take Shark and Squirrel to the bat walk tonight, and don't forget to take the torches in case Shark falls in the lake, like that time she was looking at a crayfish.

Honestly, I don't know what you are moaning about! You only have Tiger and Shark to look after thanks to us leaving Squirrel on a mountainside. Now off you go and let me be ill properly because I am not getting out of bed for anything.

And especially not while I am lolling about with Henry IV and Ian Mortimer.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Grit's world meets Dig's world

In Dig's world, this sort of thing is normal. Look, here's the sort of leg room British Airways gives you in First Class.

Didja see the glass of wine there? And the jimmie jams in case I feel the need to press the button, convert the seat into a bed and order more wine? From the butler? Hey, just take a peek at brunch. They lay the table!

This is all very different from Grit's world, which is dog class. We are usually stored somewhere back in the hold while the air flight attendant throws a dried biscuit at us somewhere over Dusseldorf, and only then if we are lucky.

Grit is a bit knocked out by this contrast and wonders how she can be married to someone who can have this in their world view while she has to mop up sick and lives her life in fields, sometimes with a monk who has a pet moth.

She may need to spend a while considering the life that Dig lives compared to the life that Grit lives. It would not be unreasonable for her to come up with a few demands.