Tuesday, 30 September 2008

An ordinary day of home education and survival parenting

Tuesday. My turn to vacuum the waiting room after the French lesson and umpire a three-way triplet fight on the drive home.

The former event has me wrestling with my conscience because French is held in a church hall. Even as I reach for the Dyson under the stairs I can hear the first growlings of a fight breaking out between Shark, Squirrel and Tiger in the car outside, probably about who should sit where on the journey home. And at that point I had a decision to make. Should I abandon the crisp crumbs and strawberry wafer flakes and step in to quell the riot? Or should I ignore the warning and carry out my church hall duty?

I know exactly what to do, but still I decide on church duty rather than social order. And is that the wrong decision. Because even though I do not believe in a god or gods and rely on my own reason and humanity to guide me, it is a dead certainty that if I wriggle out of vacuuming a church floor, and guiltily leave it soiled by humanity's lunchbox, some wretched twist of circumstance will plunge me into chaos and despair all over again. Then I will be hard pressed not to believe my non-vacuuming has been interpreted as a blasphemy against some unseen energy of the universe and the resultant misery is served to me as my just deserts.

So I do the vacuuming.

But still get punished.

Because the second event of the day - the three-way triplet fight - necessitates pulling the car off the A5 into a layby and having a big shout.

Really, I do not know whether having a big shout is of any value whatsoever. I suspect not. Probably, it just teaches everyone else to shout too, but louder. Nevertheless, I am not a programmable computer and cannot calmly sit in a layby on the A5 and, with quiet professional reason on my side, explain slowly that screaming in my ears and throwing a pair of gloves at your fellow traveller is a bad idea. Because of course the fellow traveller will throw them back and miss, so the gloves whistle past my nose and hit the windscreen.

Any type of glove momentum inside the car does not bring about a state of driving harmony. Quite the opposite. In fact with sudden screaming affecting my ability to hear and respond to my own vehicle or anyone else's vehicle, objects thrown around me, mayhem going on in my peripheral vision, plus a random kicking assault to the back of my seat, driving chaos ensues.

Really, I seemed to have missed that section in the Highway Code and on the UK driving test - the bit about what procedures to adopt when World War III breaks out in the back of your vehicle - but my hand automatically reaches for the hazard lights as my foot simultaneously presses on the brake pedal and I slow right down, causing the driver behind to veer out into the other carriageway and have the stream of traffic flowing behind him to suddenly slow up too. Thanks to the quick reactions of the other drivers on the A5 that day there isn't a multiple pile up and no-one is injured, killed or murdered by us.

This is basically the thrust of the lecture I deliver louder than anyone else can shout in the car, sitting in the layby on the A5 while vehicles hurtle past us at 80 miles an hour. I suspect the lecture is so loud it causes the driver of the vehicle just pulled in behind to jot down my registration number with the intention of passing it to the police. I wouldn't be surprised. I add that observation to the lecture too. I then suggest I might leave everyone in the layby so I can drive home alone, and safely. This probably breaks a rule of parenting, along with staying calm in all situations including those where you are about to die, and that is do not threaten anything you are not prepared to carry out and do not kick your children out into the wilds of the shires to be eaten by wolves, however much you might like to.

And if I should wish to take a moral lesson from this ordinary Tuesday, it is to abandon what destruction is done, to attend to the destruction that can come.

Monday, 29 September 2008

It is all pointless

Grit is feeling lethargic, vacant and stupified, and this is probably affecting her blogging ability, like everything is pointless, so really, the only good thing to do with Grit is take her out into the yard and give her a kicking.

For a start, Grit has a woolly vacant brain and is all, I have so many things to do I cannot remember them and need to stare out of the office window at the squirrel kicking the hazelnut tree which should be coppiced and add that to the list to ring up Glastonbury the gardener and get him to cut the hedge and then I will pay the milk and change Shark's bedsheets and make a windmill.

You see? In Grit's head it is all disconnected and wandering about in there. You could catapult a horse on fire at her head and all she would wonder about is whether or not it is green wheelie bin day.

And if that is not enough she is dropping cups and dinner plates and forgetting words and mispronouncing them like I will put on the fishwasher and the thingstuff doesn't work.

But do not say that her malady and lethargy and general disorientation is hormones. I am sure it is not. If anyone says it is hormones I will cry and stab the computer. Because it is looking at me. And not blinking. It is asking for it. Perhaps it is the colour green. Green is a very affecting colour, is it not? It makes me want to eat constantly for 24 hours, preferably chocolatecrispscakeandbeer and then feel sick and cry while clasping a tear-stained picture of a baby kitten dressed in a pink cardigan.

Well obviously Grit's lethargy and mood swings cannot be her hormones. Perhaps it is because she is typesetting this extraordinarily boring text which reads something like this:

understandably statements of dialectology, phonological, morphological and lexical suggest the seminal meaning is maintained under a definition of sociolinguistic variation as with the inception of pioneering work notwithstanding that discredited and ultimately leading to coded conjunctions of theory suggesting that sociologically speaking i am going to die with boredom understandably is crucial in establishing maintaining and structuring relations between interlocutors of whom even though arguably we should permit the exchange of ethnomethodological phonological, morphological lexical indices suggesting the seminal meaning is maintained under a definition of sociolinguistic variation

There. Must be that.

Well I need to post an educational thing about stuff somewhere, so I will post this. It is a roll of cablestuff which has appeared on the swingthing and apparently it is Dig and the Gritlets. While I have been working they have been setting up some sort of morse code station at the bottom of the garden.

They probably have something important and useful to communicate, like Why is mummy stabbing photographs of kittens?

Sunday, 28 September 2008

We're in the money!

WOOHOO! We sent the kids down the back of the sofa and they came up with £10.85!


Saturday, 27 September 2008

Electricity is amazing, right?

HEADS UP! Grit has it on authority that electricity is not stored in unicorn horns then brought overnight by fairies and hidden behind the wall until you need it! No!

There are wires!

My new and empowering knowledge is all thanks to my wise and wonderful husband Dig. Dig is teaching the Gritlets about wires, pylons, and how all the electricity gets past the junk stored up in the hall when nothing else can!

And more!

Dig is teaching Shark, Squirrel and Tiger about generators and Michael Faraday and how to make on/off switches with a piece of wood and a paperclip.

This is truly amazingly useful stuff. I am sure the Gritlets will need it all when non-functioning electrical equipment conspires against them and tries to rob them of their lives. The first lesson in dealing with miserable rebels like amplifiers that won't amplify, ovens that don't get hot, irons that won't switch on, computers that won't compute, is, says Dig, to think the problem through. And do not act up like mummy Grit. Randomly press all the buttons. Call out to the unicorns and fairies in despair. Cry. Then phone an engineer in a panic to come and change a fuse at a cost of £250 emergency call out fee.

Well, my little Gritlets truly deserve a big CLAP CLAP today. As does daddy Dig, because I clearly married the right one there for the science and electronics home teaching environment.

And with their new found skills I can always hope the Gritlets mend the toaster.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Mission accomplished

Bludgeoning Shark half to death with various packets of dried Tesco pasta and value tinned tomatoes has been an excellent idea. She is unable to take the pasta option any longer and has reached to the cookery book shelves, pored over the contents, tied back her hair, rolled up her sleeves, and brandished a shopping list. Consequently, today at the Pile, we have been treated to the following:

Layered vegetable terrine

Roasted peppers stuffed with rice and vegetables

Butterscotch pie

Really, Shark, simply saying 'I'm cooking dinner' does not do justice to this sort of thing. We need to hang out banners, blow whistles, sound the trumpets and process with a modern dance routine throughout the front room while wearing avant garde costume in preparation for this diner's feast and cook's triumph.

Tomorrow it is back to pasta. I give it ten days max.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

We could get out the flour

Not to bake a cake. We already did that. This time we spread the flour over the kitchen table.

Because today we are finding out about Thales and any angle drawn in a semicircle is always a right angle. You see? Home education Maths can make perfect sense for five minutes, then entertain us all for at least an hour before everyone starts building flour pyramids and mummy Grit realises the vacuum cleaner doesn't work.

And this is all the fault of that most wonderful book we are following, Murderous Maths: Vicious circles and other savage shapes. Thank goodness no-where in this book does it mention icing sugar.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Not being negative, or anything...

If you are looking for the negative aspects of home education, look here.

Of course I will not count those negative aspects of home education the anguish I feel over Tiger who now refuses to read aloud to me, even from My Secret Unicorn, so wounded is she by my cak-handed approach to teaching reading.*

Nor is it the bloody mindedness of Shark who refuses to do anything she is told, because let's face it, we all know where she gets that from.**

And it is not the way that home educated children confidently share their ideas out loud in public at every opportunity, and may include observations about your ability to teach maths, put on a wetsuit, find lions or anything else which takes their fancy, thank you very much Squirrel.

No. It is none of these. Nor the suspicious glances of the woman at number 32. She probably thinks I am condoning truancy. Everyday, duh.

Nor the fact that occasionally we meet someone who knows nothing of the home ed social whirl, and have to listen to them witter on about socialisation, despite the fact that I reply over and over again, round here? yup, it's a problem, we do too much of it.

Nor is it the self sacrifice, although there is much of that, because with kids around all day long I cannot write a blog about shopping for handbags, going to the gym, meeting girlfriends for lunch or today's hilarity in the staff canteen.***

Nope. The negative aspect of home education is not the abandonment of a career and a salary either, and all the glory and status those can accord. No. It is not that.

Nor the intrusion home education can make into a marriage, a family who do not approve, or how it can break apart friendships like Raiya, who gave me a lecture at my own kitchen table for goodness sake about how we all have to learn things we don't want to.****

And neither is it the many ordinary daily friendships that will be forever lost, abandoned and never started, because Look! Here are my kids dressed up as Tudors! If I pop round for coffee, is it alright to bring the kids? They will be on their way back from learning how to survive in the woods and can you lock up your dog?

No, the negative side of home education is this. Sitting at the side of the A6, desperate for a wee, telephoning the organiser of the painting session at the old mill because we are lost, late and running out of petrol. And Squirrel, who thinks it may be the right time to ask this question, pips up Mummy! What does that mean, in despair?

But it's not all negative. On the plus side, when I finally do arrive, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger have a very nice time doing a spot of painting and learning about old water mills.

* It could be Tiger has misinterpreted the snorting, scoffing, groaning and sudden shrieks of laughter I have to emit during a reading of this book. Shouting Is this the story where he has to bang his head against the rock? doesn't help either, quite frankly, and I should stop it.

** Dig.

*** I'm not saying I wouldn't want to write a blog like that, mind.

**** And this is the woman who didn't need a garden with children because 'they will learn everything they need to like that at school'.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

No post today

I make a birthday cake instead.

It looks like a design inspired by vomit.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Look to your laurels, Hirst.

Grit has wind of this. Today's artists might want me to be shocked, disturbed, outraged. I don't know. Boredom would be a good word. Not another model on a toilet. Hey, Turner artists, we already have a mermaid on ours. We thought everyone did that stuff nowadays. I mean, nailing celery to the wall, chucking a rat out of the window and videotaping ourselves hunting monks are so yesterday.

Well, Grit does something she has intended to do for a long while, so the Turner artists can't claim credit for this reaction. She has a word with the boss of the local community hall and books the art gallery space for Squirrel, Shark and Tiger for next June 2009 to exhibit their acrylic on canvas. Not that we have any acrylic on canvas to show of course. Or any talent. How we enter into the spirit of Modern Art!

Anyway, I get everyone off to Whipsnade Zoo for an observational drawing session, so we can commit our efforts to canvas and collect some pieces to show.

Squirrel's first draft. All she has to do is smear horse shit all over it,
and I'll be submitting it to Turner 2009. It could be a winner.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

By these things, we learn

We truss up three mermaids and skewer them to the ground in the front garden. This might seem an ordinary day here at the Pile. It is like our other achievements. Went to the woods and built a shelter for a four-inch sheep. Spent two hours hunting a monk in a field. Learned how Vikings cut off feet. But this particular home education project is a very big thing.

Because, for the first time in the history of home education management at the Pile, the stuffed mermaids project is achieved without argument, violence, threats of police, social services or a pointed finger toward the school gates. Indeed I do not have to squash any resistance, dispute, quarrel or rebellion from any quarter at any time. At all.

And here is the result of our week's happy consensus and, dare I write it, sustained enthusiasm.

I know they do not look much, these strange and lumpy fish creatures. They won't be snapped up by Madame Tussaud's for their very realistic touring mermaid display, nor will Disney come knocking clutching a million dollars to have our beautiful mer creatures in the trailer of Little Mermaid VI. But I treasure our mermaids as if they were a fraction of that value. Because here at the Pile these lustrous and exquisite beauties are the result of several hours attentive, quiet study. First the decision making and research, then the drawings, discussions, design and technology, the maths, materials science, and production. Heck, with that lot, even the little dollies join in. (Or at least two of them. I haven't seen the third since she was strung up on the zip wire.)

I may never be able to part with these big and gorgeous ladies. That is going to be a tadge of an inconvenience when a visitor needs to use the office bathroom and must manhandle mermaid 2 from her squatting position on the toilet because really, there is nowhere else to stuff her. But these mermaids show me that it can be done. Co-operation, agreement and happy construction of a family project. (OK, nearly a complete family. It is without Dig, who is in Canada. Not that he would have easily agreed anyway to sew his own merman.)

There have been days in the past when I thought I could not continue with home education, let alone triplets. I can immolate myself in the market square any day of the week, and some days it would not have been half so bad as squeezing three arguing beings into a small car for an expensive lesson that I have paid for and that they wanted yesterday, but today, right now, they do not want. At any price.

Over the past few years I have had to learn to negotiate, listen, side-step, argue; I have had to carefully select and organise lessons and outings; to plan rewards and incentives, delights and dinner, sometimes five times a day if necessary. Well, today it is all worth it. This project has required everyone to listen, work together, present a point of view, and accept limitations. We had to tell Squirrel with five minutes to go and without modelling wire that her mermaid could not hold up sea shells because her arms would collapse. And that had to be accepted, and it was, gracefully. I have known professional teams of people less able to cope with such news.

So when these mermaids sit in the front garden, and the Gritlets process for three hours around Smalltown comparing scarecrows on the Annual Scarecrow Walk, then I get to sigh and reflect on what a journey we have come, and how some days even though I have felt like this,

I can take a big sigh, slap myself on the back with a tea towel, and shout out that lesson I am learning in life. And that is, Never give up.

Saturday, 20 September 2008


An afternoon scrumping at the Community Orchard provides three swollen bags of apples, the anticipation of warm crumbles, feisty chutneys, crisp autumn days, and these glances.

How I love the afternoon light in that orchard, those apples, and my innocent scrumpers.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Friday is a science day

Science day! Yippee! I am loving this timetable. In the midst of chaos, there is order. And today I find that calm and order at Snibston Discovery Centre.

Once inside this wondrous place, the advantages of home ed are immediately clear. There is no-one else around. Some toddler wanders past about midday. Outside, in the water area, I can see contractors moving wood and a bloke setting up a weekend kebab van. A voice over the tannoy asks us if we want the last baked potatoes because she is shutting up the cafe. And that's it. No queues, no shouting, no pushing, no waiting. And no competition either from the two year old desperate to trash the tornado making machine under the delighted gaze of an adoring parent. Nope. Shark can jump around in there all she wants before running off with the plastic ball that demonstrates the Bernoulli blower.

And those, I am pleased to say, are not the only advantages.

First, I am not really on Shark, Squirrel and Tiger duty. For hours they are controlled by buttons, levers, robots and conveyor belts. All these twinkly buttons and levers are shouting Pull me! Push me! Tweak me! And Shark, Squirrel and Tiger oblige. Because there's no queue, no rampaging army of let-loose Saturday kids, they spend hours being controlled by this conveyor belt.

Then these canal locks:

And this fire making machine.

Now this is easy science for a brain soaked in arts and red wine, don't you think? All I have to do is read out the instructions and explanations, and when Squirrel pips up What is a cathode ray tube? I can give the answer Dunno! Find out when you get home!

This is great home ed. It puts the responsibility for learning right back where it belongs in Squirrel's head and means that when I get home I can cook dinner. Get that? This is one of the fundamental secrets of home ed. Adults do not need to know everything about everything in order to get their kids studying medicine, law, lions in the Savannah and film noir. Because kids find out things for themselves.

Another great advantage to sloping off to an empty science park on a Friday is the thrilling sense of freedom. Look at us! There's no problem about getting in the car this morning! And there is such a positive relationship between everyone today. There's no aggression, martyrdom, sorrow, regret, threat or despair. Today, I have given those up. And better still, there are no hurtful words. Apart from It is time to go home and Here is the woman with the keys.

And if anything can top that lot, Snibston does it for us, by letting us all in at the school rate.

Smug science-loving Grit will now be locating the hairdryer.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Random thoughts on G&T

That's Gym and Trampoline in this house. See what a mother life has become? This one time party girl hears the phrase G&T and her head thinks, Have I washed the leotards?

I don't know why we go to these lessons. Squirrel, Shark and Tiger have lumpy knees and fat tummies. I might adore these assets, but they are not exactly gym shaped. And Shark hates running. Tiger says she is rubbish because she cannot do a cartwheel. Squirrel says gym is alright but she only goes to see Izzy. Given this state, I'm not looking for Olympic Gold.

Today we are late and miss the warm up. I shrug my shoulders and say So what? You wanted to listen to all four hours of Lemony Snicket this morning. I said fifty times that we had to leave the house to arrive on time. And what's more the timetable says it's history day and all I managed to do was ask which side you'd be on when Henry Bolingbroke rode into town. I know which side I'd be on. I bet he was dashing. Before he got leprosy.

I seriously hope Squirrel, Shark and Tiger do not become gymnasts. Don't get me wrong, those gym babes look fantastic and there is no doubt of a body made out of a flexible hose but seriously, they train till they cry. And the trainers don't give a fig. Any sport that does away with common sense for the look of a piece of twisted copper wire has to be struck from the list of sports. Add ballet to that list too.

Anya is not here. Good. Anya is a trained Russian gymnast, and teacher. I loathe her. Not because she is Russian but because her face is carved out of sandstone, for gym is serious. Gym is so serious that if you do not jump just how you are told she will hunt you down, rip off your legs and then she will stand them in front of you and make them jump up and down just the way she said. Do not use the excuse that you are aged 8. Once she went towards my Tiger with that look of 'you are going to die' crossing her eyes and I swear at that moment my mother gene kicked in. I started across that gym floor towards that woman with my hands outstretched. It was only when she turned her gaze towards another unfortunate soul that I stopped that walk of death. Then I wanted to complain. And that was tricky. 'You know what? she looked at my daughter in a funny way'. So I made a mental note that if she looked at my daughter again like that I would find out which was her car and draw my penknife down the side. Then I discovered she walked to work, so my only revenge would be stalking. I'm glad she's gone, because I do not know how to fit stalking into my weekly timetable.

Why do I keep taking the kids to G&T? I don't know the answer to that question, really I don't. They are not much good at it, but they say they want to come, and some weeks they even claim to enjoy it. I suspect it is not the G&T, more the s word. That's socialisation in home ed land. They see their friends and get to chat about important stuff like who can do cartwheels and star jumps.

A positive reason to come is that they work with gymnasts who know what they're doing. Not like the Friday afternoon I got the pleasure of covering a Year 11 ping pong lesson. Ping Pong? Read training for free association, the type they do in prisons. Within fifteen minutes of that lesson, one kid was flat on the floor being hammered round the face with a ping pong bat. Holding him down was 20 stone worth of flesh. Not one ounce of that was brain weight. The silver lining to that afternoon was that I never covered another gym lesson in my teaching career, thanks to shouting illegal very loudly in the staffroom.

But I have to consider that these G&T lessons are cut price. Very cut price. That's the benefit of home ed. Don't think it's ridiculously expensive. There are so many people doing it now, find your local group and get the school rate, the price you'd pay anyway. So the problem to these lessons becomes not one of Should we stay? More, Why leave?

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Survival day

Drove the kids to the woods. Kids, not bodies. Note that, because I am pleased about it. This means I survived yesterday's challenge of triplet parenting, which is to listen all day long to three small people shouting each other down before becoming so angry at a sister for yelling at exactly the same time and not shutting her mouth when she is told to SHUT UP, that she delivers a great big sisterly punch to the head. And what goes around, comes around. As mother to this nest of misery I can only watch while my heart is ripped out of my body and torn to shreds in front of me.

But today we can all relax. Because there is a home ed workshop in the woods.

I could get poetic about these ancient woods. See those twigged and bony fingers stripping those brown and yellowing leaves, flake by flake, down to the bare skin? Poetry is one of those essentials I'm putting in my survivalist kit bag. Not because the emotive language moves me, because it doesn't, much, but because it's quick to read. My eyes can remind my brain I am still alive, and all in the five minutes before the last coffee and the first scream. Anyway, in my survival kit bag I'm also perversely adding a book by Ian Mortimer. Then some fire sticks and a packet of green tea. I have brought green tea to the woods today, in a flask. And I have brought a picnic. Which some might call cheating, because today's home ed workshop, run by our wonderful parks department, is how to survive in the woods. Especially when there is no poetry, Ian Mortimer, firesticks, green tea or sandwiches.

We learn a trick or two on our survival course today. Survival is very appropriate to my life. It comes close on the heels to yesterday, when the very practical and logical idea came to the doting mama that carrying Tiger, Shark and Squirrel to the woods, frisking them for breadcrumbs and depositing them in a clearing before legging it, could be an appropriate and mature response to the continued squalling and fighting. Of course it made sense to plan a return pick-up at 8pm. There I would find them exactly where dropped, oblivious to the bats and bears, still punching the hell out of each other. Survival, of course, can also take the form of ear plugs, beer, whisky and slamming doors. However, today we are in the woods, and must survive there without any comforts from the Co-op. And without doors.

Raquel from the parks department first asks the children to tie plastic bags to trees to collect the water that is in a plant's breath. This is a very clever idea. It teaches everyone about transpiration and means there would be the crucial element to my cup of tea. I make a mental note to put a plastic bag into my survivalist kit bag too. And it's very poetic, don't you think? All those trees, sighing out their misty breathing. (No, not retching because someone has suffocated them by tying a plastic bag round their lungs.)

Next, the children are led off into the deep dark woods to build some shelters. Despite this being one of those obvious moments when I really should scarper to find a decent coffee somewhere, I tag along meekly, accompanied by all the other dutiful home ed parents who stay to see what their offspring are being taught. Perhaps we are all doing research for the forest dump solution. Truly, being with your own children 24/7 is hard work. And I doubt I am the only mother who has thought of dumping the lot of them and running off to the hairdressers.

Well the shelters are all very good, suitable for a cuddly sheep four inches tall, but as Raquel says, we do not want to encourage people to actually try sleeping in the woods and staying here. And Grit agrees, while looking at her feet, and denying that the idea ever came into her head.

When all the work of the shelters is done, sadly there is no time left to find out how to catch rabbits, spear them and roast them, or how to discriminate between two mushrooms that look exactly the same: one of which feeds you and the other which surely kills you. There is no time for that, but there is time for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to scoff tasty jam sandwiches and for us all to discuss exactly what might happen if one day, heaven forbid, everyone found they were lost in the woods, and mama, even with her survivor's kit bag, was nowhere to be seen.

Monday, 15 September 2008

From dark to light

I wake up depressed. I don't know why. There might be a cause. Like the weather. Or the fact that after doing no work at all I am as poor as a Church mouse. And feeling as miserable as one who has been given notice of eviction to be gone before the cheese is divided out. Or I could be overwhelmed and overloaded with things to do. And worthlessly, I'm not doing any of them. The house might be a mess. The children squabbling. Breakfast not eaten. Dig gone.

Then again, the cause of this misery might be the dreams. Overnight I might have been suffocated by deep dark thoughts.

Hmm. Because grit is all about turning misery to advantage, despair to hope, doubt to absolute certainty and the clamped teeth that say I am never giving up, then here's an experiment. Like the Romantic poets. I will jot down my morning thoughts. Those ones that pop unbidden into my mind. This wonderful powerful emotional flow might deliver me to pure insight and sublime intuition.

Here they are.
Jeremy Irons looks like a corpse. Is he on drugs? I don't know what's the matter with his face but it looks awful to me.

I shall stop this blog. Perhaps I need to put a picture at the top. I will learn how to do that.

Good grief. The dishwasher worked. It actually washed the dishes. Must be about to break down.

I need to get some clothes on. Yesterday the meter man called at 8. I wasn't wearing any bra and that is not a sight for sore eyes.

Why does standing in the shower make me wonder? I wonder why I need to stand there so long?

I wish Shark's double cream topping with honey and vanilla was vegan.

If I sent the kids to school I could go to the gym. Everyday. I would be a gym tart.

No-one loves me.

I hope I don't die in a freak accident. Woman on toilet struck dead by puffin.

I wish I could play kiss-chase. I wish someone would play kiss-chase with me. I bet no-one would. Then I would feel really very miserable. Especially if I wasn't even running anywhere.

On the way to the cinema to see Wall-e, I clipped the kerb, cut up a Volvo on the roundabout and shot through some amber-to-red lights. Tiger says 'Mummy, did you have your coffee this morning?' Misery's cause. Absence of medication.

The home ed timetable is helpful. It provides discipline and structure where there would be chaos and void. Creative Monday, Languages Tuesday, Maths Wednesday, History Thursday, Science Friday, Geography Saturday, Thinking Sunday. If I sing it enough times it might come true.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger need winter clothes. Thank you, eBay.

I probably could be killed by a puffin and everyone would laugh.
That's it. All that's needed on my journey to compose those raw outpourings into that achingly beautiful poetry that swells your heart with more than it can take, is a turn around the garden. Then let no one say that all I need is Prozac.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Road less travelled

I've never been here before! What a wonderful place! And so quiet! Do you know, Tiger, I didn't realise there was an environmental study centre here. We're not normally allowed down this road.

No, Shark, it's OK. Today is a Heritage day, and that means places normally shut are open to the public. It's a national scheme, and it's very good. Well, your mother is smart and keeps her eyes open for all the events in fields for miles around. Go through that gate. OK, stop going on about there being no-one else parked in the car park. Just climb over the gate everyone! It is obviously locked. Squirrel, I have no idea why. Off we go!

I agree, Tiger. It is strange when no-one else is here. But look, this grassy path seems to invite us, so let's go down here. It feels like no-one has trodden here at all, doesn't it? Gosh! Do you see that butterfly! isn't it lovely! Can you take a photo, Tiger?

Oh dear. Did you fall into the bush? Never mind. I'll rub it better. You took a lovely photo! Now, the big path stops here. Well this way seems to lead to that way. I know it's a little path. Of course it's not scary. Can you see a better path? We may as well follow it. Let's go along it and find out. Watch for goblins!

Tiger, stop that silly whimpering. You know I'm joking.

Squirrel, don't argue. Stay in single file. And jump over the nettles. Yes, I know they hurt. I'm already holding some dock leaves. Wow! This path turns into a wood! What a special place! Will you tell daddy about this later? Look at this beautiful glade! That proves you should trust me. I have led you to such beautiful sights! Of course I know where I am going. No. I don't need a map. This is a lesson that you should follow your instinct. We would all be the happier for that.

And look here! Fairy hats!

Shark, try and hold the camera steady when you're taking a photo of them or they will all be blurred. I know it's difficult balancing over the ditch. Would you like to join the fungi group for one of their walks? I'm sure they'd love to have youngsters! Oops! Are you alright, Shark? I've got some dock leaves. And watch where you're putting your feet, Tiger. Oh dear. Never mind. There are plenty of fungi around. If you hadn't stood on them, then a badger might have sat on them. But look down there! What a beautiful lake! Do you know, it's so calm and peaceful I get the impression that no-one ever comes this far down.

Yes, I agree we've walked over an hour and we've seen no-one else. I have no idea why. No, of course the police are not going to arrest me. I have told you already Tiger. We are allowed. It is a Heritage open day and the paths are not well travelled because the site is normally locked.

Did you hear that? Voices! I can hear voices. To the left. Look, here's a bridge. Go over that.

I have no idea why the orange tape is there. Ignore it. Oh there's someone with a clipboard! Look! Two people in a field!

Hello? Oh dear. Guided walk this morning? I didn't know about that. Scientific monitoring? Damage to the ecology? I quite understand. I'm terribly sorry. And when we go back, we must turn right, and right again. Don't take the path to the left. And do not cross the bridge with the orange tape. Oh! We haven't seen a bridge. No. No, we haven't. I think my daughter was confused about that. She's referring to a bridge we went over last week.

And apologies. Again. But I must say, it's an inspirational place to walk.

Er, you wouldn't happen to have a map would you?

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Science and maths. Amazing.

OK, how can we teach science, when everyone knows Grit can bluff her way through art, history, languages and humanities, stuff like that. But not science. Or maths.

I have had an answer to this teaching question which has worked so far. Get Dig to do it. Dig counts as a scientist because he can do sums and has heard of Einstein, so in this house he has been hailed as King of All Science.

But there's a problem. With Dig's increasing absence Grit is faced with taking control of that science education round here. And maths.

Well I confess to being a bit daunted by that. I am at the stage when I can look at a bottle of hair colouring and think that is pretty amazing. And vacuum cleaners? Amazing. That light in the room thing which happens when you press a knobbly switch on the wall? Amazing. Tiger says the light is not brought by fairies nor unicorns who store it in their horns but big things like generators and pylons and wires. Amazing.

In fact Shark, Squirrel and Tiger seem to know a lot of stuff already. That is useful because they tell me things I need to know. Yesterday I swore blind there is an annual sheep wrestling competition where large ladies pin sheep to the ground and rip off all their wool which is stuck on with velcro. This, I was told, is rubbish. I was treated to a five minute lecture on shearing and carding.

But maths? Really, I confess this. I am so crap at maths I have never worked out that area or volume thing which does not make sense to me. Just stop working out what is in the glass, and drink it. Unless it is bleach, or water with food colouring. That is my pragmatic solution.

But of course I fully accept the practical need for science, maths and all things like that. The Gritlets must learn something of these ways of the world, otherwise they will stand in the Co-op in two year's time buying mamma's beer and they will be unable to work out if that old woman on the tills who is deaf and walks with a limp has diddled them again of a pound.

Now I have already started this journey by getting out lots of books and asking Tiger to teach me about electricity. Shark has told me quite a bit about ocean depths and Squirrel who is good at sums taught me about multiplication. Then Shark, Squirrel and Tiger carried out some experiments in the garden which involved chucking puffins about and we called that Newtonian forces. And so we have begun. I have even dedicated two days to this malarky in my new timetable! Wednesdays is maths day, and Fridays is science day! How dedicated is that?

Sure, the other cunning approach is to avoid doing anything at all and go out. Today I drag Dig and the Gritlets to somewhere that might offer science and maths and everything technical all at once, and that is Bletchley Park.

Now the whole world knows about the secret that is Bletchley Park, and they seriously have some wonderful educational stuff there which is fantastic, and makes science and maths a wonderful thing. They even make Alan Turing look a bit sexy and brooding and dashing, like a Johnny Depp of the computer world.

Well the Gritlets do fine here under the capable instruction of Dig who talks about codes and TTY tape. But I am sad to report that within seconds of entering Bletchley Park, Grit's brain closes down and becomes zomboid. I do not know why. Maths and science do this to me. After ten minutes I become a wandering vacant body only brought to life by the sight of a parachute for pigeons. Did you know that? Did you know the British parachuted pigeons about in World War II? Amazing. And as for that machine that goes CLACKCLACKCLACKCLACK BRRR. Amazing.

And I come out of Bletchley Park thinking science and maths and all things technical and technological are wonderful things and I can only use that all-purpose word for them and that is, amazing. I also have some photographs.

And on Grit's progress with the actual science and maths teaching, I'll keep you informed.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Starry starry night

Squirrel's picture of the moon.

Here we are, back to normal, stumbling about a field. This time in the dark.

We attend the local astronomer's meeting, which twice a year opens its lenses to the general public. We all get to go and ooh and aah at Jupiter and four moons, close up. Squirrel, Shark and Tiger say it is the most exciting thing to see and recommend that everyone find an astronomy meeting near you. Grit adds, don't take torches and don't blast the car headlights direct at the organisers.

Grit's picture of the fairy lights she keeps in a bowl upstairs.
She thought about passing these off as the Milky Way,
but considered that you might suss her out on seeing the wires.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Johann Hari and the Independent

Readers of this blog know that 1) Grit is always late with everything and 2) Grit never blogs on current affairs, like who might be the next vice president of the USA. She may be on her knees praying that Sarah Palin comes no nearer to power, but she doesn't blog about that. Plenty other people do, but they don't home ed triplets, so I stick to my area of expertise.

But there is Johann Hari. Hello Johann Hari. Johann Hari gets a regular space to air opinions on life and everything in the Independent newspaper. I guess he's on a salary for that. Most of the time Grit reads his opinions about current affairs and society today and probably can't remember them because she must talk to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger about what we can learn from Richard II and the struggle for power, or how 'any angle drawn in a semicircle is always a right angle' and stuff like that.

Well, Grit sees Johann's just passed an opinion on home ed. Not that he home educates kids of course. I guess no one needs even passing experience in any matters to have an opinion about them. Whether then you should be paid to air them in a national newspaper with an international market is another matter, and I may offer my opinion about that.

After reading Johann's opinions on home ed, I seriously don't know whether to laugh out loud in mockery of this man's scant awareness on this matter or hunt him down and punch him in the face.

Of course I will be measured: home educators are constantly working with opinions, judgements, and attitudes from family, friends, the wider public, and even the police, who can stop us in the street at any time and challenge our decision making. Then we usually have to work hard to tread these lines between defence of what we do, and assertion of our legal rights and responsibilities, while dealing with judgemental attitudes against us, and yet not wilfully piss everyone off, particularly those people who think we do a wrong and bad thing.

And we always have to be very careful in our language. For a start, if I go round presenting education as if it was a child welfare issue, I'd have the weight of the home ed community right down on my head in a very big roar. So we home educators not only have to juggle all opinions, defend ideas, present coherent arguments, we also have to think about what we say. Now how many people would willingly put themselves through that lot on a daily basis in pursuit of their beliefs in education otherwise?

So what has roused Grit to this sad state where she is not blogging her teaching about perpendicular lines, windpumps, and Plantagenet England, but all about an attitude to home ed?

It is this, in the Independent, a paper we receive here at the Pile, thanks to Mr Pooni at the newsagents down our road.
Across Britain, children are half-gleeful and half-groaning as they finally head back to school. But amidst the bustle of the school-run, there are tens of thousands of forgotten children who aren't going anywhere. They are being denied an education – and set up to fail for life. The children left outside the school gates fall into four quite different groups – and each one is a scandal.

The Untaught One: the "home schooled." Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to send your kids to school in Britain. If you decide to keep you child indoors and uneducated, you don't have to inform the local authority – and nobody will come looking. As a result, we have no idea how many children are kept at home. Nobody is counting. But the current estimate is 50,000.

Of course, some of these kids are well-taught – but there is disturbing evidence they are a minority. When the investigative journalist Rob Blackhurst journeyed into the world of British home-schooling, he discovered 12-year-old children who had not been taught to read. The most detailed survey of British parents teaching their kids at home found that 50 per cent don't believe in teaching literacy to eight-year-olds. This leaves Britain with a weirdly divided school system. The majority of kids are constantly cooking on the SAT-grill, endlessly tested and Ofsted-ed – while this minority are totally unwatched.

This means children can even disappear. Seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq, who was found starved to death in her home in Birmingham earlier this year, had been withdrawn from the school system to be "home-schooled". For precisely this reason, home-schooling is illegal in Germany. The law here needs to be altered so local authorities regularly interview home-schooled kids. If they aren't being properly taught, they should be required to enter the normal school system immediately.
To be honest, the confusion of arguments, the ignorance, prejudice, misinformation, lack of coherence or follow through, the misleading information and bizarre logic in that dog's dinner would take several hours to unpick and discuss. Basically, Johann, were you just gripped by the urge to scatter some juicy scandalised words on murder and mayhem?

But let's suppose Johann is right. And the decision to home educate our daughters was taken totally flippantly, without any thought to their education or learning, just yeah, we cannot be arsed to get out of bed, so let's make sure we don't have to! Let's keep them at home! And as this blog shows, we never go out! In Johann's words, we aren't going anywhere!

Great. Now we can use home ed as a cover for lying around all day on a piss-ridden sofa, drinking gin and sometimes beating up and starving Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. That's if we can remember where they are, because naturally we are so doped up we have forgot which radiator we chained them to.

And when we find our kids, the ones who are missing, unwatched, forgotten about, and probably abused - oops! Johann led us straight there to child welfare, mixing that up with education, as if they are exactly the same issues - if we find them, we won't bother ferrying our kids about to all those private lessons and clubs. Those that have routinely shoved Grit's bank account into those dangerous red borders - the ballet, gym, trampoline, ice skating, tennis, sailing, horse riding, RSPB, drama, French. Because what do Shark, Squirrel and Tiger do here anyway? Just meet other kids, learn the stuff they want to in a safe environment with specialists and experts, and become quietly confident and aware about the choices open to them in a rich and complex world. PAH!

But by implication from Johann, the only impulse we would have to take our kids to these events in the outside world is if we were forced to, by the inspectors at the local authority. I guess they would control and choose the clubs and lessons our kids attend. Oh dear, Johann, did you forget that would take a change in the law? Something to do about parental responsibility, and the child you have actually being your responsibility and not handed over to the state? Well anyway, say Mavis at the local council, and not me, their mother, was in charge of deciding whether or not Shark, Squirrel and Tiger should attend these lessons. I wonder what Mavis would choose to properly educate them. Would she choose needlework?

Of course Johann could be right in that I am denying them the type of education you can get at school. Johann, I should know about that. In the school I taught at there was a hammer attack, drug dealing, intentional arson, systematic bullying and pregnancy. And that was my form. So you could be right here. Squirrel is aged eight and what is she doing? Inventing her own coded alphabet. Tsk. She is not dressing like a sexualised doll, playing with Bratz toys, calling Moonbeam to complain that her effing parents won't buy her a new iPhone and see that Tinkertop who is so totally pregnant aged 13? You are right Johann, I have denied Shark, Squirrel and Tiger that education.

And apart from the line of Johann's article that we should all be watched because we are all probably homicidal parents dedicated to destroying our children, there is another line to the argument. That I have set up Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to 'fail for life'. OK, I've got nothing better to do now I locked the kids in the cellar. Let's go with this.

Shall I tell Shark, Squirrel and Tiger that now? That they have failed, so let's not bother? Tiger wants to be an architect right now but if Johann's wise words say that she's failed all her life, let's just not bother, Tiger. Well, Squirrel, say what? You want to take a GCSE in French when you are aged 12? What's that? You love French so much you now attend two lessons a week and have asked for a third? And that we've been supporting your love of that language with tapes, films, books and conversation? Now shall we just say let's NOT BOTHER because JOHANN SAYS YOU ARE GOING TO FAIL.

Fail, I said, Shark! Not sail. Shark, do not be foolish. Of course you are not going to sail round England exploring reef life because you want to be a marine biologist. Now put the bloody book down. I know it is Introductory Oceanography by Harold Thurman but let's be realistic, follow Johann's logic and accept LIFE LONG FAILURE.

I could go on. But now I'm all wearied of Johann's opinions and I'm going to take Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to a workshop to study how to make buildings stay up.

And I will just say to the Independent that if you paid for Johann's piece on home education, you could pay for my article on Sarah Palin. I could even do some research. I'm sure I can get a few ideas from the Sun.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Laughing while learning

Cruising round those blogs again, I cannot help but notice that school has started. There's a lot of mummy wailing and guilt mixed up with alternating sighs of relief and shaking sobs from the cupboard under the stairs where I'm sure the chocolate stash is hidden.

Well I do not want to add to your wonderings about school, or dare I suggest, home education, because the decision to remove a child from school and teach them elsewhere, otherhow, someplace else, is not exactly the lightest decision, like on a scale of 'shall we have fish fingers tonight for tea or should it be fish cakes?'

But look here! It is not all bad! Grit is armed with no more wits and ways than the average woman in the street, and she is still standing. Not only that, but this morning, fired up with her new timetable, she opened a maths book because it is maths day and she ran around the front room being a pair of parallel lines destined never to meet each other. After that excitement, she checked up on the maths book again and carried out a dramatic performance of perpendicular lines having a fight at a right angle. From that point we all had a go at being triangles and angles before Tiger shouted out the word rhomboid and we all cut up cake into shapes to celebrate.

You see? Home education can be no worse a way to spend the waking hours than anything else. And it can keep you fit, feed you cake, teach you something and, if you put your dignity in a box, make the children laugh. All at the same time.

And then you can take everyone swimming
and ooh and aah at all the lines in the locker rooms.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Gene pool

There are many qualities my children possess, but I do not know where they come from.

Not from me, I answer, when Tiger flies snarling at Shark's head with fangs and claws outstretched. That particular combination of genes for beautiful and deadly comes direct from Dig's side. I reckon granny on Dig's side, with that nose and chin combination. She looked Viking to me. She didn't show a temper, or a sword, nor evidence of a blood feud down the WI, but don't be deceived. In these Northumberland villages, it all looks tweedy but there's family honour and vengeance underneath.

Squirrel's hoarding gene I might admit to, because you never know when that sticky tape will come in handy. It is so old the adhesion has bonded together and made an inseparable brown goo, but that might be just what is needed one day when mending something. Like that chair I'm not throwing out.

Shark with the water thing I might see as well, but only just. My father built a sailing boat and then borrowed a book from the library to see how it would work when it hit the water. He only ended up in hospital once from that endeavour.

But this particular gene of Tiger's - affection for anything horse shaped - is nothing to do with me whatsoever. Dig claims the horse gene isn't him either. But I have my suspicions about that because there's more than a mysterious touch of the Welsh about Dig and no-one knows where Owen Glendower got to and I bet he had a horse. So there's a mystery for Tiger to sort out in later life.

I know it's not me because my family are all working class folks, and the only horse we grew up with was the sight of Shipo's brewery horse pulling the cart round Nottingham backstreets. Then, if you can call it a horse education, all us town girls, scrubbed and brushed and picked for grammar school, had to endure an autumn term of reading Black Beauty, and that was torture. I can still recall the groans and face pulling when that tombstone of text fell out the book cupboard. And that sums up my entire history of horse knowledge. In fact these huge and scary animals are as strange and alien to me as a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Possibly slightly more scary, thanks to that nose blowing thing. But like many other fears and natural avoidances, I have had to conquer and overcome them, or as much as I can, in order to negotiate Tiger to her dream. On a horse.

Well here is Tiger. On a horse.

This is the start of her autumn riding lessons with a new stables. I had to dutifully promise these thanks to her previous summer horse adventure week ending up as a failure in a field. I can truly say I am very proud of her. Even if she has a family line that possibly includes Owen Glendower.

Monday, 8 September 2008

New shoes

Foolishly, I have been shopping with Squirrel. Worse, she is now wearing these.*

The moment Squirrel's radar picked up these in the ninth circle of retail hell, her body made straight for them, her face lit up and her eyes flashed MINE! MINE! MINE! On auto response, Mummy Grit's robotic hands lifted the shoes from the rack and made for her purse containing all the family silver. Even though a residue human part of her brain woke up then and started screaming BAD IDEA! BAD IDEA! BAD IDEA!

But naturally, with a mummy mashed brain now led by the sudden infatuations of an eight-year old, I ignored that voice of experience in my head, passed through the checkout, and then deposited a pair of gold glitter shoes in Squirrel's eager hands. They nearly matched the enormous beaming radiance of her smile.

This should truly be taken as evidence of that instinct we mothers are very good at, that primary instinct called self sacrifice. The type of ritual disemboweling that goes on daily round here. One more step and it will be martyrdom, and then everyone's going to hear about that.

But in this case what has been sacrificed in exchange for Squirrel's pointless new shoes is Grit's ability to think independently and reason logically, along with the good taste she is sure she once possessed, but which it is now lying in a dark cupboard somewhere, along with some size 8 clothing, several pairs of high heels and something called dignity.

If I were to let reason guide me instead of the sparkling eyes of an eight-year old, I would have explained to Squirrel calmly and rationally that these are not exactly a pair of functional winter shoes for puddling purposes and they are unlikely to see us through the next field without the glitter dropping off.

What I would have also thought, but not said, is that there is no chance I can live with both Squirrel and Tiger in a house which contains only one pair of gold glitter shoes. When Tiger sees these, I fear I am doomed.

She will instantly fall in love with them, forsake us all to get her hands on them, and my life will be leaden and unbearable until I get her down the shoe shop. For Tiger, the best expression of her identity, when it is not a pair of jodhpurs, is a party dress in pink. Crushed red velvet with satin ribbon will do, but it is not nearly as good as pink with sequins and fake diamonds. Sparkly shoes would just set off that strawberry froth a treat. And soon enough I will be beating myself up that I did not buy at least five pairs of gold glitter shoes in three different sizes to last both Squirrel and Tiger through the winter.

Well it is too late now. Squirrel is armed and dangerous with these and this morning has walked downstairs with the equivalent of a couple of grenades strapped to her feet. I gambled on Shark peering at them in disdain and declaring them ridiculous because you cannot go sailing in them, and I have won that one. Tiger took one look at them along with an inbreath and declared loudly that Squirrel has new shoes and she has no new shoes and nothing to wear on her feet. We are now a whisper away from the claim that she has never had anything to put on her feet and this is evidence that she is not wanted in this family and may have to leave it to find a family that actually cares enough about her to let her wear sparkly shoes and a pink party dress at any time of the day and night and in the bath as well, because once on, she is never taking that outfit off and may possibly rather die.

Well then a remarkable thing happened. Because as Squirrel stood there in all her morning glory we all became aware of something horrible. Squirrel had appeared in her new glitter shoes in public for the first time teamed with a pair of blue striped socks and purple leggings with a hole in the knee. This was colour torture for my eye balls. In fact I was not the only one wincing in pain at the sight of that dog's dinner. After a moment Tiger's eyes started to narrow and her lip curl, and I could see a new wave of rationality and consideration sweep in. And at that moment I was so glad that she could see those colours and feel that pain at the age of eight. It certainly was not a reaction she would have experienced aged six.

And right now I am sighing in relief. I am not saying I am saved from the demand for a second pair of gold glitter shoes. Just that, for the moment, I have a stay of execution.

*I forced Squirrel to change into white socks for this photo. Oh yes I did.
And this proves that sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

School of Grit

Grit is astounded.

Today she learns that an education based on life skills is not just for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, and thousands of home ed kids just like them, but it is also for stressed out adults with too much money and not enough sense to pick up a book or visit a field.

School of life, do you know that home educators are already doing what you're hoping to make a fortune from? If a home educator wants to find out how fine furniture is made, we go and speak to a man who makes chairs. If we want to discover how the retail environment works, we take the Sainsbury's back of shop tour. If we want to find out about fishing in the South Atlantic ocean, we locate the man with the rolled up albatross and we go and have a look at that.

The thing we did today, in fact.

Then in that intelligent and youthful way we have around here, Grit locates the appropriate books and the supporting resources, and ensures the Gritlets all have a very good time finding out about life.

For example, in the Grit household, we are returning to the theme of electricity. This will involve a pleasant tour of a science museum or discovery park, a purposeful visit to a field to look at some pylons and stare at a sub station, an insightful talk from an expert electrical engineer also known as Big Bro, some practical building of electric circuits, entertaining talk at the dinner table about how to catch lightning in a bottle, and much focused reading on a carefully selected range of material, probably electrical and historical, which we will support with a visit to the library.

We may even find out about Mad Ludwig and his electric castle, and then create a series of sparky drawings using electricity as our theme. Perhaps we could enjoy a real life demonstration and watch daddy Dig mend the toaster. In it all, I expect to give a sermon about the perils of mucking about with a puffin when we should be concentrating on electrocuting lemons, and I may indeed invoke the names of a deity and an apostate angel in the hellfire.

Now with that lot - sorry, course - either Grit is very zeitgeist, or I am missing a trick.

I shall tell Shark, Squirrel and Tiger that this exciting and energising course, running once a week over the next six weeks, can be theirs for a mere £180. (Obviously I have to undercut your £195 quid.)

And if any stressed out adult with more money than sense would like to study here the big issues of life - love, politics, work, family and play - then please feel free to read this blog and afterwards enclose an enormous cheque to Grit and the Gritlets.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Grit may be in a field near you

I should title this blog Things to do in English Fields, because that is how I spend my time. In fields, doing things. Those things can be pretty hard to describe sometimes, because they do not seem that normal, even to me, and believe me when I say that I have had to accept quite a few non-normal things these past few years.

There would have been one time, probably five or four years ago, when I would have gone out into that field with Shark, Squirrel and Tiger squabbling behind me, and wept, silently. Like, for pity's sake, what am I doing here in this wilderness? I am watching a grown man make a noise like a pee-wit, or an otherwise sensible woman declare that now she is chasing a bear and can we all join in? In time I too had to take my turn and pretend great fun on a shaking bicycle round grey Kielder Water, breaking out into a cold sweat, losing all hope, three kids streaming, screaming behind, in the middle of nowhere singing with rising blind panic incy wincy spider like the repetition might ward off all the disaster the devil could muster, when really by then all I wanted to do was sink to the ground, give in, and kill myself to get it over and done with, instead of slow grieving death forced by minutes in every hour.

Then came a time of resignation, like this is how life is. And I am powerless to change much, for better or worse, so I'd better make the best of it. Anyway I have considered that killing myself is probably going to hurt and by now I would worry what would happen to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, so I had better squeeze on those wellington boots and bloody well enjoy those fields. Even the muddy ones.

Now I actually welcome this life, my days spent in fields, under the guise of home education, doing things, even those bizarre things to which I have to say, erm, you had to be there. And Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are now sometimes jolly companions and throw me remarks like 'I am not sewing up another buzzy cover for anyone' when taken into the middle of a field and told it is their turn to make a bra for a fish. What's that Shark? Do you want willow or hazel?

Well today is one of those days when we find an English field. And we do bizarre things in it. And I have a splendid time. And I may just have to say, erm, to get this, you had to be there.

The British Lumberjack Sports Association.

Basket weaving is very relaxing.

Sculpting with chainsaw.

Learning how to use fire sticks.

Finding out how to slice wood.

Of course we do these things dressed like pink princesses.

And we can always look forward to the drive home.