Sunday, 30 November 2008

The autonomous journey

Really, I cannot be a fully paid up member of the autonomous home ed collective. To be educating autonomously means that the child leads everything. Every inquiry, every illogical and impenetrable, confusing, irritating WTF mind jump.

One minute you are explaining how radiators work and suggesting you build a scaled model of a central heating system, even though you do not know yourself and hope there is a book in the library. And just as you are trying to think through that process: to create order out of chaos: to logically order that junk of stuff in that mummy-mashed brain and do right educationally by your small dependent Squirrel, you find she is bored already, and has wandered off to stuff Sindy doll in the freezer in a cryogenics experiment. Then while you wonder whether to chase Squirrel and pin her down with copper piping and a ventilator fan, Tiger is slicing through your brain with a squealing hot knife of Sharksaysthecameraishers! Sharksaysthecameraishers! And if that is not enough, Shark appears clutching a broken camera and inquiring sweetly, Can we make cake?

Basically, the combination of me, triplets and autonomous education, in this house, all together, does not equate. No-one would get anything done. And I would have to revert to Plan A. Suicide.

So what do I do? I plot. I plan. I think ahead. I use diaries, think about maths days and work out how to get everyone interested in the functions of the liver. I do not mind being a strewer, a fat controller, a spy, a tracer of paths. Because to educate fully autonomously requires that huge well of emotional resilience, a steely, steady nerve, more resistance, inner peace and calm vision than I can ever possess.

Anyway, if I was in doubt, and for one moment believed I could do the autonomous walk in full and complete confidence, without medication or alcohol abuse, then let this moment disabuse me of that thought.

I have just picked this up from the floor.
Daer Jacky
I am in a ces. How are yuo. Plass com to me. I am at ces hper 2. Lot of love from feer. xxxx
I freely admit. I am planning right now how to introduce spelling games into Squirrel's world and make her think she is decorating a balloon.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Old trees

Milton Keynes again, to hear an illustrated talk about old trees and apple orchards. Old trees are lovely, are they not? There they are, on the skyline, distant and ravaged by wind and time. But there's an old woven path to them that once was a drover's way, or the short-cut home by the hedgerow. And, if you take it, you can reach them, touch them, hug their old bones, stroke their crackled leaves, and thank them just for being hundreds of years old. They have survived all the things I could not withstand, like bomb blasts, thunderstorms and gales, and people digging up my favourite fields.

And the message is, look around you and find your old trees, go and say hello and shake their ancient branches.

Before the developers come.

Friday, 28 November 2008

We interrupt this blog... honour of Belgian Waffle, because truly I am humbled to win the waffle's tremendous competition with my sorry tale of Christmas woe and misery, given that there are so many sad, miserable moments swilling around, and which memories we are all going to have to celebrate again quite soon.

But I feel I must say thank you in some suitable way. And it is with this.

Some time ago, as Belgium Waffle was shoving tortoises in her fridge, she draws attention to the medieval cabbages held therein. Well, Belgium Waffle, here is my Savoy cabbage, which sits in our office fridge, and which I keep not for nostalgia purposes, but as an offensive weapon should I ever confront a burglar intent on stealing our meagre stash of Euros (incidentally kept in the office oven).

Now what think you of this beauty?

Inadvertently, Belgian Waffle may have liberated us all. In the same way that we women can now share frank discussion about vaginal discharge and nipple hair, we can now speak cabbage. Come on ladies. It is time. Stand up and be proud. Show us your rotting vegetables.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Nine months late? Is that all?

Grit has finally got around to the gritlet's birthday celebrations. Yes, I know how long ago their birthday actually was. February.

In a moment of stupid drunkenness, foolish Grit casually suggested to the gritlets that for their eighth birthday they could invite some chums to a local paint-your-own ceramics studio. And kids don't forget anything, do they? Like who ate the last slice of pie last December and who had to wear Shark's coat when they didn't want to.

Well I say some things take time. Anyway, in the home educating community you can never get everyone together on the same day at the same time. And Trinny went back to school in September, so she can't come at 2pm, can she?

Oh blimey, just better go with who's around, right here and now, and then I can get the ruddy thing done and dusted by Christmas.

Happy birthday, gritlets!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

A fine day out in London

If you fancy a visit to London, come with the Grit and Dig family today.

Squirrel, stop chattering about mongoose and stand still. I'll take your photo. What train? Dash! Nearly missed it thanks to taking silly pictures of a Squirrel when we can photograph her anywhere. Anyway, it's useful to have a picture. We might lose her again. This time we can tell the police and security staff what's she's wearing. Last time I couldn't remember. Anyway, all aboard!

Now, we're in a public place, no screaming. What's in mama's bag? It's the comb and detangler! Let's get started! And Tiger, no screaming or clutching at your head while you roll about the floor. The other passengers don't like it.

Thank goodness we made it on the Tube. Squirrel? Where's Squirrel? Phew, that was lucky. Can we keep an eye on her now please?

Here we are! First stop! Piccadilly Circus road junction. Mama's on memory lane now. Do you know little gritlets, I worked in an office at the top floor of Liberty's in Regent Street? One day I'll tell you all about it. Although tales of drunken staff hurling computers from windows might have to wait until you're older. Anyway, we're here for Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum with a big bunch of home educators! Squirrel, stop wandering off. Come and have your photo taken at Eros with your sisters while we wait for everyone else.

No arguing. It's a tradition.

And stop kicking the pigeons. I agree they are vile rats with wings and should be exterminated but they're flapping in my direction.

At last all our group is here! In we go!

What an assortment of junk. A duck made out of trash. I cannot say the experience has advanced my understanding of humanity one jot. Although now I can believe I'm living on a planet full of mad people.

Phew! Thank goodness we're out of there! And now we're crossing the Thames! This is fun, isn't it Shark? And where's Squirrel?

Now while we wait for our home ed crowd, let's have a stroll along the river. Remember finding out about Simon de Montfort? We need to pause here everyone for a lesson on the English Parliament. Tiger, come out from that candy floss shop. I'm not buying any.

Aha! This is what we're really here for today, isn't it Shark? An afternoon at the London Aquarium.

Is that funny noise the fire bell? My goodness, listen to the recorded message with a very calm lady repeating, This is an emergency. This is an emergency. This is an emergency. She's not panicking at all, is she? Unlike Squirrel. Dig, hold her hand. She's becoming all scared while we are marched along a dark corridor and thrown out into the street. Typical. That wasn't a very useful way to spend half an hour. Let's have everyone back inside and we can start again.

Now Shark, do I have to keep taking pictures of fish?

OK then. Well look, we've been here four hours now and they're shutting the place up. We'll come back when they've built the walk-through tunnel. Now, shall we do something really ill advised, and walk over to our favourite Spaghetti House and eat pizza and chocolate cake?

What a lovely day out! And off the train just in time to get home for bed! Have we got everyone? Where's Squirrel? Squirrel? Has anyone seen Squirrel?

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

The ballet hell

You can tell I am a woman of aspiration. Because not only am I prepared to suffer Tiger and the horse riding, now I twice-weekly cry in pain at Squirrel with the ballet. This double torture is currently thanks to the Grade 1 exam which requires an extra ballet lesson every week for eight weeks.

What ballet is for, I do not know. I cannot bear it. Many years ago I sat in a posh seat to see the San Francisco ballet troupe all jig along to Swan Lake. No doubt it looked like an extraordinary painting, but the ballet bit I just did not get. And, despite some effort, still don't. It is a lot of thin, wiry women jumping up and down wearing silly clothing. I can jump up and down, not obviously with the bit about being thin, or flexing muscles as strong as road hammers. I tell Squirrel she could do that too, without the unbearable suburban ballet lessons, and I can save the ridiculously large amounts of cash I hand over termly for the privilege of having mug stamped on my forehead, which qualifies me to be fleeced some more for the extra exam lessons, piano rehearsals and hall hire.

What Squirrel is enjoying about the ballet experience, I cannot tell. It would be the sparkly hairgrips and fluffy hairbands so beloved of the coven of ballet mums, only I am too mean to buy her any. And it is not the actual sight of professional ballerinas jumping up and down, because I refuse to let her watch any in case she gets ideas. It could be the fact that both her sisters have declared ballet disgusting and revolting, which probably for Squirrel passes as an endorsement and celebration of her art.

Well for the interim, I am doomed, because the exam is still a week away and there must be this lesson, and this rehearsal, and this additional time, and that practice, because according to Squirrel's ballet teacher Twig, every minute counts.

In all of this miserable woe and prospect of doom I can find only two crumbs of comfort. One is that taking Squirrel to ballet is now, until the end of term, Dig's turn. And the other is that it is not performed outside, in the rain.

This is Squirrel, aged four, in a ballet lesson,
when she was allowed to take in baby lemur and wear skirts we had made ourselves.
Do not say she looks cute. That will only encourage me to keep up her attendance.

Monday, 24 November 2008

A public apology about cabbages

OH NO! Dig has corrected me and says I have got the WRONG COUNTRY and OFFENDED EVERYONE IN SOUTH KOREA.

The national cabbage is apparently the treasure of TAIWAN and he was there when he bought the plastic cabbage and had already left South Korea and was on his way to Hong Kong.

Which just goes to show that not only when Dig is in east Asia and I am down the sewage works I lose all sense of time and place, but that this blog is possibly filled with offensive crap.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Horse day

Of course I have ambitions for my girls. I do not want them lying on the sofa munching crisps, drinking beer, and watching daytime TV like mama. No. I want them to do elegant things. Like horse riding. With an education like this, I am sure to get them in the right circles and marry them off to a distant relative of the British royal family.

I know I must sacrifice something for this type of ambition. So I slap a smile on my face and take Tiger down the stables once a week for her riding lesson.

Fortunately, today I do not have to do that. Because Dig is back, everything is falling neatly into a right and ordered place. It's his job to take her and I can spend the time complaining about it on the blog.

Because not having to spend nearly an hour of misery at the foul horse stink den called the stables, is one mighty big relief. I do not like these great lumbering snorty creatures called horses. OK, I am grown up and no longer believe they are going to kill me, but it doesn't mean I have to like them. Not one bit.

For a start, horses reverse without indicating. Worse, they do not even bother to look at the space they are reversing into. Now, horsey, if I did that type of manoeuvre I would be in big trouble getting out of every car parking space. But I note that when these great hairy creatures do the reversing thing and crash into every innocent person standing behind them looking the other way then there is a big hue and cry and everyone shouts CUTE HORSE! FOOL PERSON! Standing there behind LOVELY HORSE. Clearly, being a non-horse person in the vicinity of these hairy fat monsters means you deserve to be trampled to death.

And that's not my only complaint about the horse, the fact that it can kill me with its arse. They cannot see where they are going. They only look sideways. There is nothing to trust about an animal who does that.

Then there is the hair and the smell and the poo and the hooves. There is nothing cute about these things at all, and do not get me started on the combed ears and tails held up by pink ribbons.

Because that sort of thing is typical as well. They need more looking after than a baby. There are constant ministrations and reverences made not only to this hairy beast but to a variety of weird objects that are treasured more than gold necklaces. Stuff like tack and bit and bridle. All this mountain of stuff is hung up and polished and stroked and cooed over by size zero stable lasses sporting long blond hair in jaunty pony tails and striding about with legs that measure up to my shoulder height.

You see? Normally I must sacrifice my rights to free speech and not shout all this stuff out at the stables. But it's true. Horses get everything their own way, they have stuff to dress up in, and servants to look after the stuff. And for this what do they do all day but crash about making offensive noises?

Of course given our ambitions, it's not for me to make comparisons with the British royal family.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Settling in

Dig is home, so there is much pissed off shouting in the house, mostly from me because, let's face it, we all get used to daddy Dig's absence, and life goes on whether he is in the UK or Korea. Quite simply, having him back takes some readjustment, and such readjustment is completed after a very big row about something significant and vital to all our lives, like who last ate cheese.

Dig probably feels we should be spreading palm leaves on the ground and slaughtering vegetables in celebration. Whereas in reality Grit huffs and puffs Can you not put the cheese away? and the children don't say anything at all because they totally ignore him.

However, if he delves into a briefcase and comes up with a plastic cabbage, modelled after the national treasure of South Korea, then the children are all over him like a rash until they have a monumental fight over possession of the cabbage.

While the gritlets are fighting, blood is flowing, and tears are streaming, Grit is tearing out her hair in despair, shouting Don't you know you have to buy THREE plastic cabbages? while Dig, legging it out of the kitchen, is snorting contemptuously that he has better things to do than carry a bag of plastic cabbages around south east Asia, thank you very much.

Thus begins a day of happy-back-together family harmony in the Grit and Dig household.

And if you doubt the status of a cabbage as emblem of South Korea, scroll down here.

Of course Dig would not have brought home a plastic replica of the other great national Korean symbol, a piece of pork in soy sauce, because we are vegetarian.

Friday, 21 November 2008


Dig comes home to the shires today. When he arrives, he will crash about the office, and fall into the furniture. This is understandable, having lived the last month on Asia time. And I expect his arrival will be made worse by that thing that happens in aeroplanes, where you think it is really three o'clock in the morning but the cabin staff demand you give yourself a blanket bath with a wet flannel while they flick coffee at you and force feed you a Danish pastry.

Well I can't be too sad about those experiences, if they are miserable. In fact it could be argued that Dig deserves some punishment for being away an entire month. When he comes home I can imagine his heart sinks because there's domestic punishment in store for him too.

For a start the house will be irredeemably chaotic, with no five star hotel perfection here. It will have a sort of bomb-blasted charm of course, with a half-finished model of a t-rex on the kitchen table and cut-up paper strewn about the floor, but its charm will have a short lived impact. Soon Dig will see it for the reality it is. A tip.

Then there is the small problem of the cracks in the ceiling, the broken down heating, the floorboard that's still wobbly, the bathroom that's broken, the toilet that leaks.

But of course your lovely wife will be here, smeared in glue and olive oil, wearing the clothes she wore last week with the sort of coiffure that breathes, caravan hair. I will drone on and on about boring things like the door fallen off the washing machine and what the children will be doing next Thursday to put into context the intellectually challenging material you have become accustomed to, like the economic outlook for South Korea to 2050. Then, possibly because no-one is listening to me or seems to care whether I am dead or alive, I might intermittently lie on the floor and weep, thus forcing everyone to step over me.

Dig's punishment probably won't stop there. Sadly, the sight of me is off putting, even to me. I bet sexy wife Grit would have a fantastically shaped body with improbable assets held up without wires, a sassy, classy dress sense, wonderful flawless complexion, fabulous hair and a vibrant sexy laugh, if only I hadn't been kicked about by the last nine years, run over by the steamroller called life, and generally been beaten up and battered down by all circumstance, before being randomly left alone for a month to feed, clothe and educate the children before picking up the bailiff's letters thanks to the bill Dig forgot to pay before he left.

Of course there is always the home punishment called Grit's cooking. Once my vegan tarte and vegetarian risotto was a source of continual delight and interest. Now I am the equivalent of a 1970s recipe book with some pages missing. Dig will look upon his plate like I have served him with a plastic squeaking lizard instead of some fine cuisine inspired by fusion of east and west. Hang on there, that may be true, because these days I do become confused and have been known to put dinner in the toy box.

Welcome home, Dig.

And, by the way, I saw a mouse run across your office floor last night.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Check the diaries, Grit

Of course not all home ed days go exactly to plan. Some might even call them a complete waste of sodding time as we bomb across the countryside to the wonderful English Heritage site of neolithic flint mines: the wonder that is Grimes Graves.

To discover it is shut.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008


Spending last night in a freezing cold caravan with a chemical toilet somewhere south of Bury St Edmunds is symptomatic of home education. Because with home education, we are always in pursuit of something - an English storytelling in a rain lashed field; a feeling for geography in the middle of nowhere clutching a grubby, crumpled, tear-stained map; mathematical knowledge while calculating the cost of twenty pineapples in Tesco on our fingers (and toes), and an insight into scientific methodology while scrubbing away at a charcoal singed kitchen table.

And today I am in pursuit of history and the Roman empire, which naturally involves a drive to Colchester.

Did you know that Colchester was once the capital of Britain? In fact it was so important, Boudica burned the entire place down just to piss off the Romans. After that, the Romans decided they made a sad mistake with Colchester, and opted to make London the centre of happenings instead.

In fact Colchester has probably never fully recovered from that decision. The high street today is dominated by the Victorian splendour of the town hall, but the remaining centre is mostly a sad line of disappointment, with cheap, unimaginative grey buildings. Really, there are some moments when I want to grab council planners by the scruff of the neck, march them up and down their historic centres and shout Why? Why have you let this be done? Why did you allow these buildings of such utter trashy crap be built in one of the most historic sites of England?

Well, we can all be grateful to the mad and wealthy for the preservation of the castle, which having failed to blow up or fall down, is now one of the finest Norman castles to be seen, so make a detour when you're passing.

We're here today to find out all about the Romans, and the Normans, and for the castle tour, which is conducted with great eloquence and authority by an elderly man who might have lived in Colchester all his life. He certainly gives the impression of having done so, and I can only believe the town has hidden glories that induce people to stay. Indeed, this old man helps me to feel so well disposed to Colchester even when their ugly and characterless buildings make me want to hot foot back to the car, that I come over all making-the best-of-a-bad-job and promise pizzas all round at Pizza Express when the museum throws us out.

I have never understood this, but I like it very much. My little gritlets can spend hours in museums, and not only that. They start kicking up a fuss and threatening to scream and squeal when they are ejected out on the street by the security staff who have been pleading with us over the tannoy for the last thirty minutes to come out from behind the medieval hat stand and vacate the building so they can go home. We have so often been shooed out by a harassed looking man in a crumpled uniform jangling the keys that the gritlets probably now think this is the normal way of departing any public building. It will probably stand us good stead in the future.

Our pursuit today then was largely successful. We found the castle, the Romans, some Normans, and the Pizza Express, even though it involved a dreary walk through the endless misery of the high street, and the gritlets were able to answer the test questions at the end of the day in between mouthfuls of mozzarella and toffee chunks.

And for all this knowledge and education, the only sacrifice we have yet to make is a second night in a freezing cold tin box.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

One field leads to another

I know tourists the world over flood into London looking for the great sights, the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, Windsor castle, and I agree that a walk on the Millennium Bridge - over the Thames to the South Bank, the London Eye, Shakespeare's Globe - never fails to give my little heart an extra skip, but do you know, I think I have to be an ambassador for English fields.

OK, as you can see, it's not a passion always shared by the gritlets who look distinctly like Uhuh. Another patch of grass in the middle of nowhere? but these fields hold as much history as all the glamorous sights of London. And here is a history of rural labour, short lives, broken bones, battered hands, beaten backs and weathered faces. What's more, if it were not for the thousands of nameless people who worked over this land, dug these ditches, spread that muck, then Windsor castle with all its crusty class greatness and Keep off the grass signs would not be there at all.

And in this defiant and righteous-for-the-rural-peasantry frame of mind, I drag the gritlets to a fen. Here, as we walk, I'll witter on about peat, wildlife, medieval field drainage and anything else I can think of that might roughly approximate to an education about rural misery in a bog.

This is Wicken Fen, a flat expanse of wetland in Cambridgeshire managed for wildlife, and in winter, it's closed on Mondays. This is very National Trust, don't you think? To close down an entire part of the countryside. Mondays is the traditional day for cleaning, and here that's probably what they do.

Well they make a very good job of it, I tell the gritlets as we cheerily start on our longest walk, and contemplate the huge pits of grey clay mud, good for bricks, but from which there is no escape, unless it is crawling through the mustard coloured banks of reeds and autumn scrub. Once we're over the mud, we look ahead to paths stretching into the distance. I cannot see a soul ahead or behind, and the landscape is flat for miles around. These paths, stretching to the horizon in all directions, could roll on for miles. Useful for fish and fowl, I say to the gritlets, should we be hungry before teatime.

But then the thought suddenly grips me - probably when barking deer hack and cough in murky woodlands somewhere behind us - that we will surely take a false turn. Once lost, the hours escape into dusk, fog will roll over, and we will fall into a bog and be swallowed forever in desolation, never to be seen again.

That would be typical. And suddenly I'm none too sure about this, walking into the middle of nowhere rattling on about fishy dinners and drainage systems with three gritlets squabbling about a stick shaped like a bird.

But we've come this far, and I'm not turning back now. And there is something captivating about this timeless, desolate space, with its otherworldliness. After an hour we could have left the place we normally call earth some years ago; the late afternoon mist gathers around us as if we are unbidden guests in this territory. Useful for outlaws and generally handy for peasantry inclined to rebellion. Murderers too, I bet, could hide out in these unwelcoming lands, although I don't say so.

At our side, slate grey water runs by in straight and even lines, sunk into flat blankets of sedge and grass. These silent channels are direct and purposeful, about their own business, dividing the land like a vast chequerboard. It's easy to be lost here, walking by these channels, hearing only the melancholy coughs from the woodlands, trusting the water knows where it is travelling.

Fortunately I am a clutching a map, wisely picked up from the visitor centre and wrestled out of Squirrel's hand, and I have red dots and lines to follow, hieroglyphs to decipher a return to the car and relative safety from the mists and hollow mournful coughing that I am now sure are hapless ghouls pursuing us. Shark says it is because the light is failing and I am being silly because everyone knows the barking and woodland rustling is nothing, it's just Muntjac deer and Bill Oddie wants to know where they're hiding. Quite frankly, as darkness starts to creep about us, I'd rather they didn't keep following.

After several hours, or perhaps that was years, we reach the car, gladly, cold feet stinging, drenched in semi-darkness, and we have an argument over who's going to put the stick away and who's telling Bill Oddie about the deer, so everything's normal.

And, I add, blowing my fingers to stop them freezing solid, since everyone has been so very good for this long, long walk through nowhere, we'll continue our tour of English fields next week. Next though we'll do it not quite in the middle of nowhere for several hours followed by ghouls, ghosts and medieval murderers. Next week I'll be an ambassador for the local rec, and point out the war time allotments. And who knows, we might even see the neighbourhood cat.

Monday, 17 November 2008

The Battle of Bosworth Field

Grit drags Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to the Battle of Bosworth Field today. The real proper battlefields in Leicester where blood spilled and the visitor centre got built. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger say they'll come so long as they can pick up ideas for reenactment.

Now we normally reenact the Battle of Hastings on the front room carpet, where the sofa cushions do nicely piled up as Senlac Hill, and we do Bannockburn over the back of the sofa so the dead can tip properly into the gorge, but really, there is no substitute for standing on the raddled earth to feel the tremors of battle. Here you can feel the cold wind whip against your cheeks and watch your fingers grow red raw. Here, on the fields encircling small English towns with made-up names like Dadlington and Sutton Cheney, we can breathe that air as the battered and beaten Richard III, or as the triumphant, exhausted rival Henry Tudor, or the thousands of men who waited for that battle sign, fought and fell.

This battle, 22 August 1485, changed the course of English history. Richard, that evil, plotting murderous sod, was hacked after death and some time later thrown in a ditch, and probably lies there still, no-one knows where. Or much cares. Henry Tudor, an efficient administrator, strategist, writer of new history, got the girl, the glory, the Hollywood contract, and started a dynasty to keep Keith Mitchell in paid employment and provide some toys for chums of Cate Blanchett.

And of course here at the exhibition centre the gritlets can try on armour...

watch the battle video...

and take home the all important military strategy so they can reenact the day properly with the bathroom carpet, three unicorns, and a mermaid standing in for Henry Tudor.

Never let it be said that our history education is not respectful.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Ancient woodland in Milton Keynes

Did you know Milton Keynes has ancient woodland? The sort of woodland listed in the Domesday Book? There. You thought Milton Keynes was a new town with some grid roads, didn't you?

This symbolises home ed. We reach the places most people don't even know about. Indeed we are living proof, with our outdoors education, that the great outside is not only reserved for boy scouts, escaped convicts, druids, the underprivileged on a council orienteering course, drink drivers on community service, or a spooky chanting church group. Granted we might belong to the sub-section, mad people and hippies.

The outdoors is our classroom. And thanks to Grit being smart about the location of this ancient woodland and the fact that there's a celebration of wood there today, she makes a bee-line for it. And never mind the drizzle and freezing temperatures.

It's just as well Grit and the gritlets go, because we swell the numbers considerably of people who attend this fine woodland event. In fact we make up fifty percent of the crowd.

People of Milton Keynes, where were you?

While you were sinking into your DFS sofas, cooking in your own lard, hypnotising your brain with daytime TV, arguing with the dysfunctional/extended family over the dead chicken called Sunday lunch or walking pointlessly up and down the tedious mile of the shopping centre, Grit and the gritlets experienced a fine education in this ancient gnarled wood, with four sticks and some wool.

Here are Tiger and Squirrel, making dream catchers. Grit says that in the dream catchers we catch all the bad people like truancy officers who would lock up the outdoors in a big store cupboard and pack the gritlets off to a classroom, to be glowered at by uninspiring teachers bludgeoned half to death by tests and targets who now teach only for job security and not for the love of learning.

Anyway, that's a digression. Here's a man showing off his wood chipper.

And then there's the spring pole lathe. And believe me, we've now quite an education in woodturning.

And what about the charcoal burner? I could kiss that history smack on the lips just for being so old. Indeed 700 years ago, I might have become a charcoal burner's wife.

Grit is then moved to buy a hand carved ash stick, suitable for beating small misbehaving gritlets...

When a man strolls by, taking his Harris hawk* for a flap.

Now, people of Milton Keynes, you should be ashamed of yourselves, not attending this fine celebration of wood and all things woody in the ancient woodland that forms part of your town.

See what you're missing?

* The gritlets say this is a Harris hawk. If it is not, please correct me, and I will beat the gritlets with the new stick.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

It is not art. It is crap.

I see the Jurassic goose has made an appearance again. Or should that read, Mangled up piece of crap Tiger made out of paper in 2004 is dragged out of recycling bin.

And here it is. Or rather here's a photo taken by the proud owner and maker, Tiger. Can you spot the head and neck?

No. I didn't think so. Tiger insisted on taking this photo. She then made me take remedial action via Photoshop because she photographed the goose behind the sofa with the curtains closed and it was all dark.

Dutifully, and because I love Tiger more than all the tea in China, but remain not sorry about trying to send her goose to the shredder, I've shoved her photo through Photoshop as required and shown her the result. Sensing triumph, she then demands it appears on my blog. Here you all can admire it. She is very proud of this goose.

Really, Tiger is gloating, because she realises that throughout this long struggle of goose, bin, photo, and a software package that mama doesn't know how to use, this episode has turned into something of a two hour parental punishment. She probably feels confident it'll teach me not to try and smuggle Jurassic goose in the bin again.

Well Tiger, unlike my first and second attempts, next time I will make sure I am not caught. And let's hope you don't see my raised fist of triumph when I've finally sent this piece of garbage to the paper abattoir where it belongs.

Friday, 14 November 2008

The science of appliances

Really, home education does not prepare children for the modern world. Here we are, Fridays is science day, and I am all set out to read about William Harvey from a kiddy science book as an excuse to dismantle the anatomical body and severed head, when I eye-spy the laundry pile.

Thinking it would be a smart move to have the knickers turning full cycle in the wash while we talk about blood pumping round our bodies - that this would actually represent a well-managed, organised household with twin activities going on - I casually call out to Squirrel, stick on the TV. I'll put on that video about science discoveries and we'll take it from there.

Uhuh. Five minutes later as I've got my head in the washer, there's a sorrowful yelping coming from the front room. All three of them - Shark, Tiger and Squirrel - are standing in a line, staring at the TV forlornly. Isn't it working? I foolishly cry. Squirrel opens her hands palm upwards to the sky and replies with a look of hopelessness, No-one knows how to turn on the TV.

You see? We can talk about circulation in the human body, but we can be outwitted by a TV set bought in 1987 with a wobbly knob and a fallen-off front panel.

Next week I'm teaching Tiger how to open a bag of crisps.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

A better Thursday

Grit is still licking her wounds after last Thursday's drama of five acts drawn out over three hours, titled Let's get ready for gym and trampoline lessons, and is not surprisingly keen to avoid a rerun, so wisely dumps lessons today, and loads the kids in the car headed for Stockwood Discovery Centre.

Perhaps I should feel guilty that we're skipping lessons, but I don't. Because I can cover myself with this lovely and convenient educational theory that all us home educators use; the one that says it doesn't matter what you do, nor where you do it, because the kids will learn something anyhow.

I might try standing Shark on her head in a tub of marmalade to test that theory, but we'll say it works for us today in the newly opened Stockwood. We learn a lot about life in Luton and environs. We learn that Luton is not just an airport or a light industrial zone where you can pick up a second hand Vauxhall car. It is also an ancient seabed swum over by long-necked reptiles, a land of buried flints and axeheads, rolling hills where Celts once settled and where Romans kicked them out, built villas, and buried a lot of gold coins, and a place of deathly knells where many folk were buried, possibly after being slaughtered in unpleasant battle.

We have an argument over a drawer of rocks and a bicycle, but otherwise the day passes with no small contentment from the gritlets, partly because there is a lot to learn here, some videos to watch and buttons to press, and partly because everyone is bribed with a bucket of a fruit salad when we return home as a reward for good behaviour.

And if you are good enough to read this far, here are the pictures from today, an altogether better Thursday.

Squirrel dressing up as a Victorian child
and seizing the reins of a plastic horse.

Shark deciding what to buy at the medieval market stall.

Grit, offering to carry everything including coats,
drinks, picnic hamper, leaflets, and bits of plastic junk
Squirrel has foolishly brought out from the car.

A reconstructed head from the Five Knells at Dunstable Downs.
You see? It's educational round here.
You just can't stop learning things, can you?

Shark being taught a thing or two about suspension by Tiger,
and possibly feeling slightly sick.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Dig comes home to leave again

Dig is popping in today, en route from Hong Kong to India. How global is that? This is the sort of life I only dream about. Anyway he says he needs to pick up the other passport and will you wash these socks?

Now he'll disappear to sleep and, because it's not worth coming out the time zone, he'll get up at 3am to stride about the office in his underwear, shouting at Calcutta because they expect him to transfer between hotels on a bus. In 48 hours he catches the next flight out to Delhi leaving us all to wonder who swept through the house crashing into the tea table, saying it's bedtime so be quiet.

Grit has a similar exotic travelling life, filled with glamour, as you can imagine. Me and Kate Moss, our lives are indistinguishable. I may even be mistaken for her, except I actually do the sordid bits of motherhood thing. Down the local field usually, with gritlets hanging off my body parts. Incidentally, I have begun to wonder if my limbs are detachable because Tiger has taken recently to hanging on my left arm like she knows it comes off, if she pulls hard enough. That would be great, having the gritlets run about the field with a leg or an arm apiece to wave about as weaponry. My torso could have a lie down and get some peace and quiet.

Well now I am thinking about the glamorous life that Grit leads, especially when Dig is in Hong Kong, or Korea, or Delhi, or anywhere, except at home. You might see the resemblance between me and Kate.

Eating. Probably a bit more than Kate. This is actually becoming a bit of a problem because my once super slim Kate lookalike rear is now resembling a bag of boulders escaped from the Peak district. I blame Dig about this, definitely, because this is obviously comfort eating. I am eating because I am comfortable. With no-one else there I can do what I like, including eat Hobnobs in bed at 2am if I want.

Drinking. I'm sure Kate likes to get smashed on Bolly. I'm afraid I am developing a rather more serious habit. Olive oil. This all started because last Wednesday I felt the need to be a member of the upper classes and put out a bowl of superior olive oil tickled with a twist of fresh pepper and sprinkled with a dash of rock salt. One dips one's fresh, warm, crusted bread into this, obviously. Except that after a couple of days I ditched the bread and started scooping up the olive oil with the spoon that Shark says resembles a shovel. After a couple more days I'm slapping that bowl straight at my face, draining it dry and licking it clean. Give it a day longer and I shall dispense with the bowl altogether and go straight for the bottle.

Sleeping. This is disgusting and I don't think I should admit in a public forum that I actually sleep in old clothes, and deliberately at that, so that there is no night and no day there is only time. As you might imagine, Grit conjures up a lovely Kate lookalike image at 3am, dribbling, burping and farting thanks to the Hobnobs and olive oil, while dressed in her Waynetta slob track suit bottoms with an elasticated waist, topped with an old tee-shirt that she has worn continuously for nigh on six days.

Manicuring. Or failing to do that quite as correctly as Kate does. Or actually failing to do anything at all. Virtually all personal care ceases when Dig is not around. You know, ladies, those stray hairs that appear on the upper lip when we are not looking? And which Kate obviously carefully removes? Forget it. I now look like this.

If it could get any worse in the personal care and maintenance department, it does. It is as much as I can do to stay my hand reaching for the Tenna ladies in Tesco. If I slap one of these lovelies round my boulder-like arse I might avoid using the toilet altogether and on some days that would probably be the total expression of personal care that I might aspire to.

But do not think, dear reader, that this sinking down into a ditch is all caused simply because the husband Dig is not around, and that without his manly presence, his strong and guiding hand, I drift all forlorn and lost at sea. It is not. It is because in Dig's absence I can do what the hell I like.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Practical archery

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger attend an archery lesson. This is really just an excuse to hurl pointed projectiles, but the instructor, who pirouettes before he flashes dazzling smiles and theatrically claps his hands together like a game show host, quietly says you are only allowed to shoot the arrows to those round targets, and Squirrel doesn't have one of those strapped to the top of her head, so Shark, please stop trying.

I say the instructor's in charge, so listen to him, even if he does look like a game show host. We know that you two had your routine argument this morning, by which commotion mama knows that you are awake, but let it drop. Squirrel's ear-piercing singing like a rat eating razor blades, waking you up at 7am every morning and refusing to stop even after you have thrown a book at her face, does not mean now you have permission to shoot her.

And by the way, I tell the little grits, here is your history education. Archery and all pointy throwing things is a fundamental development in human civilization because it is a means of hunting tasty rump and not just a means of engaging in warfare with the next door neighbours.

Equipping ourselves with the sort of weaponry that meant humankind could serve up mammoth steak and not scrabble around in the mud grubbing up earthworms is the sort of history we like round here. Practical and active. Better still if it is pointed, sharp and deadly.

And with this sort of experience, I tell the gritlets, you can have an entirely new perspective on battles like Agincourt. Just imagine how black that sky looked if you were French. Quite frankly I would have been cakking myself and legging it as fast as possible to hide behind the nearest tree. In fact when I see Tiger's determination to skewer that lethal point into the target I feel a similar effect.

And I know that in terms of learning about technology warfare with the latest military seek-and-find gear, we have a long way to go, but this sort of amateurishly hopeless have-a-go technique of missing the target everytime while learning ancient sports, warfare and how to catch dinner, is somehow very British.

As is sitting in the bus shelter afterwards, eating chips.

Overall, not a bad day, except for the rat and the razor blade early morning alarm call.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Town planning

So today we are engaged with our project on architecture. Now I can think about Gothic arches instead of self harming.

First, I gather every book I can find on architecture scattered around the house. Then, with Shark, Tiger and Squirrel, we turn each page, oohing and aahing and finger pointing. This occupies us for hours.

We unearth exquisite hand drawings of wonderful buildings from Iraq that might be glorious examples of our earliest human civilisations, if they are not already blasted to smithereens, possibly last Thursday. Leaping through time, we discover ancient baked buildings in Iran, beacons to the world, and I silently thank thousands of sane, splendid, right-thinking people that Sarah Palin is still shooting moose and filming herself talking with turkeys.

Space and time travellers, we walk through ancient Egyptian pyramids and resolve to trek Petra, Athens and Rome together. We recall visits to iron age Dorset forts, fragrant wooden Saxon houses, wonderful Gothic churches, mud and earth houses, and on and on for hours through all continents, armed with wood, plaster, earth, reed, steel, concrete, glass and brick, until we arrive at Gaudi's door and wonder what if every building were round or flowing or shaped like starfish and scattered light around us as we moved and talked.

And while the little gritlets scatter to draw their buildings of the future, I move onto my soapbox in our battered Victorian kitchen, and say that this is the point about architecture. It is about people and how we interact with buildings and how they shape the space we move in. Tiger, I say, as she embarks on designing an earth house for her pet Pegasus, you must be an active participant in a new town environment; look around and think how you would shape these spaces, use them, and rearrange them.

Squirrel, I cry, I want you to come out fighting when the town planners think it's a good idea to concrete the last park for another lookalike Metro Centre car park, or the authorities dismantle the Gothic Victorian church to build another Netto, or the Taliban ride into town, point at the Notre Dame and blow it up.

And you have to be all guns blazing about the buildings created around you in the future, I tell Shark, sure already that she will be. We need inspiring buildings created by visionary thinkers; buildings that will endure and become new wonders of the world.

Well I have no doubt that in this field the gritlets will become vocal, possibly formidable, and dare I admit it, already expressing an interest in establishing an architectural office in Central London, so not without ambition. And they'll need it.

Because some little lad right now is stacking up his building blocks, destined to be a pen pushing little irritant who, in twenty years time, will be in possession of an imagination as rich as that of a dead badger, a meagre council budget, and a bloke he knows with a ton of concrete to offload.

Well little fella, look out. Because on this subject matter, I don't fancy your chances.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Plan for art

Sundays are planning days chez Grit, and for lack of any other plan, I drive the gritlets to Whipsnade. Once here I declare we will plan art for the gritlet exhibition next year.

And there is a plan for this exhibition too, somewhere. I just have to remember what it is, and put it back on track. I know this type of disciplined forward thinking to create a product might go against all the grain for autonomous, spontaneous learning, but please bear in mind we are now dealing with the Grit life/death balance, so go easy on me.

Planning for this exhibition is Grit's antidote to the millions of bits of artwork hourly produced here at the Pile by the triplet art factory, and the output is one in which poor dumb Grit drowns, routinely.

In fact I will argue that this project is also educational because it is an attempt to encourage the gritlets to tackle a long-term goal in a steady, thoughtful manner. Consider too that it takes a special kind of gritty vigilance to actually maintain this plan for more than fifteen seconds and to negotiate it over a lengthy period of time with three little gritlets who'd like to think they can get away with scribbling out a horse hoof in yellow wax crayon and considering the entire project done and dusted.

What's more, come the exhibition, I've suggested to the gritlets that next June we could try and flog the art and turn the enterprise into a business project. In case you are appalled, I can say Shark is totally enthused by this idea of making a few quid and has already turned out three paintings which she says should pay for a laptop. In fact if she carries on with this enthusiasm I might just get cheeky and contact Saatchi.

Anyway, Shark wants to paint a picture of a seal underwater, and her first step is to snap away 120 pictures on Grit's phone camera until it and the seal both squeal.

Shark's next step will be to draw and draw, while misguided Grit hovers about, muttering unhelpful stuff like compositioncolourlineshaperhythm which possibly just gets in everyone's way.

Next, Shark has to put up with Grit being a right little madam because Grit won't let go of the acrylic paints and paintbrushes until Shark has selected one sketch and redrawn that sketch using lots of different colours, reaching a finished piece that she is 110% happy to reproduce on canvas.

Only then will Grit let go of the paint and paintbrushes, and work can begin in the studio (aka the downstairs bathroom with the canvas propped up on a stepladder).

And here's stage one of Shark's new piece, which we call research.

And so you can see the process in action, and the carefully planned stages of this forward thinking project, I'll post pictures of stage two. If I remember.