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.


Potty Mummy said...

You are a better woman than I Grit. Caravans are just that step too far... But I will definitely make time to visit the castle if I ever find myself in the area!

Katherine said...

This reminds me so much of my homeschooling days! Except you write them up better than I... But what I want to know is: Why Bill Oddie?

The Finely Tuned Woman said...

I enjoyed reading this very much and you reminded me of what the town council has allowed to happen to my home town, which was once sweet, but now has all the attraction of a shopping mall. Good for the castle, though, which we don't have enough off anymore in the Netherlands, thanks to an earlier generation of madmen who tore everything down instead of restoring it. I think that was during the time when Queen Emma didn't wave to the people gathered to cheer her on, but blissfully ignored them and looked straight ahead, but that is an aside.

mamacrow said...

lol re Queen Emma! that is now instant justification for my mad habit of waving at everything! (people in dotto trains, fire engines, people on bridges, boats, etc etc) the baby and todler approve but the others are getting less indulgent of it now. Now I can just tell them - remember what happened because of Queen Emma not waving!

comisirations on the freezing caravan. i'm envious of the colchester trip though. Any final conclusions on how to pronounce Boudica?

Maggie May said...

Ah........ I've been to Colchester and really liked it. Reminds me a bit of Chester and Bath. They are all Roman cities. A caravan sounds rather cold right now.

Mr Farty said...

Geography and history were my two least favourite subjects at school. If only my teachers had had your infectious enthusiasm, sigh. You are an inspiration.

Mr Farty said...

ps If you live in the UK, why is your blog set to LA time?

sharon said...

I went there when I was at Primary School! It was great. Glad you enjoyed it too. Shame about the freezing tin box though, hope you took lots of woolly jumpers and blankets with you ;-)

blogthatmama said...

Following my recent experiences I can just see Danny Boy loving a day out like this. We've decided we're going to have to do more ourselves so I'll be taking top tips from you! Had no idea about Colchester's glorious past.

Grit said...

hi folks and thank you all for your comments.

hi katherine! bill oddie presents autumnwatch from the bbc. this programme is so highly valued by the gritlets that he and co-presenters (but especially simon) are up there in the *loved* category, along with tiger's toy snow leopard and chocolate milkshake. they are conducting a survey about where muntjac deer can be found.

i read mamacrow that boudicca is the roman version and bodecia is the celtic. don't know if that's true. choose your preference!

mr farty, i have no idea about time, and this i hope makes me rather interesting in an existentialist manner.

and would you believe people say we are in december? i am still living november.