Saturday, 31 January 2009

What are your discount rates?

Dealing with the law is arguably the downside of home ed. On the upside, home ed can supply you with a cast iron coating of self righteous indignation.

This sense of justified outrage is very useful to have when it comes to entrance fees.

Particularly those of any museum, attraction or event. And at these places, we home educators are strong armed in our self righteousness. Because there is NO WAY we are paying the rate for any ordinary person of the general public, even though it's a Saturday. To the self assured home educator, Saturday is the same as every other day and therefore we qualify for the discount, and don't tell us there isn't one.

And so the righteous Grit walks up to Magna today, the last day of January, and sees that there is a special deal for anyone visiting this science park in February. The ticket bought in February will be converted into an annual pass. Grit immediately embarks on negotiation. Now I want at least the student rate. However, it's foolish to give this away up front, so I go for the first option. Free entry for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. Of course I argue this on the confident basis that we home educate and it is not even February.

Readers, I get it. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger enter free.

Which means that without hesitation I can thoroughly recommend the Magna Science Adventure Centre as a great day out for all your science education needs.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Not one of the best days

Dear diary, I'd only like to record the drive to Sheffield with Dig and the kids. I wish driving up the motorway to our arrival at the Jury's Inn Hotel was the only significant event today.

Oh well, let's get it out the way. We made quite an optimistic start. The journey was fine. After we arrived, it all went downhill. Children and hotel evening catering do not mix. We ended up here.

As you can see, at separate tables, because Tiger and Squirrel aren't talking to Shark. Anyway, we obviously don't eat the burgers. Just the chips and pizza.

I thought I would record this, because after visiting the chip shop in Bradford last year we then read about it in the Independent. Someone drove a car through it. Our presence there followed by disaster might be coincidence. But let's just say over the next few weeks I'll be keeping a close eye on the fortunes of this particular bistro.

But that wasn't the most significant event of the day. No. It was being approached and stopped by the police and an educational welfare officer on a truancy sweep while shopping in Tesco for fruity buns to see us through the journey.

I would like to say that I presented myself as businesslike in dealing with the intrusive questioning and the suspicion I faced from these two people just doing their job. But I didn't. I became argumentative, awkward, difficult, challenging, and refused to comply with any line of questioning until I thought Hey up Grit! If you continue like this you'll be charged with obstruction.

And what forced me to comply, giving up my name and address - although I doubt I am legally obliged to provide either unless I am suspected of a crime - was the thought that here I am standing in Tesco arguing with the police, and in front of Squirrel. And really, I don't want her to see the police as the untrustworthy enemy collecting details for yet another database. We don't home educate to this end. But neither do we home educate to be the target of suspicion.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Resistance is futile

Grit has an overwhelming urge to fool around at the back of the class. Like others before me, this is how to express my resistance.

And there are several great approaches to classroom rebellion. One of the masters of this art was a wiry kid called Jimmy.

Jimmy was fourteen, long and lean, with teeth filed into fangs. He looked strangely flexible, like his body was elastic. He may have used it to slip round shadows, under windows, through doors. With his thin, watching eyes he carried an air of serious intent about him. Perhaps he could have been brilliant. But it had gone entirely to the bad. He had several suspensions and a temporary exclusion strapped on him, and was carrying around behaviour cards and final warnings.

But his parents had threatened to take any teacher to court if we laid one finger on him, sent him out a classroom, looked at him in a funny way or upset him in any way whatsoever. And I was terrified of him. Just the reputation of him was enough. Thank God I don't teach him, I thought. Then one day I had a cover lesson. And Jimmy was in the class I was destined to cover. To escape, I thought I might run off, hide in the toilets, feign sickness. Most of these had been tried by the staff, so I knew I wouldn't get away with it. I walked to that classroom like a woman walking to the gallows.

I can hear the class from down the corridor. It is in chaos, because no one can be as threatening as Jimmy, so that means when Jimmy is there, everyone can do what they like, when they like, and take video footage to prove it. I try swinging back the classroom door suddenly and adopting a menacing stare. No one takes any notice. But I do have on my side the fact that for these kids I am not a regular teacher, so they don't know what I'm capable of. Some of these kids behave badly, but they're still afraid of letters home and groundings. So I shout RIGHT! TO YOUR SEATS! It sort of works, because there's a subsiding in the noise and a few kids plump down in chairs. I take the advantage, stride in, and stand in front of the main desk. And even though there's not complete silence, I start to read, using what I pray is a commanding voice, all the instructions left by the class teacher.

There's a bit of a lull in the room while I'm reading out this list of things to do, and some kids get out folders and pens. Then Jimmy stands up. I ignore him. He walks round the classroom, weaving round the desks. I ignore him. All the kids are tittering away and there's a few low murmurs to egg him on. Then he walks from one side of the classroom to the other in a straight line: to do this he jumps up on desks that are in his way, walks over them, jumps down the other side. The class is breaking up. I ignore it. I ignore Jimmy. I carry on reading the instructions, like nothing is wrong, like Jimmy doesn't exist. I suspect some of his classmates are a bit terrified by his behaviour because he doesn't have everyone behind him for this. Jimmy walks slowly to stand in front of me, where I'm getting to the end of that sheet, and I ignore him. He puts his hands on his hips, leans to one side and looks at me and I do not take my eyes from that sheet where I am reading.

When I reach the end of the instructions, I lower that paper, look round Jimmy like he isn't there, standing straight in front of me, inches away, and I say teacher words like Do you all know what you have to do? Is there anyone who needs help? I will come round and see everyone is OK. You're expected to complete this work. And I set off to the desks closest to me to check that everyone has access to books, pens, papers. Behind me, I can hear ripples of murmurs, some giggles, a few words thrown out like hecklers might, but I won't give in.

When I do turn on my tour round the room, there is Jimmy, lying stretched out on the floor with his trousers round his knees. He neatly divides the classroom in two with his body. To get to the other side of the room, I have to step over him. So that's what I do. For the rest of that lesson I step over Jimmy like he's not there. I totally ignore him. When the other kids mention him, call to him, point or laugh, I look at them blankly, like I can't understand what they're saying because there's no one there, lying stretched out on the floor.

I am absolutely terrified of him, what he might do, what might happen next. When the hour's up, the class floods away, I think the best thing I can do is breathe deep, and breathe again, because I survived.

And that is one pretty smart way to challenge and obstruct; to refuse authority; disrupt a lesson; opt out. It is just what I feel like doing right now, with the following question, which reviews not school education, but home education.

3. Do you think that Government and local authorities have an obligation to ensure that all children in this country are able to achieve the five outcomes? If you answered yes, how do you think Government should ensure this?

I want to do what Jimmy did. As he opposed my authority as a teacher, I want to completely deny the legitimacy of this question. Like Jimmy stood questioning my right to teach, I want to stand before this government and question their legal rights.

The five outcomes are not law. The state has no duty, right nor obligation to assure or impose these outcomes. They have no right to intervene in how I raise my children. The government has no obligation to determine what my children should achieve, no right to insist upon our values and beliefs, no duty to establish our outcomes, nor to define and legislate how we parent.

But the government will ignore me, and that strategy will work. I will be made invisible. Later, I may lie on the floor, like Jimmy, with my trousers round my ankles. The only difference between Jimmy and me is that when I do this, I shall be drunk, in despair, at what I fear is coming for every parent.

Grit's answer to this question is No.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

National Gallery and Royal Institution

Tra la la! Off to the National Gallery for some art and then to the Royal Institution for a science lecture!

Now my dear government, see what miserable lives these wretched home educated children have? Afterwards we will beat them, so do not be alarmed. The education will be temporary, and we will return later to the serious matter of abuse.

But first I must drag Shark, Squirrel and Tiger round the National Gallery for the family argument.

This is a ritual. To reach pictures of monkeys, lions and dragons we have to wade through a heap of Virgin Marys and painful crucifixions in very heavy gilt frames. Tiger quickly becomes fatigued and starts pulling faces. She complains her feet hurt and there is too much paint. I say let's carry on, because there is a monkey, probably, in the next room.

It is a lie. I am hopelessly lost.

I try to navigate my way through the miserable virgins and pink cherubs now dropping out of the sky like obese babies shovelled out from heaven's fat club, but it only makes matters worse. I dig myself into a dark hole lined with miracles and resurrections.

After twenty minutes I start to panic and follow groups of French tourists in the desperate hope that they will lead me to monkeys rather than virgins. Hopeless. I try to disguise my panic, and jolly everyone along with a lecture on baroque and rococo. Tiger becomes distinctly aggressive. Finally, in despair, I give in and plead with one of the bored attendants to find me a monkey. Any monkey will do I say, because Tiger, overcome with beatitude and architecture, is now scowling and snarling and Squirrel and Shark have taken to shoving each other about.

But there it is! Sitting on a wall! I give it a lot of enthusiasm, like this is the finest painted monkey on earth. I do not say it looks like the artist never clapped eyes on a monkey in all his born days. It is monkey mission accomplished.

Now we can get on to the RI and see things blown up.

We are all looking forward to this, and Dig joins us at the Institution. That is a jolly good thing, because Grit is not really a scientist. She just pretends to know about that, clearly unlike art. But the lecture is excellent. A home ed crowd for an audience, a lecturer full of one liners, and a full display of swinging things and flames and funny noises and things that go ping.

Well it is lovely with Dig here, because afterwards, he leads the gritlets round the exhibitions, while I loll about on the sofa pretending to be tired.

Now, I think, did we disturb anyone today? Did we upset the nation? Cause chaos, misery and anarchy? With days like today, extraordinarily ordinary days like today, I really would just like to get on with my home ed. I am extraordinarily fortunate. I can be with my children, lead them about the world while they complain, become difficult, argue, and I can love them, and tell them so, at any time of the day, and despite it all. I can show them badly painted monkeys and things that go ping. I can hold their hands, point to the pavements, the London Underground, anything that takes my fancy, and we can eat noisy food on the train home. Would it be too much to let me just get on with that?

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Questions, questions, questions

Imagine this. Grit sits in a cold school classroom, late in the evening. The fluorescent light spreads a bleak, shadowless pall over the desks and chairs, and us, five adults.

And we are trying, and I mean trying, like struggling with our souls trying, to find something, anything, to speak out on behalf of Jade.

This is the meeting of the English department. And we are struggling to predict a G grade for Jade's GCSE English, to satisfy the school's aim that fewer than 5 per cent of children leave school with no exam passes.

And we can't find anything.

She can write her name suggests one.
I've never seen it
says another.
What about speaking and listening?
She can speak, but not always appropriately
(Does that cover the time Jade jumped up, shouted I'm a dinosaur! and threw a chair at the wall?)
She threw a chair at my wall.
In your lesson too?
Did she do that thing about the dinosaur?

OK, things are looking bad for Jade. When she finally wrote nothing on her exam paper, she got a U grade. At least Wayne wrote a poem titled Piss.

So that was a poor outcome for over ten years of schooling. But hey, Jade went on to work at the local stables picking out horse shit from horse tails. I guess she was happy enough to work there because years later someone said she was still there, aiming to be a farrier.

And with Jade ghosting in my head - Jade who probably wanted only to worship horses, and to that end could not see the point of sitting in lessons, taking exams, squashing her own sense of rebellion and frustration, reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry at a speed of one chapter a week - with the memory of Jade here, I face this next question from the UK government in their 'review' into my home education.

2. Do you think that home educated children are able to achieve the following five Every Child Matters outcomes? Please let us know why you think that.

And this is my first question, as much on Jade's behalf as those kids of my own.

What is an outcome?

For what is Jade? Was she a computer program? Should I have stuffed my teaching notes for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry up her nose, then pulled her ears, and out of her mouth spewed an essay on the minor characters? That would have been convenient. But Jade was not interested in our outcomes. Or anybody's. She was finding her own 'outcomes'. By that, she taught me a great deal.

Like Jade, my children will create their own outcomes, regardless of any outcomes other people would like to dream up, write down, and set out for them. And they'll do it in their own time too, and at their own pace.

But I'm assuming something, aren't I? That you parents of schooled children know all about these outcomes.* That you've got them inked in your mind, that you walk your children to school each day reminding them you will be disappointed if they don't make their five outcomes today.

If you, schooled child parent, do not know what the outcomes are that your children should achieve, then here they are.

  • Be healthy
  • Stay safe
  • Enjoy and achieve
  • Make a positive contribution
  • Achieve economic well-being
And here is my second question.

Are these 'outcomes' of any use to any parent?

But some of these outcomes seem very reasonable, don't they? They fall in with phrases like nothing to hide and show some common sense. Of course parents want children to be healthy and safe and achieve that which gives them happiness and satisfaction. So it seems with these I should have nothing to argue. We could overlook the way things get a little tricky at the end. Achieving economic well being. Because if we paid attention to that, every parent should get their child economically active now because unless your kid's bringing in a wage we're all failing.

But really, are these 'outcomes' useful to you, any parent? We should all be questioning how these statements help anyone: you, Jade, Squirrel, the ten year old over the road who walks everyday to school.

And here's my third question.

Why are these outcomes given to me as something my child should achieve?

Because here is something that bugs me, deeply, about 'common sense' outcomes like this; the sort of common sense stuff that no-one in their right mind would disagree with, unless they had something to hide.

These statements, these ordinary everyday good-for-our-children statements are a way of getting a foot in the door to my family life. Here are statements we can be held by. And every parent, every family, is held up to scrutiny.

Did the judgements and decisions you made today contribute to your child's sense of achievement of these outcomes? Did you do the right thing when you had granny look after your child, or the neighbour, instead of a registered, inspected childminder who knows what outcomes your child should achieve?

And through such questioning of our personal judgements, our family decisions, we are really being given the parameters for our thinking about ourselves as parents.

So what's the next step? Can these outcomes can be tested and measured? That means you, as a parent, need to be monitored, and assessed in your ability to provide these outcomes. And I wonder if a league table for their achievement could be set up? Where would you, and your children stand in that measure today?

And here's my fourth question.

Why are these outcomes made especially applicable to us, as home educators.

Are you parents of schooled children given these questions from school? Are you asked to consider whether your chosen school is meeting these outcomes? Whether each teacher your child met today delivered these outcomes? Are home educators being particularly singled out here? Why?

Well I could go on, with questions, questions, and more questions. Like what is the agenda here? What is the required answer that would best fit that agenda? Who is the audience for this question?

You see, to me, question 2 of the government 'review' simply doesn't make sense. Reading this question feels like looking at a lot of broken threads, but together, they don't make up a full embroidery. Yet this question, and the others, purports to 'review' what I do, everyday, which is to home educate my kids. No doubt the answers I give will be used as a 'result' and may be used as evidence against me.

So who is this question really for? Is it for the person who has an opinion, but no experience of home education? Is it the person who would like home education to be monitored, assessed, regulated, controlled, put under surveillance, made illegal, because everyone knows, common sense tells us that home education can be a cover for brutality and neglect, all a front, a set-up by lazy, idle parents who would rather loll about at home all day long rather than get out of bed, send their kids to school and earn an honest wage? If this question is for people who believe these things, I guess they'll respond No.

Grit's response, meanwhile, is No response.

* The five outcomes originate from the Every Child Matters consultation document. It has opened up a huge range of database-driven surveillance on children and families. And if you are keen to find out more, go here.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Grit, you are puerile

Woke up midday. Jacked up on heroin. CrazyuncleTed - the one with the machete, no teeth and wall eye - called to say he'll trade triplets for wraps. Drank vodka. Two bottles. Dig found eight crazy new hookers for wild sex involving shrubbery, bull terrier, goat heads. Tea time, we chained up Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to the vacuum cleaner which I set to ON and we all mocked them mercilessly with carrots and iced buns. Great day. Posted the party on YouTube. 1,800 views, three comments.

Shhhh! That's my cover.

I wouldn't want anyone to know the grisly, sordid truth of our depraved lives in this house of home educating misery and hell. Like today Shark, Squirrel and Tiger set about celebrating Chinese New Year by reading about the dynasties of China, cutting lino for printing, listening to Chinese music, and helping cook a Chinese meal. It gets worse. I'm ashamed. We managed to fit in lessons in drama and dance.

Now I'd just like to add that if any local educational official is out there reading this blog who thinks the present government 'review' into home education is no reason to get upset, I'd just like to say, fuck off.

But of course I will not, because that would not be dignified. It would be stooping almost as low as sarcasm.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

I am screaming

Hey! Parents who send your kids to school! Indulge me one moment. Imagine the government asks you six questions about your educational choice, and those questions assume you made your educational choice because, secretly, you would like to chain your child to a radiator, abuse them, beat them up, marry them off to your cousin and treat them like a slave.

Would you be a little pissed off by that?

You are standing in the shoes of many home educators right now up and down the UK, who are tearing out their hair in frustration, consternation, and anguish.

And it starts with this.

1. Do you think the current system for safeguarding children who are educated at home is adequate? Please let us know why you think that.

Excuse me? Are there different safeguarding systems in place for schooled kids and home educated kids? Don't all children have the same safeguards, the same rights, in this country? And what is the 'system for safeguarding'? What is that system? Do you mean Social Services? What have they to do with educational choice? Are you confusing welfare and education? Or are you saying that children who are educated from home need extra safeguards? Specific attention from Social Services? Welfare visits? Because their parents choose to have their kids educated from home, rather than school?

And does this question assume that we do not need to focus our minds, monies, systems, attentions and that ever penetrating 'welfare' searchlight on the kids at school? Let's go with that. Let's assume kids are safe at school, right? They are just there 'getting an education'. They are seen there by dinner ladies, staff, teachers, OK? They are with other children, of course!

OK. Maybe we have to assume kids at school are not a danger to each other. And they are never bullied, beaten up, abused, made terrified, or offered drugs. Neither does any kid at school give birth in a toilet, come home effing and blinding, steal cars, carry knives, guns or pepper spray, or get hooked on the pleasures of a vodka and lighter fuel cocktail. Not at all is their education completely trashed by the welfare issues they face.

And the studious hard working kid like yours who goes to school every day because they want to gain 8 GCSEs and 3 A levels? They have to sit there while other kids smash up the learning, destroy the lesson, disrupt the classroom, send the teacher fleeing from the room. I bet you never hear stories like that; how some crazy kid managed to destroy lessons that day, got sent out, suspended, excluded. Nope. Never. None of those things.

Like, for example, Wayne. In Grit's Hell School Wayne slapped a replica gun on the desk one morning in an English lesson and sparked mass classroom hysteria. That was nothing about Wayne's welfare issues intruding on his and everyone else's education, was it?

And then, Jim! Dear Jim! Where are you now! Remember that time you poured lighter fuel over the desk in the computer room and set it alight? Hey, because you were at school, and everyone knew you there as the brain-melted school drug dealer, that was OK! No special welfare issues there! Neither me nor all your little classroom chums needed protecting from you in any way at all, no we did not! We didn't need SAFEGUARDING!

Then of course there are those kids who attend school every day, who are 'known to the system', and known to many teachers. Those kids who are routinely beaten up, sexually abused, who won't go home because they are terrified, who one day find mum's left, dad's down the pub, big bro brought home his dealer friend, and the six year old is in charge of the baby. How slowly do the welfare wheels grind along there, so slowly that anyone looking at those situations would think nothing was happening to help those children at all!

No, we don't need to pay extra special attention to the welfare issues of these children educated at school each day, because guess what?

There is a little girl in Basingstoke being HOME EDUCATED.

And the state, who clearly cannot cope with the educational and welfare problems happening DAILY in UK schools, turns their attention to the parents of that home educated child.

But instead of saying, Hey, well done! What a bucketload of hard work! Can we learn anything from the way your child learns? the state suggests - makes that insinuation - that children at home are somehow, anyhow, unsafe, and that the SAFEGUARDS for these home educated children are unlike the safeguards in school: that scrutiny of welfare issues in the home is somehow inadequate.

So, hey, little girl in Basingstoke! What did you do for your education today? What? Cook cakes! Try experiments with water in the garden? Play with your friends in the park? Go to your dance lesson? Do some reading with mummy? Talk about how you'd like to walk the dog for the old lady next door?


ADMIT IT. You were tied to the radiator with worms pushed up your nose and then you were beaten with a wooden spoon and made to eat cat poopy soil and tomorrow you will be bundled into the car and married off to the mad-cousin-woman-beater and we can assume the people doing that to you are YOUR PARENTS and they are using HOME EDUCATION as a COVER.

Today, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger - the 8-year old triplets whose parents chose home education as the form of learning that would best match our family goals and suit the individual needs of these three children, and who are educated from home because of the appalling welfare issues disrupting education in schools - these three children of ours listened to the CD audio collection of Treasure Island. We then looked in lots of books to read about pirates, we studied the atlas, talked about Blackbeard, privateers, pirates, trade and wealth, before they scampered off to draw secret maps and stain them with tea bags.

This is of course all a cover for the Satanic rites we regularly engage in where we dance around the house naked and beat the children with goat heads.

So what it Grit's answer to the first question of the 'consultation' on home education?

No response.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Don't mention the horse nose

I want to take the man who invented Shrinkles and I want to give him a damn big smackeroo for bringing five hours worth of peace to this household today.

Well, until Princess Fairy Raindrop created a diplomatic incident by pointing out King Horse Julian's nose had a slice taken out of it. Then the dolphins got involved by laughing and made everything worse. As night follows day, The War of the Kitchen Table began. Order was not restored until all the Shrinkles knights were banished to their rooms to consider the errors of their ways and the great Grit Controller picked up the kitchen chairs.

The offending injury

Until that point, great.

Friday, 23 January 2009

One body, two Grits

I am a better educator than I am a mother.

As a mother I slump all slattern and sloven and foul mouthed, what with under-the-breath curses, betrayals, denials, fuckthisshittothat noihaven'twashedthesoddingknickers i'mleaving i'vehadefuckingnuff.

And I'll bet my own mother's ghost is hovering over me right now, groaning, holding her head in her hands. In despair at my motherhood, she'll resolve at the first opportunity to snatch hold of the scruff of my neck and give me a walloping in punishment for smart-lipping her granddaughter not five minutes ago, when I growled that if she squeals that whiny voice once more about being forced to wear yesterday's leggings, I will sell her to the dustman.

Because this Mummy Grit to Squirrel, Tiger and Shark, she is foul. Don't tell me otherwise. Dismissive, impatient, hard edged, talk to the hand. I don't know where this bad mother came from. All I can say, mother ghost over my shoulder, is that I am sorry about my bad mother ways. You can tell me I take after the mad, bad father ghost.

But, mother ghost, watch over me here today with an educational day, and I will do you proud. I listen to Squirrel, Tiger and Shark. I talk reasonably. No blasphemy stuff. I argue through points of views, theories, alternative approaches. We reach consent and agreement and harmony and throughout I have a patience that I can't believe is really me.

Really, the educator Grit is much nicer than the mummy Grit.

Perhaps I learned how to be educator Grit from two years teaching in School Hell. Kids routinely did bad stuff, like shoot each other, peddle drugs, engage in gang warfare and fight till the blood ran red over the ping pong table. I listened every morning to who got beaten up, who made the girl pregnant, who was thrown out from home, who paid what for a heroin wrap and why that is a worse deal than yesterday. After that I had to deliver a pastoral lesson on how to manage a budget shop at Tesco. No wonder the experience gave me practice in how to be patient in adversity; how to draw deep breaths, sigh, dodge bullets and just get on with it.

You see, mother ghost, even though I fail you daily on being the caring, gentle mummy Grit, the mirror of how you always tried to be with me, don't give up on me. Because there is hope for me yet as that kind and tolerant educator Grit.

The educator Grit took your granddaughters to the space centre today, and was truly calm and patient and talked through history and astronomy and asteroid melt down and physics and maths and never once lost her cool, and the little gritlets even saw the starshow twice, thanks to educator Grit's sweet talking ways.

And we discussed Galileo, saw Saturn in the bath, made Mercury freeze, threw asteroids, launched space rockets, danced in the stars and everyone was simply happy.

Bad mummy Grit

Good educator Grit

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Together and apart

There are some moments I look back to the triplet toddler years and sigh with affection.

After all, we did the same things together, at the same time, mostly in the same direction. Life was straightforward like that. When one went to the park, we all went to the park. We took two hours to walk five minutes up the road, had a big fight at the swings, then came home in a screaming fit. I wept and hit the whisky. Happy days.

Because now, life is complicated. In fact these three kids express their individual interests in so many ways, it is downright confusing.

Like Squirrel is enjoying gym and trampoline again this term, but her sisters have given up on that. Tiger gave up because she would rather stay at home and make stuff, and Shark because she would rather stay at home and read. Hey, the other day she went off with Squirrel to the local playground and took Jill Paton Walsh in her pocket. When me and Dig fell about laughing at our little bluestocking, she didn't see the joke. The fact that here we are, home educating for her right to childhood freedom to run and play and handstand in the park on a Tuesday morning, and she chooses to absorb herself in a world war story so she can add another book review to her reading log.

And this shows the big difference between these three kids, emerging daily. Sometimes I think they are not triplet sisters at all, they share so few interests, apart from who got in the bath first, who ate a molecule more of chocolate cake, and who owns that toy camel, even though the toy camels are all identical and came out the factory nose to tail one after the other.

Well maybe they have a point there, because Squirrel is a complete opposite from Shark in so many ways, even though, like the camels, they are supposed to be identicals.

Squirrel loves carefree movement and activity. She loves dressing up and throwing herself about, and if she can dance it and jump it, waving her arms like a windmill, brilliant. Shark, on the other hand, likes to control stuff. Sails best of all. And when she can't do that, then frying pans, the TV remote, computers, sheaths of paper. Tiger meanwhile needs a constant supply of paint, cardboard boxes, pipe cleaners, wiggly eyes, feathers, wool. And you will have entertained her until 4pm when she will complain about glue, but you will be the proud owner of a replica Javanese orchestra you can float in the bath.

I hardly need to add that meeting all these diverse needs takes a good deal of flexible management and swift prediction. And a car fully topped up with petrol, so thank you Dig. But not surprisingly, with these three very different people finding their own routes and roles in life, really we are forever exploring that boundary between autonomy and anarchy.

So I just want to say girls - as today you all go about your different adventures and I drive in three directions at once - I am glad you are all so different, and that you are developing so many far apart interests and expressions of yourselves that you can all be dancing and swimming and skating and sailing and studying and cooking and yearning to do cartwheels, all at the same time, all in different places, and you need only the transport to get there.

But I hope with all my heart that there are grown up days ahead of you when you are all eating chocolate cake together and are not so far apart that you cannot argue with claws over who got the bigger slice.

Just one for gym

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Easy when you don't try

Now this picture doesn't remind me of me. Not at all. At age eight I was sitting at the formica topped kitchen table in a terraced house on Mansfield Road, weeping. I did not understand percentages. I thought that if I continued not to understand percentages then I would be a totally useless person forever, scorned by my friends, humiliated at school and my parents would stamp reject on my forehead and disown me. Naturally I would die illiterate and homeless, and my world would end with a big zero per cent score.

So I am glad that today Shark can cook cheesy mushrooms for lunch and, when we casually discuss the cost of food in a credit crunch, she can throw in a remark like 'These mushrooms were buy one get one free. That's like 50 per cent off each.'

Yes, Shark. And I swear I never taught you. But I am so happy that you learned about that percentage without the inconsolable weeping.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Project round up

Now the home ed consultation reminds me why we home educate in the first place. Because I consider the primary school system in the UK as promoting an anti education culture. I'm prepared to defend that. It's a system that forgot about a child's interest, enthusiasm, energy, play, excitement, delight, spontaneity. And why? Because these qualities cannot be controlled, monitored, and tested.

Anyway, enough of that. Today Shark, Squirrel and Tiger get on with their own stuff. And this is the roundup of what that stuff is.

Shark Projects
  • Finding out everything watery. Under the sea. Anything, everything. The lot. Knowing it all. And more. Honestly, if she doesn't crack a degree in this subject, I'll eat my head.
  • Reading any fiction with the word dolphin in the title. Then picking fights with the author because they haven't researched their fiction very well and everyone, apparently, knows the difference between the Common and the Atlantic Humpback.
  • Listening to hours of audio stories. Just started Pullman's Northern Lights.
  • Shouting at Squirrel to make her cry. (Non approved activity.)
  • Tending the plastic fish in plastic fish tank.
  • Art stuff in preparation for the summer exhibition. (Trans: Complaining about mummy Grit's resourcing of acrylic paint. Particularly green.)
  • Forward planning. (Pestering mummy Grit about the diving course foolishly promised after heavy drinking session. I will sort it soon, Shark. IwillIwillIwill.)
  • Other art stuff. Printing. (Thank you Mummy Grit for getting the lino boards from scrapstore.)

Squirrel Projects
  • Space, planets, things like that. Sticking glow-in-the-dark stars to the wall in pretty constellations.
  • Hair. Does my hair look nice with this clip?
  • Unicorns. Will Lem marry Blutina? Will Danceyhorn ever escape from the cellar where mummy has chained him to a brick?
  • Jewellery making. Pink is pretty. Look how my bracelet sparkles!
  • Screaming.
  • Tying the furniture together with long lengths of orange wool.
  • Constructing complex playgrounds for mice.
  • Flower arranging.
  • Reading books about monsters and a poisonous caterpillar called Henry. (Squirrel? Are you feeling alright?)
  • Doing something inscrutable with cut out pictures of toucans and budgies. Or rather, getting Tiger to do it and then saying 'That's mine.'

Tiger Projects
  • Costume making for dolly aka Frankenstein.
  • Claiming to be researching the history of textiles from pre-history to the present day.
  • Finding out about Highwaymen. Only the ones who wore nice clothes, obviously.
  • Doing Squirrel's paper gluing projects.
  • Pretending to be a cat.
  • Knitting, weaving, helping Squirrel tie up the furniture until mummy comes along shouting and wielding a pair of scissors.
  • Complaining about Shark.
  • Reading the PGL brochure over and over again and counting the days.
  • Worshipping a horse.
  • Making this cushion cover with wool and a tool which looks like a surgical instrument.

There. All innocent, child-led, play-driven, engaging stuff. And considerably more satisfying than Attainment target 1, Level 2, Worksheet 9.

Monday, 19 January 2009


Really, there is only one thing on our minds today. And that is intense discussion about the UK government review of home education.

After some debate, Grit feels she needs now to scream rude words that would burn her lips, peel back her facial skin and foul the blue air with sulphurous acid. Yes, I feel that insulted by these questions. If screaming excoriating vitriol could be the answer, I would be a satisfied woman.

I am therefore grateful that there are so many wise voices and thoughtful responses swirling around, because I may have to hold onto these voices to calibrate my venomous outbursts and unreasonable persecution of the kitchen bin.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Peaceful interlude

Calmed by yesterday's fish and exotic adventures, Shark takes control of the Ten Minute Cookbook and prepares lunch.

I settle Tiger down in front of a DVD of Ben Hur which I call research in preparation for her next animated movie adventure set in the Roman arena, and Squirrel amuses herself making dresses for the hand-stitched dolly I have nicknamed Frankenstein due to the resemblance.

Two peaceful hours later we are treated to this:

Tomato and basil in filo pastry boats

Mango tarte

A quiet day, with no screaming to report. We all resolve to travel to London without each other as soon as possible.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Day off

Shark travels to London with daddy Dig. This is her one-to-one time. It is also our reaction to the nuisance she can make of herself by yelling volume 11 abuse at Squirrel every morning at 8am from the top bunk. And to the bullying tactics she is currently adopting with Tiger, who has taken to fleeing the room the moment things look tricky. Add that to the thumping she gave me yesterday and the abuse she is now routinely hurling at Dig.

The theory is that, with one-to-one time, we can pay Shark some attention, give Squirrel a rest, and take the screaming banshee practising her obscenities away from my vicinity before I put that threat into action and drive her, sobbing, broken-hearted, determined and vengeful, to the Metro Centre to abandon her.

Shark and daddy Dig have quite an adventure after spending six hours gazing at specimens of marine animals in pickle at the Natural History Museum. At home time they are abandoned by the train company at Euston, have to leg it over to Paddington, get thrown off the train early, are picked up by strangers, one of whom turns out to be a school inspector, and are driven home to arrive at 10pm.

We tell Shark that this is an excellent introduction to the perils of travel in faraway places like India and China. Daddy Dig says Shark has totally risen to the challenge and that she is sweet, courteous, well mannered and calm throughout the ordeal, even managing to charm the school inspector with articulate and erudite tales of giant squid and angler fish.

And when life with Shark become dodgy again, I will have to re-think my plan of abandoning her at the Metro Centre, because with a travel experience like this and her calm and resourceful attitude, she may possibly find her way home.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Quality time

Nine years ago me and Dig decided to feed ourselves junk. From the takeaway.

Since then, once a month, we've chewed our way through crap stewed in monosodium glutamate, toxic synthetics, volcanic reds, and rat poison.

Because once the kids beamed down from the mother ship, eating junk was the only way to keep together that haphazard arrangement known as our marriage. No more erotic encounters in exotic locations. No more jungle treks. No more late night champagne parties. Not for me. With three beings hanging from my limbs Dig went off to do those things while a malfunctioning brain sat me down at home and programmed me to protect and preserve the newly delivered little aliens.

And just about the only marriage moment me and Dig have shared together since Shark, Squirrel and Tiger landed on planet Earth is the pleasure we call the takeaway. This means strap the little aliens into bed early and abuse our mortal bodies with curry and tartrazine before sharing the romantic foreplay of a fart and a belch and collapsing into the sleep of the damned thanks to the aspartamane.

But in recent years we have had to accept change even there. The little aliens are now big aliens. They won't sleep before 11pm and have muscled in on the romantic encounter to demand peshwari nan, onion bhaji and pilau rice.

Well that's just how things stand. Our fragile marriage is glued together with a monthly dose of vegetable jalfrezi and we have introduced the alien beings to the Earthly delights of curry cocktail, fatty heart attack juice, and a brain exploding chemical compound called mint dip.

This experience we may now call, not quality marriage time, but family bonding time.

Now there is no real point to all this, except to note that this evening's Sunset Yellow takeaway for two adults and three children cost £140. This is because there is a new waiter at the local balti house who is having trouble operating the card machine and punched in the amount at least five times before Dig despaired, paid cash, and came home complaining.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Move over on that couch

There is an evil bit of me that would like to drive Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to the Metro Centre car park, kick them out, then drive 370 miles back home.

But I cannot. It is a cruel world, is it not, what with legal niceties like child neglect standing in the way of just punishment for the TWO HOUR argument over who spends longest on the toilet.

Instead I will post the contents of their most secret and private HP Photosmart E327 digital camera. The one that Dig bought for them to prove that he does not love them, has never loved them and, according to Tiger, only wants to tell them off for screaming and shouting in the bathroom, when all they were engaged in was a moderate discussion about who flushed the toilet last and who deserves to die first.

Girls, I have now looked at all your 185 photographs and made my selection. Be grateful. You deserve worse.

Engaged in shifty business behind dubious model made out of foam.
I hope these kids of mine find a comfy couch with a psychoanalyst who doesn't nod off.

Not really.
Paint. All over the table.
Squirrel said it looked pretty.
I think it looks like part of the English coastline.
I hope there's plenty of room on that couch.

A mouse on a lift. Off to the zip wire.
Can you see the terror in the mouse's eyes?
Tiger's just practising until she gets hold of the real thing.

Look at that! That's art, right? Every cloud has a silver lining, eh? I almost love them again.

Pegasus on a zip wire.
The green dragonfly is probably a coach because Pegasus is scared shitless.

Cute! Mummy snowman and two baby snowmen!

The third baby snowman is in the ditch with a stake through its face.
Has anyone got the number of a good psychiatrist?


Girls, did you really have to photograph all 74 pages of Tintin?
Can't you just bloody read the thing?

A cupboard door.

A bubble.

Behold! The divine carrot! (and something else which might be a piece of rolled up cloth, I don't know, stop asking). Is Squirrel's home grown carrot not the carrot of the LORD? Why else would this photograph show the glorious shining light of judgement! This could be the most splendid photograph of the Lord's doings since Mary's face appeared on a pizza.

There. I have held up these photographs to the world. Without permission. That has to be the cruellest cut of all. Girls, you can take revenge one day. When I am dead, you can publish that passport photograph of me from 1975. The one with the eyebrows.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Grit, your continual lateness continues to astound us

Normally I have excuses for late blog entries. It is that I am an overwhelmed, under-resourced inadequate, worse the wear after two large glasses of beer.

Add to that, I am worn out and hoarse after yelling at small kids arguing at who gets in the bath first. Then by 10.30 pm I still have the kitchen to clean up, a mouse to deprive of trodden in bits of pasta and the rubbish to put out because it is bin night. Not forgetting the stink pile called laundry. Or the dishwasher, because let's face it Dig does absolutely sod all in that domestic direction. Plus the online library fines which will go up at midnight and the email I need to reply to, sent two weeks ago marked URGENT and probably containing a death threat.

Then spewing my mind nightly into the blogger confessional so I can go to bed cleansed and refreshed takes at least twenty minutes. Some days I cannot squeeze in twenty minutes before I pass out.

These are my normal reasons for always being behind on the date with the blogging thing. But today I have a better. The server in the cupboard keeps breaking down and making life very bad. So Dig took out the server from the cupboard then dropped it in the hall. It made a big bang sound. Dig then drank heavily and attacked things with screwdrivers. As a result we have internet access again but it keeps going off. As you can see, I am quite the technician when it comes to talking about wires and things like that.

Well Dig has probably saved the day. And I am posting this now. Which should mean I am on track to be late again tomorrow.

Monday, 12 January 2009

No pets. NO. NO. NO.

So far in the Grit and Dig household, life sounds like this:

Can we have a pet?
Can we have a pet?
Can we have a pet?
[Repeat for two hours.]

Then, without warning, shout I will think about a tortoise!

In the following 24 hours, research tortoises. See what Jaywalker must do to make tortoises interesting. Declare tortoises are off.

Swiftly followed, from Shark:

Can I have a fish?
Can I have a fish?
Can I have a fish?
[Repeat for two hours.]

On this, Mummy Grit is determined, so don't try and change my mind. Because we might go to Hong Kong. Yeah. We might do that. I tell Shark.

We cannot have fish. We might move to Hong Kong.

Can I take the fish with me?


Can someone look after it?

They could come round to feed it.
Why? Why will no one look after my fish?
[despairing wailing]
No-one will fish sit. It will have to go down the toilet.

Nooo! Noooooooooo! Nooooooooooo!
[Much screaming, crying and piteous shrieking ensues.]

But Mummy Grit has a heart. Of course she has. I am not made of stone. I hear Shark's pain. I buy Shark a plastic aquarium and three plastic fish from the charity shop. It costs me 25p in the sale.

Reader, it is the best 25p I have ever spent. Shark loves these fish. She has made seaweed from beads. And here are the photographs that now sit at her bedside.

I have found the perfect pet.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Salcey Forest

Hurray! To the woods again! And we don't even have a dead body to bury.

Nope. We are off to a guided history walk through Salcey Forest. Ancient woodland, Medieval hunting forest, possible route for a Roman road, site of iron age farmstead and maybe, just maybe, site of solstice and sacrifice, Druid magic and mystery.

And I took only Tiger and Shark with me. There was no fuss. Squirrel wanted to stay at home with daddy and build a radio.

Now as we set off, driving down the lanes to meet the ranger I thought how easy and effortless this parting had been achieved, with Squirrel's immediate No thanks to my question Do you want to come on the walk with me today? How her response was really that simple and it made me think how grown up and independent are my eight-year old, soon to be nine, triplet girls.

Because, once upon a time Squirrel, Shark and Tiger, one of you would have stayed at home and my heart would be torn in two. The reason one of you stayed would have escaped me. Perhaps it was because you had to tie a piece of string to the end of a cup hook in the kitchen and you couldn't do that thing, and you became more and more frustrated, unable to leave it and wanting to come away and join us all at the same time. But we couldn't wait for your little fingers to learn how to tie knots! The show started in twenty minutes, the place was closing, time was moving on, the train would leave, we needed to be gone. Then mummy would say something really foolish, like Come away! Quickly!

Then everything is ruined. There's no time to tie the string to the cup hook. It has to be the end of the world. We all press the nuclear holocaust button. Everyone is screaming and crying. Mummy slams the door in a mix of despair and firm resolution because the other two are sitting in the car waiting to go, so it's now or never. She drives off broken-hearted leaving daddy Dig with a miserable look on his face and his cute little kid surrounded by broken string and smashed crockery.

And today. Mummy Grit just says, Who wants to come on the walk with me? and Squirrel says No thanks! and Tiger and Shark pip up We'll come! and we just do that. And there is no fuss about that at all.

Once, to avoid that cataclysmic end of the world, I had to carefully plan all movement to the door, avoid all cup hooks, string, bits of hazardous material, dolly's plastic shoes. I would spend an hour or two managing that exit so we could all move in the same direction at the same time. A bit like an enormous single body with four heads. And if we needed to separate out that body we did so with intensive planning, calm voices, slow preparation and four hours of negotiation. Otherwise it would almost certainly lead to chaos, misery and the end of the free world.

People on the outside world have got used to the four headed being. But now they're going to have to get used to three children. Now my little girls are growing up and choosing for themselves whether to stay at home, or come do something else. At the moment, everyone comments on the body that's left. So only got two today? Have you lost one? Where's the third? Once I met those questions with sorrowful eyes, tales of grounding, or how we had to lop one head off and stick it on the end of a pole in the sitting room as a warning to the others.

Well now it's totally different. My little girls are growing up, independent. I can just say, Today, she decided to do something else.

Shark! Tiger! Get your wellys on for a medieval hunting forest,
the stony Roman road, the ditch and mound dug over by archaeologists
seeking evidence of an iron age farmstead, and all the winter trees and magpies.
And, of course, the playground.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Let's party

Burns Night, Chinese New Year, Saraswati Puja, Setsuban, Valentine's Day. We are good home educators and we will know about them all, oh yes we will.

But don't tell me about any more. I will have a breakdown. Admittedly we have not yet got round to Thanksgiving or Kwanzaa but we're getting there. We could do the next lot in one inspired multicultural party. We can dress in kilts, eat Chinese takeaways, dance to Bollywood, chuck some beans about and then tell everyone we love them. That should do it. Because we are educators we'll do it in Latin. Because we are British, we'll party politely and queue. And, by the way, we're boycotting Tu B'Shevat.

You can tell I have the diary out and am planning the culture bit of a PSE curriculum.

OK, google on Personal and Social Education. Not Precision Shooting Equipment, obviously.

Friday, 9 January 2009

The pleasure of saltless salt dough

No crying, throwing puffins, picking fights or kicking doors. That's a new one from Squirrel who is alive to the huge power stored in her legs. That's what I get for paying the bill on the ballet lessons. My daughter can kick in a door. Take warning.

While we divert Squirrel from kicking the original Victorian features of this house to something more useful like a cat, I try some fun time and make salt dough. Only we haven't got any salt, so it ends up as lots of coloured dough. And while Squirrel, Shark and Tiger clearly have four hours of fun making 2,560 small items of coloured dough creations, it is no fun clearing up. So I may leave you with some pictures, because right now I am under the kitchen table scraping the floor with a butter knife.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Grit's guide to home ed (1) Lessons

Holidays are crap, aren't they? I spend every day with my head in my hands because in holiday time there is no timetable and we aren't doing anything.

Then it's January and everyone's back at work. Lessons start again. French. Gym. Trampoline. And I spend every day with my head in my hands complaining we're doing too much. Now our lives are structured with lessons. And aren't I missing the whole point of home education? That we have the right to loll about on the sofa all day? We don't need lessons. Or timetables. We can kiss goodbye to routine. Watch daytime TV. Wear fairy outfits, no knickers and wellington boots. Go for a pee without having to put up our hands. Or getting off the sofa. Yeah. We should be able to do what the hell we like.

And I support that view, really. This is one of the freedoms of the UK. Every home educator directs their educational choice and right now we don't have to follow a curriculum, use timetables or sit in lessons if we feel those things get in the way of an education.

But if we want lessons, they're all around us. Your local sports centre, library, museum, they're touting for your custom. If you have the energy, you can organise a fine week of workshops, a month of lessons, a bunch of outings, visits, meet-ups, make your own plans, hire specialists and tutors, organise groups. Then there isn't even time to scratch your own backside.

And this is a problem with home ed. Should we do lessons? Or lolling? Some weeks it would be easier to fly to the moon than get that balance right.

Well here is the first in an occasional series of Grit's guide to the home ed minefield for the uninitiated. For those of you with enough mental stability to send your offspring to school and thus have the leisure to sit at home reading this stuff while you wait for the manicurist.

There are seven forms of home ed lessons. Really. I've thought of that many.

1. Reading aloud from a book over breakfast while the class has its mouth stuffed full of Cheerios and can't argue.

We do one of those lessons three or four times a week. Today it is how the heart pumps. I don't know why I am driven to discuss body parts at meal times. I just am. Tomorrow I might read aloud the Wikipedia entry on Babylon, so we can go to the British Museum.

These are very good lessons. The ones you do because you want to. I bet the autonomous crowd are clapping now.

2. Lessons you have paid for. So you are bloody well going if you have to hobble there on stumps.

These are good lessons. Dance, Swimming, French, Drama. Stuff like that. Grit likes these lessons and pays for quite a few. I can escort Shark, Squirrel and Tiger on an educational pretext to lessons that sound good if we are stopped by the truancy patrol; dump them for an hour then mooch around Sainsbury's fantasising about the nutritional benefits of Nutella. My only regret is that I cannot find lessons in Ancient Greek. If I could this would be excellent because it would really piss off the we-home-educate-because-our-son/daughter-is-academically-gifted brigade.

3. The crappy boring worksheets, CGP books, National Curriculum books, structured courses, stuff like that.

These are the lessons of Grit's super ego. She would like to do these. I could swiftly slot Shark, Squirrel and Tiger into school knowing they only have to remember to put up their hands before they pee.

On the downside, a pre-packaged curriculum is expensive and boring. To do maths you may have to believe in God. And they require coherence, discipline, organisation, a quiet approach to study, and family unity. We're stuffed.

4. The zeitgeisty stuff like computer-based lessons because everyone's learning online now.

Even I got out my credit card for Education City. Then there is Starfall and the BBC. No shortage. But this approach can be psychologically damaging. You may even become schizophrenic. You spend all morning directing kids to the computer and all afternoon trying to get them off it. Confusing. In Grit's experience, best avoided because one computer between three is not enough and the egg-timer solution doesn't work. So potentially a very expensive approach indeed.

5. Lessons organised from within the home ed community. How trendy and New Age is that?

We all have areas of knowledge, right? Like playing chess, making puppets, telling stories, flower arranging. So it is sensible to share that knowledge. Co-operatively. Together. Let's hold hands.

This would be great if it worked. In reality it means bringing together a disparate bunch of home edders who have nothing in common apart from the fact they home educate. Some may actively hate each other and spend their time conducting guerrilla warfare behind the wiggly eyes at the craft session. But let's lay that aside shall we ladies? We can all be passionate about flower arranging in Sumatra if we try.

6. One-off lessons, workshops, talks, lectures delivered by educational staff at places like museums, parks, galleries, posh houses, aquariums, mines.

Hit and miss. If the leader thinks they are talking to the public then they speak eloquently, knowledgeably, wisely and with good humour and grace. If they think they are dealing with children they have strange ideas about what it is important for the kids to know, like National Curriculum Attainment Target Level 3 Point 5 instead of What did the Anglo Saxons use to wipe their bottoms?

If the education officer expects to deal with a school group they may also make bizarre demands, like put up hands before speaking. This leads to the situation where all the home ed kids put up their hands while simultaneously shouting out the answers. Anyway, Grit likes these types of events and thinks they are the best, mostly because she can look at a fish or a posh house or an Anglo-Saxon brooch for a cut-price student entrance fee.

7. This last type of lesson is brilliant, and free. It is called other people. Including YOU.

We shuffle our carcases off the sofa to get down to the Co-op. There's Doreen at the till. She will not huff and puff and shoot disapproving glances at me because Squirrel has her shoes on the wrong way round again. She will help us count out the change from mama's beer and then wait patiently while we count it out again and argue. She will even smile and wave a till receipt at us to prove she is right. There, you see. Doreen teaches life skills and maths.

Then there's the hobo on the town bench. He has something to teach us too. We have to get past him while he is hurling abuse at a can of Bulmer's. He sets off all the whywhywhy questions. Mama delivers her treatise on society and politics all the way home.

There's the old lady at the charity shop, so we get to talk to her about economics, regional development, charitable status and arthritis. And the young man who stops us on the street to sell us a pizza. We collar him for meteorology and whether you can add pineapple to the thin and crispy.

Then there's the young mother with the toddler, the librarian, the bank teller, the thirty-something woman who draws in her mouth, stares and tuts because it is inadequates like me who make our schools fail; then the truanting teenager, the road sweeper and the single childless twenty-something who strides past us in heels and flicks Shark into the gutter. You're all teachers of something. So do it wisely.

Now, with a week filled with lessons like this, please don't think that I am sitting here with my head in my hands thinking, of all things, there is nothing to do.

Clearly, not every lesson looks like this.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

But the art is excellent

Squirrel, Shark and Tiger must be pouring all that anger and rage at each other. Because it's not showing in their art, which today is stained glass.

Well, in the wake of the battle over the unicorns, glass would be foolish. We use acetate instead.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The house of pain

Girls, you are playing with the unicorns. I'm not celebrating.

When you, Shark, run to the toy box and pull out the furry unicorns, one after the other by the horn, mane, tail and hoof, my heart sinks. Squirrel screams in glee and Tiger claps her hands. I was truly, honestly, deeply, hoping, that you had forgotten about the unicorns. Despair can sweep through this land like it blows holes through my heart.

But you'd think that little girls playing with their fluffy unicorns was cute, wouldn't you? OK. It starts cute. Listen to this.
Lovely! Her tail is sparkling!
She will dream of having that wedding photo took.
She hasn't been asked to marry yet. She needs everyone's permission to marry!
Because she is a princess and there has to be a proclamation.
Sounds cute, doesn't it? Now listen.
Aliche the unicorn hasn't chosen who to marry.
She wants to marry Col...
No, not that one. That's the one we dangled by the tail.
The one we put in prison so he couldn't get out.
You see? Things are taking a sinister turn, aren't they?
I have a nice tail brush. I'm putting more wax on that.
You can't relax with wax on your tail, can you?
Tie it down.
Strap that to his legs.
I can't bear to look.
Can he see anything?
Put this up his nose.
Use a stick.
Right. I'm taking a peek.

Good grief. My kitchen looks like an operating theatre. They've got a unicorn staked out on the table, tied up with orange wool. They're stabbing at it with a cocktail stick and hitting it with a wax candle. When I ask what's going on, I'm told this is Furryhorn, and he's at the unicorn beauty parlour because he's getting married later.

I'd like to say it gets better at The House of Grit Beauty Centre, aka Sweeney Todd's.
Look how she is shining!
Doesn't she look beautiful!
Not when you're soaking wet.
No! She goes under the water and tumbles down and down.
And stays there.
Like she is dead.
And falling apart.
And then can't get out!
Then she has to eat her tail.
Oh my God. Now we are not satisfied with killing and dismembering the corpse. Now it turns into a cannibal tail-eating zombie fest straight from Night of the Living Dead.

I could set about writing an academic paper on triplets playing with unicorns. I might conclude, girls, that these little furry monsters are really extensions of your personalities, where you can use them to build friendships, nurture enemies, settle scores and explore deep, dark, places of your eight-year old psyche, like fears, liberations and control; or your sense of duty and loyalty; your loves and responsibilities, your feelings of power and powerlessness; your who you are.

Now because I know these kids and their unicorns, I would hazard a guess to say that in the next five hours, play will evolve like this.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger will move from the let's talk about it stage to the let's do it stage. This is the soil and oil down the toilet moment. Let's move the unicorns to the beauty bath! Here they can play in the mud which we will bring inside! Now add foam and leaves! Then in jumps Danceyhorn because he doesn't want to get married anymore and he is hiding. Look! All the unicorns want to hide from the princess bride! She's going to take the bath because she has eaten beetroot soup that we made from mamma's food colouring!

Of course you are thinking Grit! Make them stop! Don't let them fill up the bath! Of course I will try that. I will try and distract them with a rotten apple or a few beads. But if I attempt to interrupt any unicorn play, then take cover. Because this is deep, intense, stream of consciousness play. And if the intruder seeks to swing it their way, they must get in there with Danceyhorn and Lem and Col and all their type. Because if you just try to come along and say STOP! then you may as well plant firecrackers in everyone's shoes because at that word these kids will be screaming and tearing about this house like Hurricane Misery on acid.

From here of course, I have to watch. The next step is a furious row. Probably between Lem and Danceyhorn. Troublemakers. They'll fall out over something like who gets to marry Lem first. Then, because we are now talking betrayal, disloyalty, powerlessness, torn promises, revenge, the beauty parlour will be spoiled, the tears of hurt will fall and the insults fly.

But Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are too far mired in deep structure play with the unicorns, and cannot stop playing, no matter now how sharp the pain, scarred the walls, or broken hearted is mama while mopping up the beetroot blood spatters.

The final spark will be a control over meaning, over a unicorn, over the words of the unicorn marriage ceremony. The deeper intent will be loyalty, need, rejection, humiliation. A real fight will break out. Tiger will lock herself in the bathroom, howling. Squirrel will spin off to Planet Rage. Shark will snatch all the unicorns to stop cruel mama taking them from her grasp. Cruel mama will end up on the floor, clutching the back end of a wet unicorn covered in bath foam and beetroot.

There is only one outcome for today. Screaming. Throwing objects. Groundings. The whole house will be in uproar, the bath will be full of mud, the unicorns spinning in the washing cycle, a zero sense of achievement, a face full of tears and a day torn apart.

Danceyhorn and Sparkle get married. The beginning of the end.

Monday, 5 January 2009

I apologise to cat lovers, everywhere

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger do not like cats. Not at all. These quiet, creepy-about creatures, slipping silently under gates and round doorways, slinkysliding under bushes, watching, waiting.

What more evidence is needed?

If these contemptible creatures were honest, upright and honourable, they would march up to the front door, try the buzzer and wait! The householder comes out and the cat must ask politely, May I wait under your privet for your favourite blackbird to appear so I can pull off its wing, preferably while you are watching from the window? Then, of course, the householder could answer, Certainly! or Be off with you! and this would be the proper thing to do.

So forgive Squirrel, who has experienced cat trauma, for today adding the following tomato-based slogan to her vegetable soup bowl.

But Squirrel! we cry. You cannot eat kittens! People would be outraged! To which she answers, I would like to write Piss off. But I don't know how to spell it.