Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Of course we home ed everyday

Squirrel and Shark are chucking up their guts. Simultaneously. Must be some weird identical twin mind thing, because usually they chuck up one after the other. With Tiger following we can wade through sick for days. But I seem only to have one sick bucket, which is inconvenient. I think the other one is at the bottom of the garden filled with pond water. Don't look at me.

Of course the sick is a new excuse for education everywhere. I remind Squirrel about Darwin, spending his days hanging over the side of the Beagle. I ask her would she like to do that for two years instead of 24 hours. Then I offer to get out the map book and show them the sick route around South America.

Strangely, Squirrel, with her face in the toilet, says right now this isn't helpful.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Plan for world domination comes next

Ha! I am a power-crazed maniac sucking the souls from my own children! Yes! I need only acquire a bald cat and master the evil stare for all my plans to be complete!

But until then, this is it. How I plan, enforce, and control the home education and keep a record of it all at the same time. Nineteen easily forgettable steps to be conducted over several years.

1. Think Oh My God we are doing nothing. NOTHING. Do something. Quick. Before the inspectors come round and slap School Attendance Orders on everyone. Including me. This is a very important step and leads to number two.

2. Find a library book in an area I know nothing about. This is family learning after all, and we are driven to suffer in equal measure. Let's take Chemistry. Once I knew absolutely nothing about chemistry. Now I know a little bit less. Soon I will aspire to be dangerous. I find Teach yourself GCSE Chemistry and read it aloud at breakfast while prospective students Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are disadvantaged by Shreddies.

3. Repeat, endlessly, Gosh! Chemistry is really great! This is fascinating! Wow! Would you like to find out more? Shall we do a project on acid? That would be great! Say all these things a lot until Gritlets give in. If after two days they have not given in, play emotional card. Weep and threaten school.

4. Start project book. This is a very important piece of recording equipment in the Grit household. First, do brainstorming task. Write down Squirrel's ideas about Chemistry. She thinks up perfume and glue. Good start. Lie to Shark and say really it is a project on fish. Tell Tiger it is OK to draw pictures of a bottle of bleach but it is not OK to hide in cupboards because I will hunt you down and shake a school uniform at you, now come out and tell me what you know about oxygen. Anyhow, chances are you know a damn sight more than me.

5. Drag out of the cupboard along with Tiger the chemistry set bought at the charity shop five years ago for £1.50. Very quickly discover why it was in the charity shop for £1.50 but the book on experiments with flour, sugar and lemon juice is handy. Do those instead.

6. Armed with a little knowledge, determine to become a professional chemist. Convince self that Gritlets are already undergraduate level thanks to Squirrel parroting magic formula H20 after only small amount of coaching.

7. Research on Wikipedia. Print out 5,000 pages on Potassium Nitrate, Calcium Acetate, Chlorides, E104, E123, E110 etc etc. Apply new information immediately in real life contexts by shouting offputting knowledge about inflamed intestines in the middle of Tesco while scrutinising food additives on tins of baked beans.

8. Claim that Squirrel is a kinetic learner and must be educated appropriately. Create bizarre physical games which no-one understands and play them in the front room. Like I am a gas molecule and must hide behind the sofa until Squirrel, as temperature, must climb over the sofa and I can sublimate. Do the same for other half-understood concepts and hope that no-one is peering through the curtains. But the news is Squirrel decides she now likes Chemistry and draws this:

9. Success! Given small encouragement from Squirrel, whip out all credit cards. Buy ingredients for bath fizzies, lip salve, soaps and bath salts on the basis that they are all chemicals. Thrash around for several weeks rejoicing in the fact that there is no health and safety risk assessment to be completed after what we did with the citric acid.

10. Make bomb site of house. Literally. But this is essential. Any project round here involves spreading stuff over the floor, including citric acid.

11. Take a break from Chemistry while the vacuum cleaner is mended. Try something else instead. Atomic Physics. We don't know anything about that either. Give it a couple of months and go back to Chemistry because now Michelle is enthusing about the Royal Institution. Copy her. She seems to know what she's doing.

12. The RI is very good for chemistry is it not? They have a singing periodic table.

Visit and hog it. Totally. If challenged, declare pompously, We are home educated. This confers automatic rights of access over the singing table and justifies pushing small kids out the way. They are just wasting time whereas we are actively learning and mama is taking photographs to bloody well prove it for the local education inspector.

13. Find all Chemistry is Fun websites by scouring everyone else's blog. Become converted and consider we all take degrees in chemistry. Demand that if anyone is doing anything on the computer, it should include a mad scientist, an exploding balloon and the words hydrogen and helium.

14. Sniff out and attend all science workshops with any non-crazy home ed group within a 50 mile drive.

15. Bring all topics back to chemistry in any way possible. Cake. Call that chemistry. OK. So last week cake was maths and the week before it was architecture but now it is chemistry. No-one can prove me wrong.

16. Become an evangelist for this book. Carry it everywhere. Read it aloud on trains. For maximum impact, ensure there are captive well-behaved children and the words home educated delivered smugly.

17. Make a big periodic table for the wall which everyone has to help fill in. For each contribution, reward with chocolate. This is purely for visitors and any education is entirely coincidental.

18. Demand Shark, Squirrel and Tiger sit with the by-now-very-good and holy mama aka Chemistry Teacher. Bribe everyone with yet more chocolate to draw pictures and write things that they know about chemistry in the lovely project book. Said project book (which everyone knows is a crudely disguised record book and hostage to the state) is busting with Wikipedia entries, photographs, pictures of sad fish in chemically polluted rivers and a drawing of Anne Boleyn getting married because Tiger did it in the wrong book.

19. But feel good about Chemistry! See how well this planning and recording stuff goes! Resolve to do exactly the same procedure for the History of Textile and Atomic Physics.

Now, while I attend to the matter of the bald cat and evil stare, I can luxuriate in the knowledge that in some valleys of home ed land, I am probably public enemy number two*.

* I am content. But Mr Badman & co, I am warning you, you should all look to your laurels.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Of course all my plans could come to nought

The daylight hour has changed, so evening flicks me into a different time. I think it's time for tea but the clock says bath. Strange. British Summer Time. All my coordinates are awry. I'll make the best of this displacement, probably by stopping to stare at the clock, wondering where the hours went. Then I'll reflect on the last few days and weeks and slowly plan ahead for the days and weeks to come.

Evaluation, assessment, planning, strewing, call it what you want, isn't seen by everyone in this home ed world as a good thing to do. In fact, it's the sort of activity I never knew could stir up so many hornet's nest politics. Not surprisingly, it's taken me a while to confess. I'm a planner, an evaluator.

Hey, I may lose friends. But really, I have to lay down heavily on the side of the strewer. In fact, for this job, you may need to equip me with a clip board and biro. And here's why.

Because I don't feel I could educate my kids at home without jotting down what each has done, is doing, wants to do. By routinely rounding it all up I know what books they're read, the art they've created, the places they've been enthused by, the interests they're exploring.

For one, I have a terrible memory. And am depressed, easily. So when the month ends and begins, I'll look around and think What the heck have we done? Nothing. We've done nothing.

I'll think that partly because I genuinely can't remember. Also because unless I write it down, record it and think about it, then it won't count. Call that an oddball psychology, but don't shoot me. Because without it, I might throw in the towel and get Squirrel, Tiger and Shark in black and white and down the local school.

Apart from my own sanity, then there's that education thing. I need to keep track of where Squirrel, Tiger and Shark have been in their thinkings, askings, wonderings. I need to think next what I can put in their path to extend their ideas, encourage them to look at old knowledges anew, find out something in a place we haven't been before, and push us all out on a limb into a strange new territory. I believe that's my job. Both to encourage them in the areas they're interested in, and to challenge them, poke them with sticks to go on into new places, because the adventure and the risk might be rewarded with new insights and knowledges.

But does anyone else need to be involved? Anyone outside this family, do they need to be a part of the achievements, interests, goals and ideas of Squirrel, Tiger and Shark?

Now I'm genuinely torn and in my head is a ragbag of thoughts which possibly don't much hold together.

I believe the evaluation, reflection and plans for the future should come entirely from Squirrel, Tiger, Shark, Dig and me. If Shark is interested in marine biology, then that's what she should tell the world, and if anyone wants to know how well she's doing in English, with her consent I'd list the books she reads about fictional fish, real shipwrecks, study guides to oceanography and every book she can lay her hands on with a passing reference to water. And it's not my problem to nail that huge enthusiasm down to National Curriculum attainment targets, and neither should it be. Part of me says No, no-one needs to set the terms but us for our achievements, and No. You don't need to know.

But like every other sane parent out there who believes their child is the most wonderful creature that ever stepped foot on this planet, I am so mightily proud, that it's all I can do to restrain myself from taking out a full page ad in The Independent telling you that today Shark just finished reading Ibbotson's Journey to the River Sea.

So I naturally want to involve you and everybody in our home education. I want home education to be shared everywhere, understood everywhere. Get this. I want to shout out the successes of it from the rooftops, ask you all to consider it, make everyone wonder why, really, why schools in their present guise exist, what are they here for, what are children doing there, term after term, year after year? And I feel I can do this job better if I can state out clearly how home education here works. What are its troubles, successes, achievements, drawbacks, how it can chuck you face down into a pit and progress so astonishingly well that you wonder why isn't everyone drawing out their kids from schools right now to take a part of this amazing opportunity?

So my thinking, planning, evaluation - did the month go well, did Squirrel, Tiger and Shark find anything new, did they learn exciting stuff and how best can I push all that on - all spills out of my displaced hour.

Because of it, I feel on safer ground. And with the achievements I can see round here in this home ed thing, I might even carry on, as far as our plans can go.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

I wish I had an imagination like this

When I walk through the garden this morning I see evidence from last night's play. Lots of little shapes, identically cut from thin white paper, arranged on the hard stone paving in a swirling mass. Each identical little shape, like a bird, is fastened to the ground with a tiny pebble, some coloured, some plain.

This is beautiful! I cry, and instantly photograph the installation art, which is Squirrel's, and I'm claiming it for her here, so I don't want to see it in any gallery without her name.

Squirrel! I think this is poetic! I say, pointing to the ground, seeing the fragile wings stir and move in the breeze, as if wanting to rise up and be free in the air. This makes me think of freedom, captivity, sorrow, joy, preservation and loss!

Squirrel looks as me, puzzled. Mummy, she explains carefully, because I am possibly mad and at best deluded. They are pterodactyls. They will fly away if I do not hold them down.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Car journey

Thank goodness Shark, Squirrel and Tiger do not suffer from an irrational fear of car journeys, forcing me to pull over on the hard shoulder of the M25 so they can chuck up their guts over the crash barriers.

Thank goodness too they are in control of their bladders. And me of mine.

And praise be for mama's foresight in acquiring a box of nose tissues especially for the car, so when the sneezing fit strikes again we do not need to strap sanitary towels to our faces like before.

Today the holidays in the shires must end. We have to hurtle up the country to arrive on time at the forest school which Squirrel and Tiger adore. They would sell me to raise the cash to attend if that became necessary.

Well, I tell them, you better not sell me yet because I need to drive you there. I may even do it badly, by swinging the wheel around with one hand, so don't photograph that, Squirrel.

I won't, she answers. And then adds, sorrowfully, And it is sad that I do not have the photograph of that time you drove home with your elbows.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

About as free as we can be

Hampshire is an antidote to misery, isn't it? For a start it has the Wallops. What a gloriously British invention they are. You need a village shop and a post office? You've come to the right place.

I love being out and about in Britain. This country mixes a deep grain of village tribalism and eccentricity with fuckoffI'mdoingitmyway. That's quite refreshing, given there are now long rows of bleak brain-washed officials throughout the land whose jobs are dedicated to ensuring countrywide compliance with statutory requirements for everything, from the health and safety and risk assessment of blue paint usage in primary schools to the implementation of a monitoring and report review system of customer satisfaction in queue length at jobcentres.

These days, sticking up two fingers at the local school, ground down as it is by the kill-joy National Curriculum, and running off to Hampshire in the blustery wind and sunshine is about as anarchic and independent as an elderly Grit can be. But it suits me and, I hope, the gritlets.

They seem happy enough with an on-site education. First we visit the Museum of the Iron Age at Andover, and then trek up the hill fort at Danebury. And what a splendid place. We can feel the wind on our faces, talk about grain pits, defensive locations and ancient history, and we don't have to tick any boxes or complete E367 Risk Assessment Form for Walking on Grass.

Heck, with this much freedom and independent thought and action, we might just take tea in Nether Wallop.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Beautiful Bath

So, Emma bursts into the room wearing a blood spattered muslin and blasts Darcy in the chest at point blank range with a sub machine gun.

I may have got that mixed up. But it was thirty years ago. I was an undergraduate and probably desperate to read Blood of the Flesh Eating Demons. Jane Austen was a late night struggle with an essay. So I possibly failed to grasp the finer moments of Georgian society.

But I'm older and wiser now. And as we visit the Assembly Rooms in Bath it is possibly the first time I appreciate those well turned ankles, delicate dresses and quick eyes darting about the rooms, seeking surreptitious engagement.

One day I'll have time to take the enchanting Jane Austen into a sunny garden and loll about on a hammock with her. When I'm retired and the gritlets are all off at university studying Blood of the Flesh Eating Demons on their English Lit course.

I'll look forward to that. Meanwhile, here are the Assembly Rooms and the gritlets, becoming bored waiting for someone to ask them to dance.

We have got this wrong. Clearly, we need to doll ourselves up at the Fashion Museum.

That fires me up. In fact mama is now so dedicated to this Austen-style pursuit of ladylikeliness that we next take tea in the cafe. Or hot chocolate. (I know it looks like Shark's hot chocolate has a plant growing out of it. That's the skill of the photographer.)

Anyway, Bath is so stonily and haughtily elegant, I have fallen in love with it. In fact I might generously allow Bath tourist office to nick this picture of Squirrel and ArseFace standing in the circus if they want.

But of course we've also come to see the Roman Baths, because we can't leave without that. And we're meeting a home ed group for a tour round. How is that for educational planning and organisation? Really, the gritlets have the equivalent of a full-time personal assistant. I might start charging them 40K a year for this job.

And this is one of my favourite pictures. The Roman lead piping. Seriously, what with Jane Austen, some proper magnificent buildings and real Romans, you should all get on over to Bath right now. And the tourist board aren't even paying me to say that.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The best cure is always a day out

Really, what I would like to do right now is throw myself on the floor and lie there screaming and screaming until I am sick or dead. Call it unhappy. But I don't do that. I take the gritlets to Bristol. Here's a bit of Bristol.

It's very smart. It's possibly a bit they built again with modern buildings and clean windows and shiny steel. And they may have polished up that water to make it sparkle on sunny days.

Anyway, it's where Explore@Bristol is located. I guess that might fit with a home made science curriculum. This is where we can explore the March sky at the Planetarium, find out about comets, air resistance and muscles, and spend an hour melting these ice crystals with our warm fingertips and watching them freeze all over again.

Now I don't know whether you noticed in that first photograph, but dolly (aka Frankenstein's monster) is on this trip with us, as is her chum ArseFace. That's possibly not her name, it may be something like Janine or Evelina, but I have to find pleasure somewhere. Especially since my phone camera is taken off me for 32 pictures of the pair of them on board the Park and Ride bus back to the car.

Sometimes I don't know why I keep going. Possibly because I am so bloody minded I just will not give in to those feelings of loneliness and misery. Anyway, for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger the sight of mama sobbing on the bathroom floor looking like a slime-faced blob probably isn't very instructional. Yes. A day out in a science park at Bristol is a better option.

Monday, 23 March 2009

I need to visit a field

One of the consequences of Dig travelling exotic locations in the tropical sunshine is that Grit invariably becomes very tired of staying put in the English drizzle.

Hey, she doesn't even attempt to be a dutiful wife. She doesn't think to stay here in the house rearranging the cushions. She doesn't weep needily over coffee cups. She doesn't stare wanly at the walls, wondering how to make a go of a solitary life. She doesn't yearn for bright lights and London. And she doesn't even pen sad and lyrical poems all full of nostalgia, regret and longing.

No. None of those. She thinks Sod it, and bundles the kids in the car and drives to Stonehenge.

And here you go, this is one of the benefits of the home educating lifestyle yet again. It can be a perfect life for the miserably displaced itinerant soul. It can respond to your emotional needs, satisfy intellectual demands, plug a gap in a marriage where there are spaces and holes for the gales to blow through, and the children enjoy it too. They might even learn something about life, Salisbury Plain, and prehistory.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger have been dragged around a few prehistoric fields by now. They've been up Maiden Castle and down Grimes Graves and they've done it all willingly and wonderingly. I haven't even had to use a pointed stick.

And today is the same. They oblige me by scrambling out the car eagerly, shooting off down the passageway and immediately requesting the audio guide. And that's the last I see of them for the next hour, since they each progress at their own pace, stopping to listen and look. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of them, trying to stand upright thanks to the unbreakable winds hurtling over Salisbury Plain and I snap out my phone camera before the wind knocks me for six. Did gales like this blow in prehistory? I can't believe they did. Who could carry their dead sedately in ceremony, bemoaning and celebrating while the wind swept over them at this breathtaking speed. I barely catch a Squirrel before she's bouncing off at 90 miles an hour. There must have been woods or shelter or breakpoints. Then Stonehenge might have been a calm or peaceful place to mourn and celebrate what has passed, and you wouldn't have had to dig your feet into the grassy bumps of that field just to anchor yourself upright.

Anyway, enough about the sadness of the weather. Here it is. Stonehenge. Sometimes with gritlets.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Next I need to introduce alcopops

I don't know what I'm doing to these kids. I am turning them into freaks, weirdos and monsters. I should get a grip, before it's too late.

Because Shark, Squirrel and Tiger might be out there now, tipping off the edge of normal society. Maybe it's too late to haul them back into that safe mainstream of pre-teen living. Which means that those people who say that home education means you are locked in some strange bubble on the fringes of society are right. We are doomed to lose contact with normality forever.

Today just makes me think that. Because now our world is inhabited by crumpled people with white and pink hair and anoraks and sensible shoes and big bags in which you can carry your knitting and still have room for a big thermos so you can sit down somewhere quiet for a nice cup of tea.

Look here.

These photos are the result of joining a History Walk with a Blue Badge Guide leading a slow moving pensioner gathering of elderly ladies and gentlemen through Great Linford Village.

And when this history hobble is all staggered out and we have found out about the thirteenth century church, medieval fish pond, Elizabethan manor house, haunting of the 17th century soldiers in the local pub and the red telephone box, saved for the nation, the guide turns to the youngest people on this tour, the only children in fact we have seen all morning - Shark, Squirrel and Tiger - and she says Well now, I'm sure for you young ladies the most interesting thing you saw today was the frog at the pond!

And Shark, Tiger and Squirrel all look at her, wide eyed with shock. Shark, with that pursed lip look of offence and outraged indignation you only ever see on the face of your granny, turns to me and whispers, It wasn't actually. It was the fourteenth century window design of the church tower.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

I wanted the Fairy Stories. But Iva Ibbotson won.

I don't know whether to laugh out loud or shoot myself. Whichever, there is something spooky going on.

Are you school choosing folks happy that Ed Balls will tell your children what they can and can't read in school? Is that normal? I thought state prescribed textbooks were the mark of a totalitarian society.

Anyway, soon it will affect us all, no matter what we do. The government might set up a free service to tell me what colour coded clothing I should put on today. Or what days I can eat beans. And is there a state approved hotline I can call about the length of hair you can sprout from your ears? I think Dig is well out of bounds there.

Bah. Do I care. Life is short. My job here is to tell you about our daily life in home ed land. Just in case it might be normal, and somewhat close to yours. Or different, in which case you should get out more. Especially if you have to live with Ed Balls coming home in your child's satchel.

Ed Balls, this sight is for you. The gritlets took over two metres square of the library floor today and spread out all the audio CDs they could lay their hands on, then whittled that choice down to two. Tsk. Choosing for themselves. I might have to beat them when we get home.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Was that Britart? Try Gritart.

I have a lot of respect for the role of the artist.

I try and keep that respect intact. Even though it is under daily assault from the likes of a dead zebra, a shop model on a toilet and Lord Byron, who'd probably add that he'd rather be dead than turned into a coffee table.

Well that respect takes a serious battering today. From Polly Apfelbaum at the art gallery MKG, where I am forcing abuse and psychological damage* upon the gritlets via an art workshop.

Polly has made some thoughtful pieces in the past. This time, she's cut up a lot of fabric and put it all over the floor.


Perhaps she should come round here and see my floors.


You see? Art and Mess can be the same thing.

Anyway, I have a lot of respect for the staff at MKG. They are very kind, despite looking momentarily pissed off with the great unwashed home educated masses. I'll just say that today they were patient and tolerant enough to amuse us all with a workshop on shape and space.

This is the result.

First give it a fancy title, like Spacial objects immersed in hybridity.

Next, give it a status as an entire movement. Gritart.

Now shovel out some mumbo jumbo like
Gritart is a co-constructionist endeavour, marking singular moments in space and time, clearly drawing on complex dynamics of power and authority which naturally resonate in our parallel world where disjointedness, separation and identity sublimate into a mindset of challenge, despair, resolution and ultimately, void. A work of spiritual intensity and great refreshing honesty.
And the fact that no one can understand that should underline its deep significance.

But now, shove it in a gallery called BLOG.

Finally, slap down a price. Polly, the Gritart's yours for five thousand quid.

* I'm afraid to know about this, you're going to have to read earlier entries to this blog.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Apart from this, we had a workshop at Verulamium Roman Museum in St Albans

Gawd blimey. Today I read a private tutor who blows the gaff. In the Independent letters she claims fundamentalist Christianity is psychological abuse - but only if you're home educating.


For Grit, any type of organised religion is a means of psychological abuse. OK. I accept that following a religious faith is an important ingredient for some folks, and probably helps get through intense pain and emotional distress, whereas for Grit there is only vodka. But I challenge anyone on this planet to convert me to worshipping a deity for the rest of my life. Try persuading me to jump out a burning building first.

But it's not the fundamental Christianity which worries today's Independent letter writer. No. It's the faith AND the home education.

Mention home ed? Now we are really talking. Howabout 'seclusion', 'in a bubble on the fringes of society' children who are 'denied exposure'. You see? Common sense tells us that in the home ed world, there is only the opportunity for extreme, manic, neurotic, mad zealots who go by the name of parents to indulge in 'dangerous brainwashing' of their own children.

I guess I need to say to this letter writer out of all the home ed families I have met - that motley assortment of Protestant, Catholic, Pagan, Buddhists, Jewish, Humanist, Atheist, Flying spaghetti monster - I have never yet met one family who brainwashes their kids, keeps them secluded, or considers themselves on the fringes of society.

In fact, I'd stick my neck out so far as to say home educators consider themselves at the heart of society. We are dumped in it daily. And we don't lock kids away in institutions. In fact we probably find it weird that you can walk down a high street on a sunny Wednesday morning and can't see a kid on it.

Letter writer, some folks I know might in fact suggest that is a form of psychological abuse.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Trust is the basis for every good marriage

Of course when Dig is away from home so much, quite a lot of our marriage exists on trust.

And this is where Skype is very handy.

Because I can use this piece of wondrous technology to my total advantage.

Check one: does it look like a hotel room? I must see international bland. I force Dig to turn the camera on a 360 degree turn, and point that little camera eye behind the curtains, under the bed, in the wardrobe and in the bathroom. I am not a mistrustful character, I just say I would like to see the characterless cube that is charged out at $350 a night when you can buy an entire hotel for that in some parts, with staff.

Check two: miniature bottle in sight? Everyone knows Dig is far too mean to fork out twenty quid for the minibar unless he can put it on expenses, and he can't. And no bottles means no entertaining. If there is evidence of a large bottle of beer, relax. He has been out on his own to find the cheapest crap in a local grog shop. No-one will have gone with him to do that, and no-one's going to come into a posh hotel and share it either.

Check three: scrutinise for dreamy eyes, wistful glances, relaxed expressions. When he speaks to me he should be tense, scowling and miserable. Especially after he has banged his head showing me the underside of the desk.

Check four: state of clothing. He should look like a hobo thanks to all his unironed shirts crammed at the last minute into a plastic bag by lovely wife Grit. If he looks in anyway smart, well dressed, maintained, ironed, polished or cared for, keep him online and book a flight to his location.

Check five: during conversation, scatter deadly bait. Like, what did you do for dinner? Observe answer carefully. Make it sound like a casual inquiry into his health and well being. It is not. He should look pissed off and underfed. He should also gratifyingly complain that he has been abandoned for his own meals and no-one gives a thought to his welfare.

Check six: listen carefully to any mention of female colleagues or dining partners. He should complain loudly throughout the conversation about schedules, arrangements for meetings, cars, assistants. He should also discourse at length with himself on obscure technical details about commas while I go off and make a cup of tea. If he were ever to utter words like glamorous blond with an approving smile, take immediate action regarding divorce proceedings.

Check seven: the ultimate test. Suggest hot porn action with sexy wife Grit over the web cam. If his face says repulsed and shocked, everything is normal.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

While Dig is away...

I'd just like to show you what he keeps on his desk.

And I may shred the entire contents of his Top Secret drawer if he fails to Skype me by 6pm UK time.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

When a butterly flaps its wings, the entire planet grinds to a halt

When we stepped outside the school system, we were liberated.

I'd recommend that feeling. You are no longer cursed with finding the right clothes, falling out of bed at the right time, or packing the right lunch in case the lunch police snoop inside your sandwich box.

Better still, you no longer need to covertly complete your child's homework, or labour for hours to discover if your child has any homework, nor lose letters, report cards, log books or be banged repeatedly around the head by an endless whining about jewellery, trainers, haircuts and skirt length. And, at the end of term, for this pleasure do you stump up for a coach visit to a museum where your child comes home, grunts boring in answer to your question Was it good? and then delivers to you the sum total of his afternoon's attention spent in the gift shop: a rubber egg.

I can tell you the liberation is huge.

But there is, once outside the school gates, plunged into the world of home education, this enormous feeling of responsibility.

I don't recommend that feeling. It can induce heart attacks, migraine, constipation and IBS. It can lead you into direct conflict with your offspring and cause shooting pains in your ears when they squeal. It can feel like you are towing around behind you a couple of dead donkeys on some string.

Worse, it can change your entire personality. You may turn you into a household dictator, don brown shirts and jackboots, and march over the front room in the cause of some wooden blocks which everyone must build up otherwise home education is a failure. Either that, or you may realise that force or coercion of any type of study is totally pointless and you will then sigh with longing at tie died smocks before dying your hair purple and buying comfortable sandals which you will never remove.

Somewhere in between those personality states, this feeling of responsibility will cause you to pack your dead donkeys and the kids into the car and drive at high speed to Cambridge Science Festival.

Here in pursuit of a science education, and because no-one else is going to do it if you don't, you will dress up as bees, pollinate flowers and enthusiastically remember all the girl and boy bits of flowers in the right order.

Then you will learn about thermoplastics and how usefully they make wonky badges.

And by the time you get past the oxides, robots and hydrogen, you will have to listen to Shark going on and on about uplift, wing dimension and air pressure, and how it can be demonstrated in this cardboard box.

By now - although this particular description skims over your head - you will feel supergood, because this dreadful responsibility, the IBS, and the dead donkeys are all fast disappearing. Hugh Hunt helps, because under his tutelage we also find out how boomerangs work.

Then we arrive at the zoology department. Now here is a lecture on electricity. It starts in 15 minutes. I've scheduled it all out. Lecture here, pop to Earth Sciences. Catch the end of the dinosaur trolley then leg it to Chemistry. Quick Squirrel Quick! Finish your paper butterfly! We must go to this lecture!

No! cries Squirrel. No! No! No! I must stick glitter on the wings!

No! Squirrel! Come now! There is a lecture on electricity!


And so this single butterfly upset my science timetable, returned the dead donkeys to my anguished soul, brought back the whole global responsibility for a science curriculum back to my burdened heart, gave me IBS, and caused me to have a big sweaty fit in front of the man exploding water rockets.

Like I say, this feeling of responsibility, I do not recommend that at all.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Another Friday 13th

And here is Tiger and Squirrel at Forest School. They adore these cold start Friday mornings, and we have to arrive early. Arrive two minutes late? Big trouble.

Today we arrive especially early. Squirrel and Tiger jump out the car and bound around the grassy slopes, jumping up like their bodies haven't yet learned about gravity. They are truly excited about the prospect of spending two hours this morning tramping about woodland, learning about shelters, collecting sticks, being outdoors. Drizzle won't matter. Neither will cloudy skies, chafing wind, nor the prospect of returning to an empty house without daddy Dig there to complain that we are making a noise coming home.

Sometimes their enthusiasm for this course surprises me, because we spend much of our week outdoors. We always go somewhere, even if it is to the garden, to play dinosaurs in the mud patch or complain about the cat. If there is a day when we do not get out from the house I feel it is a lost day. Sometimes it is necessary, because I must wash plates and spread knickers on radiators to dry. Those days I will sigh and console myself that otherwise we will be going out naked. But most days out we go, arguing and tumbling from the front door, complaining about who sits where in the car or who's walking ahead on the pavement and who is always left behind. Most times I can make our outings fit into an educational frame, like maths or science or geography. It doesn't take too much imagination, and it pleases me, and keeps me from worrying.

But I can see that you both love Forest School, even though I don't quite know what exactly you take from it. Perhaps it is the feel of the wind in your hair, or the shouts of other children from among the trees, or perhaps the feel of wood between your fingers as you craft a tiny shelter, crinkling tissue paper for walls, and tell yourself it will become a home for beetles or ants.

I want you to know that your happiness to be here makes me happy. And as I watch you scamper off to explore and experiment I think we are the most fortunate people in the whole world, that we can be free to choose, and live our lives this way.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Mozzarella takes to the fields

Call us mouse relief agents. Only the little bastard won't come out and I am forced to threaten it with a cat.

After ten minutes out it jumps, and scampers off to join the other SIX mouse associates we have found in this house over the last few months.

In Squirrel's obsessive database system, this little scarp of vermin that ate my banana is called Mozzarella. He joins Nibbles, Squeaky, Stilton, Wensleydale, Cheddar and Emmental. Squirrel keeps a record book in which she draws a picture of each whiskery face, provides a passport number, records significant facial characteristics, like whiskers, and would take biometric paw prints if only they would stand still long enough.

But the dead one she doesn't know about. I hit it with a waste paper bin last week in Aunty Dee's bedroom at midnight and then had a big emotional squeal. In fact the trauma has been so keen I have felt only now I can admit it. Sorry Squirrel, for messing up your database.

Somewhere in here is Mozzarella.
Passport number 2562090.
Identifying features: whiskers.

Strangely it is hiding in case I poke it with a stick.
It deserves no better after what it did to my banana.