Sunday, 31 May 2009

We are in a field. And it's harmless

You see? It's a giant telephone. We worship this sort of thing. We strew wires then rub ourselves over with mobile phones. Here they are, laid out on a table, waiting for the high priest to bless them.

Of course when we're not following the cult called British Telecom, we're hanging by a selection of 1970s trim phones where we hope to make nuisance calls to the elderly and infirm.

I apologise.

I simply cannot confess I derive a sort of nerdy pleasure from a day in a field celebrating the history of the telephone.

Although I admit the young man who talked for several hours in an animated manner about the history of the telephone pole did become quite interesting. I know a lot more about that now than this time last week.

But what I truly love is the eccentricity of it all. The fact that it is so close to us, and happening in a field right by you. You need only come outside, and look.

In these green and pleasant lands of England you will discover a little gathering of experts staring intently at the ground measuring ant hills using a comparative analysis designed by a visiting scholar called Norman. Or you may find a gaggle of elderly men excitedly discussing species of woodlice. Or here will be the annual walk of ladies who celebrate knitting patterns 1970-1980. And there will be Grit, Dig, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger scrutinising a telephone pole and engaged in deep discussion with a telephone pole expert over the letter P.

Truly, look down your street. How many people and their harmless loves and gentle obsessions do you know live there? There may be more than you thought. I think you should come join us, and find out. What's happening in a field near you this weekend?

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Don't come to Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes is a new town somewhere north of Watford. Don't go there. It is filled with fat addicts on DFS sofas drinking alcohol, smoking, watching XXX movies and having sex with kittens. And they drink the blood of virgins.

There. That should do it. I use this tactic for celery, apple and nut salad. So far, that has worked.

Because if those kids of mine get a whiff of what a divine, Eden inspired taste this salad is, then they will scoff the entire bowl and there will be nothing left for me. So that salad is bad, children. BAD. Only BAD people eat it. And the same for blueberry fruit salad, which will KILL you. And cake. Especially doublechoc cake over which I have poured rum, brandy, creme de menthe and port.

Actually, that last one may be true.

Well the truth about Milton Keynes is that it is a pretty amazing place. And don't think it's all new. The town rises on ancient settlements. The round house post holes discovered at Blue Bridge next to the Roman villa are thought Bronze Age. As are the torcs found locally, made of enough gold to make that ring round your finger look like painted plastic.

If Bronze Age ain't enough, there are Saxon and Medieval finds, Tudor buildings and a complete Victorian town. If you're interested, wander here and here.

So it's a fascinating place. And when we visit the Milton Keynes Museum today in pursuit of an education about a medieval lifestyle, that amalgamation of time zones makes perfect sense.

What a day! Water divining, archery, medieval justice, the reenacted manorial court sessions, the early music songsters Lumina, calligraphy with quill and ink, a spot of Victorian hooping, and a talk from a fine lady who scrapes dead animal skins to make parchment and vellum because that's how it's done for hundreds of years. And the local Cowley is now the only maker in the UK of the parchment and vellum used in the House of Lords.

But like I say, don't come here.

Because we people who love Milton Keynes and all its history can have this place ALL TO OURSELVES.

Shark tries her hand at dowsing, or water divining, at Milton Keynes Museum.
We don't have the knack. You see that square she's standing on? It's a well. We didn't find it.

Much better at the quill business though.

And this should be suitable attire for mama's driving style.

Here's a dead sheep stretched over a frame for parchment making.
Don't come to Milton Keynes. We will do this to your cat.

But if you are ever brave enough to visit a place where the inhabitants have wall eyes, no teeth and machetes, we will punish you by forcing you to roll Victorian iron hoops.

You have been warned.

Friday, 29 May 2009

What else can you do with plants anyway?

Apart from turn them into a medieval apothecary patronised by unicorns?

Incidentally the unicorns are the variety that nest in trees

and have to be coaxed down by special ambassadors with umbrellas.

Yes, I'm still calling this home education. Defiant, aren't I?

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Soon I will have a fetish for panniers

I have trashed the environment and laughed! I have driven less than 100 yards because I could not be bothered TO WALK. I have turned lights ON and OFF and ON again and LEFT THE ROOM! I have abandoned my computer all night to HUM!

I admit to all these things! And MORE. Dirty things, like wanton electricity usage and two fridges, one which stores a decrepit cantaloupe melon we will never eat.

But now I am reformed! This summer I am GREEN.


I know it is one of twelve bikes scattered around the garage and garden. I have been buying them from the local tip (£3 each) or wangling them from people on Freecycle.

But when I get them home, I find the reason why these bikes are at the tip, or offered on Freecycle.

None of them work.

Well my current bike of choice is working now, thanks to SuperManDig. OK, so it has no back brake, a front tyre that is continuously making a pppfffff sound, no lights, three gears that are permanently frozen, and the saddle is not very comfortable for my lovely bottom. But I have tied a bag to the handlebars and OFF I GO.

Today I cycled to the shops, bought sixteen satsumas, a lettuce, some watercress, a tin of red kidney beans, two loaves of sliced bread winking at me from the reduced bin, six eggs, a copy of the Beano, and tried to fit them on all on my bicycle and about my person.

Then I realised this is why I drive.

But this small person comes in handy. She has a strap-on Barbie bag.

Now if I can do it, ANYONE CAN.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Hornet's nest

If you read Grit's diaryblog you will know that she home educates three kids.

What a lonely tortured nightmare of persecution, doubt, self scrutiny and impossible challenge home education is.

There again, what a liberation home education becomes.

But you may find that if you step away from what is normal and expected of you and yours - like school and all the structured family lifestyle that institution imposes - then your well marked road ends, and your field begins.

At first there may seem like precious few tracks across that field to the other side. You feel compelled to choose your track wisely but, in setting out, you have no wisdom to guide you. Only your own instincts and the experiences, ideas and welcomes of others.

Some tracks will truly help you, but others will downright mislead you. Some people on tracks that look good will dig bear pits and cover them with grass. Then they might sit and watch you from their hiding place behind a tree while you attempt to navigate their path with your children, precariously, trying to do what's right, before you all fall down a big hole. At that point, I don't know whether I hear laughter, or whether that's just the murmurings of the trees.

Possibly, I am rambling. I am seeking a metaphor for the tracks and pits that make up local home ed groups.

Local home ed groups are strange alliances of peoples who band together in fields looking for tracks and paths.

Sometimes the only part of the lives of these wanderers, explorers and pioneers that can possibly cross and touch is the single fact that they home educate. Nothing else corresponds. Not lifestyles, not outlooks, not parenting values, not ages, not interests, not ambitions, not anything at all.

But here you are, stuck in a field with someone you don't like, or much sympathise with, and both of you have to navigate past each other. Either that, or slaughter each other right there on the spot. Overcome this hazard, and you may meet someone warm, helpful, supportive, who offers a hand when you're lost, or points you in a direction that will reward you and celebrate your achievements.

Now there is a general unwillingness to publicly discuss the slaughtering grounds of local home education. I've mentioned these and those. And there may be good reasons for this reluctance to explore the tensions and factions. Possibly because this is like a betrayal to the cause. Possibly because we seek a united front when so many still oppose us.

Those are good reasons, so right now I'll silence my mouth for the sake of that united front.

But there are some people who rise above it all, and act like some sort of directional signpost. They overlook differences, negotiate round mistakes, provide options, look ahead, believe in you and yours, protect and preserve their identities and relationships and never slaughter anyone. They are good people to find.

I don't know where this is going. I'm still in the field, finding a way through. I'll just say that if you are foolish, brave and crazy enough to leave those much trodden roads of school, and head off across this vast field of home education, you'll find many choices of paths before you, both helpful and harmful. And you'll meet all sorts of people in this field too, so don't worry that you'll be alone. Because truly, those fields are filled with people who can out-fool, out-brave and out-crazy you every time.

But sometimes, best of all, you'll meet people who manage to cross those fields, navigate those hazards, and still find time to show you a new direction. And those people are a real source of strength.

And never think there's nothing to do in these home educating fields.
Today there is support and help all round from home educators at the AIM gallery, Milton Keynes.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

At that moment I was happily mooching around, doing not much, sitting outdoors, dreaming in the English weather before the heavens rain down, when all of a sudden I am upright like a bolt of lightening shot straight from the blue sky and out my mouth and I shout OH MY GOD THE DOORS ARE MADE OF ASBESTOS. WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE.

In this falling down three storey house of ours, in which we own the top floor and bottom floor but not the middle - like that is a wise policy in buying a house these days - then of course we have doors leading into what we call the common areas.

Common areas do not mean lose and vulgar women hanging over the banisters after midnight swearing until their lips turn blue. Only when I am really pissed off, or drunk.

The common areas are places like hall and stairs where the night inhabitants of the middle floor, MrPod and MsJuvenilePartyPiece, must pass in order to reach their own apartments when everyone else is in bed, safely tucked up and asleep. And to all of these entry doors leading from the common areas to the various apartments, the builder installed fireproofing panels. He converted the house sometime in the 1980s, when asbestos board was not yet banned and five-year stockpiles still remained, and he thus complied with all unrevised building and safety regulations.

(Incidentally, why these safety regulations exist I cannot imagine. Possibly in case Grit comes along with her slattern habit of placing a kilogram of green beans in a pan on the stove in a millimetre of water along with a conducting rod and a selection of flammable materials. This would be OK, but then she wanders into the office for two hours to drink beer and read blogs.)

But today I suddenly realise - no, I know for a total certainty - that this unscrupulous bastard of a builder nailed on the backs of the doors as his fireproofing material of choice, deadly asbestos. And we have found them very useful as pinboards. Worse, all the doorhandles have fallen off. Dig has bodged them back into place so they now grind away into the backs of the asbestos panels sending flurries of dust everywhere and killing us slowly.

The deathly door

At this point the internet comes in very handy. In thirty minutes I am an expert on UK building regulations 1970-2000 (domestic dwellings and conversions) and on use of AIB for fire insulation.

Within forty minutes I am on the phone to Neville at the local council's asbestos hotline where I converse in brown and white AIB and Type 2 asbestos testing procedures.

Within four hours I have contacted an asbestos handling company and set an appointment for Pete to come round, take a test sample and tell us within 48 hours if we are going to die, slowly, painfully, horribly, but not before I have hunted down that cheapskatingdeathdealing builder and shot him.

So Pete comes round, takes one look at the door and says, without a bat of an eye or a shadow of a doubt, Can you see the sparkle in the board love? That's Supalux. You can see the silicate particles. It's non combustible, has no dangerous substance and no special handling and when you're done with it you can tip it in your local skip.

Now of course I do not wish to worry any person out there, but this near-death experience with a panel of perfectly safe building material you can probably pick up at your local DIY store tells me not only that Grit is a bit of a twat, but also that near you there is a sophisticated track down system for asbestos and, if you are in any doubts, you will receive a prompt, efficient and courteous response from experts at the end of a hotline phone number.

And that expert's not me, clearly.

But if you have any missing teeth, give me half an hour and I bet I'd have some dexterity with dentistry.

Monday, 25 May 2009

This is Britain, so let's be British about it

Really, all parents should declare a national TAKE YOUR KIDS TO THE PARK DAY.

Whatever you're doing, put it down. Stop work, pull them out of school, take them to the park.

It's the only way to show mass resistance to the culture of suspicion. Either that, or plant geraniums.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Busy doing nothing

I have set the entire family a goal of achieving nothing. We are very successful at this. I may make it an educational aim and gear all my provision towards it.

Here is what the family achieved today.

Dig. Sat at computer making stuff happen so he can go to Spain, show it to people, and they pay him. Don't ask questions. We have a mortgage. Unlike some politicians, we can't pass that onto the UK citizens.*

Grit. Set green beans on fire. Round here the fire alarm is called the dinner bell.

Squirrel. Made a film. This is what she says about it, word for word.

I'm making a film with pink embroidery thread. This is what the audience, if they were watching, that's what they'd watch. Pink embroidery thread whizzing past their eyes. It's amazing because they [toys, ed.] don't have any film. It's with batteries and electric circuits so it's got a sound oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo oooo. It's not that exciting. I haven't put any pictures on yet.

Shark. Read a lot of book. Given sufficient provocation, shouts Youareanidiot. PoopyBrain. DamnOhmyGodBloodyPissOff.

Tiger. Made apple pie. Chatted about rubbish in cute and beguiling manner. Excellent result for nothing. Well done, Tiger.

*Given half a chance, we would.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

About as good as we can hope for

This is what makes me proud to be in England. We have made it to a field.

And not just any old field. A field at the back of a windmill turned into a pub. How good is this type of field? Very good indeed.

Today in this field we're on a walk-and-talk with a medicinal herbalist.

I'll pause there for you to conjure with wisdoms of yore, passed down in ancient texts through the ages to treat all our imbalances of melancholies, cholers, sanguinities and vapours. Look for the strange old man with grizzled grey hair to his knees, bent double over an elder wood stick, wearing nothing but a loincloth and felted purse into which he pushes a half dozen nettle leaves, three dandelion roots, some red clover and a bunch of ivy. All will be made into tinctures for our cures.

OK, our guide for the morning is Brian. He wears Rohan trousers. It is quite disappointing. The sort you can unzip at the knees to air your calves. He has a sensible haircut. And he runs a medicinal herbal business. He can do coughs, bruises and strains. He says if you have any type of strange growth, book into a hospital. Now please walk this way, and it is mostly on hard paths, so no worries about nettles.

As we set off, I am a bit worried about Shark. She is a bit bolshy, what with the culture shock, being here in England with the sun actually shining. But along she comes, and listens politely at the first stop to Brian's extensive talk about how red clover is useful for the menopause. Not once does she shout WHAT'S THE MENOPAUSE? and for this we can strew silver birch.

Next we have oak, which is astringent, so Brian says use it for nasal polyps. I have never heard of nasal polyps. Neither has Shark. Perhaps we have some and don't know. Fortunately, Shark is concentrating on ants, so we don't have to answer questions about polyps, whether we have them, and in which areas of the bodies they can be found.

The stinging nettles are good. Brian says they are useful for tonics and soups. Shark does not push Squirrel and Tiger into them once. I'm brave now, and share the knowledge that spring hawthorn leaves are edible, and when we are poor, we can pick them, and put them in our sandwiches. Shark does not scream UUUGRHHHH once. Not at all. Neither does she scream or make any noise whatsoever at the folklore tale that holly sprigs frighten off house goblins who would otherwise hide under your bed at night. Or that the devil wees in brambles after Michaelmas, so don't eat them then, because you will be drinking devil's piss.

And on we go. Brian is a fountain of knowledge. Elder is useful for fevers, colds and coughs, and rosehips for syrups and dog bites. Plantain will be fine for your mucus membrane; horse chestnut for thread veins, and ivy you can strew in the path of a drunk and they'll come to their senses. Lime is good for high blood pressure. I don't need that today. Such a relaxing and gentle walk.

Better still, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are utterly lovely. Squirrel asks Brian about daisies and Shark asks charming and erudite questions about apple trees and the benefits of apple acid. Brian answers carefully and thoughtfully and adds that apple juice is delicious whatever way you try it.

Then Shark turns to a small assembled crowd and adds how how easy it is to try herbal medicines at home because two years ago, or it could be three, mama drank all the sloe gin donated by the neighbour and pushed apple slices up her nose so they look like tusks.

I shall ask Brian whether that is a technique good for my menopausal nasal polyps.

Friday, 22 May 2009

The new regime down at the library

What is your name and address?

Shark looks at the librarian, blankly. And so do I. The librarian stares at the computer screen in front of her where she's had this information stored for eight years.

What is your name and address?

Whoa. I don't like this. This is way off script. Is that librarian on drugs, or what? Why does she need a name and address? Shark's borrowing a book. I know it's Philip Pullman but steady on.

What is your name and address?

My God! The woman's still asking! Staring her in the face and blinking didn't work! What does she want here? Is she coming round to visit us?

What is your name and address? Do you know your address?

Now STOP THERE. I don't want my children to expect that for every ordinary public service encounter they must first prove their identity to anyone who asks. Time to wade in.

Is this necessary? We don't normally have our personal details checked to borrow a book.

It is the system. (Smiles sweetly.) We have to ask every two years.

I'm sure we've not been asked this before. Why do you need it now?

It is the system. We have to check every two years.


Why do you need to ask every two years?

We're trained to ask every two years.


It is the system. We have to check every two years. Would you like a comment form?

Grit goes to a place where she screams and kicks and hammers her fists on the desk and grabs the pathetic minded arseface who instituted this system and turned a normal thinking librarian into an automaton because it seemed like such a fantastic public service idea to wipe any sense from our brains and routinely call us to account for who we are, where we live, what is our business and intent and when questioned on this even avoid the courtesy of a straight answer. And I take that tosser and smack their faces on the desk until the plastic veneer screams in mercy.

Then I feel much better and say No thank you. I have a blog.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

But I liked the email sign off, REVOLUTION NOW. Best wishes, Doreen.

The Titanic moment of my sinking heart probably happens around midday. Coming home, I attempt to 'catch up'. After two hours of cruising about those home education emails, discussion lists and blogs I need to lie down. If only I could blame jet lag.

I have read two hours of We are all doomed. You and I are servants of the state, indoctrinated, oppressed, heading down the toilet and pulling the flush ourselves. Seriously, it's enough to make me want to reach for that rope.

But don't feel safe.

Don't imagine this prediction of doom and gloom is just a home ed issue. Oh no, we are way beyond that. No-one escapes. And certainly not if you send your kids to school. Or if your newborn is two months old. Those marching jack boot powers are steaming up on all parents in close attendance, with surveillance and stealth, and those powersthatbe will spring on your door anytime now to denounce you as a parent, accuse you of abuse, and pack your newborn off to a state nursery to safeguard that child from your non-state aligned notions of welfare.

Now I might be exaggerating the tone of these home ed discussions. OK, I'm not. The mood out there is grim, and I may have to limit my exposure to safeguard my own sanity.

So this blog will concentrate on nothing more than how we are flushing ourselves down the toilet and laughing daily.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger have learned to swear. They know all the bad words. Blame the mother. Hourly, I am listening to DamnOhmyGodBloodyPissOff.

If only they would not deliver this line with a hand already clapped across the mouth and the sparkling upturned eyes of DamnOhmyGodBloodyPissOff we are doing something REALLY NAUGHTY now teeheehee then I could stop bursting into laughter long enough to be outraged.

And I promise I will have that serious conversation about how you must not say this in the post office, but at home in the kitchen to Melvyn Bragg on Radio 4 is OK.

And it will also come in handy when the jackbooted powersthatbe come smashing down the door.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Look on the bright side

Because, of course, England has many advantages.

Here are three. I have thought of that many.

The people. England does eccentricity, oddness and madness better than any country in the world. I should know. I rub shoulders with the strange in home ed groups and fields.

Remember the man who loved lichens? He sported a great grey woolly beard like a lichen. His mum knitted his clothes out of a special kind of lichen wool. He wore felted lichen shoes. And my goodness, did he know a thing or two about lichens. Get him on that subject on the two-hour tour in the grey morning drizzle and the only way to shut him up was to hit him on the back of the head with a shovel.

The weather. One moment you will be bracing yourself against the lashing gales with a plastic roll up mac and a BHS brolly. The next you will be ripping off all your clothes to show us your M&S underwear. And with that prickly heat rash, you won't even care.

No one can make sense of this English weather. All I can say is that it invites such a bizarre assortment of dress that our local Tesco has a dress code. This is prompted not so much by inappropriate dress, rather the lack of any dress whatsoever should England have a drizzle of sunshine instead of rain. And those layers of pinky white phlobby bits, swollen milk bottle legs and enormous bellies are not only sported by the laydeez. Round here the pit bull terriers have them too.

The things we do. Shark, Tiger and Squirrel are looking forward to all our lovely educational outings. To fields, museums, holiday camps.

You won't have to wait long there, little gritlets. Come the weekend we're booked on a walk with a medicinal herbalist who knows a thing or two about rubbing dandelions over yourself to cure distemper. And you can guess where that will take place. Now all we have to do is decide whether to take the plastic macs or the factor 60.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Exploiting elephants

We couldn't catch Shark for the photo opportunity on the back of the elephant at Singapore Zoo. She was off with the fish.

And bugger. The next step is back home to England.

Monday, 18 May 2009

It's the little things that matter

I can't help it. It's like admitting to a dirty secret, like I kill cows, wear leather knickers and eat cheeseburgers. And believe me, that is totally beyond bad for a vegan.

But I can do nothing else. I admit. I like Singapore.

Most of the loose hanging creative types we meet roll their eyes to the heavens and groan should I be brave enough to whisper this.

Clearly, I am a lost cause. I may as well tattoo lackey to the government over my face. I have no opinions of my own, I do not know what I want, I wait to be told, and when I am, I'll be grateful. Because, I will surely be reminded, you do what you're told in Singapore and, wagging finger, warning eyebrow, there are limits on free speech. Do you want that, lackey? Do you?

OK, Singapore may be a benign dictatorship, but blow me, people are honest, taxi drivers use the metres, the trains work, the food is excellent, the juices freshly pressed, and the streets are clean. And if you're towing kids around Asia, that's all pretty important.

As is the quality of the entertainment. And we can't do much better than one of Asia's top attractions, the Night Safari.

Go on, admit it. This is wonderful. You can't failed to be charmed by a tropical forest that comes to life at night. One that is lit atmospherically and beautifully, the nocturnal animals simply appearing, often without visible enclosure, so beautifully is it landscaped, so carefully designed, in all its smallest details, all for you to creep along the trail, brush away the leaves, and ssshhh! Can you see the hyena?

Well of course we have no photos. We are too busy tripping over each other in the near darkness, oohhing and aarhing at the sounds and the sights.

And if you should ever doubt the value of that dictatorship to the small children of England, bear in mind that at the Night Safari, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger say it has best toilets they've seen anywhere in the world.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

10/10 for the Perak Hotel

Here in Singapore we stay at the Perak Hotel. In the room set up for families. They don't advertise that on their site, so don't look. You just have to know. And the guy on trip advisor who claims it not suitable for families and children, where did you stay?

The Perak Hotel is an excellent hotel for kids.

It has proper wooden floorboards you can run up and down and get the bloke from downstairs right up to your door to complain in person because banging on the ceiling doesn't work. It has shower caps in squishy little packets! Do you know how much more convenient than those poxy boxes when shoving them in fistfuls into your pink butterfly wheelie luggage? After all, there could be a world shortage of shower caps anytime soon and we need to be prepared, right?

But the advantages don't stop there. The Perak Hotel has little breakfast tables so you don't have to sit with the boring old grown ups who are complaining about the coffee. There is the best orange juice in all the world and tinned fruit salad for breakfast. And biscuits! CAKE! And a huge jar of squeezy honey that no-one snatches off you yelling That's enough!

And there are so many more advantages. Like there's no-one at the door who tries to snatch your luggage like Mr Spooky from that fivestarjobby in Lisbon. It is not a good look to be wrestling your bag back off those fellas in the street.

And the fish! Did we mention the fish? Right there past reception are two lovely huggy fish swimming about so you can watch them swim happy while you breakfast OD on cakebiscuitshoney.

And the Perak Hotel puts you in the right place for Little India where you can be woken up by the call to prayer at 5am. And the perfect place for the Tekka Food Centre, home to the $2 fresh pressed fruit juices which are the best in all Singapore. Culture, right on the doorstep.

But best of all, absolutely BEST OF ALL, is the huge bowl of sweeties positioned just inside the door easily placed at CHILD REACH which the staff refill EVERYDAY.

Which is why the Perak Hotel scores 10/10 everytime from Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, aged nine.

Bartender, line up those fruit juices at Tekka temporary centre.
Let's hope they doesn't tart up Tekka Mall too much. We liked the grime.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Because I feel the same

Nothing quite matches the ridiculous tumbling sense of joy I feel on seeing the Sydney Opera House and marching right up those steps. It has that sort of punchtheair excitement of I've made it!

I know it's unwarranted. Let's face it, from England, it's as easy as ABC, stepping in a metal tube, kissing goodbye to the atmosphere, and stepping out again, waving hello to Sydney.

In my defence, I can say I made it hard for myself the first time round. Fifteen years ago, in love with the younger, unmarried-to-me Dig, we slowly crawled here from England through India and China. Reaching one of the world's most recognisable, most beautiful buildings, still alive, still in love, I had a real sense of achievement.

Fifteen years a lot's changed. This time I have brought a married-to-me Dig. Two mothers dead and no telephone home this time to say Hi! Guess where we are! And kids in tow, three at once to please. Nearly half way round the world with them, and we're still alive, still married. There's an achievement too.

It's enough to set us all photographing each other. And we do, and me and Dig hold hands, and Shark captures the moment. And all I know is, some feelings don't change.

Friday, 15 May 2009

When in Sydney...

...visit the aquarium. You know it's non negotiable.

What can I add after a day of fishy fun, held only to please the budding marine biologist amongst us?

Squirrel confides in me that she doesn't find fish that interesting, and Tiger adds that she's only agreed to come for the platypus. She whispers that because Shark has recently taken to issuing death threats. She shouldn't worry. Shark is out of earshot, blissing out on dugongs.

I exit after seven hours following surgical removal of all my money but with two cameras full of blurred fish.

You may as well share the passion.

And there are plenty more where those came from.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Holding up pretty well

To spare the blushes of Dig's corporate sponsers who invited us all out to dine this evening, I'm saying nothing. Here are the ladies after fifteen vodka martinis and a tequila champagne slammer.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Can we make pizza?

I have listened to Can we make pizza? all day long. And let's say up front, even with Can we make pizza? ringing in my head, it has been a tip-top excellent day thanks to the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Squirrel has asked Can we make pizza? everywhere. Including on board the Endeavour, the Australian-built replica of Cook's ship berthed in Darling Harbour, and which is such a fantastic slice of living history Grit would lick the deck if only she had not been pursued by Squirrel asking Can we make pizza?

And Squirrel has not given in. She has asked Can we make pizza? while we have contemplated Aboriginal art, early explorers and settlers, French and English maritime history and the sad, sad journeys of migrant children, sent from orphanages in England to make new lives in Australia, and how Grit was moved to tears over that, and still the question Can we make pizza? goes on.

Can we make pizza? goes on even while we are walking across Darling Harbour, seconds after Squirrel has suggested the thing she would like best to do in all the world is shove me in the water after I have told her off for asking Can we make pizza? all day.

Following some discussion about how you strategically approach those in charge to get something you want, of course I cave in and say YES! LET'S MAKE PIZZA! and we go directly to Coles supermarket, buy mini pizza bases and tomato paste, onions, cheese and mushrooms, and from then on it will be simple. We will go back to our rented apartment and compose pizza.

I need to remember to seal my face in concrete and jump off Harbour Bridge first.

Perhaps it is the dramatic tension of the day's build up to this delicious feast. Or perhaps it is the catharsis of the actual pizza making. Because there is a bloodybigboohooing from start to finish from just about all of us.

Here are the pizza bases, smeared with an assortment of onions, tomato paste, mushrooms and cheese. In varying amounts. Squirrel has slightly more cheese, Tiger has no mushrooms, Shark has extra onions. Only they all look the bloody same when they come out the oven, sparking a furious row called That's NOT my pizza!

Dig complicates matters during batch two by arriving half way through and assembling two of his own pizzas, thus fuelling more That's NOT my pizza!

Then the extractor fan makes things worse by dropping off the ceiling into a tray of carefully assembled pizzas waiting for cooking.

If only it could stop there. On removing a tray of mini pizzas from the oven, I upend them on the floor because the only means of extraction I have in this slightly under-resourced apartment, are the burned fingers of one hand and a soup ladle. Cue more weeping and more pizza making.

The final batch go in. The oven is now caked in charcoal pizza goo and raging at 240C when the unhinged Grit opens it, stares directly inside, burns out her corneas and sets the fire alarms off.

Seriously, I wish I could make it up now because with the children screaming behind her, the blinded Grit blunders out the kitchen to throw open the balcony windows and not fall fifteen floors down in a vain attempt to stop the fire alarm BEEPBEEPBEEPING when the phone rings.

Dig steels himself to explain to reception who by rights will be calling to check whether the fire alarm is real and should they call out the fire brigade and charge us $1000 for the privilege? But no. It is the reception calling to say they would like to come and change the beds. Not the sheets, note. The entire beds. Frame, mattress, the lot. And by the way, do you need the fire brigade because we can hear the fire alarm? And is that a woman screaming AARGHICANNOTSEEEE! Is it a medical emergency, Sir?

Tomorrow, Dig's hosts are taking us all out to dinner. I expect our behaviour to be exemplary.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Short on time

That's the end of the family holiday. This week Dig is working in Sydney, which means I am left to my own devices. Plan A is to locate the nearest museum and spend all day in it. I won't need Plan B.

Home Education Plan A is the Powerhouse Museum. Here I can send Shark, Squirrel and Tiger off, roaming free, and need not see them again.

When I want to find them later this afternoon I'll look for the security guard. He'll be frowning with impatience and jangling keys. In front of him will be my kids, squaring up to pick a fight about the unfair treatment, actually being thrown out of a museum when they have not yet designed the teapot in the interactive design game, and does everyone know how much they've been looking forward to doing that?

Then I'll be caught between feeling proud of my little home ed school, and needing, for the sake of social niceness, to sound apologetic for them all at the same time.

Well, Powerhouse, I'm not really apologetic. I've been kicking myself all day because I forgot the camera. And I'm short on temper thanks to a husband snatched from my grasp. And we only found that kid's gallery in the underground level an hour before closing. You should have made the design section more boring. And you shouldn't have distracted us with that space capsule. And what's with the clock? We spent a good half an hour looking at that.

So what did you expect? Take an awkwardsquad mama and three bolshy kids deprived of papa for the week, put them somewhere they like, then try and throw them out of it, fifteen minutes before closing time.

You'll find the security guard in the cupboard at the back of the soundwaves section.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Port Stephens to Sydney.

Driving around Australia is a bad idea. We won't do that. I will plot instead for when the kids are aged 18 and living in squats in Kensal Green. Then I will spend the inheritance driving round Australia with Dig, exploring what is over there.

Because the problem we have right now is possessing more kids than car windows, which means they have to sit in a line.

After an hour, Tiger says she does not like sitting in the car looking at views like this.

She doesn't say this quietly, unless I count quietly as kicking the back of the car seat screaming her guts out while snot is pouring everywhere and it sounds like iiiiiwannnnaaagetoutthecaaaaaaaaaar! I guess I will call that quiet, because it is no where near as bad as that time on the Oxford ring road.

Anyway, Dig says he cannot drive when someone is having a fit in the car, quiet or loud. He has a yell and I fine Tiger $1 on her spends for causing a public nuisance, on the basis that if I stood in a public street and screamed I hated pavements, I would probably be fined too.

But we will not dwell on the car journey. It is a necessary evil, so I can take away memories of what children really like to do on a beach holiday.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Blame the weather

This morning in Port Stephens the rain has constantly hammered on the metal roof of the cabin. Thunder has rolled around us, rattling our cage, literally.

At first, it wasn't so bad. The children found the Star Trek Warp Speed Ball wrapped in plastic in their Kellog's pack. This provided a half hour's amusement. No-one reads the instructions, so they play randomly with it, hurling it about the room. Then a fight breaks out. Dig sends Squirrel and Tiger into the covered area where the rain finds small cracks in the roof to drip, and they wrestle there.

Bored with that, Tiger finds a snail and suggests timing the speed of its track with the Speed Ball, and that amuses everyone a while until the snail won't go where they want, won't jump over the finish line, and anyway, no one thought to measure the distance. Then they disperse in search of another, more willing and obliging insect, one who will follow rules and obey commands.

Of course the moment their backs are turned, disaster strikes when I stand on the snail while occupied with the laundry again. I won't confess. I will say their only source of amusement slithered off, weary of being told what to do by giants.

And the owners of the site aren't here again, which is a great nuisance. They would have provided some diversion because the children could have quizzed them about what type of snail it was. When Squirrel and Tiger found another frog, the owners stared at it blankly, before declaring it a frog and they didn't know what type. They're not much use, beyond declaring this is a koala, this is a kangaroo, but hey, it's raining, and they would have provided another half hour of something to do.

For me it's bad because they keep a little second hand bookshop in their office and now it's all locked up. That makes me feel cross. They are a good source of reject books about English history.

And I still cannot make the huge laundry machine work. Cherry, the site owner, managed it for me the other day, or said she did, by changing the settings. I cannot do the same. I told Dig to stop pressing STOP and START because everytime you do that it fills with water. Now we've overflowed it again. Perhaps it's a good job the owners aren't here to see us kill their wildlife and trash their laundry hut.

Midday, it's continuing to rain, and none of us really knows what to do. I have tiptapped at the keyboard, we've played with the Chinese chess set, no one wants to watch TV (which I am glad about) and only Shark can be persuaded to draw a picture of herself in a very special Australian place. She's chosen the Shark and Ray Feeding Centre.

The children respond much as anyone would expect. They are bored, fed up, squabble. We've periodically ejected them into the dripping covered area outside and told them to squabble there. They wrestle, try and turn it into I hate you and never want to see you again, then try and turn it into I didn't mean to hurt you and I'm sorry. They are rolling back and forth, not sure which way to go, not sure which route to take. When the rain eases, they dart off to the grass and the ponds and stay there, even though within minutes the rain comes tumbling back down.

This is not kind weather, so I feel sorry for myself, perhaps that this part of the journey is over. I have come to new resolutions of course. I don't know if I'll see any of them through.

Perhaps we can yet redeem the day. The weather's due to clear before we're plunged into darkness at 5.30, and we may make a dash to see the gigantic sand dunes around Anna Bay, in the Worimi Conservation Lands.

The sand dunes stretch 32 kilometres round the coastline and are shifting slowly inland. So far they've made it by one kilometre. The dunes, reaching 40 metres high, lose all their vegetation beyond the coastal strip and become sand mountains straight from a film set. Cherry says they are the largest dunes outside the Sahara. I'm not sure about that, but they would be fine to see. Probably once there I will realise how much I don't know about the world all over again, and how much time I squander, when there is so much to explore.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

After the English fields I've crossed, this is a cinch

Hey! We're bushwalking! Doesn't that word conjure up some image. I bet you are filled with expectation that we're strapping forty litres of water to our backs, donning hats with corks and setting off thataway, walkabout style, temperatures 40C in the shade. We may live off grubs for the next seventy days, and if I don't come back alive, you can bet I had fun going.

Bushwalking round these parts also seems to mean stroll a few hundred yards uphill on concreted paths to a summit. Here you'll find a wide and sturdy platform to take your photo opportunity. Tomaree Head Summit Platform to be exact. 160 metres above sea level, commanding panoramic views of Port Stephens.

This walk up the park is a regular weekend thing to be doing for some exercise and there's troops of folks trudging up and down. The kid in front of our party is springing up barefooted.

But this doesn't detract one bit from my pioneering exploratory soul and I take full advantage of my knowledge that I am actually bushwalking, so can freely imagine myself gutting skinks and digging out Wittchety grubs. Yup, I do.

I do, also, take advantage of the splendid photo opportunities afforded by the excellent and sturdy summit platform which can easily accommodate twenty-plus overweight tourists wielding heavy duty camera equipment.

A satisfying day. Next I may try the Sturt Desert if it has a boardwalk.