Friday, 30 April 2010

Grit's guide to politics with kids. Rule 5.

Election fever has gripped this house. La Famille Grit is urgently discussing the key issues, morning, noon and night. Along with who stole the last chocolate hobnob, which is almost as big as the economy in the scale of things. When we find out who did that, and who's got the missing UK trillions, we're going to give them both a good hiding.

To help sort out one discussion from another and focus our minds on who says what, mama Grit has turned the front room into the Election Nerve Centre.

So this is Rule 5 in this house, and the final rule in Grit's fantastic quick-fix for kids, politics guide:

Rule 5. Grab the fever. Turn your house into a set worthy of Election Night Special.

So far we have created an array of up-to-the-minute interactive display boards, designed to bring superior political analysis and interpretation of live news results. Hark! I think the BBC is banging on the front door right now, hoping to take advantage of our state-of-the-art display system.

No, just the milkman threatening us with the Old Bill. Never mind, while we wait for the BBC, here is some of Grit's Election Night Display.

OK, I admit that the only flyer we have so far stuck up on the know-your-candidate board is the Green Party. We had to print that flyer off the website because the bastards won't deliver us one on the basis that we can't be trusted to recycle it.

David Cameron was up there but the slimy posh boy keeps dropping off. I don't have enough blutack to hold him up.

And don't ask me where the liberal democrats have gone. I did have a flyer to stick up but I possibly used it for a shopping list and wrote mackerel over King Clegg's face before stuffing it in my handbag.

But the minorities are very nearly up there. We have a BNP leaflet but my hand won't let me stick it to the wall.

No-one can find out anything about the independent candidate, although we've tried. He's done no canvassing at our door, he has no website, and I've seen no posters or leaflets. I may vote for him on the basis he will leave us alone and do nothing, and that is more or less what I'd like for a few years.

You'll notice the Labour Party is not up there yet. They will go up, oh yes they will, in the interests of fair minded and balanced politics, and Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are quite entitled to vote for them oh yes they are. I have not brain washed my children that far, just reminded them about the micromanaging culture that is destroying our community, and the way the Labour Party hounded and vilified home educators over the last year, then told all resident bodies in this house that if they do put Ed Balls back in power I'm going on strike so they will starve to death and have to eat the floorboards. I think that is fair.

So on balance, right now, at this moment, we are an undecided family, although the Election Display Board is helping allocate votes on a policy-for-policy basis.

I have to admit, there is one party the children like best, and especially their manifesto which promises to make wire coat hangers illegal.

Of course we are tempted by the multilingual Clegg, because he is not one or the other.

There again, we might revert to type, and go Green, because Squirrel says, having thought about it, that fairies really do need fighting for.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Grit's guide to politics with kids. Rule 4.

In January 2009, the Labour government decided to advertise home education.

They did it quite well. Within four months of their campaign starting, the perfectly legal option of education outside state school was covered in every major newspaper and magazine. It was the subject of TV news programmes. Videos created by adults, researchers, community groups and children blew across YouTube. Twitter and hundreds of blogs blasted out the news.

Another few months saw hundreds of thousands of documents, posters, leaflets, gatherings, picnics, celebration events and letters to lords, ladies, and Members of Parliament.

The home education agenda made thousands and thousands of people aware. Education is compulsory. School isn't.

That activity was a fantastic response. It showed what leverage ordinary people apply in government. We received applause from lords, and we sent bats down the bosoms of baronesses. Our reach went far. We made history.

We'll do it again. And I would say this is the best education in politics I could have given Shark, Squirrel and Tiger.

Rule 4. Get active.

My children did things. They went places. They talked about the issues. They followed the progress of a bill in Parliament. They found out how to meet other people who had different and the same opinions. They found out how people make their voices heard through petitions, arguments, demonstration. They saw how visual and print media worked to support or undermine an issue. They learned about the role of an MP, and how MPs can pick and choose the cause they'll support. My children learned that they can make a difference.

So that's what I recommend. Look at the bills proposed by the government we get next week. Pick one to follow - one that matters - and follow it day by day, as it progresses to an Act. Watch it, read about it, go visit Parliament or your MP. It is by far the most active way you can teach your child about the political process.

More suggestions on how to involve kids actively in politics are over here.

For the moment though we're busy on important matters. Balancing chinchillas on Shark's head requires precision timing.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Grit's guide to politics with kids. Rule 3.

No messing.

Rule 3: Follow the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Here's Grit, always first with the news, eh!

But this is the real stuff. OK, you haven't got time to do it before the actual election in the UK, which is like, um, days away. But the classics are an excellent educational route into politics and power.

Don't suggest children cannot follow this fantastic history or get to grips with some of the issues contained in this slice of time. That breaks rule 2.

Because from Rome we get to talk about life. We stop being nice to each other. People bash, stab, poison and thump their way to power. They announce themselves conquerors, jackboot their way into foreign lands, stitch up dodgy deals, and over in Egypt shove snakes down their bras.

I can tell you from first-hand experience that Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, all aged ten, are enjoying themselves hugely with this; with tales of Tarquin the BAD, Tarquin the EVEN WORSE, Octavius the Sneaky GIT, Caligula the BONKERS. They're thinking about the nature of power itself and the grip of the dynasty. They're thinking about checks and balances of talking chambers, advisers, group interests. They're learning how each of these characters ruled with or without consent, with or without fear, as tyrants, dictators, kings, nutcases. Which I think is communicating some pretty valuable and relevant lessons for 21st century global living.

But consider this: why is it in state schools that kids are not taught this stuff? They are taught that Romans mean central heating, sewers, nice baths, and olive oil.

But strangely, if you pay 20K in school fees, the Romans are about monarchy, republic, conspiracy, tyranny, dictatorship, the creation of a patriarchal society, the power of rhetoric, the role of the lawmaker and the merits of military rule. In other words, pay for it, and you get the stuff of politics.

It is not an accident then that the British Empire was furthered and built by men who went to posh schools and had a direct training in the classics. It is not a fluke that rich, privately educated blokes who today tumble out of Oxbridge Philosophy, Politics and Economics courses become heads of Tory parties.

Now Grit may be an old anarchist hippie but I believe this division between the know and knownot - the way that some people are allowed near the juicy stuff of the classics but lesser mortals are kept away - is all part of a long tradition of maintaining privileged knowledge; and some knowledge clearly is to be kept away from the clutches of the gutter classes. Which sort of answers that question, Why isn't politics taught in schools?

I wouldn't exactly call it a conspiracy, but I think we have a society where some kids are kept in ignorance and taught about sewers while other kids are taught about politics, and power.

Well stuff that. Today we have more books than we can count. We have information pouring out of our screens. We have access to all knowledge. We can find out how politics works, think about questions of power, consider approaches to democracy, empower ourselves as citizens.

So that's one of the angles of politics I'm passing on to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. And I'll leave it to their growing wisdoms over the years to steadily draw out the parallels between 496BC and 2010AD.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Grit's guide to politics with kids. Rule 2.

When you cannot figure out the menu functions on the new DVD and you pass that remote control to your six-year old, at that moment you acknowledge their expert status as supreme being of all household media.

Similarly, when I want to understand what Gordon Brown means when he talks about managing the economy, I turn to the experts. I ask, Squirrel, what would you say if Tiger borrowed your whole pocket money, blew it on chocolate Maltesers and then told you that you're going to be grounded for non-payment of her library fines?

Squirrel would deliver a strongly worded opinion about that financial management, and I would almost certainly this time remove the metal bar before we got started on that discussion.

But the point is, I assume my kids are experts already. In almost everything. From economy, education, welfare and society through to the environment, trade, defence and the benefits and hazards of the justice system.

For which read, politics.

Rule 2: Assume kids are already experts

This is obvious, if you think about it. By age two, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger had definite opinions on my parenting skills. They shared those opinions freely, loudly, and in Tesco, to a maximum capacity audience. So their ideas about social cohesion were formed.

By age three their opinions were expressed about power, and how much of it they could exert over any situation if they locked themselves in the bathroom and removed all their clothes. Maybe, with fine timing, they could explore the literal concept of naked power five minutes after I said let's go shopping.

By age four they had views on crime and punishment thanks to the incident with the rock and scissors and the soil down the toilet. The NHS came shortly after thanks to the head wound from the first day at nursery.

At age five, they had a worked out approach to solving the educational problems of this country. Mostly created while watching their peers frogmarched down Bash Street School dressed in grey and white, while they took a leisurely breakfast and decided today they'd like to build a den in the woods.

And so it has gone on. Now Shark, Squirrel and Tiger offer challenging opinions on all manner of political issues, from the notion of fairness to the practicalities of the economy, thanks to the pocket money regime monitored by the Bank of Grit.

So I'm saying that kids should be treated like the people they are when it comes to politics. Wise, knowledgeable, experienced. Anything less sounds patronising and, given their expertise with rock, scissors and metal bar, round here I wouldn't try anything other than rational debate.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Thank you, Milton Keynes

Thank you for envisioning a town built around parkland.

Thank you for bringing here the types of outspoken, committed people we like.

Thank you for creating and maintaining inspiring playgrounds, which we discover on our journey, and never knew about before today.

And thank you, Milton Keynes, for nicking Ed Balls. Driving while talking on his mobile phone.

You just gave me one more reason why I love you.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Grit's guide to politics with kids. Rule 1.

It's no good, is it? I have to talk about it. The general election. Because Grit, like most smug home educating bastards, must seize this moment. I must grasp this stingingnettle opportunity.

Yes. I must now teach the little grits about politics.

I bet you'd like to think, given that we home educating types are brainwashing hothousing childabusing zealots*, that teaching my kids about politics means threatening them with rope and shouting Vote for the green-flavoured dope-smoking hippies or I tie you to the radiators again you little grits.

Unfortunately, the little grits run fast when they see the rope. They also, like most home ed kids, take no notice of a pointless parental unit like me, especially on matters which fall into the category called make up your own mind. Worse, these small opinionated people are by now thoroughly deinstitutionalised and completely individualised. Which means they roll out of bed with their own ideas on how they're going to run the planet.

Let's hope then you and me are in a spaceship heading for ZeltaMinor, that's all I'm saying, because some of those planet running ways include forced consumption of pasta and compulsory horse kissing.

Anyway, like most kids, my little grits combine a total certainty about the way to run a planet with their rights over who sits where at the breakfast table and who's not wearing mama's old cardigan again. They then mix this opinionated mishmash with a bunch of half-baked ideas sprinkled with half-arsed questions. Like Why can't conger eels rule the world? and What would happen if Gordon Brown ate only helium?

But this is where any Parent-Teacher comes in, and this is politics with kids Rule Number One that I can share with you, lovely thisfar-reader.

In fact, now I'm in full rhetorical mode, I'll don my best public service hat and tell you that these are my hard-earned wisdoms. Indeed I gladly pass them on to you, if you are looking to seize this election moment too, and educate your offspring in the ways of the world political.

Rule one. Answer all the questions about Gordon in a frock.

Yes, all the questions. Every one. You must answer them. No matter how pointless, stupid, and annoying.

In fact, this is how I teach anything, if you can call it teaching. Well OK, I don't. I listen to the questions asked by my little grits Tiger, Squirrel and Shark, and I answer them, as best I can. Sometimes my answer is, I do not know, I never thought about that, then I follow it up with Let's find out, and the consequent printing of fourmillionwikipediapages and the purchasing of 65 books on Amazon. After three weeks I can legitimately say It is all more complicated than I thought.

Now I know we don't have time for that, because there is an election to decide. But it is in this spirit that we approach the election with kids. They ask questions, we think up answers, and we all talk about it round the breakfast table, or at the side of the radiator if anyone's feeling uncooperative.

Fifteen minutes in and you may find that small offspring are filled with questions like Why is he doing that? What is he talking about? These are good questions and if we are going to join the great enterprise of educating the nation's youth in matters political, the answer must not be Shut up and eat your tea.** A bit more time and they are offering opinions like He would look stupid in a dress and He's not making me eat peas for anything. This is all good stuff, and round here we professionals call that engagement.

Now, that is Grit's fantastic Rule Number One.

I bet you can barely contain yourself for Rule Number Two.

*Balls, your crimes aren't forgiven.

**All you experienced home educators are rolling your eyes now, aren't you? Because of course you detect I have succumbed to that home ed crime of twisting everything the offspring say just to the subject I actually want to them to talk about. So Squirrel will casually say Gordon Brown would look better in a frock, and I will say Yes Squirrel, Gordon Brown would look better in a frock. And it is a jolly silly thing in our society that he cannot do that if he wants. Now let's talk about citizenship, autocracy and monarchy from the point of view that all men including Gordon Brown and the Duke of Edinburgh should be free to wear frocks, if they want.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

One of those walks and talks

A long, long walk...

to see plenty of these...

some of this... with plenty of that...

and a pause for this...

before some more of these...

Strangely, I am reminded of this. And do you know what? With no aim beyond enjoying this day, that feels good.

Friday, 23 April 2010

One place, two worlds

You should know this. Whenever we home educating hordes take our offspring to a museum, gallery, discovery centre, we grubbers and bumscratchers behave like we own the place. Which, for most of the places we go, we kind of do, because we are part of this nation, and these places belong to us.

You see? There's that attitude again. I can't help it. Don't blame me. It's what we're used to. It's a knowledge of our rights.

We expect to be there for at least five hours. We expect to be able to talk at length with the staff, move freely about the place, stop where the kids like to write, draw, talk, and pay discount rates as well, because yeah, we're home educated, and the entry fee need not be as expensive as you think.

But we have this attitude, right? We have it because we have this sense of entitlement, and when we visit these places, we enjoy it, and good things happen. That's our experience.

Of course we try to be understanding and not show too much of the smugbastard.

OK, the CCTV cameras might catch us rolling our eyes and tutting when the school party comes round. We watch the crocodile-delivered kids do the supervised ten minutes in the gallery, be herded up, shouted at, and moved on for the next 60 kids to roll in behind. If they didn't see the art, tough luck. The buses leave at 2.30.

The exact time in fact that home educators breathe a big sigh of relief because we've still another couple of hours before closing time, maybe to look round, ask the staff to explain points of interest, join a workshop, do more talking, watch the edutainment video again, and play in the picnic area.

So I have to say that we get used to this lifestyle.

Until now. Because we take a tour to Bletchley Park where we are labelled as a school party.

Did this come as a shock? I am still bandaging my wounds.

Do you school choosing people really put up with this? We are met at the gates with armed clipboards and jackboots, told we are late, that everything is our fault and maybe we started World War II. On that matter, they'll check on their clipboards and get back to us. Then we are frog marched to our designated places and these are the rules and you do not disobey the rules and where is your sticker? We all must wear stickers. No exceptions. And they must be visible at all times and we must go here and here and here because the schedule says so and yes, by the way, it was all our fault.

And no-one said Welcome.

But as home educators we know Bletchley Park. And we love it. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger have been annual pass holders. They have spent happy hours running between huts, learning about ancient computers, following trails, watching old ladies nod off in visitor chairs.

Worse then, for us, because today we are a school group, and everything changed. I am not saying the sessions were not kind to the children, nor run efficiently. They were, and pitched at the right level by gentle, knowing speakers. But the organisational attitude changed towards us, and expectations lowered. People felt we had to be managed, ushered, controlled, monitored, supervised. We were separated from normal society, from other visitors, and we needed to be given orders because the assumption was, that whatever happened next, we were sure to break the rules.

So I would just like to suggest that if your child goes on a school-booked visit anywhere, ask what would they have done, if they had space, and time, and leisure.

Then book a weekend visit and go see the place properly.

Yes, the treatment brought out the juvenile delinquent in me.
I stuffed my sticker down my front
in the hope that I would be challenged by The Clipboard Law.
Then I could legitimately pull down my vest and expose my bosom.
Ahem ... One more thoughtful than me
might consider how schools construct the antisocial
behaviour they simultaneously condemn.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Take a step back

We've been doing this thing for a good few years now and, despite what I said, the world hasn't ended.

This thing being the home education thing. And we have been through a few things now too, in pursuit of the home education thing. Some of them involving knocked out teeth, metal bars, head wounds, and a mermaid squatting on the toilet, but at least now I have got to that point where I can look back at those things and say, well that is maybe what this choice of life involves.

When we first started home education it felt very daring and rebellious and courageous, the sort of thing that good parents will do to protect their tender baby offspring, and maybe that is like fighting evil empires to rescue cute innocent rabbits with fluffy fur and big sad eyes.

But on those days when it all went horribly wrong and my hideous spawn knuckledragged their way through the day, grunting and yelling and thumping the shit out of each other, it felt like I was mentally and emotionally not cut out for this intensive life alongside them. On those days, home education is the equivalent to climbing a mountain naked with a cougar strapped to your back.

But then along comes a day, like today, when I feel I have some perspective on the matter. Maybe it is spring. Maybe it is the way the sun streaks through the window, and I can respond to that. I can look around me and see Shark is quietly reading and Squirrel is deep thinking, working out some maths, and Tiger is humming as she sits on the floor sewing a dismembered rabbit head to a plaque, and I can think, right, we are doing alright. This is alright. And now the sun is shining and the air breathes clean. I can look to the sunshine and say hey everyone, would you like to take a walk in the woods to find flowers and Spring things? Everyone gazes up and looks at Spring busting through the window and happily pulls on shoes and out we go.

It's as simple as that. We meet up with other parents and other kids and our helpful Parks people, and we run around in the sunshine and learn about ancient woodland and bluebells.

Yes, here I am living a life that I chose because I thought it was the right thing to do. But I have in many ways doubted my ability to withstand it. Some days it is the most difficult life I could have chosen: a life where the kids can strain me and drain me and hang me out to dry, a life which on a bad day can seem like the worst possible choice and the stupidest thing ever to have chosen; a life with humiliations, sacrifices, and the pressure to locate the yellow embroidery thread to stitch up a penguin flipper before Tiger smashes up the entire house.

But some days it is so right, because look out at that world. Yes, it has horrors and glories. There are woodlands, bluebells, and sunshine too. And I get to share it all with the people I love.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

I gave up my Beth Chatto garden for this

A recreation of a Jurassic mud swamp.

A reenactment of The Battle of the Dinosaurs

A grave.

Of a unicorn.

I am told that the unicorn is not dead. Merely resting. Tonight, if I wake screaming in terror at the nightmare that is the Dawn of the Flesh-Eating Zombie Undead Unicorns, forgive me. It is the result of playing in the garden.

A blackboard badger. On stilts.

A home-made hammock held up with string and ribbon. (I approve of that. It saved me £13.99.)

An assault course.

And dinner for two. Two unicorns, of course. This is their pudding. Painted mud pie. In the background is probably the main course. Corpse.

Spring is here, and the children have taken over the garden.

The midnight terrors are beginning.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Ten minute notebook

To make this notebook you need nothing more than a copy of a newspaper magazine, needle and embroidery thread, and double sided sticky tape. And ten minutes.

Then you need never buy another notebook in the National Trust giftshop, ever again. You can spend that £2.50 on a bar of chocolate and hide under the stairs instead.

Step one: Cut out from the magazine pages the size of internal pages you want. I don't know. How big is the jeans pocket on your bum? Make it to that size. Cut the number of pages you want. Make sure that on the magazine pages you use there is blank space if you're writing. It would be silly to cut out only the trendy black printed pages, wouldn't it?

Step two: Use more of the magazine or find some pretty paper as a cover; fold it over to create a back and a front to your pages. You can use anything. The paper we get from our local chippy works well.

Step three: Stitch across the top. I bet you're sorry you wanted 250 pages in your notebook now aren't you? Thin but strong paper works better; anything posh and glossy and covered in chemical coating is difficult to stitch. Cheap, grey, plenty of blank space all good. I use the Independent magazine.

Step four: That's it. You have a notebook.

If you have kids and they like collecting crap then stick in double sided sticky tape. At this point, only peel away one side to stick to your page, obviously, otherwise you'll stick all the pages together.

On your walk, when the kids bring you sand, feathers, flowers, leaves, lollysticks, string and discarded chocolate bar wrapping to shove in your handbag, say no with real pride and tell them to peel off the upper protective layer to the sticky tape and press their findings on the sticky bit. To stop the pages sticking together when you close the book and sit on it, simply sprinkle over the exposed sticky parts a crumble of sand or soil.

The one photographed is one I took with me on the Sunday walk. I left the stitching long and we wrapped twigs round the hanging length. The kids stuck bits on the double sided tape, and I made notes in the rest. If I was following this through, I'd stick in photographs of the day.

Now, the plans to spend a year in Hong Kong are off, but Dig might accept a tour for a few months. His soul is not for sale. Mine can be had for £2.50.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Let's not give this day a name

Horrible. If life were right, I should be posting up pictures of kidsinwoods like before.

I cannot. Spent the day staring at the insides of my eyelids instead, in despair at how it can all go so horribly horrible horrid wrong.

Tiger burst out of bed determined on vengeance for something. Nothing got better from that point. Maybe I had committed some heinous crime, stealing up in her dream, taking a chainsaw to her favourite unicorn. Whatever it was, it was not something she was prepared to forgive in a spirit of the day's cooperative home education and self learning adventure, that's for sure.

She came to breakfast in a fuming rage, slammed the crockery about and crunched up toast like it might be the bones of small furry animals.

I admit making a joke about dormice was possibly the very worst thing I could have done.

Two hours later and the fight has scaled up into a full triplet war and the whole house is sunk in chaos with a lot of howling, yelling, screaming and hanging onto door frames. I have my head in my hands smothered in snot and tears in a lookalike to a bullfrog. I now know for certain sure that by all my philosophical convictions and weirdy hippie ways, I have irreparably damaged my children forever and beyond.

Not long after deciding it is all my fault, I hit that self piteous mental sluice of self destruction self blame and self harm where taking a couple of razor blades to my wrists is a selfless act whereby I can let someone else breathe the air I waste. It is only the thought that if I do not first pay the milkman, the newsagent and the speeding ticket I acquired on Friday (36 mph in a 30 mph zone), then my mercy death will leave behind a slew of merciless unpaid bills. Then the bailiffs will knock. Dig, bound for Brazil, will wave the children off to foster homes where they will be tortured and the house will be bulldozed.

So because it was such a horrible, terrible, unredeemed day, here is a picture of a home made book with a butterfly on the front.

This is part of Grit's new project to encourage the little grits to make notebooks from recycled rubbish because I am fed up of parting with £7.50 in museum shops for three boring notebooks since no-one can remember to bring a jottings pad. The butterfly book is recycled from fabric, scrapbooking bits, card, and a sequined keyring I scrounged from a bucket in Scrapstore. The pages are made with fabric interfacing so they can be stitched, and it's bound together with wire. Here's the insides. Better to show you those of the book rather than mine.

This is called the Saturday book. And yes. Shortly there will be a book for each day of the week. They'll hang around the house, and I'll be encouraging the little grits to stick things in them as we go - and no I bloody well don't care what day they choose to scribble in. At the end of Spring we will know our lives through seven beautiful handmade and handfilled books, each named after a day of the week; timebeaten, timeless, timecapsules spilling drawings, scrap, found items, glued in daisies, sprigs of leaves, stitches and patches.

Well that's what I'm working towards.

And grit's day is all about that: working towards something but I don't know what, chewing my knuckles, breaking my heart, not giving in. Even when we reach that point when all is hopeless, abandoned, forlorn, lost, blasted apart, destroyed, empty, desolate, finished but not yet grieved over. But never mind because there is a sodding book with a butterfly on the front.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Why you should never allow children to play in quarries

Today is the walk-and-talk with our local geology group. Here they are.

Let me say right now they are fabulous people. I adore them for their kindness and generosity. They allow themselves to be seen near us, even though we are an ignorant sprawling bunch of amateur no hopers who have trouble sorting our basalt from our bison.

Because some of these walk-and-talk people are professional geologists. Really. They actually do this rockwatching for a living. They are exactly the type of knowledgeable people I like to shove Squirrel towards and have them list to her the chemical composition of brecciated Upper Lias clay.

Squirrel is possibly my only scientific hope. She is the one who actually enjoys learning the times table. Tiger, on the other hand, goes berserk and smashes up the house in anguish at the sight of 4x7, so she takes after me. Shark simply shrugs her shoulders in a SeeifIcare? gesture, unless you rephrase it and switch the numbers for conger eels and seabed caverns, in which case she can give you the answer no problem. But Squirrel is interested in numbers and chemicals and planets and rocks, so on those daydream disconnected days, she could be lying on that hammock working out the mathematics of black holes. Who knows?

So today, a lot for Squirrel, but for all of us too, we walk-and-talk round Stowe Gardens with the lovely, wonderful and kind geologists. We do a lot of this.

And a lot of this.

Quite a bit of this.

And plenty of that.

Then we walk further, to the local disused quarry.

Now the moment we arrive here, I realise this is why you should never allow children to play in quarries. Why not? Because you cannot get the beggars out. What is here? Why, just all the very best stuff you can ever imagine! Mud! Sand! Puddles! Fossils! Pits! More sand! Sliding slopes! Danger! More danger! Rocks! More rocks!

At this point I collect some 150 photos of kids fooling around in mud and clay and climbing up and sliding down sand and gravel heaps, because I think this would be a hoot to show the staff at A&E.

But I also know this is how geologists are made, so if my ambitions for Squirrel include her rockwatching in far flung parts of the world, I'd better let her throw herself down a cliff face now, while her body is still bendy. And if I have to carry the wounded Squirrel back to the car then I can always say I was led to it by that weird deity we keep round here: education.

After the exhaustion of the quarry fun, and some slight coercion about going home before the clocks change again, we set off in the direction of the car. But I see that she is limping. I would like to think this is real sustained injury from which she might know her limits. But it is not. It is because she has stuffed 1,290 bits of rock down her knickers, 3,596 pieces in her trouser legs, and a further 2,400 rocks in her socks.

All of them, precious.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

This is the best thing I have done all year

Inspired by yesterday, I thrash around in the bathroom-craftroom where I strap torn up strips of the Independent to chickenwire with lashings of glue. That feels better.

I know it looks like a car seat, but it is actually the start point for the sculpture, Seated Woman.

The children are mocking. Yes, I hear their cries of Mummy! What are you doing? She hasn't got a head. It looks like a car seat. I take these observations merely as a sign that yesterday's visit has broken through to their creative imaginations. Now I have done that, I know they will be inspired in similar vein. Squirrel has already created a plaster of paris dinosaur and Tiger has had a big squeal. This is great progress in the borderless lands of creativity, and I'm not stopping now.

The other remarkable event of the day is that Dig is not sitting in an aeroplane en route to Singapore. I'm not making any jokes about the unpronounceable volcano round here, I can tell you.

My heart started singing when I realised he was grounded, and I might have a husband. But then I realised that having a husband actually means we have to live together for two weeks in the same place, when really he would rather be changing planes for Bali.

Well I remain undaunted. In fact my inspired, creative state will see me through. After Car Seat, my next sculpture might be of a weak and blindfolded beggar teetering at a cliff edge holding a particularly heavy and difficult sheep. That sculpture, I would call Marriage.

Friday, 16 April 2010

More than love for Henry Moore

I decided, many years ago, that I did not like the sculptures of Henry Moore. I blamed it on a bronzeblob larded with pigeon shit, lumped between a faceless corporate office block and a fume-filled dual carriageway.

Anyway, I was more interested in shoes. I might have had employment that suited tippytappy shoes. I bet I totteredtippytappy past the bronzeblob and put my nose in the air.

I am not the same person now. Thank God. If I met my former self I might enjoy wrestling that vacant wrongheaded idiot to the ground, smacking her round her ignorant chops and dumping her shoes in the canal.

Now I am older, wiser. I have had Alien life forces ripped from my innards. I have learned in ways other than shoes. It feels right then, that I can say, I know what it is to grow knuckle and bone. Now, I want to shug into those giant sculptures. I want to wear them, like skeletons on the outside. Those sculptures are all vertebra, tough gristle, hard sinew, stretched elastic cartilage. They turn my insides to outside, pare them, bleach them, stand them to the wind and rain. They stay there, facing out the world.

So that is how today I see those sculptures by Henry Moore. And I want the children to know them. I want them to see, and feel, their design and elemental expression. Shark, Tiger and Squirrel, I want you to know that it is possible to envisage on a grand scale, to dream, imagine big, and create. Something other than wearing tippytappy shoes.

But something gets in the way, just a little, on our group trip today to experience the Moore sculptures. Yet this, of all places, is the place to come. Not a cold museum, or a corporate face, but an earth place with grass, sky, and birdsong.

Despite this, our guide tells us that the children will not understand, cannot understand, cannot understand do not touch FOLLOW ME.

And while that guide was helpful, and concerned, and worried, and fretful that we might overstay, touch wrong, not look, not be over here, be over there, not come this way, go the wrong way, I think too that my children need to know those sculptures in their own way; as children do. By running around those forms, by feeling their spaces, pressing their hands and bodies and faces to hollows and curves; by being there, close up. Thankfully, we take that time in the afternoon, and do just that.

Girls, do not be like me. I wasted my opportunities. And now all I can do is join the elderly tribes, where I am forced to merely walk slowly around those sculptures.

I have to act like an over sober adult, nod quietly in reverence, be hesitant, respectful. When really, all I would like to do, is run at them, then squish my body up close, inside, under, between.