Wednesday, 30 June 2010

When you want everything to go wrong

Sometimes I want to have a shitawful day.

Maybe I imagine a truly wretched day will justify the feelings I have. Like when you feel miserable and wronged. You stare out the window to see the grey clouds deepen, then gratifyingly the rain pisses down. Now even the earth feels your pain. It knows your sorrows. It says I understand. You can weep, together. So you are right to feel crap. The whole crapness is justified. Sanctioned and approved, you can go make miserable faces at innocent bystanders, crawl home, hit the bottle, know that the English weather system is your friend.

But it never happens like that. Just when I want to feel righteously miserable, the bloody sun shines and the sodding birds are all tweettweettweet I'm so cute. I could kick cats.

I try and make things right. I goad the children with a few provocative pointed words. I threaten to humiliate myself in the high street so I can watch everyone cringe.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, they're having none of it. They run past me and ignore me, then skip along the pavement all trafalala, and off into a secondhand bookshop where they choose worthy kid lit. I try and foist some formula trash onto Tiger, so I can scoff mercilessly at brave ponies and magic kittens. She ignores me. All she's interested in is Rudyard Bloody Kipling.

If it can't get any worse, no-one complains about the dry bread and water I throw about me at the picnic lunch in the playground. Then no-one utters a murmur of disobedience when I grump and mutter that it's time to leave the park so hurry up.

The final blow to my temper is this.

Typical. Now I have to leave this hall all big smiles and playful disposition; joyfully engaging with enthusiastic kids bouncing along with the possibility of puppetry; invigorated by the infinite possibilities of latex, clay, foam fingers and stringed hair; all filled with energy and spirit.

Rats. I cannot escape. I'm itching antsinthepants to get home and make puppets from potatoes and garlic. There is only one source of all this carefree happiness. Blame Theatre of Widdershins with their brilliantly funny puppets and wonderful talk. Now find where they're on, and book your tickets for a fantastically rollicking good time. It's so right.


Sodding well enthused.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Who says home educators can't teach everything?

Little gritlets, we leave in two hours for your French lesson. Afterwards I drop you, Shark, at the sailing club and Tiger, I take you to the stables.

Nonsense, Squirrel. There is plenty for you to do.

Do you want to go to the library with me (English), walk over the field looking for bugs (Science), go to the playground (PE), or nip to the Co-op (Geography).

Or are you just going to sit there twanging rubber bands around the room (Physics).

Maybe, Squirrel, you should now stop arguing with Shark (Rhetoric). Go and crash around on the old joanna (Music). No, your sisters can't play with you. They're busy. Rely on your inner resources (Religious Studies). In the absence of those, you could play that game about beating up eels on the computer (Maths, Marine Biology, ICT) or watch TV (Media studies). Howabout that programme about earthquakes (Geology).

No? Then maybe you could just stop irritating everyone (Citizenship) and help me scrape off the cereal you've spot-welded to the kitchen table (Design and Technology, Chemistry). And leave Tiger alone with the toilet rolls. She is doing a spot of Materials Science and if you take the glue gun off her now she'll go berserk (Psychology).

Stop answering back (Law). Do as you're told (Democracy). Now if you don't stop messing about I shall give you three warnings and ground you (History).

Excellent. I knew you would see things my way (Politics). And thank you for quietly getting on with something.

Even if it is burying unicorns in the garden (Horticulture, Classics, Anarchy).

Monday, 28 June 2010

Idle old trout wants money for nothing

Attached to this old falling down house is a falling down wooden garage, complete with inspection pit lined with remnants of a heating system. I guess those hot pipes in the pit once kept the car warm so the thing would start in the cold Edwardian morning.

As you can imagine, Grit has ideas about the joy of these things without the income to maintain them, so if anyone's up for bunging a few thousand quid this way to do up this beautiful crumbling property for no return whatsoever, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Meanwhile, the old unrestored wooden garage is routinely filled with junk. But not today! Grit has worked her little socks off to clear out a ton of stuff, put up an old desk and declare it a modelling room.

Bizarrely, she also unearths an old joanna under the piles of stuff. This is brilliant, isn't it? I didn't know we had a piano.

No-one can play the thing. Including Squirrel.

If she is anything like me, she probably likes to imagine that one day she will wake up and be able to play a musical instrument perfectly, without any faults whatsoever, but with the ability to leave people throwing her flowers and weeping.

Very similar to the same fancy Grit harbours now. The one where she wakes up, and without any effort on her part, discovers she is loaded.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Passing on life's values

The world is full of women like me. Women who are big, and I mean BIG, on family loyalty, family cooperation; but working together to find creative solutions for every individual family member blah blah blah.

With this approach, we generally produce offspring interested in the same.

Kids develop responsibilities quick. They become self-aware, cooperative, blah blah blah.

If you extend this old tie-dyed philosophy, it's possible you wander down the avenue of home education. It's a logical consequence of practical respect for the individual. Especially an individual who sobs I don't like school. To which the simple answer can be, Then let's find a path that suits you.

Even if your choice of alternative education batters the family, it's no big deal. You get to tell yourself that What won't kill it, makes it stronger. So now you win all round. You get to make moral lessons rise out of domestic chaos.

It's a slippery slope. Soon living in the desert and eating raw food won't seem quite so weird.

But there's a big problem with this approach to living. Your offspring become aware of learning. They take control over it. They see it as an individual expression. They expect you to support it, no matter where it goes. They treasure learning as a valuable resource. They take it as far as they can.

Sometimes, they want to learn from people who they perceive have particular skills to teach them. Not mamma with a book from the library. Mamma, your job now is to find these people.

Now you cannot persuade kids of any other way. They have no interest at all in sitting on some old bloke's lap in a bar for a fiver, building a lucrative page three career as the next orange girlfriend of a footballer, nor even for taking over household chores like the beer, chip and ciggie run on the way home from school. No. Now they have an idea about learning in their heads, and they won't let it go.

And the more you persuade these kids to do the decent thing and go set fire to an abandoned sofa down the back lane, the more they resist, and say no. They want to learn some craft from the seventeenth century.

Like lace making. Mamma, find me a lace maker.

Now I don't know about you, but I'm not walking down the streets, fighting off lace making teachers with big sticks.

It has taken me ten months to get hold of one. Not just any one. One who is willing to teach children this ancient finger art, comes equipped with a shed load of patience, and has a 500-page folder crammed with easy-teach patterns for fish, bracelets, bookmarks, butterflies and flowers.

And here she is. This is Granny. She's not our Granny, but I stake my claim on her for the duration of a two-hour lesson. She won't take money for her time, because she says that women and their ancient ways are important; that these skills need to be passed down from mothers to daughters, otherwise our skills will be lost, forever. And the passage of these skills is the mark of a coherent, civilized society. So what's going to happen when the world ends? Who's going to rebuild civilization then?

Lace makers, that's who.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

The mummy milk bottle of menace

I have tried many child management techniques.

So I can tell you straight, I wish I had not bothered with the stickers. They were very expensive. And pointless. I think I vacuumed them up by accident.

Ditto the Miss Sunshine Happy Chart. I ripped her legs off in a temper tantrum.

And the golden stars in the fruit bowl. Squirrel ate them and was sick.

The Girl of the Day strategy was reasonably successful. But this in the end failed too. Mostly because the people running that system have to remember they are running it. Also, they must not become confused about which child is which. That is hard if all the kids run together and some of them are identical.

The oranges in the jar system worked well, for about two weeks. I like to think of that time as the period of consistent parenting. But it ended when the children took control in what I liked to call 'the self-guiding stage'. After an hour of self guiding, Shark possessed all 86 oranges and wouldn't give them back.

The pocket money idea has come and gone and come and gone again. Of course we have remunerated the children according to chores achieved and chores neglected. That system ended when I had to borrow £3.20 from Tiger, with interest, to pay Squirrel who owed Shark, who owed it back to Tiger in a system they called Protection.

I have used other methods too. In varying proportions, and sometimes combined: face pulling, finger wagging, soft and kind speaking, hair tugging (mine), eyeball-to-eyeball, threatening various punishments (going home NOW, no dinner, donating to the neighbour, selling for medical experiments), offering calm-down cuddles, frowning, screaming hysterically, weeping, tutting, looking the other way, putting fingers in ears, lifting face to sky and adopting an expression of sacred suffering (a little like the Virgin Mary), and dramatically stabbing self in left bosom and howling See poor mama's heart BLEED!

I cannot say any of these have effected much.

But recently I have adopted what is called the Mummy Milk Bottle of Menace. This expression is coined by Tiger. Which possibly shows how seriously she views this management technique. But it might have worked once.

Just for a few moments, everyone stopped fighting, and stared at me, pouring diluted red food colouring into a milk bottle on the kitchen table. I took the advantage and said the milk bottle was a metaphor for my mind, and the red colour was like a pressure inside my head. The whole is a measure of mamma's emotional health and mental well being. Quietly, I thought that was clever, because I'm showing how arguments can affect a person emotionally. So I wanted to share this idea to benefit the entire world.

You can use other bottles, obviously, if you are vegan. An empty gin bottle is a very good substitute, whether you are vegan or not.

This is how it works.

You start with a clear mind and a happy, optimistic disposition. Round here, that is usually about 8.30am, and before anyone else has come down to breakfast.

But then I hear the first argument, accompanied by howling, coming down the stairs. It is probably 9.20am. I pour a little food colour into my milk bottle.

I say that we could get out of this situation. If everyone stopped arguing, and treated each other nicely, of course I would pour out the contents, and my milk bottle would be empty again!

Or maybe there is some snarling. And a very big fight over a pencil.

When that fight dies down, I say everyone could now be calm and we could plan the day. I could have a cup of tea, and everyone would treat each other NICELY. It is maybe 9.45am.

Then there is an argument over a wind chime. With weapons.

You see? Even at this late stage, mummy is keeping all her emotions under control. She executes a variety of eyerolling, frowning, fingerwagging and soft speaking. Then merely pours her danger water into her milk bottle, while explaining how arguments can lead us to have a good day or a bad day. It is 10am.

Time for a fight involving table shoving, paper scattering, and a ruler.

I point out that my milk bottle is still not filled to the top! But IT SOON WILL BE. NOW SHUT UP EVERYBODY and mummy can pour all her red fire danger water away and we can START AGAIN. The clock ticks round to 10.10am.

And someone makes the quietest, teeniest weeniest sarcastic comment about today's milk being a bit off.

Friday, 25 June 2010

On balance

Sometimes I wonder how things would be if I swapped home ed life for school.

School would be easy. I would have a routine made by someone else, with bells and times and grey uniform. Someone else could get me out of bed and make me feel busy.

Their agenda would drive ours. They could tell me where we should be, at what hours. They would structure our mornings, evenings, bedtimes, laundry times. I would have identical grey skirts ready clean every week.

Maybe that routine would make sense of time, wrap up my day in purpose, provide my destination, and I would feel safe.

I sometimes think that without a routine, but with home ed, I just have everyday, and that sometimes isn't safe.

Everyday never ends. It sometimes feels like a long sequence of interrupted tasks. Finding the needles and threads used yesterday, while clearing dishes, washing clothes, and giving out spellings; then a demand for flour or a new book or the outing I said we'd do, then the chores stay, half done.

Those household chores keep demanding my attention, along with the office work I said I'd do but never got around to. Their broken purposes rub up against vows I made yesterday about the science experiment we said we'd do, but the craft got in the way. Then the puzzles, outing, reading, and now it's time for cooking dinner, washing those breakfast plates, and bedtime. Really, this morning, I should have got out of my pyjamas and showered, because now I truly stink.

And maybe that's what puts people off home educating life. The unpredictability. The feeling of losing control; the loss of a day's shape set to a standard norm; the sudden demands; the chores undone; the work strewn about. Perhaps people think, that without a routine they wouldn't cope. I sometimes think that too.

Then we spend a day like today, the sort of day we half make up as we go along, and education away from the norm gives us all the world, and choice, and freedom that is ours. We are in control.

Bugger. I wouldn't want it any other way.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Maybe I already lost touch with normal

Today we return to stare at dead animals, in the Natural History Museum at Tring.

That's not odd, is it? It's for a workshop. I organised this one. And we're on time. How strangely satisfying and calming. That's odd. I may need to take sanctuary amongst the dead things again if it helps life go this smoothly.

It's a good group, and one of many groups that come together for visits like this. Small, medium, large. We're all stick shaped and roly poly.

We must look odd, arriving in bits, loafing around in sandals, flapping summer tee shirts to create some belly air, meeting by the polar bear. But it doesn't feel odd.

Today, we have a total of nine bodies for our workshop, mixed aged. The education room is small, so we all fit neatly. It feels right, and comfortable. I daren't imagine if they cram 30 in here, stacked one on top of another in regimented knee position; rebellion brewing at the back. Now, if you ask me, that's an odd way of learning things.

The workshop leader talks, easily, like she would in a small group discussion. We can stop her, ask questions, meander to another pathway and wonder about turtle logic. That's normal. I wonder how she'd react if these interruptions came out a large fidgeting group, where mutineering forces gathered and overseers hissed Shush! Listen!

Here, in this small, comfortable, engaged group, she can talk to each of us in turn, respond and speak without pressure. We pass round the bird bone, the glued turtle.

Normal, and not odd at all.

And then we know stuff! Phew! Isn't that something? These kids with their own paths have surprising, deep, pockets of sudden knowledge. How did they know that? Is that unusual? Do they teach this same stuff in the National Curriculum? Can kids at school share those strange other worlds they know so much about, without fearing mockery, worrying whether that knowledge was sanctioned, whether it came with a pass or fail?

How odd if they don't.

I know our world sometimes looks strange to an outsider. Our kids don't dress all the same, don't do all the same, don't know all the same. They don't compete on who knows what, who taught it, who passed it. They are just people, dressed for the day, enjoying knowledge, sharing ideas, talking and listening, passing round a snake skin.

Then, when the workshop's over, we do what we feel. That's normal. Isn't that what we all hope to do?

We mostly make it up, as the mood takes us and the weather calls. The kids picnic, run about the sunny field, chase butterflies, race each other between long and leaning lines of grass, then go pick strawberries, big sweet ripe ones, perfect for the day. We decide it's too hot, and are glad there's time for swimming, at the end of the day.

There. Normal.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The falling out takes no time at all. The making up takes hours.

Family members spend the day pussy footing round each other while I sigh in relief that we have some gun control in this country.

It is the right mood of day then, to send Dig off to a meeting with the Local Authority and postpone a dental appointment with Dr Fang.

Dr Fang will be enormously relieved since last time he lost patience with me and ordered me out the surgery. I can't say I crawled out, weeping with penitence. I mean, how are you supposed to behave when someone shoves a skewer in your face?

On that first matter, the Local Authority just reorganised (there's no money), made a few redundancies (there's no money), and home education now falls under the remit of two part-time EWOs on a job share (there's no money). They're holding their get to know you session.

Dig has a pragmatic manner about these things, so I tell him to go. If I go, I'll become emotional and engage in breast beating and dramatic finger-pointing before passing out on the library floor.

He goes, gratifying in dark glasses and a beard, thanks to an idle morning streak and those photochromatic lenses that make him look like a terrorist.

After an hour he comes back and says, there's no money. Collating information on home educators with the purpose of spending two days wandering round the suburbs inspecting ten-year olds is taking a low priority, along with the truancy sweeps (there's no money), so unless there's trouble, prepare to be ignored.

That's good because I object to the welfare angle yet again, and they're not coming in anyway. I may work alongside them, but I don't walk into their house and they don't walk into mine.

And on that cold inconclusion, the day draws up. I don't walk into Tiger's bedroom, and she doesn't walk into mine. We regard each other with suspicious eyes, from a distance. And I persuade myself of one success: today I avoided any situation where I chewed off anyone's head and spat out the remains.

Ditto for Dr Fang and the job-sharing EWOs.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The battle of the bathroom, June 2010

This hour's going down in the family annals. After a Saturday night in six year's time it'll be Tiger's defence against the Old Bill, when she's up on charges of disorderly conduct, theft, criminal damage, joy-riding, public intoxication, and GBH. This will be the defining moment. So I'll make my statement now and open up a fighting fund to pay the lawyers.

This is also an example of gross parenting fail, so make sure you learn from Grit's disastrous approach to handling small pre-teen type people. Just learn from it, and do the proper thing, which is: Exit the bathroom, pour yourself a large glass of Lagavulin and watch old episodes of Corrie. That is the proper parenting response to what I am about to narrate.

Readers of this blog probably know that Tiger is a special sort of hyper sensitive child, affected emotionally by air temperature, molecules, atoms, and basically all sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures that the world has to offer. She also carries a 400lb barrel of Semtex in her forehead. It's connected to a very short fuse. The fuse can be lit at any moment by a wide variety of materials, such as the colour green, a wobbly 2B pencil line, the arrangement of soil, and the sight of mama with a comb.

Now at first, all goes badly. I should know this, and retreat. But no. I think I can help make things better.

It is hair washing night for Tiger. After the last skirmish with the hair I suggested that Tiger might now take responsibility for combing her own hair. After all, she has made double figures and I never sold her for medical experiments.

But that is too big a responsibility, and she will not do it. She will not do it, even though she won't allow me to do that combing business, either. And not her sisters, not daddy, not anyone. Not anyone dressed a horse, or pretending to be a horse, either. We already tried it. And she will not get the problem we all have, that she is walking about with the equivalent of an enormous hairy pan scrubber fastened to the back of her head, a lump which is basically made of matted felted hair. And does that look neglectful to you?

So a week goes by and I bite my knuckles, then a fortnight, and I can take it no longer. It is hair washing night for Tiger.

And that's when the howling starts. I mean howling, like screaming that you are being tortured by the sight of water. At which point I suggest conditioner might help and the howling grows to epic proportions because conditioner always goes in her eyes and always blinds her and always is made of hydrochloric acid and always is made especially by mama deliberately for the intent of blinding, poisoning and otherwise disfiguring a perfectly healthy set of eyeballs.

So I remain as calm as I can and I coax the embodiment of Howl under the shower and apply the miracle super strength detangling hydrochloric acid and suggest she now finger combs the pan scrubber. Then I quickly depart because my eardrums have burst.

When I return ten minutes later, she is out the shower. Or rather the shower is out and all over the bathroom floor, and a howling Tiger with a pan scrubber larded with conditioner is howling fit to bust. It takes some effort to get her back in the shower, not even to comb her hair, but to rinse out the conditioner of Satan from her hair and try finger combing the dreaded locks.

Then things become hysterical. And I maybe do nothing more than scream back into the howl, demonstrate my zero parental abilities and snap back my fingers which are itching to engage in a spot of child brutality and wield a pair of scissors, say, five inches up from the ends.

Now I can think about it and know it was a totally unattractive demonstration of sub humanity, all with the howling snot and screaming from the pair of us, both operating without frontal lobes but with plenty of high emotion, that I'm surprised you didn't call the police, just in case you suspected murder, arson, kidnapping and horse whipping.

It is also possibly the worst bathtime I ever experienced in my life. I came out of it wanting to tear up that contract I wrote in blood ten years ago. I wanted to rip it to pieces because I never even knew that I signed it. And this thing I have to do called parent? That's an unwanted burden someone gave me, and they can have it right back, thanks.

The parent side of me tells me to shut the crap up, and pray that I took every opportunity when she was little to hold her tight, and tell her that I loved her, more than anything in the whole world. Because in these days of warfare I fear there'll be few opportunities to make her hear me say those words, and more, to believe me.

Monday, 21 June 2010

'Good honest fumbling people caught up in tiny tragedies'

I don't know whether you've ever seen the film, Woman in a Dressing Gown. I saw it, aged about ten. I remember nothing about the affair with Sylvia Sims, so don't ask. I just remember the total futility of that central wifely role.

It was all doomed, doomed from the start. I remember wishing she'd never married at all, but instead drove a white two-seater while wearing a turban. Then she could drive downhill, fast, on hairpin bends. Occasionally she could go swimming for lengthy periods underwater, like Marina in Stingray. Except Woman in a Turban would talk while swimming, because mute is irritating. Watery mute is a sea version of Skippy.

But apart from wanting life to be so different for Woman in a Dressing Gown, what struck me was that every way she tried to get herself out of the mess, it came ready attached to a big sign, reading FAIL.

I feel like that. Even though we take the most fantastic geology walk across Burnham Beeches. It's led by someone who actually knows what they're talking about, and who gets the kids measuring the height of the water table. Look!

In home education terms, it's a complete and total success, and my only regret is not keeping a geologist in a cupboard. I can get them out whenever I want. They would be available whenever I needed to demonstrate the creation of an orogenic wedge.

Anyway, I end up hoping no-one notices at Burnham Beeches, because sometimes I'm walking in a funny striding way, and sometimes I'm furtively clasping at my groin to stop my trousers falling off.

I haven't worn this particular pair since last year. All the others are irredeemable, in the wash. So I drag them out the back of the wardrobe, put them on, and they don't fit. Or rather they do, so long as I like wearing a gastric band on the outside. Clearly, I have a magic wardrobe which shrinks all my clothes. But I'm not giving up. I'm bloody wearing the things now. More than anything.

So I do the sensible thing and cut the waistband at the seams and breathe again. But when I walk the jeans fall off. Apparently they need a waistband to stop them sliding down the enormity of arse I carry around like a spare mountain slope. But string comes in very handy, doesn't it?

Well that's a good start. I put some icing on the fashion statement by dribbling breakfast blueberry juice down my left bosom. That would be alright I think, because there isn't time to change and I can hide it. Yesterday I bought a fab-antas-tic coat at New Look, the epitome of all that is brilliant (and cheap) in high street fashion!

I get the coat out the bag, pull the label off, slip it on, and it looks FAB-ANTAS-TIC!

Except for the heavy weight and curious rattling noise at the back of my neck. What can that be? Oh. It's the shop guard. The enormous circular disk that shop owners pin to clothing. The one that indicates to everyone that this particular desirable garment? You nicked it.

So I try and hit the security pin with a hammer to smack the ruddy thing off. Only it won't come off.

So here I am, we're late for leaving and people are yelling at me. Dig is striding about because I am a nuisance. The kids are hollering and screaming. And I am Woman in a Dressing Gown. On my hands and knees on the kitchen floor, my trousers held up with string, blueberry juice sloshing around in my bra, bludgeoning a coat with a hammer.

But I am Grit. I can only conclude that the geology with hydrology walk round Burnham Beeches was a total and fantastic success. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger learnt a brainfull of inspiring rock, water and wood stuff. My trousers stayed up, although I rattled a bit. And Dig never succumbed to the itch to push me into the lake by-accident-on-purpose and run off with Sylvia Sims.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

By this means, we count the years

Here the day is furnished properly with Buddhists; we all slouch idle, nodding agreement to words of wisdom while grass tickles our legs. And, apart from a small amount of Tiger whining about the criminal air, which is moving, all is right with the world.

That's unusual, isn't it? You don't often get peace and pleasure on Grit's Day.

The Buddhists have form in bringing harmony to Grit, as you can see from the histories. I may tie myself up in those folding robes yet.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

A day out to 1744

Start at your local light industrial area and walk out from there. I don't know if your zone is anything like ours, but it all looks smooth and beige and bland to me.

Lock-up, pull down, steel doors rattle around seamless lines of quick-build warehouses. They grow, over a weekend. The walls are slotted into place, the metal roof lowered, and the vehicle access panels shudder up and down at the press of a big red button. Anonymous white vans turn in wide circles on open forecourts. They slip away to join the conveyor belts of linking roads. That's it. Sanitised and safe, our twenty-first century industry.

Walk past them, down to the tow path, and it all gets smaller, enclosed, dangerous. The canals fasten themselves to the basements of dark brick buildings and interlock, stitching together old mills, disused warehouses, sidings, ends of railway lines.

The buildings rising up here are hand built, brick by brick, made to outlive the glories and destructions of empires. Once, hundreds of people worked here; whole communities inhabited these spaces. Now, footsteps echo, waters drip, machineries rust.

If you're lucky, these old and fallen palaces to industry are still there, near you, hidden behind hawthorn, watching you from broken windows. If you're unlucky, they've already been disturbed, ripped away and carted off, their insides flung open to development of waterside apartments and single bedroom flats with views of the canal.

We're lucky then, to walk here, over the footsteps of thousands who've walked here before us.

We walk back in time, into the birthplace of an industry; the site of the world's first commercial paper making machine. We discover equipment powered by steam, still in place and built in 1895; we reach back further to rushing water and hand made paper with pulped rags and deckles. We hear of the hard lives of the women, men, and children who laboured here.

We shouldn't lose these places. For the sake of those people, and to keep the thread of them alive between our fingers, you should go, and hold history for yourself.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Grit's new job? MAGICIAN!

I'm sure avid readers of The Independent will have read this article on Thursday writ by Richard Garner.

Now there is plenty in this article I want to argue about. Even the headline.

But mostly because it reads like Richard churned out the Ofsted press release. You see? It's not just because I am an argumentative hippy with a fat arse and a bad attitude.

Richard's article starts off with the predictable conflation of welfare and education, as if they are exactly the same thing.

Hey, Richard, do teachers spend their days talking about how Tinkertop inhales poppers? And not discussing how to drag her D-grade GCSE prediction to a C-grade before the league tables are published? Because that's for sure what happened in our department, which means I guess we school teachers were trying to focus on EDUCATION.

But strange then, how education out the school system is related uncritically as a welfare issue. Like, maybe I am mentally ill. Possibly, it's companionship. Or maybe, it's just another of my 'affairs'.*

After the tone and structure, maybe I could argue with the way Richard selected his copy-out bits. Like this:
'Now, Ofsted says: "The current legislation around home education severely hampers local authorities in fulfilling their statutory duties to safeguard children who are educated at home and ensure the suitability of their education."'
But Richard, you should know better. You're an education writer. A local authority has no statutory duty like this. Not even when Ofsted claims it. Precisely, the local authority has no duty to assess educational suitability of kids out the school system. Maybe you should go read this. Then this.

But all of that is nothing, compared to this fantastic assertion:
'A report by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, calls for new legislation to avoid making it possible for children to 'disappear'.
I like this idea. Very much indeed. I am dreaming now about making children disappear.

I am going to mix up some magic potion and give it a go. Pfff! Magic words! There they go! GONE!

When I have made my children disappear, then I'm off to the gym. I'll eat cake, and do all the naughty things I cannot do when kids are around all day long, moaning and groaning that we never stay at home and who wants to draw a picture of the ear anyway?

Richard, the only place I can make them disappear is, in fact, school.

However I like the idea so much, I may now turn to magic as my new source of endeavour, so thanks for the tip off!

And at least this job might get me out the house, unlike the job your colleague suggested, which was prostitution.

* I am not conducting an affair, since you assume I am. I am conducting an education. However, if you are interested in an affair with Grit, you have to bring your own pigeons.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Hi Ofsted! I drugged my kids and dumped them in a field!

Fetch Christine, quick! After drugging my kids with a vege sausage sandwich and KETCHUP, I willingly sacrificed their frail and tender bodies to the evil forces of untamed nature! I am depraved! Save me from myself and take away from me my foul home educating ways!

For here is EVIDENCE. A bunch of abusing home educators, TORTURING these poor and innocent kids with butterfly nets, pots and lids. (And an expert in beetles called Amanda.)

Look how we seek to scare these kids to DEATH as we let them loose among the potentially hazardous GRASS, where all the fouls and fetids of the grass might dwell.

Shameless! We then force our innocents to squat upon the ground to receive the terrible words and commands that drip from our horrible tongues.

See me WEEP.

But first, before you come round to our field, get yourself some education on statutory duty.

(And as for the Chauliognathus lugubris, the little bastard's around here somewhere.)

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Ofsted the undead

Tsk. Back again, the Ofsted vampire, clawing its way out the coffin and, under cover of darkness, creeping into the news again.

It is like some sad little creepy thing that won't slide off and die, honourably.

Here it comes, crawling, sucking the life blood out of parents, teachers, children; drip by drip seeking to sap the strength of us all as we go about our lives, creating educations we believe in. And each time the Ofsted undead leave their betraying little puncture marks in our necks, they seek to do a bit more harm, a bit more damage to us all.

Which makes me think there is a malignant presence, if not on the government front bench, but there, creeping around Parliament, seeping through the civil service, providing safe shelter for the vampiric undead. Someone, somewhere - for what reason I don't know but guess - some undead corpse needs to see every child locked in school.

And if not school, then as near as close can be, logged and databased, better to be accessed. At home then, where Ofsted can inspect. Home education becomes home schooling, and every family a part of the control.

But this time, they've mistimed. Here they want every child registered, for any authority to come calling.

Haven't we heard this before? The Ofsted fag end is the last gasp of an argument feebly thrown. It is nothing more than admittance of their failure to find harm. They find stories of success; they hear enthusiasm, positive lives. In return, they offer the regurgitation of a discredited review; the demand to access; then nothing. Nothing beyond the spread of innuendo, suspicion, mistrust.

I should thank Christine, really.

Part of me is deeply bored by the exhausted, worn out hollow shell of the Ofsted undead, and I am so very tired of watching their ancient sagging bodies sneak between us, feeding off the living.

But a part of me celebrates. Because did I ever love eating garlic and spitting back that barbarous sting.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

And now, I can't make it matter

I have very thick skin. So thick, I can hammer nails into my left hand and not feel any pain.

OK, I might try that trick later. Sometime when I have the emergency ambulance on standby.

Perhaps I should say, for this family lifestyle choice, there are moments when I need a thick skin.

My skin needed to be very thick today, when I wandered into a discussion on home education on a teacher's site.

There I was, happily and naively clicking from one chemical name to another, innocently researching how much borax we can digest before we die, then I arrive at a teacher site, stop, and read. My mouth fell open. The room may have started spinning.

I can deal with crude invective. Because I already got there ahead of you. Yes. You want idlepigtrotternosegit? I declare myself your best candidate. You want stinkingtosspothippie? I'm your woman. And I have a fat arse.

It isn't the abuse. I can handle the abuse.

It is the uninformed ignorance that makes my mouth open wide and my bottom jaw crash to the floor. A forgiving bit of me does not want to believe the words I read are typed out from the hands of a professional educator. One who has the specific job of widening the horizons of children under their care.

At that point, I need a thick skin more than anything. Because my first instinct is to cry with the outrage. I am uncomprehending, and what I read is so unjust. I am human, after all.

My next instinct is to square my jaw and swear. Really, serious, bitter blasphemy that turns my lips blue, rots my tongue and, once wind borne, peels lead from the Church roof.

To do my worst, I would need drink. It loosens my tongue and unhinges my fingertips. I consider signing in to the discussion and unclasping my knuckles. But I would sound irrational, and then prove everyone right.

Then I read some more, and now I want to laugh. Utterly, deeply and profoundly. Mockery is more satisfying, and this professional educator just proved themselves worth it.

But as I think about it, then I feel sad. I don't need a thicker skin. Because I understand. I see where they're coming from. I too have endured. I survived Crusher with the rusty spanner in Class 4H. I know the solitude of the classroom teacher. It is a heavy burden to bear. Any ordinary teacher can be driven to madness. And certainly to a deep and destructive seething envy of home educators.

This poor soul wants home educators to fail. He despises the way we can roll out of bed at 10am and take our class of three kids out for the day. And no need to ask permission for that! No risk assessment forms, no targets, no clipboards, no frisking for knives. The knowledge that we can join a history workshop in a local museum, arrange a sports day, decide to meet up later for the science talk, arrange the cinema outing and, on the way home, drop the kids off for their wildlife club, must corrode a once-fine intellect, like acid slowly etching metal.

But doesn't it get worse? The way, if we choose, we can slouch around in pyjamas all day long, read and share books we like, play music we want to hear, and talk about the news? That must eat away a man's soul.

And how this tortured being must writhe in anguish at our long lunchtimes and the way we can just go pee without putting up our hands, or waiting till the bell goes!

Yes. It all makes sense. Bound by rules, regulations, routines, and The Bell. The heavy tolling bell. Hour on hour on hour. He can never enjoy such freedom as we.

So for this reason now I think kindly. I think we home educators need to make his life better.

Let us tell the very worst of home education. The pitfalls and problems, the despairs and the humiliations.

Like at Grit's, today. We were nearly late for the French class. I decided not to sign up for the trampoline lessons. I had to talk to someone I didn't like in the after school club. Tiger refused to draw a diagram of the ear. So I made up a song about a drum, a semi-circular canal, a cochlea, and a Eustachian tube. And just to best her, I shamed myself and sang it, all the way home.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Anyone wearing an official hat needs to know this

I home educate triplet girls.

By home, I mean sometimes we are in the house, and sometimes we are out the house. I cannot tell you where we will be tomorrow.

By educate, I mean we learn stuff. I cannot tell you what we'll learn today.

By triplet girls, I mean Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. I cannot find anyone else in England who home educates triplet girls, but if you come across them, let me know.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are feisty and mostly self-directed and have their own strong opinions about what they will learn. Often they are the teachers, and I am the one who puts up my hand and says, Please help me draw a diagram of the ear.

At this point, if you wear an official hat, you should already have picked up that home education is not some sort of patternbook that means the same to everyone, and everyone does the same.

You will find very different people home educate. They have many different reasons.

They might home educate because children are so emotionally wrecked by the machine of a uniformed school that parents no longer recognise the sparkling child they gave birth to.

Sometimes their child is not stretched enough, and school feels like a boring show with a one-trick pony. There's no hope of a performing bison, because a brain-dead Ofsted drone with a clipboard says it is good to standardise on one-trick ponies.

Some people want there to be more to life than the life school offers, and they may have a strong community already elsewhere, so off they go to better.

And sometimes there are uniquely made those wonderful, weird, one-off kids. The type who only think in wonderful, weird, one-off ways, like every detail in the universe must relate to vacuum cleaners or the whole world doesn't make sense, so school is a pointless interruption to real vacuum cleaner living.

Some parents, like Grit, just can't be arsed to get out of bed in the morning, so justify their idleness and general critical slouching with a cover of edubabble and a scattering of nonsense she once read in a book.

I accept all of that difference is mind blowing if you are the type of person who likes everything to be the same. So the most important thing to know is that anyone who wants to home educate doesn't have to ask permission.

Really, we don't have to. I have proof. Look at this. The Education Act 1996, Section 7:

'The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable:

1. to his age, ability and aptitude, and
2. to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.'

A parent can choose home education to suit their child. No-one has authority over a parent when it comes to choosing an education for their child.

Some kids already know whether they want to go to school or not, and they don't mind saying. So it's not easy to persuade them they have false consciousness and really want to go, or that they will get used to it after the first three years, or maybe if they give it another ten years they will be a better person for the experience.

They might tell you outright that you are wrong, and yell at you repeatedly, I DON'T WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL. Or they might tell you in other ways. Like weeping every morning at 7.30am, freezing in terror when the school holidays end, or smashing up the house and locking themselves in their bedrooms at 4pm Monday to Friday.

From what I've heard, you can only coerce a child to go to school so much when all this bad stuff is happening, so from that point of view, home education can't be any worse. It might even be better.

Then, in my experience, kids who are home educated quickly get to know their rights, and you spend a long time persuading them about their responsibilities, like getting out of bed and drawing a diagram of the ear.

Anyway, I thought maybe it was worth repeating all this wonderful difference and diversity that exists in our world, and the legal right we have to maintain it, since today I had a troubling conversation with someone who wore an official hat.

They seemed to have the idea that education out of a conventional school system was something that only a particular type of God-fearing person did, and that anyway, we had to apply to do it, and ask permission to do it, probably from the local authority. Once authorised, we then must be checked that we are doing it right, to the pattern book.

No. None of that applies. I could be anyone. All I need do is listen to my child. Think. And carry out my legal duty.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The entire house is in lockdown

The children are starving, the sink's overflowing, the house is in chaos.

On the plus side, I now have made a nylon and net journal called No Peeking.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Madness lies over there

This is the reason I gave up my artistic and creative endeavours.

Art needs time, and attention. I have to think about the project I start. When I start to think about the project I start, I think of nothing else. Nothing else matters. For days.

That is a disaster. I forget to feed the children lunch. And supper. I hear them cry, and I don't respond. Their pleading is an interrupting nuisance.

Then there is the stuff that keeps the house churning. I don't do that, either. Washing dishes, laundry, kitchen table clearing, floor scraping.

Worse, any significant moment, date, or time is invisible to me. I cannot recall, organise, plan. I ignore everything, everyone. I go to sleep, get up, forget to wear pants.

One day, sometime later, when I'm coming round to consciousness, I might jump up and shout, Do we have any children?

Which is why I love days like today, and I hate them.

They are liberating, and they imprison me.

I became timelost in bookart. I started to make seven, nine, twentythree notebooks. I completed one clipboard. Here it is.

This is for our outdoor fieldtrips, so it must be durable and practical. It must have bulldog clip, string, tied up pens that I can't lose.

But I'm tired of pink butterflies, pastel stencils and delicate flowers. I imagined I might like to stride around the fields pretending to be an amateur magician instead. Then I can collect slugs and snails for potions and lotions.

For the inside pages, I cannibalised old drawings and designs. It doesn't matter they are already written over. I like the idea of new writing layered on old writing. It will look like a magician's code.

And I won't be able to read any notes I make.

You see? It's not as if it's any use. One moment's thought would tell me it is totally useless. It just follows the illogical path that it started, regardless of sense, experience, or the wisdom of hindsight.

This is the type of insanity that leads me next to dismantle a perfectly sound book, simply because I have seen the inside binding and I decide that I like it for another project. One that is half conceived, incompletely imagined, and will require more glue than we have.

It is also the fixated madness that leads me to think it is a good idea now to feed black plasticine into the laminator, never for one second considering the physical properties of black plasticine pressed by heat, but imagining only the magical sparkle of the silver glitter that I have sprinkled onto it as it eases its way, too late, onto the smooth and heated rollers.

I should be stopped. It's the only way normality can be resumed, the children fed, the laundry done, the floor scraped.

And give the bookart world a chance to heave a big sigh of relief.

Friday, 11 June 2010

There's a ladder here somewhere, right?

Everyone who knows Grit knows that she home educates for social advantage.

This is, after all, how the otherwise word fell into law. To provide the toffs with an escape route from the tedious restrictions of school.

Grit has already done quite well, climbing up the social ladder of success, what with marrying a public school boy and sticking Tiger on the back of a horse.

There have been notable achievements too, like scrounging a paid year at Oxford and wangling an overnight stay in Windsor Great Park. And she totally denies it was spent smashed out of her skull flat out under a bush.

But, unfortunately, despite her best efforts, Grit has some crushing disadvantages which prevent her upclimbing mobility.

Like being born gutter class. Or remaining sullenly resistant to the charms of the upper English; finding royalty intensely annoying; resenting nineteenth century opera; despising matching hats and handbags; and possessing a history of running about the countryside with the hunt saboteurs. Stuff like that.

Now she home educates as well. That, in some eyes, puts us not with the gentry and the governesses at all, but outside all normal classy society. Forever.

But it doesn't stop her trying. Of course not, because she has the spur of the delightful Tiger, Shark and Squirrel. Three gracious daughters who, despite the failings of mama, must be launched upward. What if, in future years, her fragrant trio drag home some pond-dwelling little oink with tattoos and a pit bull?

So I must aspire, on behalf of my children.

Which explains why we fetch up here, this evening, at the National Trust Stowe landscape gardens for their graceful event, 'dining at dusk with string quartet playing from the temple of Concorde and Victory'.

The old lady gatekeepers clearly think something is wrong, because it takes five minutes passing the entrance ticket back and forth between everyone's fingers while they turn it over and over, peering at it for tell-tale signs of forgery. Grit and the gritlets obviously do not look like deferential National Trust dusk dining types.

And they may be right too, because once we're in, it is out with the plastic Ikea picnic plates, the value Tesco salad, and the wooden cutlery I nicked from Woburn.

When the strings start up, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger slap each other about a bit and then take off to throw themselves down a hill. I am left to be ignored by the charity muggers and eaten by a swarm of gnats.

Not quite successful then. But not a social disaster either. So maybe a start. This time we never had anything confiscated, we never resorted to weapons, no-one had a hysterical screaming fit, I did not wet myself,* and we had cutlery. In my book, that's social success.

* I freely admit to wetting myself in public in Stowe gardens, age 43. Thanks to my uncontrollable laughter during a decorous reenactment of English eighteenth century garden games. I thought it might be fun to strap the little grits Squirrel and Shark together in the three-legged race. They took one step, realised their sister was impeding the race, then splattered to the ground in a torrential downpour of tears, swinging fists and cries of blue murder. At the insistence of the captain I hauled them off the track five minutes later while they carried on brawling, still tied together. This was the day I accepted that one measure for social success, Team player, would never apply to la famille Grit.