Thursday, 30 September 2010

I am deeply affected by Europeans

Excitement today. A Spanish galleon sailed into Victoria harbour.

How amazing is that? To me, it is bust through the roof and touch the stars amazing. We had to see it. I am history hungry. Especially for memories of home, for things to see and touch that are not-Chinese. Culture that is European, temperate, and for which I have an understanding. In truth, on hearing the news of the Spanish arrival, I know I am desperate to fondle woven rigging, hear the creak of oak settle into water, and tell myself I'm three hundred years old and counting.

The galleon is a seventeenth century replica. No, I'm told it's the only seventeenth century replica of a Spanish galleon that sails today. Once, these ships traded the waters from the Philippines to Mexico and from Spain to the Americas, carrying Chinese silk and Spice Island pepper to ports in Mexico, overland then on again to sea, and into the markets of Europe. We fought them for it, we beggarly English, and don't mention the Armada.

People wiser than me can talk global trade, nation states, economic cycles. Here, I like to imagine the everyday business of sail, talk and trade. The noisy heave of the harbour and the hoisting of cloth-bound spices, crates and pots. The faces on board that felt the winds, feet that rubbed against wooden deck, hands that navigated and knew just how much a ship could safely carry before New World gold met the bottom of the sea.

Today, the galleon nestles tiny against Hong Kong shopping malls and mile high cruise liners, but doing much the same job as over three hundred years ago. Bringing a strange and foreign culture to people in the East; stopping to lift us gawping aboard; watching us wonder at the marvel of it all, how empires can be built from tiny wooden decking floating over a vast and formless sea. How many galleons would sail then? Two hundred? Three hundred? That would be a sight to knock both your socks off, sailing into port.

And something else, too. I can't help but notice. The Spanish sailors are very dashing. They speak like soft song, are round eyed, tall and broad chested, and look like they can handle sail and rope. Maybe I have eye-spied too many Chinese men around me. I mostly meet them face on, and I am five foot four. This is not romantic. Neither are thin and tiny limbs and bony hands, nor bundles of hollow skin and sticks. You do not imagine much comfort in the arms of will o' the wisp.

Well, the galleon and its men, are fantastic. They make me think, I am my history. I am European, dangled amongst China Hong Kong, albeit for a few short months. I know it, because here I am, dipped on board a floating castle for an hour: lifted out of a place that is not my home and briefly shown my past.

Now I have a request to see me through the months ahead in my home at the toe end of China. Along with your New World gold and oak wood and coiled rope, please send your European men. Make sure they are six foot, firm jawed, broad chested. With fantasy hands. They would be welcome.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Take your own dinner to Deepwater Bay

I'm proud of today. I need to write it up, in letters fifty foot high. I persuaded three children to travel with me, on a bus, while all the time I answered, Where are we going? I do not know. To a beach. Over there. No one complained, no one screamed, no one refused to come. That in itself is a triumph.

Even better, I found our new friends enjoying the beach, the ones we hoped to meet. OK, we weren't on time, but close enough. They weren't packing up and leaving just as we found ourselves arriving.

Then Tiger Tiger! of all daughters, the one who refuses to move, the one who threatens to couch surf all the way home, the one who hollers how much she hates this place, quietly accepts the friendly offer, and runs to the shoreline to play.

Ten minutes is good by me. It leaves plenty of time to import stone age Northumberland rock art designs to the sand bays of Hong Kong. I consider that another success. It shows children are learning all the time, and you never know where or when that will show.

Then, after a gentle and relaxing time at the beach, we said goodbye to our new found allies in a strange Hong Kong world, and simply went back home by bus and boat, stopping for ice cream on the way.

It is a day I am proud of, truly. Because we walked through it evenly, from beginning to end, simply and straightforwardly. In these dismembered days, when we wake up without sight, lose our hearts by midday and go to bed without our minds, a day like today feels like a gift.

Except for one thing. Lunch. We didn't have any. Foolishly, I thought, 'We'll grab a sandwich at the beach'. As you do. Except there were no sandwiches. Just a very expensive snack bar with a grizzled meat menu hoisted at south side prices. I don't recommend it. I don't recommend the argument with the staff either, although I had to see it through.

Maybe she was not aware that when I have one of those rare days that keeps me going, I'm not letting go. I'm not giving in, giving way, rolling over, playing dead or paying ninety dollars for a fruit platter when the advertised price is already a ridiculously inflated sixty.

By the end, it wasn't that she threw the thirty dollars at me. Not quite. But with a dismissive gesture. One could use the word launch to describe the progress of the missing thirty dollars in my direction.

Not that this moment will spoil my memory of this day one bit. Not at all. We had a thoroughly lovely time. One of those days worth fighting for.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

What season is it?

I have lost a sense of time. Not the hours in the day - and my goodness they slip away quicker than I can check a clock face - and not the days, because at some point the world sinks into darkness and my eyes close. I know the difference between day and night. Not that time, but the time that surrounds me, that is in soil and trees, that tells me when things grow, change, fall away, drop to the ground. People tell me it's coming winter, but the centigrade flashes 33 at the ferryside and the wind is warm enough to make you wish you wore one layer less of clothing.

It's disorienting, and a bit distressing, this out of step. I feel not all is right with the world. I'm not exactly a farm girl, and I don't have much sympathy with hunting country folk, not since one held a fist at my head, but I miss the way I took the kids past the farm on the way home. Maybe once a fortnight, April to October, we'd collect a wheelbarrow, look over the hedges to find the forks stuck in the ground, and know we'd found the signpost for potatoes.

I'm not alone. As we gaze at the fat round red tomatoes and wonder aloud whether lychees have finished for the season, the children ask if the blackberries are done. I don't answer. I bite my lip and mourn the damsons. And the jam making. And the fallen apples in the orchard. Even the ritual midnight pan burning, when I over reach myself with the chutney wonder of the day; when I thought, just one more experiment, this time with cloves and nutmeg.

I miss all that. Out here, on the limb of an island with an elbow poking into a China sea, I have no sense when apples ripen, or when the baking potatoes are best. I am cut off, left out. Lost. I look for replacements, because there are plenty. We have ripe round pomellos, bananas, pears like a fragrant ice sorbet held in shape by a pale green skin. We have imported California plums, kiwi, and grapes from I don't know where. But I don't have late summer raspberries, orchard apples, and the expectation of sharp frosted sprouts. I don't look at a calendar and count, sweetcorn, parsnips, cabbage. And I don't have Squirrel climbing fruit trees, Shark with red rubbed lips, and Tiger, with soil under her fingernails.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Next week Squirrel sets up a market stall

Squirrel is making a place for herself in Hong Kong life. She's watched how things are done here, and she's picked up the principle of trade with expert understanding.

Today she departs this house wearing her sunhat acquired from Seahouses, Northumberland (red, pink, white, sewn ribbon, acrylic) and returns with an entirely different titfer altogether (pink, bleached blue pattern, cotton).

'Squirrel, where is your hat?'

'I traded it with the woman who owns the sparkle shop opposite the bins. She wants to show my hat to the ladies who sew for her. She said she wanted to make lots of hats like my hat. I said she could borrow my hat for a week in exchange for a new one. She gave me this hat which I do not have to give back' (glows with pride) 'and this'. (Deposits on dining table two sewn mice wearing Russian backpacks, one pot pig, and one Hello Kitty ornament playing football.)

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Sunday outing

Yes, we're still dealing with a few sadnesses here in our failure to create some happy memories of our Hong Kong beginnings. Like today. The family take their pink toes to the beach to dip them in brown sand and stare across the lapping water to the horizon. But Tiger locks herself away, refusing to venture out.

You're missing life here, Tiger.

I know it doesn't sound much fun at the government sponsored fun beach. What with the courteous recorded message, warning us not to play with frisbees on account of their ability to have your eyes out. Or the lifeguards, who entertain us with their cabaret of life saving skills, including striding around on concrete watchtowers and floating about on rafts stabbing swimmers with bamboo poles to check if they're alive. Then the view of the powerstation over the bay. The coal fired one with 3,755MW output.

But we find pleasure here, really. I sit and collect dead crabs and Shark dams one of the drainage holes that is part of the civil engineering slope maintenance. We hope it's a drainage hole anyway. And not a sluice for washing sewage down from the pigeon restaurant. Squirrel amuses herself by throwing sand at mosquitoes and chatting, mostly while nobody listens.

Yet as we follow our individual delights, we know that here, we are a family. We come together to squabble over who sprayed the insect repellent last, who has it now, who has a right to carry the bottle, and how mama knows best about dengue fever because of that New Year she spent in Malaysia over a bus station, so stop arguing and stick out your leg. I'll rub sandy sunscreen onto your shoulders too while you scowl, and I'll smooth the bump on your head. The one you sustained when Shark hit you with the log.

Then we are bonded in other strange and silent ways. We stare together in puzzlement at the Chinese inscrutables, like how some of the elderly stand in slow arrangements of arms and legs, swaying slightly, maybe lost from the hospital set of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. We look in bafflement at some of the holiday tee-shirts displayed before us with their fantastic oddity of English, Sofa great, Glomor, Eat sweet puppy dog. By our shared observations and wonders at these things, we know we are foreigners. This is our temporary home. Worry when I think it's a good idea to bring home a tee-shirt that reads Am I who?

More too. Not simply foreigner family, sitting on the beach. We become British, and we can laugh together about that particular affliction. We hug the shade, raw faced, red kneed, itchy under our cotton sunhats. We contemplate paddling by hitching skirt folds into our knickers. I would do that, only the elastic's perished and my thighs wobble with too much tea-time sponge cake.

Tiger, I miss you here, at the beach. I wish you would come down. Better still, I wish you would come down, then ignore me, and run away to the water to play. Rationally, I know it will take time, and you will do it, or you won't, at your own pace. I must deal with my sorrow that I miss sharing yet another experience with you. Yes, one that involves concrete, sand heaps, sea, and sky. But also these strange assortment of people, your foreigner family, and me, waiting here for you to come and join us.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Photoblog Hong Kong: Yuen Po Street Bird Garden

China is a strange place. All these delicate and fragile birds, locked inside their bamboo cages. Inside each cage is fastened a tiny blue and white ceramic pot for water; a tiny dish for food, and a little swinging perch. The birds are given everything they need, except their freedom to fly.

Don't look for metaphors. The men take the birds to the parks, hang the cages in the trees, then sit below them, gambling, while the birds hop and peck in their swaying prisons above their heads. I guess that birds serve the same function as allotments and sheds in England. Men time. Excuse time. I need to take the bird to see the tree time. Back in four hours time.

Something else, too. I can see the birds are needed, truly. More than human. Maybe they are wisdoms, poetries, inquiries into souls. I watched an old man with his eyes fastened on the little bird in the cage. He watched it hop, change direction, incline a head, peck, drink, dash out a wing, balance on a swinging perch. I watched the old man watch the bird for twenty minutes. He never took his eyes away. And I wondered so much what the bird answered.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Where do you fit in the child abuse matrix?

Go on then, birthday fantasies over, I have to turn and face life's uncompromising edges and hard brick walls.

Maybe it's one of a thousand reasons I welcomed a break from England. Because there, my three children are victims. I'm a suspect. And my household is potentially characterised by deceit and manipulation.

How do I measure on the Child Risk Assessment Matrix? Look here then scroll down. See how you're doing. You'll find a convenient list. Got a Pre-Mobile Baby? Maybe they're a victim. Your partner been collared by the old bill for a caution on cannabis? Oh dear. You're a suspect. But I trust you're not in a household that's Co-Sleeping? Oops. According to this child abuse investigation document from the Metropolitan Police, you're stuffed.

I certainly am, as a home educator. Home education, in this document, makes me instantly suspicious. I'm even banded in red. Extra Marked Danger Suspect? Who knows?

Not surprisingly, I have several reactions, seeing myself so dramatically included here. Not least the fear that as we walk down an English high street in some future day, someone might use a document just like this against me. Maybe I'd better admit now to manipulating my children. I ration the chocolate and use it as a rewards-based confection. And sometimes I feel violent towards paper tick sheets.

After the usual shock, outrage, mockery, that sort of thing, I start to look at this item. And I have these observations. First, for Community Care who put this document out for everyone to see, everywhere in the world to know, what awaits you to home educate in England.

I'd say to them that I'm a simple reader. I think text should reach publication with all parts explained and text positioned clearly, including captions, information about source, supporting commentary clearly marked, plus references checked and intact. Then people can check links, navigate their way through copy easily, and be able to respond in a considered manner.

For this matrixed document, there's a caption missing. A caption needs to be there to clarify its status. It is referred to only within small-point boxed text. Without a separate caption, at first glance it is not immediately apparent how the Met Police matrix relates to the article at all. Maybe Community Care is suggesting this matrix is one everyone should use?

This document is also reproduced with highlighted areas in red. What does the colour banding signify? I don't know. I can't see an explanation. Is the audience to make up their own rationale? So I would ask Community Care, with your responsibilities towards publication, that you offer a caption to explain the colour banding. Tell us if you think it's someone else's responsibility. Because in my day job, I couldn't let that through. I'd have to send it back to you for clarification.

Second, the Met. You're all getting younger. I still like the uniforms though. But I'm puzzled. Is this tick sheet used internally? It's filled with acronyms which make it look like it's a document not intended for wider scrutiny. Is it really intended for external publication? How did it find its way into Community Care? Did a Met staff member pass it on? Or was this tick list used within a context where Molly was able to pick it up and assume it could be printed, red bits and all, without problem? Was the reproduction by open invitation? Who else has that invitation?

You can see I have lots of questions here. If only they would stop! How did this document come about? Who made this list? It's unauthored, yet carries authority with the Met logo. Was it created for a training session? A workshop? Was it made by someone whose job it is to provide easy answers and boxes to tick? What does that say about the culture of police services? Did the Met buy in this, or is it the output of internal work?

I could go on. About a tick-box society. The way that all our deep life complexity and delicate nuance is reduced to a list in a matrix with identifiable targets and tickable boxes, Yes/No/Unsure. About the way our family tries to live sensitively, thoughtfully, yet judgement on us is made readily and easily. The culture of England that creates easy answers from experts via quick-fix short-answer training sessions.

Sigh with relief, because I won't.

In fact I wondered whether to bother focusing a blog post around a submerged document that didn't even sit comfortably on a web page or make much sense. Apart from the fact that it screams my status, home educator, caught in bloody red hand, it's probably not relevant. Indeed, to draw your attention to this document is to give it legitimacy, which I don't think it has. I think it's just a small bit part of an internal document made for another audience, thoughtlessly passed about, and given undue significance by casual presentation from Community Care.

But to not draw attention to it, is wrong. It is to not make clear what home educators face. What they face all the time, everyday.

I don't just mean inclusion on a list of suspects. Home educators live with your suspicion. It's a feeling you have that we might be up to something: you just haven't found us out.*

What home educators face, more than this, everyday, is a process I'm calling slippage. We had this already. Someone doesn't have the evidence they need to bring about change or legislation, so they create information, add a document taken from over there, shuffle the information about, apply a document to the area they want, claim they have authorities, significances: here is the evidence.

This document? A child is a victim. Parents are suspect. The context is home. Then don't documents like this take on a strange life of their own? It's easy. It's available. It provides answers. Now it has the legitimacy, credence, and status of a published document in Community Care. Someone will use it. Someone else will pass it on.

Then this document drawn from one world is applied elsewhere. It's elevated from internal tickery-sheetery into discussion for community workers, doctors, managers. Easy to copy and forward, it can pass between trainers, consultants and 'experts' who need a quick image to reproduce for their Child Abuse Awareness session. Then the document is changed in discreet ways by health staff for their own workshops, distributed to educational welfare officers, stuck at the bottom of an article which finds its way into a national newspaper and into the hands of a non-critical journalist. Here is the evidence. The Met police said so. Everyone knows this is true. This is how the world works. Home educators are suspect. Home education is a form of child abuse.

And what if we'll then find this document - which started life as an internal paper - placed as supporting reading for an agenda in a closed committee meeting? The one attended by law-makers, policy-creators, civil servants, politicians, Capita, government communications staff? Then someone round the table who needs legislation against home educators seizes on this easy, authoritative tick sheet. Because the red banding shows we need urgent legislation. The Met needs that. Here are statistics. Graham Badman made them. Hey Presto! This proves the need for action! Now suddenly this dodgy doc is driving public policy.

I'd call this slippage. Where a document intended for one audience, over time becomes a coherence, gives reason, is the coalescence point for particular prejudices, vested interests and commercial alliances.

I'm not saying it will happen to this document. After all, in itself, it's not much. And let's face it, many of us can find a route through that damns us. We can scorn it. It's not relevant. Someone will say, 'You're making a fuss about nothing. It's just a document in Community Care. The red banding? It doesn't mean anything at all'.

But to me it shows what the world is and how people work. I wish I could trust otherwise.

There probably isn't a conclusion to this post. Except that I want organisations of people who have a sense of responsibility to their communities. I want to see articles that do not rely for their impact on cut and paste. I want to see continued intelligent use of Freedom of Information. And I want ordinary people to use their voices, shape what happens, look at the world with a critical eye, and never accept what is given as a simple answer, or how things must be, because look, here is a tick, on a list.

* Psss. Don't tell. We are up to something. It's called living.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Moon party

In Hong Kong, it's the Mid Autumn Festival. It's a pretty big party. It's a full moon party. A perfect excuse to watch dragons tumble and roll, then scoff sticky thick cake with its round rich yellow egg balanced amongst the pastries. Full bellied with delicious blessings of the moon, you can holiday from work, eat, talk and laugh with your family, light candles, swing lanterns, open your palm to the sky and watch the moonbeams travel down to strike the silver coins you hold.

For us, it's a date we have to take ourselves to the beach. We'll watch the sea roll in and out, gaze and wonder between the moon in the sky and the candles in the sand. It's a time to learn what to do, to think, 'next year, we'll do that'. To exchange good wishes, make invitations, accept hospitalities, grow rich by turning neighbours into friends.

'Come with me, to the beach' I said, 'and come to the party. It'll be fun.' When I said it, again and again, smiling, I lied every time. I tried to make my eyes sincere. When that failed, I turned away my head, and held out my hand. 'Come to the beach. It'll be fun.' When my voice wavered and the doubt deepened my tone and clamped down on that terrible final word, I stopped speaking, and held out my hand.

Some lies I can keep up. They sustain me for years. Everything will be alright. This is happiness. There is joy. The five dollar sparkle is real. Other lies let me down, within hours. Or minutes. Some I stare down, repeat them again and again. If I say those lines enough, they will be true. 'Come to the beach. It will be fun.'

This lie is one I can't believe myself. But if I could, I would. I'd have my little girl believe me, then I'd take her sad and lonely little hands to find the beach, the party, the candles, the moonbeams. I'd fill them with happy sounds and laughter. She would stay, light candles, build sandcastles by moonlight, accept help, make friends.

But I know it won't come true. It will be no fun at all. I want to say, 'Everything's making you unhappy.' I don't. That would be the truth. So I say, 'Come with me, to the beach, and see the party. It will be fun. I promise.'

Then the time to talk was gone. The party's now. Shark and Squirrel, tired of the tears and impatient for the moon, had already run along, waving torch-lit paper fish, disappearing down the steps towards the jungly darkness and the moonlit party with its candles, sand, and sea.

Tiger screamed. And screamed. And screamed. I dropped my hand, stopped talking, and left. She came along and trailed behind, carrying little girl sorrow reaching further than all the moonbeams travel from the sky.

When we arrived at the beach, I turned round and left, and came home, leaving the children to a husband. I would have carried all my little girl's sorrows with me if I could. But my little girl stayed, lonely, crying, hating the beach, hating the moon, hating the candles, hating me for all my lies, kicking the foaming sea with the salt spray scattering up all around her, and soaking her through.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

I invent fish maths

This is a problem with home education. There's always a subject or an area you're bloody rubbish at talking about.

In Grit's case, it's maths. Now I can work out ten per cent off the price of a decent-sized handbag, simultaneously sustaining in my brain the knowledge that it's fifty per cent overpriced and that there is a finite limit to my bank account. Yet I will still come out with the answer that it's a bargain.

Some people say that is enough. This is real-life maths, suitable for a real-life world. And a child starts showing inclination and disposition in this real world soon enough. If they are going to be sharp with maths, it'll show, you'll know. They lead the way. You know how to help.

Similarly, if they are determined to become an illustrator, then there is little point forcing them through two hundred and seventy-two school hours of algebra hoops. You can make the kid jump if you poke enough pointed sticks behind them, but the numbers won't travel along.

These examples really support an education that is responsive, child-centred, easy going. One which doesn't set up kids for failures but which matches their inclinations and needs.

Of course you have to know each child. And if you are determined to introduce higher level maths even with your illustrator, you could. Theoretically, I could do the algebra in a way relevant to illustrative techniques and printing requirements. Then it will stick in their brain like cement mortar to brick. I could do that, if I knew any algebra.

But this is my point. There is always that area for which your child needs your help, but which you are crap at. They may have started to help themselves, looked at it, burst into tears, and looked to you for explanation.

For example. Shark says she would like to study marine biology. I have put her in front of a lot of fish over many years. Recently, she has become aware of a need for maths to sit a degree course. I guess there is a little maths to be done there, what with the waves and all. You see I'm already at my limits.

And this is where I feel my great weakness. I am simply crap at maths. I start off with good intentions, which is bad enough. But then it all gets worse. This is how it goes.

'Well, Shark. I'm sure I can help you understand decimals. Um. Here is the number ten. You can divide it up! Into bits and then bits of bits, like points. Um. Um. OK, let's think of this number as a big fish. And we are dividing it up into bits and points. Um. OK, here is a fin. It's a green fin, and the fish has ten green fins all over. I'm chopping off one of the fins. Yes, maybe I'm a predator, and I eat green fins from this fish. Now I'm pulling off some more fins. There. I've collected all these fins. And that makes point six. I think. Anyway. Let's say it does. Get it? Oh. Go and ask daddy.'

A simple answer would be convenient, but I know life doesn't work like that. So I shall continue to stick her in front of more maths websites, keep drawing pictures of pointed fish that look like something from a weapons establishment, take her to more lectures by Marcus du Sautoy, buy in the services of a maths teacher, invent fish maths fun, print off two thousand worksheets, confess my ignorance, and hope basically that she just gets on with it. That one day it all clicks into place without me making it worse.

But if someone would like to tell me right now that a fishy-related degree is really all about patting rays in feeding tanks, you can be sure I'll let her know, and I'll heave a big sigh of mathematical relief.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Risk factor: Libraries

Libraries are seductive places, aren't they? You get in there, eye up the comfy seats, tell the kids to scarper, travel between the tables and the shelves with armfuls of pages, then set about the playful diversions of a good flick through, skimming and licking.

OK, maybe the licking gets a bit out of control, but you should see the covers of those China Design books. They are big. I mean really oversized, full cover glossy page fantasy stuff with perfect photography. Definitely worth the stagger you have to make back to your chambers in a quiet afternoon's cultural study.

And I can do hours of this at the back of the library. Rolling around the pages in peace and quiet. Nobody bothers me at all! The kids sit elsewhere, reading fairy trash, pony trash and Sherlock Holmes, because they are writing their own story filled with mystery and suspense. The book guarder peers in every hour to make sure there's no more noisy licking going on like before. Downstairs there's a coffee shop. Computers for searching the stock. Over there, a toddler play area and junior multimedia room. More circles of seats round more tables, with the invitation to eye-spy a particularly good looking selection of Coastal Defence and slump down to gently continue your pleasures. And that's about all the distraction you face. So isn't this perfect?

You're looking for me to say No, aren't you?

I can't. I suppose I could say that Hong Kong Central Library lacks a few books I'd like to see. And a DVD section, because we watched Ice Age fifty times already. And yes, maybe it's a little weighty-worthy on the English Lit, and I could do with an affair that has a little more fun in the gutter with pointless flash and trash. But hey ho, no-one's perfect.

So I can't offer up any negatives. None at all. Basically, it's one of my preferred places to spend a few hours in peace while Hong Kong turns around me.

Now shhh. Nothing else today. Run along. I have a particularly alluring essay to read on Antiquities and Monuments. And you should see the size of that cover.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Arty, arts, art

I mustn't forget we have done stuff while in Hong Kong. We have, slowly, some days without Tiger. But I need to log down our successes, because otherwise I might forget. And if we were to come away, I would look back and think, we didn't do anything at all. So, just for my personal balance, these are our particular triumphs.

Hours of quiet craft. Sticking, gluing, positioning ribbon, stitching paper, making origami dinosaurs, tiny books, little cards. Round each craft there's a story, a question, a wonder or a million thoughts. Some people might see it, and casually call this play. That word is not great and grand enough to convey what's going on in the sticky hands and purposeful minds of children, yet it's so simple and perfect, meaning all of everything, that it should come with a special protection to ensure Ofsted never grasp it between their corpsed and rigid lips.

Art group. It is true! I have booked all the gritlets into an art group! I walk down the main street of this miniature town to be hailed by someone who thinks I need an artist. How she sees that, I do not know. Call it the hippy hair, the look of hopelessness, the way I stagger my carcass in non-artistic styles. But I don't even need the sales patter. Within fifteen seconds I've enrolled three extra in her weekly pad and pencil brigade.

The Hong Kong Museum of Art. We wander about calligraphed, brush stroked, swept into shapes by paints and inks and water colours. Go and see, and come and join us. We'll be there again soon, climbing green inky mountains, sliding down blue ceramic pots, and balancing our noses against the art, story, and drama of Wu Guanzhong.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Crimes against noodles

Wanted: Prematurely decrepit middle-aged female last seen wearing black widow weeds and electric hair.

Crime: Noodle napping, noodle murder.

Photographed at the scene of the crime, these blameless innocent victims were heartlessly snatched from their expectation of a fulfilled life in the tender care of a proper chef with a hat and a bottle of fragrant soy sauce, and cruelly dumped in an overboiling pan of washing water, before being mangled, thrashed, and beaten senseless with a plastic ladle. These poor tender creatures were then tipped into a sink (hearsay evidence) before being served as a congealed lump to the unsuspecting public, aka Shark, Squirrel, and Tiger.

Protect your noodles.
Keep them safe indoors.

The miscreant remains at large, seeking fresh victims under the misguided assault called 'Hello children. Today we are going to experiment with Chinese cooking'.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Marked cards

So the conversation with the new neighbour in the adjoining apartment goes something like this.

B: Hi! I'm your new neighbour!
G: Hi! I'm Grit!
B: And I'm Ben. Pleased to meet you! This is lovely, isn't it? I chose this place because I love how it's so quiet up here!
G: Er, yes! Lovely. Um. I have children.
(Awkward pause)
G: Triplets.
B: (Frowns) Oh!
(Awkward pause)
G: Er. Did the property agency tell you? That there were children in the house?
B: (Frowning quite a lot now) No. I specifically told them I wanted somewhere quiet.
G: Oh.
B: So I can work from home.
G: (Thinking, Can this get any worse?) Um. I can ask the kids to be quiet?
B: (Suddenly brightening) Hey! But they're quiet now, right? And I came round twice to view and it was quiet both times! So, they're all at school!
G: Um. Um. Er well. Um. Home educated?
B: (Shoulders visibly sag, face falls, eyes bear hint of doom.) Oh.
(Awkward pause)
G: Um.

Depart in different directions. Both sides scrutinise tenancy agreement re: sudden contract termination, undue disturbance, rapid onset screaming, violation of accords, restrictions, infractions, human rights, infestations of hippies, unauthorised distribution of plagues, etc. etc.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

We have photos

Grit is now in a state of high anticipation. The technical manager, aka Dig, driven by love, possibly (or avoidance of something worse, probably), has spent two hours working out how to download photos from phones to computers and into blog.

Thus Grit anticipates return to a picture friendly blog, heaving with visual pleasure! Imagine the hours of behind-the-scenes fun ahead of me, exploring two thousand blurred photos of a Squirrel, wondering which one to hoist before the world in a fever of smug home education hippiedom. Look here! Proof that my daughter receives an education fit for her in society! Here she is, staring at a lemur!

But I won't delay a second longer. Here we go. Photographs of our days in Hong Kong that speak of the wonders of a life of learning, given to you straight from my heart.

The image that captures the great chuck-Arseface-off-the-roof strapped to an umbrella experiment. A picture to me worth a thousand thoughts, all of outside living, resourceful enterprise, pleasure of the moment, learning from life, why isn't Dig talking acceleration, velocity, momentum, the actual weight of umbrellas being heavier than dollies?

To the children, it is worth three hours amusement throwing dolly off and fetching her back while she is photographed, plus forty minutes making a parachute, an hour discussing what costume she should wear for the descent, another grey hair on your mother's head when Shark comes downstairs and casually inquires about funerals, and the cost of two cheap umbrellas from Mr Chang.

Put simply, I think of this photograph fondly as capturing a moment of our home education journey. And the day that we didn't decide on divorce and none of the children fell off the roof by accident.

A photograph which shows the glorious enterprise in practical living known as Put your own desk together from a Hong Kong branch of Ikea. The enterprise that removed four hours of my living breathing existence. The four hours which began for me when it ended for Dig after thirty seconds. As he departs he says, 'Do not bother doing Step One. I have done that'. Oh foolish Grit to listen to this man! By the time we get to Step Twenty-two, I realise that the reason why the desk wobbles and the top won't close is that whoever did Step One put the crucial connecting bar the wrong way round. This photo does not capture the misery. It does, however, serve as an aide memoire for why I should stay married to Dig for another year in revenge.

A perfect reminder of two hours spent standing in the crowded Cantonese shopping alley in rainy steamy Wan Chai beneath the pink neon sign reading Underwear, waiting for Squirrel and Tiger to finish spending twenty dollars in a sparkle shop. Worth every moment.

Enter these vaulted rooms of pleasure and your eyes pop out, lured on and upward by cheap flash at knock-down Hong Kong prices. It is like being in a psychedelic movie, and you wonder if you have stood in the same spot for half a century smoking dope. By the end of an hour you are forcibly extracted by Dig, but you protest that Tiger must be left in there to fully enjoy the cheap flash and trash in the form of sparkle hairgrips, sequined bags, diamante ponies, and cute little bags that serve no purpose whatsoever unless it is for you to place them inside a slightly larger bag with glitter handles. Stop complaining Dig, it is Tiger's first big outing unless you count the trip for the electricity bill.

A snapshot of one of many public prohibitions down at the government-sponsored fun beach where the entire family occasionally goes to stare at one another, miserably.

At least the Chinese know how to have a wild time when it comes to preventable accidents, communicable diseases, illegal frisbee throwing and sand management. They also take a tough line on all recreational swimming, sending a life guard out amongst the swimmers, particularly at the paddling bit. The life guard floats around on what looks like a gigantic raft, searching keenly for accidental drownings and other mishaps. He propels his raft by means of a long pole, so if you are swimming inadvertently by the life raft and are stabbed in the head by a long bamboo instrument, then think yourself lucky there's a life guard at the end of it.

And finally for today, the photograph that captures the wonder, breadth and diversity of the main street into our local town.

I realise now that this photograph I took very early on in our journey is exceptional because there are so few people here. Apart from a Squirrel nosing her way in from the left, the street is as good as deserted. I have no idea what just happened. It must have been something enormous.

This street is never empty. It is heaving with dogs and the odd sad cat, filled with people on bicycles tingtingtinging their way through the nose-to-nose crowd, people shuffling as fast as their flip flops will take them in the 80 percent humidity and 33 degree heat, and all bumped along by the noisy raspberry-blowing village vehicles (that's one ahead; like a gas powered golf cart).

Everyone moves at a constantly reduced speed which is impossible to pass. It is as inconceivable that you can overtake the old lady with her plastic shopping bags as you can propel yourself to the sky and lick stars. You can try, but you will get nowhere. Except the moment I took this photograph, clearly.

If only I had known, I would have taken full advantage of the empty street scene and run up and down it naked simply to enjoy the liberation. Dig could have photographed that and posted it up in revenge at the marriage.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Hong Kong note book: Chinese laundry

Instructions for laundry.

8am. Enter the offspring lair. It is dark, dank, and smells of cheese. Throw open the curtains. At the withering touch of sunlight, the offspring will howl like vampires and hide under duvets. This is good. Let us continue without fear of assault. Pause to point to floor, dramatically. Although light filters grimly into the room, the floor of the lair remains in darkness. It is submerged in stuff. With pincer grip and expression of infinite disgust, pick all fabric items from the spoil heap and drop them with a shiver into a large plastic bag. Stain proof surgical gloves are advised.

10am. Put on your shoes and prepare to leave the house, clutching the plastic bag at arm's length. Before departure into the jungle we must drench ourselves with vile stinky fuel. Mosquito/hornet/scarybug will totally avoid us. This is a small price to pay to complete the laundry.

10.10am. Enter Main Street. Yes, the Main Street is less than one metre wide, what with the hole in the road and the metal plates. Round here it is like the M25. Avoid man on bicycle going tingtingting behind you. Swerve past old lady with coolie hat. She is a town cleaner who is a bit like your mum on the warpath. Avoid. She has a big brush. Arrive at laundry.

10.15am. Ting the desk bell. While you wait, deposit plastic bag in blue basket wobbling on top of weighing scales (Figure 1).

10.17am. Lady with note pad reads ancient scales while you simultaneously will the twitching needle to settle under the 7lbs threshold. This will save two dollars. It is always just over the threshold, so really, what is the point? It is not worth the mental strain. Lady writes down numbers on pad, rips off paper, passes it to you without eye contact. She may grunt No Iron. She sharply removes plastic bag and disappears into rear of laundry. Pause for a moment to wonder whether you have just donated all offspring clothes plus one pair husband trousers to sad cat shop by accident. Hmm. Reflect that this really is the laundry, even though some days you can see sad cats and other practices, because look. There is a washing machine. Sigh with relief. Go home and amuse self by reading blogs, newspaper, watching clouds, etc.

2pm. Bribe offspring from lair with promises of chocolate milkshakes, sweet rice cakes, trips to beach, Chinese pears, etc. etc. All lies. Really, child labour needed to collect laundry. Offer offspring piece of paper and thirty dollars. Provide instructions to give piece of paper and dollars to laundry lady. She will go fetch big plastic bag filled with warm washed, dried clothes, hopefully yours. Tell offspring to bring them home. Provide clear instructions not to put bag down, forget about it, drop it into hole in road, bash bag into man on bicycle etc. etc.

2.30pm. Laundry home. Reward self for having done the laundry with a Tsingtao and more cloud analysis.

7pm. Say to returning husband, 'I have had an exhausting day. I did the laundry.'

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

That direction sign? I could lick it.

We walked to Power Station Beach today. Yes, that's right. On Lamma Island there is a beach located right next to a power station! Called Power Station Beach! We humans are so imaginative!

The direction signs are in Chinese too. And I bet the Chinese call that beach something entirely different. I bet they use a tongue full of syllables so poetic it feels like you are rolling sugar coated pink rose petals on the insides of both your wet cheeks. Because that is how Chinese can be.

It's that symbol script thing they have. In English we just find a set of squiggles, call them the alphabet, and half-heartedly and chaotically hook them all up to some sounds. Let's call it phonics, and if your child failed to learn to read at age two months it is because they did not do the phonics thing properly.

This is entirely compatible with the other thing we do, because we are British, which is to say that only an English native speaker knows the rooles of the proper sounds; the rooles which we made up earlier. Permitting us to divide everyone into different classes, groups, types and johnny foreigners, then judge them conclusively; based on whether they say bath or barth, trouser or triser, pudding or desert.

Anyway, you know the Chinese use these delicate symbols which stand for the object or concept, right? So, as I understand it, a sentence can be composed of a series of separate images. That idea is what I've fallen in love with. I look at these beautiful written shapes and fall in love with them. I haven't a clue what they mean. Probably Public Toilets Out of Order. It doesn't matter. Love is blind. Those symbols are like a string of poetic ideas, pearls on a string, threaded together by context, made lustrous by the reading. Waters flow. Filling balloon. Rounded belly. Bear elsewhere.

So I bet the Chinese do not write this sandy beach in anything to suggest it is inhabited by a coal-firing, gas-turbined, synchronised multi-unit power station, and a three-legged dog called Terry. I bet they call this beach Wave spread. Circle round. Beast power. Earth rise. Mountains guard.

Which is why today we have set ourselves a goal. To read Chinese. OK, maybe just a few shapes. Well worth the effort, if it opens up a vision on a 3,736MW power station that I never had before.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Glad that's sorted

So at some moment in the murky lands of Grit time – a zone that permits no calendar on earth - I come round to find Dig has legged it to the Philippines and the computer system crashed.

It has happened before.

That single item of computer equipment, essential for all internet nirvana? The one in the cupboard? Little happy fella that blinks cute green light uncomplainingly 24/7 for six months? Yup. That one. Breaks down thirty seconds after Dig leaves the building for Indonesia. For two weeks. Sort it, Grit, sort it. Me in the cupboard with the computer is like a surgeon in your liver with a power saw. You don't want to know what happens next.

Which is why we always execute Plan B.

Plan B for all internet and computer connection failure is called P-h-o-n-e. Which would be fine if Dig's phone worked. But it doesn't. And don't suggest using another phone. Because he doesn't know my number. It's stored on his phone. All of which he emails to tell me. Except our email doesn't work. So I phone him to tell him that.

But now it's sorted. And that circumstance of feeling ill, overwrought, overwhelmed, alone, realising I am probably doomed, awaiting execution? The moment I realise I don't know which organisation Dig has travelled to Philippines with, what hotel he's staying at, who he's with, why he's there, what date is set for his return? That sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach is one I get accustomed to, married to the Scarlet Pimpernel.

So I am glad he is back, my wobblehead did not dropoff, the Internet is up and running. We survived. Another day, eh? Is that the time already?

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Calling in sick

Maybe the stress events of the past few days are taking their toll but not for the first time the world started spinning and I felt pretty much like someone had removed my legs then sent me to walk across a floor made entirely of blancmange.

Dig says it is probably a virus and I need to take it easy and stop fretting.

He is, of course, sadly mistaken. I have found out the truth from a reliable source called Dr Internet. He is medically qualified in pictures of flesh-eating bugs and horror stories of brain tumours. He thinks I have hours and maybe seconds to live.

Don't tell me Dr Internet's diagnosis is incompatible with the neurological brain disease that I also surely have. The one which will see me degenerate and drop to bits over a time span of agony, say fifteen years. Because I found a website which says I have that too. And the bug flesh thing. With lice.

So I am trying to rest and stay calm and not die because the cost to us all would be truly horrendous. And of course I feel guilty because just at this moment in our delicate negotiations, Tiger, Shark and Squirrel deserve better than this. They should have someone here who is indestructible and sure and never fails to buy enough fruit juice and onions; someone who doesn't hold onto the wall and then make a joke about the cooking sherry here in Asia being the best stuff you could ever pour over your cornflakes.

But I discover there is also a positive to feeling a little bit wobbly and lightheaded. Hallucinations are not part of the deal. So maybe I was right about being followed by a fake monk.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Say grit's day sent you

Maybe it was the uncritical glee with which the mummy blogging world received this list. Maybe it was the response, can't wait to get there!

Or maybe it was the feeling that I was patted on the head, told my fears were groundless, that my reservations were nothing. Because isn't it what every mummy
secretly wants to do? Make money from their blog? Then I'm no different, and I'll make a few dollars in the end. Pat, pat. There, there.

Yes. That turned my thinking. And Grit has a deep seam of bolshy Brit about her, wherever you put her in this wide world.

So here are some of Grit's predictions for the UK mummy blogging world over the next five years. I bet they come true. I keep a crystal ball in the closet, next to the skeletal bones, and the bitter herbs.

1. Rise of the deceitful blogger

Corporates are driven by a need to make money. They are driven to exploit all media outlets to promote their products. They will move on from seeking genuine mummy blogs. Mummy bloggers are second hand. The writers are difficult to control. A blogger will be possessive over their tone of voice. Some bloggers will deliberately write negative reviews to maintain their reputation for authenticity. A corporate cannot stop a genuinely negative reaction or a poor recommendation of product.

Corporates will move increasingly to front end advertising blogs. These blogs will appear genuine. They will be sitcom blogs fronted by 'ordinary families'. These ordinary madcap families will provide the stock ingredients: long suffering husband, opinionated wife, loud mouthed, edgy children who are a reflection of consuming, cultural times, sharp script. Whatever their great adventures, all will pause for the knockabout interaction over Chrispy! Cheery! breakfast cereal.

Bloggers need to match this development with critical thinking and discriminating reading.

2. Rise of the family blogger as family business
Some mummy bloggers are ambitious to put their blog on a business footing. A blog for them will not be a part-time, earn-a-few-pennies way of sharing information. The writers of these blogs will require all the family to engage appropriately with the business. Corporates will be hand-in-hand with this creation. Together, they will define the family norm. Other mummy bloggers will be encouraged to organise themselves against this norm.

Increasingly, mummy bloggers will be led to believe they must find one simple angle, a niche, a way of representing themselves, and stick to it. They will be told this makes it easier to find their blog in a multi-blog world. In reality, it is easier for market segmentation, brand identity, blog positioning if the blog and the family it represents becomes less complex, less wide ranging, more focused on definable market areas.

Bloggers may need to carefully select their recommendations, award cultures, references, blog rolls, links. By such reference to other blogs, they will define their complicity or rejection to the norm.

3. Mummy bloggers will enter global hierarchies
Multinationals make money regardless of national boundaries, national loyalties. They are responsible to shareholders first and foremost. The largest brands will focus on flagship family blogs.

There will be thousands of mummy blogs seeking to compete for attention from these large corporates. Bloggers will be in heavy competition with each other. The corporates will realise they have the upper hand and start to wield that power ruthlessly, dividing and segmenting the mummy blog market for their convenience.

As part of this trend, global stats rankings will develop. UK mummy bloggers will feel the pressure to compete wherever they travel in blogland. They will see rankings everywhere. There will be pressure to display your rank, stats, position, cash worth, value to others, discussion rating, transferability across formats, borders and time zones.

Large-scale bloggers will come under pressure to display their worth both in their country of writing and elsewhere. How much was this post worth per hour UK time? 22 cents? Did it do better than yesterday's post? Will your post be picked up on west coast USA by close of business? Can your blog provide bilingual coverage? How far can each post travel in a global marketplace?

Much time will be wasted by mummy bloggers chasing large corporates. That investment in time will not be returned as a financial reward. Mummy bloggers who wish to disengage from the multinational culture of competition will find it increasingly hard to do so. Web rings will be established linking anti-commercial family blogs. They will travel under various names, such as ethical blogs, blogs for integrity, honesty blogs, free blogs, ad-free blogs, no pay blogs, and so on.

4. Mummy bloggers will develop blogs as a local business
A large corporate cannot predict which mummy blogs will be taken up on a multinational scale. This is out of their control. So it is in a corporate's interest to encourage a range of low-level, local-based blogs. This allows them also to take advantage of difference within the family market.

Some bloggers will seek to make a business from a discriminating feature of their identity, a social role, or a characteristic. For example, expect local or national business platforms to be occupied by a parent blogger defining themselves as a single parent, gay, homeless, black, Spanish, and so on. With this, bloggers will seek defined advertising, specific market tie-ins, and local marketing opportunities.

Mummy bloggers will be under pressure to decide how global or local they are positioning their blog. Some mummy bloggers will feel alienated from a blog world which exploits a characteristic they hold dear as part of their identity. Alternative, radical, non mainstream family blogs will appear which set out to deliberately provide alternatives or simply to provoke.

5. The rise of the Dad blogger (and they'll be more successful than you, mum)
The Dad blogger market is in an infancy but this will become an expected part of a complete family view.

Dad bloggers will be highly competitive. Yet they must show a predominantly female buying readership a soft and intimate side of their personality. They will write on traditional mummy lines involving babies, toilet seats (up or down), the loss of breasts.

Dad bloggers who look the part will be able to command good terms for photographic opportunities. The feel-good dad blogging movies and books, marketed to women, are round the corner. Howabout single parent dad blogger pretends to be mommy in order to express internal fears on family; falls in love with mommy blogger. Cue miscommunication, missed opportunities, hilarious capers. Resolution to family norm. My money's on Brad Pitt.

6. There will be a loss of transparency about how the market works
Mummy blogging will see the loss of clear relationships between bloggers, public relations teams, and corporates.

For example, some mummy business bloggers will expand to work across several areas; they will simultaneously create deals, negotiate on readership lists, offer behind the scenes personal data, provide contact information, and develop multiple blogs and identities for marketing and promotional channels. Some of this will not be made clear to the end reader.

Readers should be aware that they may be trafficked for business without their knowledge or consent. Bloggers who wish to resist this trend will need to use their voices collectively to demand clarity, openness, freedom and access to information.

7. The rise of the online marketing expert
The speaker, the workshop leader, the trainer, the person who positions themselves as an expert in all these areas: these people, who blog themselves, provide links between the worlds of the corporate, the public relations teams, the motivational researchers, the marketing worlds and the front end bloggers.

Increasingly, these experts will sell their skills and knowledge to everyone, from corporates to start up bloggers. Experts will offer a range of packages at a variety of consultancy rates from the top to the bottom of the market. Packaged themes and topics will be on subjects such as: legal and copyright, how to present a product favourably; manipulation of public opinion; traffic creation; how to create favourable publicity; how to build relationships with branded corporates. A few family specialists will offer workshops on maintaining family life within the blogging environment.

Bloggers should be aware that everything they say and do online is a commodity and can be used ultimately as a paid for transaction. Parent bloggers will have no control over how the information they provide is used, no profit from good ideas, no recognition from endeavours, no financial reward for ground breaking work. Grit sighs and strews her aconite.

8. Blogging will go to court
Contracts will become an expected part of the mummy blogging world. Advertisers will want access to markets on their terms. The blog contract will be one means of securing it. There will be bloggers who break their contracts, consciously or not. One mummy blogger with a brand identity and financial investment to protect will be in court proceedings with other mummy bloggers over issues such as defamation and passing off. Cases will be taken through to court proceedings to test the law on grey or developing areas of family blogging.

Bloggers would be wise to choose contracts carefully, research contract law, share experiences, watch for clauses, be alert to requests for professional indemnity, and be cautious of throwaway lines in contracts that appear innocent but which essentially remove all blogging rights to independent voice.

9. Bloggers will charge for access to their blogs
Some bloggers will give their own research and reaction for free. Some bloggers will seek to make money by controlling access to particular parts of their blogs. They will seek to enter into defined commercial activities on their terms. They may set aside areas for their blogs where there is a charge made for information, or for original market research. Some family blogs will be pay to view or require subscription.

10. Bloggers will have less control over the look of their blogs
Bloggers have been able to customise, tailor and design their own blogs using their own learning and blog tools provided. Many women have seen this as an empowering and creative way of building an interaction online.

However, increasingly, the means to tailor the blog at an individual level will disappear. There will be fewer templates and more plug-ins which cannot be customised; new bloggers will be asked to use 'skins'. It will appear as if the choice has widened, but in reality, a blogger's ability to build a blog from their own skills and their own creative resources has narrowed.

A parallel can be drawn with the vehicle. Once, drivers were encouraged to service their vehicle themselves: change oil; carry out basic fault assessment; make emergency on the road repairs. Even Grit removed her stockings in a layby to mend a fan wheel. But now, drivers are under pressure to buy off-the-shelf service agreements, or are told to buy complete units even for minor repair, which can only be installed by specialists. Insurance and terms of purchase may be tied into these service packages, so it will be to the customer's disadvantage if they do not agree. The same type of complete arrangement will be offered for blogs.

11. There will be a growing internal market for bloggers
Internally, the mummy blog market will diversify. People will sell services to each other, positioning themselves as parents who know the business.

In the range of competing providers, designers are a first wave. Professional copywriting will merge with visual design services to offer complete front-end blog positioning.

Some bloggers will then look to providers offering newsfeeds, public relations packages, and researchers who promise to supply 'premium quality content'. Competitive bloggers will hope that the investment will in turn drive up readership, traffic, and position their blog as a key advertising resource. Some bloggers will pay more for premium services.

Bloggers who at present feel they can invest little and make a great deal from blogging may find this is not true. The market is actually one where many parent bloggers will be asked for a great deal of investment in money, time, and information, while the company they invest with makes a great deal at their expense.

12. The language of the blog will change
Some bloggers will use particular selling words deliberately, consciously, manipulatively. They will be offering a complete range, with greater satisfaction, all new, improved. Other bloggers will pick up those words, unconsciously, and reproduce them.

Some bloggers will apply those promotional words to describe their daily experience. Letter by letter, the language of advertising will creep into daily life experience as narrated by blogs. Blogging language will steadily merge with the language of advertisement. Experiences will be defined, described, and positioned as marketable. Other bloggers will compare their own experiences via the advertised experiences. And parent bloggers can all expect more posts playing on traditional advertisement drivers: sex, insecurity, love, fear, power, wealth, investment.

13. The new market will alienate a writer from their writing.
I pass through mummy blogs which are truly appalling in terms of their writing. The posts are stream of consciousness, grammatically suspect, poorly spelled, missing punctuation.

I suspect the writer does not choose that style for effect. I think they use that style when formal training of writing passed them by. It doesn't matter to me. This person has stories to tell, emotions to communicate, a voice that comes out loud and strong, a life that is rich and long lived.

But those writers are going to be left behind in the new world. No one can make money out of those graveyards of text. Personally, I don't want those writers to look at their writing, their all-over-the-place writing, and think, I've failed. You do not fail. You never did fail. You never will fail. But enter the new, narrow, controlled world of corporate blogging, and the market might ask you to think that you have. Then sell you a product to guarantee success.

Don't buy it. Let's be British about this. Carry on blogging.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Today's salvation is ribbon shaped

So I need really to shout a big, big heart-felt thank you for the parcel of ribbon that we collected this afternoon.

Ribbon is pretty controversial stuff round here. It's up there with Who gets the last chocolate biscuit? and I know she is wearing my knickers.

But just for today, or this afternoon at least, after the fat post bag was pass-the-parcelled with all proper ceremony, peace came over this household. Peace, while wounds were healed, sorrys were said, and satin, silk and gauze were tied, wrapped, stitched.

Thursday, 9 September 2010


Isn't one of the worst things about moving location - all starry eyed and looking forward to fantastic family jungle fun - is what happens when one of your kids doesn't share your wonder and sense of adventure?

And aren't children shy about letting you know what they think of the delightful new experiences you enthusiastically lined up for them! Don't they just meekly present themselves like cute, big-eyed, soulful bush babies, silently yearning for some little hug which will soon pay attention to all their fears!

Well Tiger doesn't do any of that crap, obviously. Tiger lets us know exactly what she thinks about the museums, galleries, theatres, islands, butterflies and poxy beach.

She is conducting a kind of daily low-level terrorist assault. Some days are worse than others; maybe she bottled up the resentment she had yesterday and shook it up this morning before slicing off the bottle top with a machete. Then she got out of bed.

Now, I'm not sure what to do about this ongoing issue. Some days I can ignore it, and have my head screamed off. Other days I can try and attend to it and come within a whisper of a nervous breakdown. On any day I can try and drone on, reassuring Tiger about anything and everything. Or I can simply get cross and snap. That's quicker, but the result is painful and I may well come away without my scalp.

Ultimately I feel my hands are tied. There is a line, and it's non-negotiable. Tiger, we are not all going home just because you want to and just because you're making things pretty miserable for the rest of your worn out family. We have contracts, leases, employments, commitments. And I cannot post you home because the spoilsports at the Post Office don't allow it. Believe me Tiger, all last week I was eyeing up boxes and packing tape.

Anyway, I would like to say that today I took Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to the Hong Kong Space Museum. I did not. I took Shark and Squirrel. Tiger created her own demonstration of exploding star in the front room and there was no way I could safely get the hydrogen gases back in the nucleus in time to catch the ferry.

If you have relocated children across continents, and they did not fly away buoyant with enthusiasm, then I would really like to know what you did to help.

Because right now I am at a total loss.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

There is no such thing as a bad experience

Today, get up, go out, then walk round the Peak with a banshee.

The banshee is on true mythological, tear out your ears, tip top screeching condition. She is all howling death comes upon you, green trawlernet hair, and off-the-scales wailing.

The protean howls outpouring from her throat resound down the mountain slopes of Hong Kong. I can see the jungle trees below us furl back their leaves in feeble protest at these cyclones of shrieks. The dread of their sounds reach those people down there in the skyscrapers below us. Did you see them eschew the air con environment, pull up their office windows and stare up in horror to the Peak? That was the howl from my daughter.

I am so proud. She may have brought the entire global commercial and financial system to a sudden halt with a single screech. Daughter, me and my anarchist chums have been trying to do that for years. I should loan you out as a secret weapon to Bob Geldorf. And hey! I won't even charge him interest! How committed am I?

Don't ask why my pieces of girl suddenly needed to explore lung capacity on the road that Wikipedia describes as notable for its tranquility. The contributor who wrote that clearly didn't walk it today. If they had done, that entry might read, occasionally inhabited by large hairy mammal type creatures wearing sunhats. Avoid. If unavoidable, wear ear plugs.

We already missed the home ed group we arrived to meet. Maybe it was that. Maybe it was the spiritual perfection in our hearts, brought to fullness by the panoramic views around the Peak, which we merely represented to the outside world in our own special waily way. Maybe it was because Squirrel saw the butterfly first. Who knows?

I am a mother, and need to stay a little bit heartless. Too emotionally affected, and I might have despaired, and thrown myself off the Peak. Then this fantastic remnant of volcano would have been in the news today for that. It should be in the news for the astonishing views it affords over Hong Kong. It should be in the news for that, for the wonder of the world that falls away below. And for the way the Hong Kongers had the foresight to stick a shopping mall on top, just to take advantage of those human feelings made up by great panoramas of the world, when power might need to declare profound and undying love to wealth, whip out a wallet and buy a diamond ring.

But I am a home educator alongside a heartless mother, a scornful hippie, and an envious woman who hasn't got a diamond ring or a colonial house on the Peak. And as a home educator, I need to find courage: a moment of wisdom I can hold to guard against future adversity. I need to hear something positive and warm and encouraging.

It is this. We learned that sometimes, we wrap ourselves up in small worries, and we let them overtake us. Sometimes, we miss an opportunity to stand and stare and wonder at the breadth and the distance of the world. Sometimes, when we realise how we have missed that opportunity, then we have learned the transitory nature of our time, and that is good, because we then know to live consciously. Sometimes, we can live wisely: experience, relax, breathe, and know who we are. Sometimes, we learn strength through weakness. And next time, read the sodding location instructions for the home ed meet up.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Sha Tin is a long way to go for a class set of crayons

Like every other mother, I make my mistakes, resolve not to repeat them, and I move on.

In that cycle, I must of course forgive everyone else in the family for making me make those mistakes. Then I have to forgive them all again when they make me repeat the exact same mistake two days later. Then again within 24 hours. Motherhood is made of forgiving. It is what makes mothers eternal.

Take today for example. I take Shark to Sha Tin Town Hall.

That is not the mistake. Shark has eye spied a marine conservation competition advertised at the central library, and she is mad keen to find out about it. The poster probably caught her eye because it was all in English, and not in picture Cantonese. Also because it presented an enormous picture of an over joyous dolphin, showing off some flipper action with 'Get this! I can walk backwards on water!' Shark thinks that dolphins are more profound than humans.

So Shark says, 'Mummy, there is a talk at Sha Tin Town Hall. It's all about dolphins. Can we go?' And because Grit is a kind and supportive mother, motivated by her daughter's interests, she replies 'Of course!'

I copy down all the information on the poster. And really, for my daughter's marine education, it is no problem to make the hour long trek on the MRT underground system, plus platform changes, plus change to overground blue line train, plus half hour ferry, plus walk in aimless circles around the shopping malls of Central having my brain removed by air con Dior. Yes! I say. We'll go!

The day of the dolphin talk comes around, and I am resolved to go, even though I suspect it is less about dolphins and more about the work of the marine conservation group and the terms of the competition. But no matter. It is all supportive for my daughter's wider watery education. Dig strokes his beard and reminds me sagely, 'You'd better check the talk is conducted in English. Ring the telephone number and check.' He is very wise, isn't he?

Just then, as I hold the telephone in my hand, Tiger and Squirrel have the most earth-shattering ear-splitting cage fight over three centimetres of pink dolly ribbon. Knocked sideways by broken sound barrier, everything in Grit's brain falls out all over the floor, leaving a totally empty void where two seconds previously there was a telephone number and a wise purpose.

Following a big shout back and some high morality finger wagging, off I walk with Shark to set out on our long journey, leaving Dig in charge of Goneril and Regan and the contested control of three centimetres of ribbon.

And we do complete our trek. In record time. Under two hours, with only one aimless circuit of a shopping mall looking for a way out. Arriving at Sha Tin Town Hall, I think proudly, how wonderful I am! What a mother! What a selfless act! I hope Shark really does take her degree in Marine Biology and Ocean Whatnot because I deserve it.

But, just to casually check, because now I remember in the brouhaha of our exit from home, I forgot to telephone ahead - I made that mistake - I present us at the reception desk for the lecture on the marine biology conservation competition and ask, 'Hello, we saw your lovely poster, in English. Is the talk presented in English too?'

The young receptionist stares back at me, startled. 'English? English? No. Cantonese. Cantonese only. Have you come for the lecture? But here! Have some crayons! Take crayons!'

I made a mistake. It's just one more moment in my motherhood life. One more messed up moment, wasted time, pointless journey, squandered opportunity, loss of hours, fallout of argument, consequence of dolly ribbon.

But I offer my children my eternal forgiveness. And the thirty two packs of crayons, offloaded on me by the receptionist of the Cantonese only lecture. Magnanimous, my mistake admitted, my motherhood intact, my children colouring in, I move on.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Same people, different place

I admit. Amongst the jungle greens, vicious mosquitoes and screaming Tigers that have filled up my head to bursting, one thought has swelled. From small passing moment to big lumpy bump, reaching my throat, now it brings glittery tears to my eyes.


Not the home of bashed up tables and kid-painted kitchen chairs with wobbly legs. Not that home. The home ed people home. I am missing the people who come to home ed. The people who say we-can-do-better-than-school. The thinkers, eccentrics, intellectuals, hippies, philosophers, educationalists, uniques, visionaries, committed, family builders, community makers, and downright awkward, high autonomy, don't-mess-with-me, bolshy types. All of those people are normal in my world of home ed.

I tell myself that missing them all is a good thing.

Because it's proof, how wide and rich and various is that community. You school choosing folk are told routinely in the news about our isolated lives; our children lacking social contact, how we are marginalised on the fringes of society, cut off from everyone. But it can't be true, can it? Here I am, missing them. People who challenge our ideas; raise kids who argue for their own unique place in the world; who stretch our definitions of normal in all directions.

I miss them.

The right day then, to find myself meeting up in a coffee shop with home schooling parents thrown together in Hong Kong.

I can reassure you. They are absolutely as I understand the home ed people to be, and as you'd expect for this home ed world. Totally normal.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Happy families

We walk the family trail on Lamma Island. That's the family trail. For families.

The family trail is straightforward. It's a walk along a concrete path, from one side of the island to the other. Journey it, and you pass the jungly trees and busy beach, before climbing the spines of the dragon mountains. Over the top, you're down into the green valley sloping to the shores, where you can stop at the seafood restaurant before catching the boat back home.

Walking on concrete paths through vegetation is something I do quite easily in England. But I do it badly in Hong Kong. Here, as I melt in heat and humidity, it becomes more an unseemly demonstration of red-faced sweating English stagger. It's all the more humiliating when being overtaken on the mountain stride by young, tanned, Italian dolce vita girls, swinging cute pink purses, Jimmy Choo shopping bags, and an athletic companion called Enrico.

I can only sigh, and know that those days of youthful mountain seeking are over for me. I'm not an independent woman about life, making her own decisions about her destinies. Not anymore. I'm a mutually supportive partner in a happy family. And since I have not suitor, tanned Italian skin, firm backside, nor a pair of Jimmy Choos, I can only cling, scrabbling, to what is left me: the happy family life. The sort of happy family life which can be yours indeed, for nothing, on the family trail of Lamma Island.

That's the family, by the way, who all split up even before we got out of the house. The family that took two hours to prise Tiger out of her bedroom and only succeeded with the lure of a pack of digestive biscuits and the promise of a green ice cream.

The same family, who, on exiting the house, hears one of their clan announce she is off in the other direction towards the Chinese pavilion past Fisherman's Village, where she is going to explore her new island autonomy and read her fairy trash in peace and quiet.

We'll just go on without you Squirrel! Dragging Tiger behind us, constantly moaning and groaning about leaves. No, don't you worry about us, just go off and enjoy yourself!

And then the happy family members all decide to seek separate routes, as far as possible away from each other up the dragon spine, probably because Grit is taking far too long, glowing and staggering, staggering and glowing, red faced under her Seahouses sunhat, huffing and puffing fit to bust.

What with the Tiger daughter now legging it up the hill to get the thing over and done with as quickly as possible, Dig cantering along behind her, Shark strung out between us all and Grit up the rear, you can bet by the top none of us were actually talking to each other, bound only in the mutual thinking that we would like to give the rest of the family a damn good kicking. When I am overtaken in the brilliant sunshine by the braless beauties plus the fortunate Enrico, and my sense of our happy family is complete.

Maybe we should really bond together and get a dog.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

It's mine, all mine. And I peed in all the corners.

Emily needs to get wise. She has missed one of the points on the list. That point is, Emily, pick your blogger. You can only make money out of a blogger that fits your market. Disappointing, Emily, given how much you enjoy! reading! grit's day!

Emily, with her suggestion that I tell you all about buying school uniforms, is of course entirely correct in other matters. She has seen how the future rolls on. Emily, it's rolling on without me.

Let's just call it another future I'm not joining. If you haven't checked that list yet, it provides a neat ticky list for commercial blogology. It gleefully heralds the mummy blog as promotional business product advertorial brand ambassador space with free gift, exclusive to you.

You can probably take it as a given that I won't be doing all that comes with it. Posting pictures of myself smiling with more teeth than I own. Offering the latest tidbit about Whatsherface Hilton. Reassuring my readers that breast pumps are so in they're like, hot and you all should own one right now! Say, make that three and tell everyone that grit sent you!

I won't be doing any of that stuff. No product reviews, no ads, no placement for your video, no link up with your blog brand account manager, no taking up your kind offer to provide me with copy from a professional writer, no, no, no, none of that.

Here, at grit's day, there is what there always is, at heart. A story about surviving home education. Told day by day, month by month, year by year. In all its misery, joy, broken hearts, elevation to heaven, pointless craft projects and wet fields.

So that's me sorted. In the brave new commercial blog world, I'll be sitting here, all alone. Stig of the dump. Billy no mates. Stuck in the past. One foot in the grave. My own little stewpit of blogland. Blog dinosaur. Hear me die. Fppppft.

Now, you readers of grit's day, you kind amiable people who stroll along here - I would gladly sit down for a coffee with any of you, so long as you're paying - you probably already realised that you can come and go, in and out of grit's blog, and I will still be here. Call that OCD. Call that psychosis. Call that grit. My face is set to the long term. I have kids to get through these years of home ed, and I need a space for quiet reflection, mental exercise, organised screaming. You are welcome to join me, for one day, for many days, for all days.

But Emily, if you've read this far, now's the time to give up. School uniforms are crap. They are social control dressed up in grey nylon. Burn the school uniforms, Emily, burn them. That's my advice. Burn them all.

Terms and conditions. Should grit's day suddenly and inexplicably attract audiences of thousands, Grit reserves the right to renounce all her principles and make as much money as she can from advertising to pay for Tiger's therapy bills. Grit also reserves the right to endorse any field, product, museum, exhibition, she wants, solely on the basis of the fact that she wants to. She also reserves the right to respond to any PR offering educational opportunities for the Shark, Squirrel and Tiger daughters, on the understanding that they agree to allow their client to be mocked in any way of Grit's choosing. Grit also reserves full control of her blog, having peed in all the corners.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Thinking fondly of English drizzle

In Hong Kong, it rains. How it rains. Remorseless rain. Power shower rain. Pumped water rain. Storm drain rain. Sci-fi-water-movie rain. Bladerunner-without-the-laughs rain.

Intermittently, separately, we all go out. Without each other. Escape from the house, into the rain. I stand under plastic awnings and tin roofs in narrow streets and listen to orchestra of rain.

Look on the bright side. This is rain. Only rain. Not the worst rain. Not black rain. Not howling sea rain. This is the edge of typhoon warning 1 rain. Just passing by.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Hong Kong note book: Cockroaches

Before tiled floors, 25% Deet, Baygon and butterflies the size of my hand all become part of my normal landscape, I need to jot down what's new and strange. So don't expect coherence, logic, tight prose, answers, rational thinking, or common sense. It's all just strange, OK? But because we are home educators, you can call it living and learning.

Cockroaches. I don't run screaming from the room. Unlike other people, who I won't mention here, but who are old enough to know better. Which puts me on cockroach duty.

Cockroach duty means at 11pm I slap on my right hand the red rubber surgical glove of clean living. Then I grasp the canister of Baygon (right hand only). I do not know if Baygon cockroach killing chemical can penetrate a pressurised container and two walls of aluminium but I'm taking no chances.

Armed like a killing machine I go round all the little metal grills, the ones to drain the floors after washing, and I squirt them.

I feel a bit guilty. I'm not desiring cockroaches as pets or anything, and I certainly don't want them scuttering near my naked toes, but they didn't do anything to deserve the death sentence I'm serving them.

So I'm looking for reasons why they should die. They are enormous, but so am I. They have long antenna. (Apparently the reason why Dig uses the escape route along the top of the furniture - and he tells the kids off for climbing on the sofa. Tsk). And cockroaches run quick. These are their crimes. Dig tells me, as he hops over the dining table, goes up the cabinet, and disappears by means of a rope, that cockroaches live in drains. Dig, I hear tell of people in London who do that but we don't send in the red rubber glove police to spray them with nerve gas.

And what is a cockroach after all? Just another of the world's insect life going about its business. In fact, if life had trained me differently, I could quite like the behaviour of the little creatures. They creep in darkness, peer around, then run off to hide when you flick on a light stitch. That's sort of cute, isn't it? It's like a nervous experience they're having. Why are we making it worse?

Maybe people worry that if we don't continuously threaten them with brooms and lights and Baygon then the millions of hiding cockroaches will advance boldly. And once they are truly out we'll never get them back in. They'll just be more confident, stand around, demand hot drinks and chocolate cookies and build warm nests in your knicker drawer.

I am still at the soft end of living. What I would prefer to do, rather than killing them, is put up little signs to say, 'Please leave this house immediately'. We could add helpful messages, like 'I believe there are juicy morsels to eat round the back of the sticky chicken shop.' Yes, I know cockroaches cannot read. But that can't be an excuse for killing them either.

You can see I am having a small dilemma about the cockroach extermination requirement which has become part of the job description since moving to Hong Kong. It is a small crisis, and I expect it will pass. Soon I will be cold and remorseless, a sort of Arnold Schwarzenegger in rubber gloves.

I need to note two other small features of a cockroaching life.

One is their amazing ability to appear dead, two hours after being zapped by Baygon, but then, as you go to sweep them up and throw them over the neighbour's side of the house, they pop round and run off before dropping dead again. This behaviour has even caused me some alarm, and I now wait 12 hours before sweeping them up.

The second follows from this dialogue.

Child: 'What is that smell? It smells like lemons.'
Grit: 'Baygon.'
Child: 'What is Baygon? Is it an air freshener?'
Grit: 'It is a cockroach killing chemical. I think it is toxic. Do not breathe it in.'

I note that complete dispersal of an entire family can take place in less than one second flat. Now, when I need a bit of peace and quiet, I merely don the red rubber glove, strategically position the canister of Baygon on the floor and, behind it, shut the office door.