Tuesday, 30 November 2010

It's a bit of old concrete asking for it

Kids see something designated as 'art'.

In the absence of any other interesting play area outside the History Museum, kids bring 'art' into their world, on their terms.

I really wanted to photograph the security guard who looked like she hadn't smiled since 1972 and who knitted her brows and huffed and puffed and flapped her lips while making a big cross sign with her forearms.

China, what you should take from this, is that you actually need more interesting playgrounds for kids of all ages, and fewer great chunks of worthy public art.

To help you along, I'm almost inclined to start an underground movement of guerrilla play, whereby we bring kids aged 5-15 to your China concretes, and muck about all over them.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Crawling through the markets of Mong Kok

Equipping the kids with a few hundred Hong Kong dollars and the life-endangering instruction 'off you go, you have two hours' is the sort of real-world, life skills education I am proud of.

Taking the crowd-phobic Tiger to some of the most densely populated streets on Planet Earth is an achievement, too.

In years to come, this lesson in ruthless bargaining and scavenging amongst piles of over rated, uninsurable junk will come in handy when the little grits must negotiate the cut-throat world of the second-hand car markets of Luton.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

I am in disconnect

Strange. I could have sworn that lunch was composed of lemon-flavoured cold remedies, and pudding was to have my lifeless body propped up in an audience at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre to experience two hours of Cantonese Opera.

From what I can recall, Cantonese Opera has the sound equivalent of a parrot in a claw fight with a tom cat, and has the visual puzzle of two or more giant fluorescent faces hanging expressionless amongst five hundredweight of sequins.

But I may have been tripping on Strepsils. At some points the faces started spinning, while the sequins waved fake weapons then lunged at each other with sticks.

By the end I became numb. I may have floated off into some sort of cocooned out-of-body experience. From a long way away, Tiger turned to me and said now she could see the point of learning Cantonese, because then she could understand the amazing opera with the fantastic costumes, beautiful make up, and lovely singing, all of which she enjoys so very much, so please can I buy tickets for the full five hours?

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Look on the bright side

One of the best things about coming a little close to death - no, don't worry, I may have only a minor nasal outbreak of death-chicken swine-virus - is not lying flat on my bed at 6pm waiting for the reaper to knock on the door, but the heart stirring joy I can surely get from knowing that my living corpse is providing yet another fun educational opportunity for my adoring children.

For a start, from the vantage point of a death bed, I can overhear everyone competing about who should accompany me on the emergency helicopter ride off the island, should things take a turn for the worse at 3am.

I merely raise my withered finger and croak that the pilot will not 'offer you a go'. Neither will he be impressed that you once visited the helicopter museum outside Weston-super-Mare. He will not take it as evidence that you know what you are doing because you once sat in a helicopter cockpit, nor will he give in when he learns you have played the computer game where you fly a bird over Hong Kong and bring it down in a wood.

Also, Squirrel, remember that the helicopter does not land you at the ice cream parlour in the IFC mall as your reward for participating in the air lift quiz. I can croak it again that the emergency helicopter is there for people like me who are profoundly ill and need immediate travel to the crypt or the local hospital, whichever comes sooner, so before you run a show about 'who can dance the best gets the helicopter ride', think on the actual rewards.

Apart from the slight inconvenience of a near death experience, everything is fine, thank you very much, and Shark has cracked long multiplication, at last. Thank goodness for that. If the viral disease doesn't finish me off, the prospect of yet another hour talking through 375 x 17 surely will.

Friday, 26 November 2010

If only we could see the possibilities like children

Arriving at the tucked away, totally littered beach on the island walk, we foolish adults think, What a mess! This beach is full of crap!

Whereupon the nine kids we brought dive straight into the beach-skip, tow junk up and down for the next two hours, put up a gate, patrol the borders, and start charging entrance fees.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The little things keep me going

Like the aviary in Hong King Park. Who designed this? Give them a medal. It was worth getting out of bed. I have kids who worked out they ticked over 50 per cent of a bird spotting sheet, 115 blurred photographs, and a fancy pigeon wearing a head dress.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Doing practical

One of the reasons I come over to grit's day is that I can cover myself in letters and roll about in words. Sometimes they make sense and sometimes they don't. No matter. I like to play with them.

There are other reasons too. grit's day is here because it pisses off Maureen's sister's friend. She knows sod all about home education, and I like to think this blog is a counter weight, and shows her a thing or two.

The blog is also here because I truly have a terrible memory. I feel I must keep a daily record of a primary education somewhere so I can go yahboosucks to any local authority anywhere.

And if the blog is a help for other people considering education out of school, and that would make me feel good.

But sometimes I have to be practical. So for a week or more, grit's day might become a captioned photoblog instead of my usual wordy way. Forgive me if I sometimes turn off the comments too. You can say hi! by email.

(There again, nothing's certain in this world. I will probably forget this resolution within the week. Something will set me off, and I will urgently write an essay about it.)

But, in the spirit of a new resolution, here's a grit's day photoblog: Practical science lesson at the beach.

Or, The triplets are squabbling and the beach is the only place where I will not throttle the lot of them.

Monday, 22 November 2010

The brutality for kids out of school

Occasionally in cyberspace I trip over a dozy member of the general public who bursts out that it is the government's job to educate our children, and anything else is deeply unsettling and wrong.

These people are excellent, and more fun than tying my children to the air con and poking them with goat bones. These members of the public always appeal to the wisdoms of others to back up their arguments. So, they know their opinions are right about home ed because their friend Maureen has a sister, and she knows a woman who once worked for the NSPCC and everyone knows what a good job they do.

Maureen says that keeping your children out of school is unnatural and a cover for all sorts of stuff you wouldn't dream of inflicting on a dog. That's why home education should be banned. And if there is a weedy excuse why your child cannot attend school, like a bit of crying and a few suicide attempts, then you should have your house hard wired to social services so they can come and inspect you.

Well, Grit is speaking from several years of bitter home ed experience, and she can tell you a thing or two about learning outside a classroom. But don't listen to Grit, obviously, because Maureen's sister's friend says all home ed kids sit around sniffing glue and shouting abuse at passers by. That is when they are not hidden away in the crack house called home by their drug addict parents, or passing their PhD at age 13 because they have been hothoused all their lives, poor little mites.

I can only do what I can do, and that is to blog on, and present to Maureen's sister's friend the true horrible reality in the daily miserable suffering of a bunch of primary age, home educated kids.

The other day we visited a local gallery to see a collection of old maps, and the kids all stood around talking about them, choosing their favourites, finding the drawings of sea monsters and sailing ships. Then we all went to the park and the kids played hide and seek, charades, and their own version of Hong Kong's Got Talent.

The truth is so boring, I might well confess to mental illness, alcoholism, and a relationship with other family members based on mutual loathing. Just to spice things up a bit.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Life in a local town. Probably the same all over the world.

I'm beginning to muse about living life in two Small Towns: one in the middle of England and the other at the edge of an island in the South China Sea.

Yes, I miss my English Small Town with the random shouting and pointless violence. Here we have community events and free tea for visitors on the basketball court.

I miss the people of my English Small Town too. The expats on the island are some compensation, but not much. There's no brawling in the streets or beating up of pensioners. They're mostly well-behaved types come for the money and life experience. They're having a party today thanks to the Multicultural Melting Pot Festival, but it finishes promptly at 8pm so the cleaning ladies can come round.

Apart from the difference between violent and soulless, I'd say that the lack of car traffic on the island, due to the total absence of road, is the biggest difference between the two towns. At home in dear old Blighty, we can have car crime and traffic accidents any day of the week. They barely register on the local consciousness.

In this island life, you sometimes have to step off the path while a village vehicle passes by. They're the little motors that look like golf buggies. Anything is carried on the back of the village vehicles, which I guess is very similar to what you carry around the local town in the boot of a Honda Civic. Suitcases, soil, fish, concrete mix.

But there are similarities in any local life, aren't there? Dog poo and litter are things we both share. Although on the island I have seen a bloke lay down a little tissue just at the spot where his dog was about to concern itself with its business. Practical problem solving is just about the same as any local town.

And here, everyone's got a job to do, just like home. On the island, it's fishing, selling stuff, walking about the streets barefoot looking like a throwback to 1966, it's better than nothing. At home there's local work to be done too, like littering, painting vulgarities on brick walls, staggering home drunk at 2am, and chucking eggs at windows. I sort of miss complaining about the empty beer cans thrown over the garden wall. Here I can complain about the price of breakfast cereal.

I'm not sure what makes for more satisfying living on the island, apart from the fact that there's no Tesco, Sainsbury's or Asda. We also don't have arsonists, overt drug use, random mugging. But we do have pollution, cartels, and appalling waste. But then, every so often, the town is treated to a lion dance.

The kids get a ride on a sampan too. They can't have that in England. Someone would have set it on fire.

Of course I've been asked, what is most satisfying about living on the island? That is hard to answer. It might be the weather, which is sub tropical sunny. But there is nothing much to complain about on a crystal clear winter English day.

Then I thought, when I'm in Suffolk there's no piped gas. There isn't any here, either. But we have gas in bottles. Hey! We're one up on Suffolk!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Simply put. Just in case.

One of the many reasons why this blogs gasps on, occupying the realm between the dead and the living, is that some bloke from the education department of the local authority in the town where I live (but not right now) might at some point peer between my privet. He will do that solely because we home educate.

He will probably not want to hear that life is complex. And sometimes contradictory. For example, we live in more than one location; take our learning where we can get it; let people who want to know, know; join what we can, where we can; keep ourselves discreet; and go around the earth clutching the arseface sisters, blatantly advertising our non-school status.

What chance is there of communicating much of this complexity? I bet the council still cannot get their heads around the fact that I can live upstairs and downstairs but not in the middle.

But I will have to say something to this government official. I will keep it simple. And procedural. I'll merely add Mr Squeers to my list, which also includes Customs and Excise, the tax authorities, an assortment of banks, other local authorities, the DVLA, the internet company who thinks we owe them money, the car shop who thinks we still have the car I smashed up, the debt collectors who send threatening letters to Ms H, despite the fact that she sold us the flat in 2001. They all want to know stuff too.

I have found that most of these people do not want to hear the discussions, the arguments, the thinking, the ideas, the ins and the outs, the analysis of politics, philosophy and economics. They just want a simple answer, a final sum, and a tick in a box.

So, when Mr Squeers asks, this blog will be my invaluable aid. I will look back here and see, Yes! An education was provided! (Whether it's taken up or not is neither here nor there, but it is indeed provided.) To remind myself then, here is today's educational activity which I would be delighted to give Mr Squeers so he could maybe tick it for Primary School Chemistry.

With the aid of a laboratory I talked the children through a method of creating pure heroin.

I explained how pure heroin has the additional process of removing impurities by dissolving in alcohol. Impure heroin is mixed with crap shovelled up from behind the dustbins including chemical waste and brick dust. And pure heroin will kill you.

(Thanks to the Police Museum, Hong Kong.)

Friday, 19 November 2010

A Leonardo sized dilemma for an old hippie

I don't know how to begin squaring the circle on this one. That's how big this dilemma is for the head of the mummymashed old hippie Grit.

Here we are, at the Leonardo exhibition, Hong Kong Science Museum. (Travelling to a venue near you, or just left.) This touring exhibition displays scaled models made by Teknoart of Florence. They've constructed these stunning models from the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci.

You can read anywhere how amazingly those models are crafted and how enormous is that original imagination.

What I have, is a dilemma in navigating the discussion around these instruments for the greater learning of the little grits.

Like, these models are beautiful! You are right; they are designed to main and kill as many people as efficiently as possible. And Leonardo was a brilliant artist with an unparalleled use of the sfumato brush technique! Yes, the rotating cannon, scythes, armoured tank, castle wall siege kit, spikes, assault weaponry and catapult for superior range missiles can all take your head clean off.

But I am a backsliding weakling. I gloss over the problem, staring me in the face, of the beautiful and the deadly. I skirt round the fact that fantastic creations come from military experiment. I avoid the conclusion that imagination can flower with death at the roots. I do not say that we need human death on a battlefield to inspire human invention. I change the subject when we come close to the business of blood, because inventing military weaponry was Leonardo's day job, after all, and the means to acquire patronage in fifteenth century Italy. I even manage to chart my way round the gore-filled discussion about anatomy, the detailed description I could conjure up with Leonardo poking his fingers through the veins of the human body to further his knowledge of the wondrous human machine.

Nope, I avoid all death-related discussion and hide under comments about how interesting and powerful are gears and pulleys.

I wander off with murmurings about knowledge of forces before Newton, and I say 'Oo look! There's the prototype for a helicopter. Draw that'.

But first join your chums to make a movable bridge from old logs.

That is an excellent design, isn't it? Yes, it was used to enable troops to quickly build a bridge, cross a river, then dismantle the bridge. That way, they could surprise the enemy and slaughter the lot of them. Perhaps we should keep some old logs in the back of the car, then we could give it a go over the River Ribble in Yorkshire.

It was a very good exhibition. Go. You probably won't have my problems. I'm a European gal with an interest in art, taught to fall prostrate on the floor before the imagination of Leonardo, and I'm an old hippie taught that no good comes from war. I simply can't bring those states together, and tell it to the children.

But the robot is excellent.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A bit of British science in Hong Kong

'We must be there at least two hours early.' I wave my finger at the little grits. 'Then I will queue and you can wander around the Science Museum and learn about science.'

Tiger starts to pull that strange face. I recognise it. It is the face she uses before she bursts into tears or smashes up the house.

But for once, I know exactly what her problem is. She is worried about Dr Safe with his Material Safety Data Sheets. He is at the Science Museum. Last time she saw him, she claims she did not sleep a wink all night. I doubt it. Maybe she fell asleep at 5am, something like that. She has a nervous disposition, as readers of this blog will know. I tell her Do not worry. Go look at the medicine you can get from a pig. But the most important thing is, I stay in the queue. I must guarantee our seats in the lecture today.

This is tremendously exciting for Grit. A lecture by a British sounding person! One we must properly queue for! In Hong Kong! And it's not in Cantonese!

I am almost delirious. Last time I took Shark to Sha Tin for the lecture on fish, the bloody thing was in a language neither of us could fathom.

But today, we are going to hear a lecture by a proper Prof, Peter Barham, who normally lives in the Physics Department at the University of Bristol. He is going to tell us about Molecular Gastronomy, whatever that is. And I think the dear old British Council would like a shoutout in my blog as well, since I bet they paid for his air fare. (Don't let them fob you off with economy, that's my advice, Prof.) Anyway, the lecture is all about what you can learn when you eat dinner with Heston Blumenthal.

And we are early. Very early, in fact. Unfortunately, the Science Museum is shut on Thursday. That minor point was overlooked by Grit. So everyone must wait.

For a long time, actually. There's no-one else actually queueing, so a doorman tries to move us on. I'm not leaving. You can bet the moment I turn my back two thousand people arrive. The doorman speaks quite good English, but I pretend I can't understand him.

After another half an hour the door opens! A lady puts out a sign, then closes the door again.

Just another fifteen minutes to go! Typical. Shark's hopping about, saying she needs the toilet. I consider an empty fruit juice bottle, but think that is a step too far. Maybe later in her life, when we are queuing for a $10 pair of Jimmy Choos in the January sales. So I give instructions to Squirrel and Tiger to hold our places, then I grab Shark's hand, point in the direction of the toilet and shout Run!

Now isn't it just like the parcel delivery man? After waiting for two hours, you pop off for a pee, and there's a postcard on the mat, saying You weren't in. I get back with Shark, and there are two Swedes at the head of the queue, trailed by a defeated looking Squirrel and Tiger. I tell them off, and remind them about being British, glaring, and using your elbows.

Well, reader, despite the national humiliation, we do get seats at Prof Barham's lecture!

It is fantastic. Isn't he a showman? He has this touring lecture job well crafted. You must find out where his next gig is, then queue up, like we did.

Shark particularly recommends the story about how a microwaved cup of coffee will blow your face off and leave you needing reconstructive surgery on the kitchen floor. I can recommend chocolate and blue cheese combination, and everyone except Tiger enjoyed the ice cream made on stage with dry ice. She was a bit worried it would blow up.

In fact the day was so much fun (and educational) I say hip hip hooray for everyone involved in today's science lecture. Me included, for getting us there (although not first in). The British Council made a good choice. And it felt like being back at home again, just for a little while.

Now, can we all come round to dinner with Heston Blumenthal?

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Leisure time

Anyone would think there is nothing going on here in the subtropics, except Grit lurking shiftily behind a marble pillar, jumping out only occasionally to spook some innocent woman while I wave a camera phone at her fur framed foot.

I need treatment. For a moment there, it even seemed like a good idea.

I blame the shopping malls. They shrink my brain. I'm beginning to hate them. They make us all consumers, eager to merge reality and advertising. The only way for me to resist them is bring out my bolshy side.

Yet it's hard to avoid those malls in Hong Kong Central. Pragmatically, they are a way to cross the road. Seek refuge from traffic, and you're locked in a shopping circle with no exit.

Once inside, there is an immediate sense of unreality. They are so far removed from people living urban life at street level that when we pass through a shopping mall on our journey, it feels like we wandered into the overground set of Metropolis. I find myself peering through the endless panels of smoked glass to see the workers down below; the ones on the treadmill who light the whole building.

One of the issues I have with the endless malls is their crushing uniformity. They contrive to appear as streams of elegant halls, laid out in easy-to-view long straight lines, offering simplicity, light, and air filled space. In reality, they are crowded, noisy, confusing corridors. Within seconds I am disoriented and fearful of losing my left from my right. One branch of Armani looks much like any other branch of Armani, and when it's brand identified against a hundred other up-market names aligned in routine regularity, I cannot tell where I am, which direction I'm headed and, at worst, why I came here in the first place.

And these places lie. The advertisements say the shopping mall is the place to come to express your who-you-are. But these places are not built for people. They are built for power, prestige, business, money. They are here to display wealth and celebrate the pointlessness of making a stupid judgement between those who have more money and those who have less money. They are here to show off, with no function beyond display.

Once inside, you can only slide forward, breaking your step in the cold marble slipway to enter and leave Versace. There is nowhere to rest or sit, unless you make for Starbucks or some other labelled coffee brand. In those long straight lines, there is no human warmth, no congregation space, no slipway, no hollow where you can pause and take your companion's arm, hold it and say, 'Shall we stop a moment?' There's no heart, no soul, no place to build a memory, no place to laugh and recall 'That was a happy time', and not a public clock in sight to stare towards, and say, 'Yes, I'll meet you, here, later'.

I am glad to get through the unavoidable mall today, make it alive to the other side, catch the bus and reach the park.

Here, I can sit on the warm, dry grass, feel the sun sting my arm, feel the wind rub my hair, hear the children rummage in my bag for biscuits, listen to them grumbling about who ate the last banana, then watch the growing pack of kids follow each other up trees. Meeting there, they hang off branches, pretend to be leopards, hold on to their sun hats. They all squeal when a littlest one shrieks out an alarm of an inquiring wasp. I can laugh at the sight of ten kids up a tree try to scramble down without breaking a leg or an arm. One is left swinging - mine - while another tugs on her legs and a third stretches out arms. I can sympathise, say wasps can be very dangerous, rub one daughter's belly where she grazed it on tree bark. I can think, they might try and sell me aspiration with fur lined shoes, but they don't yet sell me a memory of how we can simply enjoy a day, playing in the park, laughing in the sunshine.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Must see Hong Kong: Ridiculous shoes

Walk down any street in Hong Kong, and you can spot them. Women so thin they can turn themselves sideways to slip through the crack in a pair of closed doors. They measure their boob size in microns, dress in size zero clothing hanging lose about their bodies, and they teeter on the most ridiculous shoes you can possibly imagine.

No, I take that back. Imagination alone is not powerful enough to conjure up the footwear I see. I swear, some of these creations have been invented in a machine. You drop into this machine your chosen items - chain mail, concrete block, cat, formica desk top - then you press a button and out rolls a pair of shoes that combines all the properties of your unique materials assortment.

Seriously, I tried to photograph such fantastic objects. They resembled a pair of metal sandals on wooden stilts fastened together by the tails of small furry animals twisted like ropes.

Unfortunately they were lashing some woman's calves at the time, so I failed. You try tip toeing behind a woman while you are bent double with a camera pointed up her legs and your daughter is dragging you urgently by the hair to come away because the decency police are heading in your direction.

So I have succeeded only in capturing this rather mundane pair of ordinary sandals. They merely look so wretchedly uncomfortable her feet are trying to escape from them. Or perhaps they are meant to be worn like this, and this is currently in fashion. In this city, who knows?

The strange thing is, ridiculous shoes that you cannot possibly walk in are ubiquitous out here. They are no indicator of job, social status, ability to think. You just have to be female, aged between teen and thirty-teen, and have a wish to enter an infantilising sexualised cartoon culture. In fact, in this age group, any girl in possession of a sensible pair of footwear in which she can actually walk is probably in violation of her right to look like a two dimensional stick thin version of Betty Boop.

I might not have been out here long, but I've seen business women in smart suits who quite frankly should get a grip. Literally. They try to stride along the walkways in red heels that shout, One false move and you fall off a cliff. It's just me, obviously, but to my way of thinking, trying to look serious while lurching around like a ship is never convincing. And I could not imagine being listened to for my review on profit and loss while below ankle height I modelled myself on a streetwalker. But hey! This is Hong Kong and maybe women like to enter a culture where the higher your shoes, the better you can wobble.

But for real entertainment, go to the malls. I have seen ladies who live their entire existence shopping in Prada and Valentino stand in one place pretending to examine the shop windows of Gucci in great detail. Actually, thanks to the eight-inch heels, they are unable to put one foot in front of the other. They may have stood in that position for days, figuring out what to do next. Once, I saw one of them attempt to board an escalator. It outdid freakshow cabaret. She made several false starts before taking the plunge and tilting her heel on those piercing metal teeth of the moving tread. One misjudgment and the entire audience watches death about his work.

But sometimes you see these foot sculptures truly where they belong. Not floating about the heads of shoe designers who probably regret the decline of foot binding, but on the feet of the tiny ladies in the company of enormous, red-faced, beer-bellied European men. Yes, you guessed it. The lady of the pair is Asian and can hide behind a wine glass stem, while the gentleman of the pair needs to open both double doors and, with a bit of rear shoving from the general public, might just pop through to the other side. I kindly assume that in this partnership that there is a real meeting of minds and some hard core intellectual discussion involving Nietzsche and Jean Paul Sartre. What else could it be? Surely, not the shoes?

Monday, 15 November 2010

Spot the difference?

Squirrel. I know it was OK the other day. But today it is a trek right across Hong Kong on the crowded trams to reach the central public library. In both directions, I carry my own bodyweight in books. So let us play a game to spot the difference.

(Squirrel, here is a clue. One is a bag, and one is a bin.)