Sunday, 31 January 2010

All death in the Imperial War Museum

Clapping eyes on Blair's tanned and unrepentant visage at the Iraq Inquiry on Friday is still coming back on me, like bad indigestion.

Yesterday helped a little. But it might explain why this morning I'm aggravated enough to jump out of a warm Sunday bed and shout Get up! you are going to the Imperial War Museum and we have a damn train to catch!

I do not know what I was expecting in my children at this declaration of intent, like, Today you are going to learn about WAR.

I have not exactly prepared the kids for this. If I tot up the wars we have so far talked about, most are Plantagenet. Sure, I have introduced both world wars, but the words sound enormous and incomprehensible to me, coming out my own mouth, so goodness knows what the children have made of it. What? The whole world? Everybody? It's easier to divert myself back to the Wars of the Roses.

Probably for several reasons. One, mostly I prefer to talk about war in terms of power politics, agendas, factions and rivalries, rather than actual legs blown off or eyes put out. And the first and second world wars are just too close and well documented photographically, and my parents just a little too nearby in those conflicts, for me to feel capable and cool in this discussion. I have seen the photographs my father took in the Middle East, and I simply cannot relay to his grandchildren the actual bodily harm that war inflicts.

Anyway, in my experience, considering the minutiae of actual violence brings out a lot more grudges. Like if we think about the time Shark hit Tiger with a spade, then we must also recall the time Squirrel retaliated by hurling at Shark's head a puffin strapped to a bamboo skewer.

The second reason I shirk from battle talk is that I probably don't know all the fine print of those world wars: which campaign was spearheaded on which front by which general at which point. I know some people can do that, and I find it spooky and intimidating.

I like to justify my lack of fine detail in military history by arguing that wars have a social cost and a domestic impact. I am on safer ground there. Because if we are going to analyse a conflict at home, like, who stole what book, and who deserves a punch in the face with a cycle helmet, then I can talk about resources and consequence and how we can all go to the library and let's remember sharing time.

Then there's a third reason. I am obstinate, bloody minded, and a little difficult to handle. If you tell me the world is going in this direction, then I'll go in the other. Thank you very much. And I know that in school kids have a lot more focus on the world war stuff. I can say for a fact the local museum marches in the primary evacuation groups one after another during summer.

As schoolchildren, my kids would have notched up at least three evacuations, a blitz and a bombing in an Anderson shelter by the age of seven. So we don't want to do that. I think there is time enough yet for the world wars. While Tiger is interested in medieval armour, then we talk Edward III. Or the Hundred Years War. Or the Wars of the Roses.

Finally, I have a prosaic reason. I can talk about sex better than battlefield bloodshed. Sex is easy. Put your hand here. I don't want to engage with that idea for working out how to kill someone at close range. Physically, it's not a body experience I'm hoping to be invited to. And as for what happens in my head, I don't want to imagine how my body would react in a trench surrounded by death. I can simply find no decent fantasy to be made of pain and misery.

So I hope someone else can tell the gritlets about world wars. More than that. What can happen when the population is hoodwinked; what happens when people in power cannot step back; when war is treated as inevitable, and viewed from a position in power, desirable?

The gritlets are remarkably accommodating at the Imperial War Museum today, even facing up to a building rising from the bones of the old London Bedlam hospital, and now filled with killing machines, suffering, and hardship. And I am grateful to the museum curators for bringing issues to my children that I find difficult to explain. Not cases stuffed with dummies and uniforms, but video, audio, ways of feeling, ways of seeing, ways of hearing.


Shark, Squirrel and Tiger can take from their experience today new ideas about conflict, more thoughtful discussions about power, questions about violence, issues of peacekeeping, and reasons for war. But not from me. And certainly not from Tony Blair.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

After yesterday, I need a cleared up head

There's only one way to do that.






Friday, 29 January 2010

I'm going down the gym. It's the only place I can watch TV.

It's no good thinking in this house that come mid morning I can loll on the sofa and watch the Iraq Inquiry on TV. I'd like to think that I could. In reality, gritlet number one will come and find me and demand the spelling of hooves and police and then tell me I am boring.

Then driblet number two will wander in front of the screen and pick a fight with me because I said I would teach everyone how to stitch books and now look. I am wasting time watching TV.

By the end of that fifteen minute argument the third griblet will start off with a big attention grabbing squeal which tells me it's time to switch off TV and make lunch.

The frustration I feel at my meagre ambition thwarted will finally cause me to have a big shout. Then all the gritlets will cry and I'll spend two hours explaining why I wanted to watch the ruddy TV in the first place.

There's only one thing for it. Escape. Dump the kids with Dig and go and sit on a bike that doesn't go anywhere.

Each bike down the gym has a TV screen clamped to the front, which comes in very handy for moments like this. No one interrupts me, no one tells me to move, no one demands food, and no one screams in my ear.

On the minus side, after 45 minutes I am forgetful as to my whereabouts and start to fingerjab the screen and mouth obscenities at the gold plated moral righteousness of our ex prime minister. And after another ten minutes my blood pressure is at boiling point.

But at least I can say this was the day I was there, on a bike not going anywhere, watching this hollow moment of justification in a world made fearful and dangerous and deadly. And I didn't make the children cry. But how many children must have cried for what's done, and how many more have to cry for what is yet to come.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Are you having enough fun with boxes?


Back by popular demand!

OK, Mamacrow asked. Plenty of encouragement for the socially misaligned Grit.

So, here we go.

Seven days of crafty education with a kid and a load of boxes!
Have you noticed how kids and cats are exactly the same? Both investigate boxes. And neither laugh along with you when you slam the lid shut and take them off to the vets. Here are some other things to do with boxes this week apart from lock your baby up in one.

Day 1: Make a feely box.

A wondrous item.

For this, you need a glue gun and 14 extralong gluesticks, so get down the DIY shop.

Next, give your kid away. It is more fun if Tinkertop does not witness the preparation. And this project might be fun for you; you don't need small people asking where are you going? why do you need scissors? what are you doing with daddy's trousers? why are you laughing like that? At this point it would help very much if Tinkertop wasn't hanging onto your leg or eating the gluesticks.

Get your cardboard box. The bigger and stronger, the better.

And clear out your wardrobe. Look for fabric to cut up. Like your leather trousers. I know it's tough, but let's face facts. You bought them to impress kinky Simon with the bleached hair. He disappeared with your bezzy mate and your Duran Duran CD over fifteen years ago. You have never worn the trousers since. Scissors are therapy.

You've started, so may as well continue. Howabout that velveteen red pencil skirt, size 8? If you have a stomach like mine, it has motherhood stamped all over it and it ain't going inside a size 8 pencil skirt ever again. If it does, it is clearly near death's door, and will want comfort food on recovery. Enjoy the sound of those scissors.

Try the faux suede coat. It made you look like road kill. Unlike the bitch of a neighbour, ten years younger and size zero, who looked like a filmstar. Scissors are infinitely more satisfying than a plasticine poppet and pins. With faux suede, no-one can see what you are thinking.

While you're seeking vengeance, find those skinny jeans that gave you a muffin top and consider the pointlessness of Victoria Beckham. You'll feel better for it.

Now you're on a roll. Hack apart that string vest you deny ever having bought in 1988 when Madonna turned them into sex for one week. Afterwards, they became you like Rab C Nesbitt. You know even the Oxfam shop will hand it back.

And why stop with the wardrobe? One turn round the house yields torn net curtain, worn out satin cushion covers and velvet throws covered in vomit. And we haven't even started on the table linen yet. Or the wardrobe belonging to daddy. He's out and will never notice. If he discovers one leg of his linen trousers is missing, you can tell him Tinkertop did it.

By the end of three therapeutic hours you have amassed a fine pile of cut up leather, string, cotton, silk, voile, plastic, linen, satin and nylon, all in a glorious riot of colours and textures.

Unless every item you possess is black. If so, realise this fundamental problem quickly. The RSPCA shop may have a pound rail. Bulk buy fabrics here in every colour but black, bring them home and cut them up instead.

Next, rummage in your drawers. I told you this would be fun.

Five minutes in a cutlery drawer round here and we find cork, wooden blocks, tinfoil, pan scourer, feathers, cardboard, bootlaces, cotton reels and a bent cheesegrater. Perfect. It might suggest why dinner times are problematic.

Back to your big cardboard box. On two sides, cut holes, round enough for your arms to get in.

Set to work on the inside. In our feely box I glued hard stuff like wood, ridged plastic, cold metal, scourer, a small cardboard box, and a bent grater. You might be nice, and line your feely box with soft stuff. Cover the holes in the cardboard with curtains, hanging down on the inside. I used a see-through black polyester fabric from a 1980s Dorothy Perkins top. I'm so classy, it hurts.

Now start on the outside of the box. If it is a box with flaps, bring them together and seal them up with super strong packing tape. Apart from the holes you cut, it should be sealed all the way round. If you used a box with only five faces, you're in trouble. (I thought I'd wait till step 8 to tell you that.)

On all the six faces of your box, get going with the glue and fabric again. Cover every surface. Make it as fantastically Niedojadlo as you can. Do stuff like tie that linen trouser leg at the ankle with a shoelace, then fill it with polystyrene foam, and attach it to side of your box. Keep going, until the childminder rings up and begs.


Voila! Introduce feely box to child! Introduce child to feely box!

Caution. After you have laboured all day with love, burned the skin off your fingers with boiling glue, and cut up your clothes, do not be disappointed if Tinkertop stares indifferently past your box of delight, or is overawed and starts screaming in horror because daddy's leg is glued to the side. Your child might simply need encouragement to approach the box and stick her hands in the holes. At this point, do not say the box contains demons. Say the box contains chocolate. Be brave, Tinkertop, and find the Smarties.

OK, it's a long-term box. You can try and be an uber parent like Grit. Over a year of managing screaming child temper tantrums I sought to use the soft and hard materials of the box as a vehicle for discussing emotions. Like sometimes we say sharp and angry words which feel like cheesegraters; sometimes we feel soft and soothing words like this old suede pocket. It never worked. The only thing that ever worked for Tiger was smashing up her bedroom.

Day 2: The magic story box!
Now that your feely box lies discarded in the front room, try this one. (This takes some setting up, so plan ahead! Now you really feel the benefit of Grit's fantastic guide, don't you?)

Think up a story to tell. One that includes a magic box, obviously, or there's no point. Introduce a padlocked box. I don't know where you get it from. Be resourceful. I used the office petty cash box. Anyway, alongside the padlocked box, offer a range of different keys in envelopes or containers or, better still, put them in the ruddy feely box. Encourage Tinkertop to find the keys, try them all, and find her way into the padlocked box. Is she going to find anything? Link it to your story. And resolve that next time you won't use your car key because now you have no idea where it is.

Day 3: Make your own boxes
Drag some patterns off t'internet. There are loads. If you can't do that, make some up. I bought this book, which I admit is specialist interest, but I was in love with the design teacher at the time, and bellow dust flap, tuck lock, and auto lock bottom all made for a perfect fantasy.

Day 4: Geometry with boxes
You've probably done this because you are smart, but when I realised after two hours I was actually doing maths it was like the dawn of all divine revelation to me.

Collect lots of small containers in different geometric shapes, like cylinders, cubes, spheres, cones. Or give in and buy a set because it's quicker. Fill them all endlessly with coloured rice or beads or anything you won't mind the baby shoving up their nostrils. Sit happily pouring rice from one to the other, talk volume and ask questions like Do boxes have to look rectangular? What's a face? A corner? A solid? Side? End? Perimeter? Angle?

Oh I bet you could go on for hours. Soon you'll be doing singalong Pythagoras while the kids amuse themselves shoving stuff up their nostrils.

Day 4: Living in a cardboard box
After yesterday's hospital visit to remove six beads from Tinkertop's nose, you need to do something calming with boxes. Throw lots of empty boxes, Playmobil, and kids into the hollowed out front room and ask them to make a cardboard city for all the sad homeless people. With a bit of snip snip snip boxes make very good castles, doll's houses, stables, Travelodges, supermarkets and Barratt homes.

If you are really motoring on this one, or blind and careless to the destruction ahead, the kids can paint bricks and rooves and walls and make roads and hospitals and crematoriums and stuff. Hide the matches.

Day 5: How many can you think of?
Looking back to these old diaries, most weeks I included a discussion day. I take that to mean this was the day I threw the kids in the library and tried to hide for a cry in the toilets. Because you are stronger than me, you could make a big picture collage of boxes for your display wall, i.e. the last visible bit of wall in the front room. Cut up magazines or draw pictures of boxes: wooden sound boxes on guitars, shell inlaid music boxes, tin boxes of snuff, pirate boxes of buried treasure, Victorian food boxes, ceremonial scroll-storing boxes, Roman lead coffins. Oh the fun you can have.

Day 6: Get rid of all the bloody boxes
When you can't take any more, tell the kids everyone can play Post Office. Dress them up in polyester uniforms, sellotape up the boxes you've collected, write out address labels to teddies, unicorns, anyone, and create some stamps. Rubber stamp everything like mad with a scowl just like at a proper post office counter. Exchange plastic money. Then take all the boxes to a recycling point and dump them. This is called posting them, and in some circumstances is as good as using the actual post office.

Memo: Check for actual box contents before tipping. Buying a replacement classic pooh bear at £9.95 is not a mistake I recommend to anyone.

Day 7: Travel back in time with your box
By now, you are interested in boxes through the ages, aren't you? Stop watching Doctor Who and read Hans Christian Andersen's The Tinder Box. Come on, do some actions. If you really want to come over all English teacher, draw pictures of the main events on different cards, jumble them up, and ask the kids to put the story back together in proper picture order. Make the dogs especially terrifying.

Hmm. Now I think of it, Tiger's terrible fear of dogs might have started here.

There, Mamacrow. I am all boxed up for the week, and hope you are too.

(And I observe there are actually two day 4s. I thought that was a week of achievement.)

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Pleasure and pain

I hardly dare admit it. By the time you are sipping your chilled chardonnay and preparing for another evening of Celebrity Big Brother, I'm already upstairs in the attic bedrooms. Once there, I put on a squeaking voice and pretend to be Mr Wopsle.

If you do not know who Mr Wopsle is, that is probably because you are a well-rounded uptotheminute individual. I bet you live in the twenty first century, know what dongles are, and can converse about the likely trajectory of Vinnie Jones' career.

Think of me, then. Upstairs, I am living in a Victorian drama. I tell everyone I have tried to get out.

I am reading Great Expectations by Dickens, to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger as their bedtime story.

I will admit I quite like Dickens. OK, I confess to a prolonged affair with Trollope too. Sometimes I still gaze at him, wistfully. Then he winks at me from his place on the top shelf, but really, I haven't got the time. I may fondle his crinkly pages again in my retirement.

But Dickens. And Great Expectations. I am upstairs with both. With Dickens, you wade through a lot of prose and strange referencing to Victorian practices of grease-selling, then suddenly there it is. A lawyer with a black chair like a coffin. A man who staggers and falls backwards upon a sofa in the manner of a dying gladiator. The silent frustrations of one who pulls themselves up by their own hair. And I act that out, and Shark, Squirrel and Tiger all laugh, and want another chapter.

Yet although you can guess I strangely enjoy this bedtime book, I also wish it were over.

Mostly, because it is hard work, reading all that long sentence prose when it is evening, and you have to add all the voices, some of the actions, and your audience is getting in and out of the bath while traipsing wet and dripping and towel clad across the story-reading place, which is a furry chair propped up against the radiator on the hall landing.

It's not over quickly, either. This story routine can go on for hours. I'm not telling you that last night I finally managed to coax lights out at 11.30pm.

Then there is all the explaining to do. Why does Miss Haversham want Pip to play? Why did Jaggers bite his finger? Why does Biddy get cross? After fifteen minutes of sounding like an English teacher I want to slap myself around the face to shut myself up.

So this is why despite the pleasure, there is also pain, and I wish it were done.

And if you're wondering, Great Expectations is Tiger's choice. She pulled it off a bookshelf and said, that one. I wanted Kit's Wilderness by David Almond. I'll claim that next.

Meanwhile, I feel strangely cut off from normal life, with Great Expectations in the attic bedrooms. Is Dickens a must-read these days? Do children read him? Do they know who he is? Or is it only us, reading about Jaggers till past eleven, wondering about butter fat and cobweb cakes, knowing there is only one answer to my half-hearted question, Do I really have to read another chapter?

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

It comes down to two reasons.

There's a debate. I'm not sure where I stand. Do I care? Maybe my mind's made up.

It's this blogging business. Again. Like, these mummy bloggers. Do I count? Not sure. Some say we're lonely. And, er, what was it again? er, seeking validation. Emotionally needy, erm... should I believe that?

Maybe someone can make money. They try. Blogs take ads. The whole bloggy business can turn into a business. Then it's definitely competitive. Is it? Places on PR lists definitely matter. Would that change the blog? Should it?

These debates in blogland lead me all ways. Back I come to reflect on what this blog is for. I feel I need to patrol the bounds. Wee in the corners. Conclude that I don't want to rebuild this place anytime soon. No ads. Stamp over this patch. My ground. Press in some words that no one may read.

Because I have two reasons. I'll remind myself, for when I'm led away down those future debates.

One, this site shows anyone who travels by that it is possible to home educate, and not die.

If you think it is right to do by your child, and you feel able, then do it. What is the worst that can happen?

Admittedly, from this point of view, I try not to pull punches. Some days I occupy a prison cell while a surly guard blocks the doorway dressed as a princess goth threatening to clobber me with a unicorn. My whole life reduces to outwitting that scowl. And I may not succeed. Days pass too, dragging a leaden spirit, a dying heart and a failing brain. In the midst of despair, someone who claims they are a horse will burst into inconsolable weeping because they never received the 200 white mice.

Those are nothing compared to the collapsing days. When even meagre ambition turns bellyup.

But surely these problems are normal in life. Aren't they? I can chronicle them, and discount them. Worst times do not mean my home educated offspring will end their days sprawling on streets as homeless vagrants selling themselves for drugs. (OK, I admit I'm trusting: I may get back to you.)

I want this blog to say that despite the blood, sweat, pain, trauma, and mice, a home educating lifestyle can work. It creates a different set of priorities. It creates a different way of thinking. Shows different ways to live. Like, competing in national tests takes a low priority: thinking through a human relationship with a sister who just broke the law by stealing that pencil takes high priority. Afterwards, we may talk Socrates.

Through it all, I hope you can see that home ed children are thriving, happy, involved, creative, social.

Dare I admit, some days I even have fun in this anarchic, chaotic, selfish, taunt the devil lifestyle. Thrilling freedom is here. Choice, aspiration, autonomy, independence.

The second reason why this blog exists is just that I get a lot of pleasure from it. I don't care if that sounds corny. It's a very personal truth and I don't mind admitting it in public.

At least that one's simple.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Let me use the damn blog for something

Grit rarely steps out her little home educating bubble.

Like, North Korea points sixteen nuclear missiles at South Korea, but over here at grit's day, it's all tiddlypompomlook! Squirrel drew a cute wallaby!

This is because, on world matters about which she has little direct knowledge or practical experience, Grit normally follows that smart advice - better to remain silent and be thought a fool than open one's mouth and remove all doubt.

I like to think there is great benefit to you all in this dignified silence on so many controversies - whether it be Aboriginal politics, the contribution to economic philosophy by David Hume, or the manufacturing process of Rice Krispies. And I like to think, by this restrained and measured approach, that I do not automatically become a fully paid up member of the blogranting brigade. (Don't disillusion me, please.)

But all bubbles burst every so often. Sometimes because Tiger pops them and runs off, but she gets away with it, because she is cute. Sometimes the bubble thins as the soapy molecules are pulled down by gravity, and we are thinking science.

But sometimes they pop because Grit takes an enormous swinging punch at something to stabilise herself in her enormously volatile emotional life, aka just make herself feel better.

The latter applies today, obviously. So I'm blogging an opinion which is not much informed by direct knowledge or practical experience, but is SHOUTINGOUTMYPISSEDOFFMOUTH. Anyway, better for the neighbourhood for me to shout at the blog than shout at the wall. And you might wish to click away now.

This particular temper tantrum is prompted by my bete noire Balls, and his response to the terrible case of The Edlington Boys.

There he was on Newsnight, two-tonguing his way through an interview designed to rip something from him. Like integrity.

All I can hear is a squirming man protecting the system. A system that has become paper-heavy, bureaucratic, phone-based in place of face-to-face, destructive and ineffective. A system that justifies itself through the paperwork trails it creates, and which it must hide when asked to show what it really does, because the paper trail will show it does nothing but generate paper trails.

This is a system where people interpret their jobs through the roles ascribed to them by middle managers. Where managers are themselves policed by paper targets. Building a system that has become incapable of acting - even though the people with in it, like Grit's sister in law, might so desperately want to effect good and bring about better change in struggling lives.

But to Balls, protecting his bureaucratic pile matters more than any of the people it was designed to serve.

So what is the party response to all of this mess? First, call on the NSPCC. Second, call on Lord Laming. And third, the solution to this database rich world, is to extend it.

Right. I feel better now. For more on Balls, you'll need to go somewhere else.

And here is a cute picture that Squirrel drew.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Teaching the kids about politics

Hey! Cute Squirrel! You've got a great line in argumentative backchat.

How about dumping the aspiration to be a poncey ballerina and becoming a proper knuckle-dusting politician instead?

Squirrel, politics is more fun than dancing. Politics is about noble ideas like honesty and integrity. Dancing is prancing about a stage foaming in pink.

Politics can be about more interesting stuff, too. Like screwing the system for everything you can get. Then, when you've made something of yourself, or you're thrashed on election night, you could forge a career as an after dinner speaker, publish your memoirs, take a cushtie job in Europe, or front up a BBC2 history show. Howabout that? Much better than starving yourself to fit into a tutu and hoping to open a suburban dance school on a minimum wage.

I can tell you're interested Squirrel. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Black is White, and White is Black.

Squirrel, you face tough times being a top politician. You must stand in the House of Commons and say the opposite to what you know to be true.

You are right. That is shocking. And lying. But it is called presentation.

You have to do it with a straight face. You may get away with it. If the opposition is weedy, drunk, misinformed, or couldn't be arsed to show up for the debate, that helps. If you do get away with your presentation, remember not to pump your fists in the air or high five the Speaker.

Let's look at Two-Tongues Ed. Ed is a master. Listen Squirrel, and learn.

Say you asked over 5,000 people whether they thought some strange geezer from the local authority should have the right to march into your house, say your learning isn't good enough, and whisk you off for a proper grilling.

You'd say no thanks, wouldn't you? Of course. Like 94 per cent of people did.

People like mummy Grit, who said No thanks. We're not inviting strangers into our home. He might be Mr Spooky from the corner. He might be a retired head teacher who thinks you all should sit down for 25 hours a week colouring in pictures of Anne Boleyn.

But when Ed hears that 94 per cent of people say no thanks, he replies, The vast majority of parents would be happy to let that happen. Didja hear that? Like 94 per cent turns into 9POINT4 per cent! Fantastic eh! Black is White, and White is Black!

But that's not all. You have to do more than two-tongue your way through a situation, Squirrel.

You have to mix up black/white with statements of fact and part-truths. Then add a sprinkling of prejudicial language and some crafty grammar.

Yes, I agree, that is difficult. Let's look to our master A-lister. Once more.

Ed spoke in the House of Commons on the 11 January this year. He said adding penalties would further inflame the minority of home educators who do not like the current provisions in the Bill.

There. It is true that home educators would face no financial penalty if they do not comply with the government. What Ed said is true. But he failed to mention that if parents do not comply, their kids automatically get a School Attendance Order! Off you all trot to the local primary! No argument!

Squirrel, don't cry. Potential politicians don't snivel.

At the moment, Squirrel, I have a legal right to argue that I am providing an education for you. But under Two-Tongues Ed, that right is removed. He is taking final control of my educational decision. But hey! While you're colouring in a picture of Anne Boleyn, we won't be fined a grand! So cheer up!

Anyway, here's a tissue, and I shall leave you to ponder political opportunity, dear daughter. But finally, I just want to tell you to be careful. Because every politician must deal - not only with the smelly hordes called voters - but with the tunnel-dwelling army that is the civil service.

These scurrying, studious workers can be on your side. Or they can be working to undermine you. Do not underestimate them Squirrel. They have agendas. Like the release of documents strangely at variance with the political timetable. Perhaps timed to maximise your embarrassment. That's right. They can make you look like a prat. We will think on. But for now, lesson over.

Thank you for the tutu. I can see you're the sort of feisty gal who won't need that. Now, here's your homework.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Grey sky day

Grey sky days are nothing days. They taste flat. They are workaday days. Sensible motherhood shoes and no make up. They are January, with all spoiled resolutions and far-off expectations. They leave me exhausted, inactive, disillusioned.

Grey sky days disappear before I become aware of them. Night falls, and I think, Was that it? I never heard dusk coming. I didn't see the light disappear and I didn't hear the day deflate. Not a gentle pshwssssss tells me the day is ending, the night is coming, whispering get thee to bed, hope not to die in my dark.

I have energy only to wonder why grey January days slip by so effortlessly; I might do that.

I think it is the slanting light on this side of the planet. The way the sun never turns round over here, on this side of the kitchen, where I dutifully stand, just here, peeling old potatoes and washing dishes.

No sunshine bothers to come round to the disordered bedroom either, nor behind the wall, nor into the schoolroom, nor the office, not the hall. No sunshine comes there, unless the children manufacture it, by lolly sticks and string. Sometimes they do, and I join in. But not today. Today they have all taken themselves invisible off to hobbit holes, and are reading and scribbling resentful notes to each other about unicorns who are hoof injured and cannot go to birthday parties.

No sunshine. No children. No distraction with lolly sticks and string. And dwelling too much indoors. For that, I blame my school-taught responsibility. I should chuck it all up, and run and pull on pink wellington boots.

Because I need to walk outside, in mud, and feel wind on my face. That would be good. I can complain at pigeons. I can make my feet wet. I can poke the ground with sticks. I can imagine blue leaves, messages hidden in hard granite rock, soil that scurries off noisily when I approach, smelly trees that mutter as I pass by, then follow me, until I turn. I could do these things. I think they would be the right things to do.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Let's go to Mexico.

You see? Home education takes you everywhere. One morning our eyes open and focus on a teddy bear; another hour, the snow, clumped in great heaps against the window. And today, anticipating having our hearts ripped from our bodies, atop a step pyramid in Tenochtitlan.

For that delight, we have to walk to get there.

Mostly because I am too mean to pay the extra £2.60 for the bus from Euston to the British Museum. Anyway, it's only 20 minutes, and in this free-range world of ours we can call it nourishment for our bodies as well as our minds.

You know the exhibition for Moctezuma is over. I hope you didn't hang on for a review from Grit. Anyway, don't worry. Grab hold of the exhibition guide. The exhibition itself? Dour.

I can't write about it all. I could say lots. The use of the Reading Room as an exhibition space. The tone of the exhibition. Moctezuma's place in an ordered hierarchy of the Mexica world. The supporting materials. The dead cold sacrificial stones. The eagle. Spare me, the eagle. The arrival of the Spanish. More slaughter. The sudden story switch, from one told in carved volcanic rocks, to a shiny oil on canvas. All dealings with death.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger pause at every exhibited item, drawing and writing obsessively. I promise to buy the exhibition guide twenty-five times over, so we can go. They force me to linger. Squirrel returns to me, time and time again, Why did they do that? Why did they kill people to make the sun rise? Did they kill the children too?

Some things, I tell Squirrel, with a cuddle, I cannot explain. I cannot explain Mexica thinking. I am on the wrong side of the world. I can try with the Conquistadors. I know the story there. God, gold, glory, girls.

But in Mexica, it's all so different to how we live today. What we see here, in this world left behind, no-one is tender, no outstretched hands in love. No fat bellied women, no domestic pictures, no ordinary chores. Men are warriors, demi-gods, offerings.

Mortal women are invisible. Except one. She's a statue, female figure, kneeling. She has breasts, says the caption. I stare at her. I can't see them. She doesn't have breasts. She's different from the male because he has shoulder blades and she doesn't. Shoulder blades? Breasts? It's an easy mistake to make I guess if you are the industrious curator to the female figure c 1325 Mexica 42x19.6x26.5cm. But by this stage, and we are only in Room 2, I want her to have real, heaving, breasts. I know I'm living in this twenty-first century implant world, but still, by now, even a couple of fried eggs would be good. Because breasts mean children. And children mean love. But there just isn't any.

I don't know whether this exhibition simply chose all the stone carvings of power and hierarchy and eagle bone, and hid all the statues of beautiful women with breasts and plump thighs, or whether the Spanish so truly destroyed any remnants of softness, that now there really aren't representations of women in Mexica culture that are not all clawed hands and bared teeth.

So we're left with Coatlicue, who hangs dismembered hands around her neck and chills my soul with her fangs and lethal stare. Or the moon goddess, Coyolxauhqui, lying dismembered, a skull under her arm.

But there must have been mortal women; women giving birth, nursing babies, shaping the land, picking corn, working cloth, smoothing garments, pressing their hands against the scrap of life in a child. Here, nothing like that. Nothing at all.

Now I could come over all feminist and say that this strikes me as a supreme example of a patriarchal society. What is it with you boys? Military conquest, sharp spears, ripped up hearts, bloodletting, war, death and corpses.

Yet it tells me other things too, like the supreme power of any ideology. Women, giving up their children, sons, brothers, husbands, ushering them on to sacrifice, because this is Wednesday, and this is how devotion is shown. Did those hands willingly guide those kin farewell on the journey to feed the sun?

Did no one say, let's not do that? asks Squirrel. Let's give the sacrifice a miss, just for today? Let's play music, and see what happens instead, tomorrow, at dawn?

I draw Squirrel close, and tell her that ideology means sometimes people do things that it's not in their best interest to do. And while individuals might question the vision, they can rarely break free alone; they need the support of many. And if we're taking home a lesson, it could be that one.

Or perhaps that we should all draw more pictures to leave behind us. Pictures of fat women and men enfolding children and laughing with love.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

And dress in purple, green, yellow and diamonds

I managed to watch the committee meeting late last night on Parliament TV. Standing in the tiny, cold upstairs kitchen without a working light bulb, I peered into a laptop.

I am grateful. It's not like I had to lean backwards from the skylight with a television aerial gripped between my teeth.

The home education people giving evidence to the committee were strong, mostly. Chloe is astonishing. How old is she? Seventeen? I hope Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are as confident, articulate, commanding. She is the type of wonderful creature that shows you what it is to have an open thinking education. Unafraid to express her rights, know her freedoms; she is confidence without arrogance, expression without fear.

Fiona made her point: she said that there are families who aren't sleeping, aren't eating. For a whole year! Can you imagine that? There are ghosts among us; they walk abroad at night, hollow eyed. It's dramatic, that.

But I know what she means.

Our family has lived with this political process for one year. It is draining, and it has changed us. Made me stronger. More determined. Grittier.

In this last year, home educators have argued against negative press reports, signed petitions, coordinated information requests, written documents, collated responses, researched statistics, made videos, written blogs, letters, scripts, passed around news, run behind the scenes, coordinated picnics, protests, other people.

Telling you all, telling you all, home education is not the end. It's not what they say it is. It's the beginning. It's filled with opportunity, it's a community, a lifestyle, outdoors, indoors; it's anything you want it to be for your children. And it's strong.

But I know what Fiona means.

The last year has affected us in oh so tiny ways. Ways you wouldn't see or know, unless you are the type of person who knows themselves so closely - habits, preferences, the way you might turn this way or that - that you can detect differences in yourself, at the moment why you made this choice, not that.

When I have twenty minutes from lunch to the moment I bundle the kids into the car, I might once have quickly checked the events of a museum, called up the website to West Stow, planned in my head a day trip, imagined family, grabbed a phone number. But now, I don't do those things, unless I make time. Now, in twenty minutes, I check the parliament site. I find the message about the Lords. I make a note about the government position statement. I jot a name from the local authority. That is a difference this year has made to me. It is tiny, and it is huge.

And there is another way that life has changed. Once, I would stride along the street midday Monday behind three dancing gritlets making noise enough to rouse ten skeletons. I would have considered this a duty. By our very being, telling everyone that school is not the only option. That childhood can be better sometimes in the open air.

But now I reflect on the experience of the police and the truancy patrol and the threats and the negative media reports, and I fear glances of people in the street who know that only people like me do these things, and terrible things; how we fail children, everybody knows, people say. It must be true, otherwise the government wouldn't want to know, would they, unless there was something to know.

Some days I have thought we will wait till late afternoon before we go out the house. Then I can minimise the fear that I will be stopped in the street, made to account for myself, forced to fill in forms, expose my children to the argument, feel humiliated, because I chose something other than a classroom. It's safer to stay inside.

These are ways this year has changed us.

Of course I could ignore all the politics. Stop it reaching down into my family, and our lives. I could do nothing. I could carry on checking museum dates, diaries, imagining our visit over there, to the sea. I could do that. But I know that would be dishonest to what I feel. So indifference is not a good idea. Flowers would wilt. Cats would die. The day would rain, hard. Guilty, I would blame me.

Which leaves only one option. Go out at ten in the morning. Run the High Street from top to bottom. Bash dustbin lids. Clap hands. Be obvious. Be wild women tall and small. Be noisy, dangerous, free spirited. Laugh, loudly.

I know it is still our best defence.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Feeling defeated? Me?

Fuck 'em. Yeah. OK, I know. Drunk blogging might not be a good idea. But it's therapeutic. And Grit's been on the cooking sherry since 4.15pm. Now she has more than a bra to get off her chest.

It all started because, believe it or not, Tuesday 19th January was Big Day.

The Big Day has more drama than Coronation Street. More intensity than Russell Crowe's forehead. More passion than a Mills and Boon romance set in Arthritis ward B with Doctor Smith behind the curtain.

Because Tuesday 19th January was the place to be in this year-long run up to the next step: the Committee Stage of the Children, Schools and Families Bill. Whoopee. The Bill that changes a fundamental right about who has the final say in your choice of education for your kids.

The one that says the consequence of non-compliance with the state on allowing them to licence you, subject you to their approval of your power supply, and demand you submit your annual plans for further inspection, is a School Attendance Order.

Now the blasphemy and cooking sherry start to make horrible sense, don't they?

Let's call them coping strategies.

Because I am an average done-no-harm home educating parent who chose off-template parenting and weird lifestyle. Like the freedom to visit the seaside out of school holiday time. For that, I am one of the poor sods about to be blitzed by a government order to be inspected for overcrowding, monitored for lesson plans next July, and faced with a local authority official, asking me in steady tones if I am aware that the government now has a legal right of entry to my home on a 2-week notice.

Of course if I refuse this type of support, I must have something to hide. Like our privacy, Shark's freedoms, 14 gallons of cooking sherry and the amusing way I tie the kids to the radiators and mock them with goats.

So console me. Round here, January 19th was Big Day. I was anticipating it. For weeks.

And I couldn't get Parliament TV to work. Not live. Not on archive. I have tried to watch the footage of this committee, several times. Everytime I go to the site, the router suffers an apoplectic fit, freezes, and refuses to do anything unless someone consoles it with some soothing button twiddling. I daren't go to the site now, or even link to it.

You might be grateful about that.

But I still believe that the committee stage of a Bill is a real information stage, where you can hear many voices arguing over points in a much more helpful way than from the big Balls Wall bashing the boxes.

You could go over to Gill's place instead. There you can see extracts. At some stage I will see the whole lot, and then no-one can stop me having a proper fingerjabfingerjab.

Go on, go over and see. Then at least you can make up your mind that you were right all along not to give a toss.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Secretly, I'm enjoying it

Hearing the plea of strangers, Grit drops to the floor and crawls under her desk.

She emerges battered and bruised, forty minutes later, crawling her way past the old hobo, three dead mice and the bandaged remains of a mummified cat. But she is grasping, in her bloodied hand, a torn scrapbook from July 2005.

I have mined a gift of pure gold, and I give it with heart.

Because this big, old, bound book, all scribbled over and covered in dust, contains another of Grit's fantastic seven day educational plans! Yes! I got you reading this far! For that!

But wait, because this fantastic plan also tells you why you should have kids.

Kids are not to eat. They are not to throw out of windows. They are not to sell to passing vagrants for £3.50. No. You can have FUN with kids. And not in weirdy mindbusting spookypervy ways, like home educators are so often accused of. No. Normal, shove-a-pigeon-in-your-ice-box ways that are the stuff of the home educating day.

Read on, committed reader, and find out how to survive seven days with any early-learner troll and lots of WATER.

This is especially for Kelly. And because, some days living with trolls, I know that Monday turns up just when you thought it was Thursday.

Day 1: Provide everyone you meet with an old margarine tub.
Tell them to go fill it with interesting stuff. Glitter. Beads. Buttons. Plastic shapes.

If Squirrel brings you a dead pigeon on the end of a spade, scream, run off, and don't come out of the bathroom till Dig has conducted the funeral.

When the interesting assortment is collected, and you have said OK, you can leave the feathers in just this time, then cover it with lovely coloured water, like dilute blue paint, and stuff it in your freezer. When it's frozen, take it out, put another layer of interesting stuff, and no pigeons or rats or anything like that, and cover it with more water. Let's choose red this time. Like blood. Stuff it back in the freezer.

Keep this going all day. By tea-time you'll be fed up with mixing paint and opening and closing the freezer door every five minutes, but on the plus side, tomorrow you get to watch while the ICE SCULPTURES melt in beautiful sparkling colours all over the office table. Gorgeous. You can foolishly drone on and on about the water cycle if you want. Everyone else, captivated by sparkle, will want to talk the poetry of colour.




Day 2: Eat the ice.
OK, You've all done this, I know, so I'm teaching grandma how to suck eggs. Make fruit juice ice cubes or ice cubes with fruit inside. Make vodka ones for yourself. When it comes time to eat the ice, don't mix everything up.

Put a huge pan of water to boil and fill the room with steam while you crunch ice cubes for sensory impact. While your audience is wondering why the room is full of fog or busy spitting out grape pips, you can talk about temperature, solids, liquids, water vapour, condensation, glaciers, freezing points, why vodka tastes crap anyway, all until the pan burns.

Day 3: Get scientific and make a water clock.
We had a go at this with some polystyrene cups nailed to a plank of wood. Don't do that. Rather, don't do that next to your Dualit toaster. Polystyrene tears off the nails with the weight of the water and tips into your toaster. Anyway, look at it over here. I'm not a scientist. But, if you are a smug bastard, you can do this project in Ancient Greek.

Day 4: More science.
Because the only thing that happened yesterday was that you flooded the kitchen and electrocuted yourself with a Dualit, try this experiment instead.

Fill a deep white dish with hot water from the kettle. Pour coloured cold water slowly into it. The cold water clearly sinks to the bottom of the dish! How amazing is that? Well, it is if you are aged five.

If you are aged thirty-five, you can drone on about density and molecules, and pressure, and anything else you can think of until the fruity ice cubes come out again.

Or you could try a variation of this and draw the attentions of the Social Services. Fill a plastic glove with water and freeze it. When frozen, peel back the glove and you have a perfect severed hand. OK, I accept colouring it green wasn't such a great idea when Shark spent the next week relating how mama stores cut off hands in her freezer.

And placing one at the bottom of her lovely bath wasn't such a great idea, either.

Day 5: Oil and water.
Why don't oil and water mix? Does any oil mix with water? What's an emulsion? How do I wipe it off the floor? Why do you keep walking over it when you know you'll fall over? Why didn't I buy a slippery vat of value liquid which passes as cooking oil for 6p a litre at Tesco instead of the extra virgin hand picked by virgins? You see, I bet you're grateful for all this weekly planning ahead now, aren't you?

Day 6: Storytime.
Oh you don't need me for this one. Read some poems and stories and make some up. Like grandma is afraid of water and rides on the back of a hippo to cross the river down to the Co-op. Everyone knows that is true.

Day 7: Water in a drain near you.
And time to get into those fields, if you haven't already. Rain is good. Dew is excellent. Ditches, I've known a few. Rivers, drains, the guttering, the water butt. I bet the sewage farm will take your home ed group. They took ours. Make a long list of as many water related activities, containers, properties, hazards, employments, uses, storage devices, anything as you can. You'll have enough to last all year. Like you need telling from me.

But if you find yourself home educating and you wonder WTF to do today with small people before they trash the entire house, then I hope these activities help you trash the house first, and I bet that's much more fun when you have small people to help.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Spare a thought for your typesetter

An appeal to academics.

I know you are now sitting in university offices across the world, feverishly writing up your research papers for publication in your books and peer-reviewed scholarly journals. You are hoping against hope that your brainweightywords are issued back to you promptly, printed. Then you can deliver them up to the great scales of destiny, where your RAE will be measured, and hopefully not found wanting.

Please, if you want that process to happen smoothly, then be nice to your typesetter.

You do not know them. To you they are nothing. You may have only heard tell of their existence, like a dimly recalled child's fable about how the world began, or how mice got their tails. But they are there. Still. Labouring for you.

Please remember that these are overlooked and sad people, all morose, slovenly, hairy and smelly after staying with your paper for three gruelling days. Yet they are human, too.

Yes, they are at the bottom of the food chain. Yes, they are the late-night last-ditch lost-hope invisibles before your paper hits the print. Yes, they are the unseen labour whom your editor blames for everything that went wrong, when really it was all their fault, but they were too busy to check/couldn't be bothered/farmed out the work to a puppydog PhD student hoping to enter for themselves that joyful world of academic rivalry, back-stabbing, threat and jealousy.

But remember, without these brave and selfless typesetters-come-copyeditors near the ends of the lines, your articles and books would look a mangled mess of garbage filled with weird spaces, indecipherable characters, strange spellings and unsuitable Word fonts.

So be kind to these selfless midnight workers, and prepare your papers for publication, carefully.

Here are my words of advice.

1) Make sure you start by sending the right paper.
You would think it impossible, wouldn't you, that an academic could pass over the wrong paper to the editor. That the editor doesn't actually notice. That I spend two days setting this paper and raising queries. Then, on receiving it, you yell to the publisher, I blame the typesetter who set the wrong paper. Oh boy, is that not a good strategy.

2) Supply all material together.
Not in 218 files, then 46 emails, with revisions. Is it likely that your braindump is magically collated for you? Or that the eight figures you sent in email attachment number 34, which were already revisions to the three figures sent in email 12, is laid speedily upon the page, in the correct order, following the missing table you say you will supply later? Likely?

3) Follow the style guidelines you are given.
If the reference style for your journal is given to you, then follow it. Simple. Just be obedient on that one. The style is already there. It is set. Do not become a freedom fighter for a comma after (ed.), You won't get it. We already debated it. You lost.

4) Follow the publications procedure.
When you are handed back the first proofs, do not scribble all over them and fax them back. Your fax will be junked. Your edits unseen. You can only blame yourself for the six months delay and the bitter argument that follows.

5) Do not treat us as your personal research department and back-office staff.
I am here to typeset your work, clean up your spellings, neaten the page, check your references, query weird stuff, and make sure that when it goes out to the world, it looks like the person who wrote it had a clue. It's got your name on it, matey, but if you make me find out stuff for you, I'll put myself in as your co-author.

6) Do not draw us into your blame game.
Sometimes academics do this because they cannot admit they were wrong. They simply cannot say, Oops! Sorry! Sent you the wrong diagram on Figure 3.6! No. They have to blame the PhD student. Blame the dog. Blame the cat. Blame the rat. After a few months of being rocket propelled by righteousness, they complain to the publisher because the book was due out last March. The publisher blames us. Now, when we get a blamer, I know I am dealing with a real insecure case. Give us the figure. Or I tell your mamma.

7) Accept that you are in queue.
We will rush some things through, sure. When the publisher negotiates. If you try and negotiate with the typesetters directly, you will fail. Look, some of your colleagues already tried it. Like the one who declared their mother was about to DIE ON HER DEATHBED AND DIE DIE DIE and her LAST DYING WISH was to HOLD IN HER DYING HANDS your VERY FIRST BOOK! The one about spelling variations in a Godalming doctor's surgery, 1996-1997.

8) Write out your corrections to the first proofs clearly.
Just give me the damn edit. And check your edit. Because sometimes I am sorely tempted to lift out the garbage you write and drop it straight in. Help me avoid my temptation. Do not write garbage. And do not assume your typesetter lives in your head. Do not refer to past emails which are referenced inside other emails and can only be accessed after a two-hour search.

9) Do not patronise.
Do not be condescending. Do not become holier-than-thou. Do not treat a typesetter like she is a beggar you would not kick for fear of soiling your shoe. Remember, that under her fingertips is great and secret power. If you wound her pride, attack her honour, malign her name, then she, and only she, has the power to make
widows.

10) Say thank you.
Simple, huh? What would you do if you were me, and faced with a long stream of author's corrections, and nowhere on those 15 pages, does it once use the words, 'Thank you'. You might feel obliged to do the ironing, no?

Now, for my part, I feel obliged to show the world what a typesetter-come-copyeditor has to face, along with kids to educate on one hand and a stressed out husband on the other. Here is a small selection of what passes for an academic author's corrections.

I leave you to make sense of them.

I have supplied all corrections by fax. I always work this way. I prefer it.

(Message received by email. Fax of 25 pages of unintelligible scribble follows.)


This replaces the previous message January 4th. Insert all these new corrections about references, below. Do not do as the Guest Editors explain in your message from December 18 and 24.

(eh? I could start unpicking this one, somewhere. But the ironing is urgent right now.)


I think the reference date should be 2007. If it is not 2007, it is 2008.

(Shall we say 2009 and have done with it?)


Page 34, line 3. Please change 'understanding social political regime' to 'understanding social political regime'.

(Done!)


The Editor don't send you another Review. Will you tell me?

(Oh, help me Lord)


These blanks need filling in.

(Um... How would you like me to fill them in? Shall I draw pictures of you without a towel?)


The table is set all wrong. Refer to original. I do not expect to have to correct this myself.

(Original is mangled heap of tabbed crap; author on dangerous ground)

Change (eds) to (eds.) If you are following any style at all, you will know this.

(Doomed freedom fighter alert)


John. This is an edit for John. He should know what it is. John? Is this yours?

(John? John? Can you hear me? Sound of tumbleweed blowing across desert, while typesetter goes off looking for coffee and distraction. Shame your publication never made it for your RAE.)

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Pure joy, with verso, recto, etc.


Grit is dancing around in seventh heaven. She and the little beautiful gritlets of gorgeousness are learning how to make their own leather bound notebooks.

This is all thanks to the bookbinder who donated a load of bookbinding fabrics to Scrapstore, plus a book from the library, an eyelet punch, and the free-range imagination of one senior Grit and three gritlets.

The notebook cover above uses leather, wire, bead, and copper; the little copper butterfly donated by Squirrel is one result of our metal enthusiasm to learn about embossing and engraving last month. Inside we stitched the pages together with copper wire instead of thread, because we found it a whole lot easier.

This project I highly recommend, particularly if you are in any way book devoted or lust after stationery. The children are learning new skills, delighting in notebooks they can use for diaries, jottings and shopping lists, and I am uber parent because I can slip in some Latin.

In fact this project is total win win win.

The only one I can see who loses is the cow.

Friday, 15 January 2010

How are you judging us so far?

You know the British like to judge, right? And they don't do it directly. They do it politely.

Your best friend says, Where did you get that choker? (Trans. For god's sake lose the choker. What is it? Cut here?) Or they might say, That dress is an unusual fitting! (Trans. Walk three paces away from me.) Or, Did you do much over Christmas? (Good Grief! You've not been to the gym! Look at that enormous ARSE!)

Because you are BFF you let them get away with it. And you will have your revenge. On their wedding day.

But then! Disaster! You have kids! Your BFF disappears because Sorry, can't come to chat, am soooo busy at work. (Trans. God you're Booooring. It's all babiesbabiesbabies with you.)

This leaves you alone with dopey 17-year old Chardonnay who only comes because the NNEB tutor forces her, or the Asda instant coffee group, formed mostly of antenatal mums who sit in a circle and cry about their divorce.

Now you're a parent, judgement continues to pour in. Because you're vulnerable, you feel isolation, insecurity, guilt and misery. Are you going to feed the baby? (Trans. You baby murderer.) Does any baby really need that? (Trans. You baby murderer.) Would you hold the baby like that? (Trans. You baby murderer.)

It is hard enough to rip the damn squealer from your body in the first place without the rest of the world dropping judgement on what to do with it.

Now, while Grit has observed this huge and intense judgement that falls on new mothers - mostly via the technique of commenting on other mothers - she has largely escaped herself, on account of a thick skin and blasting beyond the knowledge of most people by popping out three at once.

When they see the indescribable Gritx3 coming, the opinionated hordes mostly shut up: they know they are out of their depth. And, quite frankly, my brass neck gets in the way of my hearing, so if there was an opinion offered to me by someone who hasn't any experience of what she is talking about (hello, Raquel!) then of course I don't listen. I ignore you and grunt uhu?veryinteresting. uhu?veryinteresting uhu?veryinteresting.

But then, I began home educating, and my perspective on those judgements widened. The world I now inhabit is filled with judgement, and most of it is ill-founded crap delivered, under the belt in a side-swipe, just as it was for the baby years.

At this point reader, relax. Because in my experience, judgement is not usually from other mums. Yes, I give credit to you school-choosing ladies. By this point, be honest, most of you couldn't give a toss. You discount me as beyond rational fringe hippie weirdo already. I appreciate that. Because it means you simply leave me alone to dream up a new home education type of insanity. Like, taking my own kids to the British Museum on a Thursday. If you hear about it from us, you just murmur, uhu?very interesting. uhu?veryinteresting uhu?veryinteresting.

So on the whole, I admit you school mums are pretty cool, and non-judgemental towards home ed. At least not blatantly, face-to-face, nor on my blog. I assume that is because we all share this rule, right, that we do what we think is the best for our kids. Even if you think what someone else does with their kids is crazy and not good parenting, you don't tend to yell it in my face. I thank you for that. I even try not to judge you in return! How nice am I?

Only one lady has ever gone in for the kill about my educational choice. They'll remain nameless. (Oh, what the heck. Hi Raquel! Let's see, was your opinion based on no experience at all? Not of school? Not of education? Not even of kids?)

But my point is, judgement is so ingrained in British culture, that we simply cannot be left alone to wear that black choker, feed a baby just like that, do our own thing in the British Museum. There is always someone out to judge.

There are plenty of folks who want to use your judgement to swing things in their favour. They would really like you to judge me. Negatively. And they are working hard to get you to do that. The headlines that we home educators are child abusers, didn't work on you. So they try something else.

Like in the response to the 5,000-plus people who gave an opinion about home ed. Mostly those 5,000 people said, we're doing fine, thanks!

But that's no good. People can't judge that, eh? So you need to be told what to judge. Here it is, because it will probably filter to you through the media, worse:

We received 5,211 responses to the consultation document of which: 2,222 were from home educating parents; 436 from home educated children/young people; 83 from local authorities; 40 from organisations representing home educating families; 40 from other organisations with responsibility for children. A further 2,390 replies fell into the 'other' category including anonymous responses, those who did not specify a respondent type; and 'campaign' type responses which were received after groups including the Christian Institute, Education Otherwise and the British National Party lobbied their members to reply to the consultation via their own websites.


See that? There are no explicit words which say We are discounting nearly 3,000 of the responses because they are written by home educators who are anarchists, illiterates, support extreme agendas, far right, far left, narrow-minded antisocial bigots, evangelical, and like to sacrifice dark skinned babies.

But did you get that distinct impression? From the positioning of those scare quotes? The use of the word 'other' to reinforce the idea of those who are different: the fringe loonies? The placement of the world's most reviled political party at the flourishing end of that long sentence, so that you just recall that name, more than any that went before, the BNP?

But now that your mind is introduced to that negative judgement, I guess they hope you'll discount this. They certainly will:

The majority of respondents said that visits to a family home by local authority officials were an unwarranted intrusion into family life and were completely wrong. Many felt that the visits would contravene Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights and were also discriminatory because officials did not have a legal right to entry to someone’s home without a court order under any other circumstances.

[...]

The majority of respondents, 4,217, disagreed with the proposed level of monitoring and thought that it was excessive, stating that Ofsted inspections of schools occurred much less frequently. 1,238 thought that the current law was clear and adequate and that the systems already in place would pick up where home education was failing. Others thought that where a parent had elected to home educate then the state/local authority should have no further responsibility regarding that child’s education.

I guess the point I can make from this document in full, is that you need to keep a very independent mind to cut through the judgements in this society, the judgements we all have an interest in you making, and simply think things through for yourself.

And make your own decision on the choker.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Success. I have only one black eye.

We had a one-year old baby in this house today.

My God. How do you people COPE? This was a real live sit up and bum crawl thrash arms about chuck everything at your head type of baby.

EXHAUSTING. I run about this kitchen like I am electrocuted, zigzagging this way and that, removing plastic spoons because they are going TO KILL THE BABY, finding non-splintering plasticware, non-sharp metal ware, non-breaking wooden ware; collecting up all that junk, just to have it thrown back at my face less than one second later. And that, I can take it from the jubilant squeal, was FUN.

By the end of an hour I had worked out that the draught excluder was the only item that routinely could smash me about the head without drawing blood.

It got me to thinking just what the heck did I do, with three of the little critters looking like meerkats out to shoot up this town before sunrise.

Then I remember. We locked them up. We partitioned off an entire room of the house, and removed everything sharp, dangerous, electrical, mechanical - indeed anything that could be used to stab me, maim me, remove limbs or take out one eye - because believe me, these kids work as a team, and two can be at your ankles while one is pointing the pitchfork. Once that room was made safe, and I wore a padded suit, body armour and shin pads, then I could go in to play. Which if I recall right, meant lie down on the floor while babies bounced on my head.

So I am just here to report that we are alive and I SURVIVED THE BABY and I am now so glad so very very glad that I had mine all at once.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Your crimes are noted.

Today, I have been working all day today, and am therefore officially brain dead.

The occasional job I do, mostly when I need to pay the library fines, milkman's bill, and the newspaper shop is threatening to push dogshit through the letterbox along with the Independent, is copy editing and type setting academic text for publication.

WAKE UP! You nodded off there, didn't you? The very thought of typesetting 1,400 references in 10.5pt Times Roman on 12pt leading simply made you feel drowsy, no?

I know the feeling. After ten hours of typesetting, both my bloodshot eyes resemble two large bowls of red wine.

I haven't even started on the italics or the symbol fonts yet.

But you academics out there. I know you're there. Now think, next time you're preparing that paper for print in your professional journal, and it's gone through all the review, and the editor's said that'll be no problem, just think, it could land on grittygrit's desk.

You have been warned. Make sure your references are complete and in style. Make sure your figures are properly labelled; your tables have captions; your examples, quotations and extracts are in order. And - because you wouldn't believe it possible, would you? - finish your sentences with a ruddy full stop.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Bringing down the Balls Wall

Thousands of people have had a go at knocking down the Wall of Ed Balls. And yet it still stands!

They even have a special place for this great manly challenge - the floor of the House of Commons.

See those bleary-eyed, late-night educationalists, glued to their TVs, watching the great Wall of Ed Balls lump up yet again to deliver yet another Education bill? As Nick Gibb, the little con from Bognor Regis and Littlehampton points out, it's another year! There must be another Education bill! Listen to everyone involved in the practice of education cheer.

Look at them, poor sods, hunched before the embers, sipping on their late night cocoa, watching the debate of the Second Reading, hoping that this time the Balls Wall truly comes tumbling down.

Will anyone do it? Will anyone hammer through? The Balls Wall tactic is to stand up, framed in that enormous rectangle grey tarmac suit, and fill the small stage with the great concrete breeze blocks of impenetrable Blokey Wall. When the Balls Wall speaks, it uses a great big voice with the endings missing on all its words, so it sounds like pipe hammer, bang-bang-banging away at the side of your head.

But first, bring on the lightweights to try their strength!

Here comes the weedy con, Andrew Selous of Bedfordshire South-West. He squeaks as a governor of a Church of England primary school who wants to talk about sex teaching.

Pah! The big Balls Wall bats away small distractions like that, because the Wall says everyone wants kids to know about sex, so the concrete government is already doing that and everyone supports that! Yeah! Even all those people who do not support it. They support it too, because as everyone knows, if they use a double not in a sentence it really means yes.

John Hemming, the LD for Birmingham Yardley, tries to throw his weight about with a cracking joke pulled out of the hat with his line, 'It is clear that there is little support for the details of the Government's proposals.'

This blinder had the Balls Wall jiggling up and down looking like a great chugging Wall in motion. It showed it has a rough, urban, graffiti humour breeze block or two, because it became all matey in a laddish, rectangular way, a bit like Fred Flintstone but without the charm, saying the best way to get a result was indeed to piss everyone off.

But those educationalists sitting at home had more to come.

Michael Gove, the con of Surrey Heath, who looks like someone inflated a balloon in his head, tried a different tack. He tried to destabilise the Balls Wall with a lot of tricky questions. What that means in the context of this and does it mean this and that and then when it doesn't does it mean something else?

These were designed to outwit the Wall and bring it crashing down, when all they achieved was to make the balloon-head sound full of helium. So really he should have livened it up for the poor sod bloodshot-eyed educationalists, and thrown in some curve ball questions like Hey, Ballsy Wallsy! Does it mean you have shitforbrains and shitfordinner?

Feisty Mr. Nick Gibb came out ducking, weaving and fancy-footing again, trying to poke the Balls Wall with a bony pointy finger; trying to gouge out little powdery holes round the brickwork, complaining with stabby stabby attacks on the proposed primary education of 'a programme of study with 84 objectives stab stab running from E1 to E24 stab stab from M1 to M29, and from L1 to L31 stab stab'.

Nothing like this will affect the Balls Wall of course. Only running at the Balls Wall with a big bag marked BOMB might do that.

Hero Graham Stuart did that, but first he ripped off his manly double-breasted grey worsted suit, pulled his great crumple-free polyester mix BHS shirt asunder with his mighty ripply biceps, then delivered a speech that left the home educating ladies and gentlemen of England swooning equally into their late night cocoa.

He spoke of all the things that make England the gloriously maverick, individual, eccentric, off-beat and downright nutty place it is, resistant to the concrete breeze blocks of Labour education policy. He spoke of the duty, commitment, loyalty and pride of the ordinary non-school choosing folk of England. He asked, 'Ministers should ask themselves whether they want to bring such help to families who are so adamant that they do not want to receive it.' Now there was a warning to the Balls Wall that defiant bloody mindedness would stay fast to the last ditch of England.

But did it work? Did anything bring down the great Balls Wall?

It is a true fact that none of this, no blasted cannon shot, no stabby skeletal finger, no excoriating armoured attack, no Superman, nothing, will yet have any effect on the blustering Balls Wall.

It does what it always does. It stands up, expands its own concrete chest, and offers everyone pork pies made of statistics, and these numbers go on and on relentlessly, bang-bang-bang, and they sum up 1,600 schools, 30 per cent of pupils, five exams, one hundred per cent more boxes to tick, two hundred per cent more bits of paper to pass around, 45 teachers bludgeoned half to death, 116 spineless heads and only one bully boys like Balls.

And do you know, says the Wall, soon there will be 12 resisting, and then only eight, and by 2011 there will be no resistance left on planet Earth because all resistance against the Wall is pointless!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Thank goodness they don't put mugshots in Hansard

The Children, Schools and Families Bill moves through Parliament today, so it's all up for debate - and not only by a gang of home ed parents huddled round the back of the hired scout hut. This time, by Members of Parliament looking like a selection of grey suits hanging from coat racks propped up against the benches.

Valiantly I ignore the first bit of this televised debate with a la-la-la and fingers in my ears. Mostly because I feared that if I saw Ed Balls' fizzog on the box I might become hysterical, take to the screen with a hammer, and destroy the developing media career of my daughters forever.

But then of course all those winking twitter messages on home ed speeches in the old House broke down my resistance and drew me in.

So I started to watch parliament on and off, glad that we had a television thing called democracybox and being interrupted and irritated by demands for food and showers and reading the next installment of story while cuddling up in front of the fire. And now worse I have to stop talking TVdemocracy with Dig and put things to bed and kissykissy and all that.

But I just want to take this opportunity to dab at myself with a hanky, because from what I've heard this evening, some of the MPs speaking are extremely well briefed on home education. They provide for the record all the salient points on why this part of the Bill is so fundamentally destructive.

So here's a big BIG thank you, to you educators who have worked so hard to put your voices forward, apply pressure, keep the debate coherent, understandable and relevant to everyone.

I am grateful. Let's keep the pressure going for the committee stage. The more people who know, the better.

And tomorrow I will be swotting over Hansard, where I don't have to look at Ed Balls' mug.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Like going into a butcher's and asking the customers to go vegan

I should follow Tiger's lead. Because we all sit down to supper, and we pursue a conversation about something pointless, like syrup.

And suddenly up shoots Tiger, with urgencies, and imperatives, and important things to think and do, and books to read and no time to waste, and she shouts I'm leaving before this conversation gets any more stupid!

I admire her. That's what I should do. But I don't.

I go back into these online worlds to preach to the non-converted, where no-one gives a rat's arse about home education, and less than a fig about changes to UK educational law, and I post stuff like this:

My strength and my weakness is that I am an active participant in the education of my three children.

By 'active' I mean I take on as much of the everyday education of my daughters as I can. So my children don't go to school. I use services, other professionals, support and help where I feel I need. By this mixed method, I believe that my three daughters, all aged nine, have a fantastic, creative and mind-opening primary education.

It is an education my children lead, and it is built around them. It develops their interests, their expressions and their thirst for knowledges in all different areas. In any random week of the year we might visit an art gallery, join an educational party for a museum workshop, spend the day in a craft project run by a local community group, read a novel together, join a geology walking group, and attend external lessons in languages and sports. It's a wonderful mix; it's a renaissance education; it's an education that draws the best of everyone, and uses the people, experts and professionals in our community to the full.

It's also my weakness.

This government does not trust me to provide this education. And it wants you, other parents, not to trust me either.

Last year, this government spread the news that children who were educated outside of mainstream education were 'hidden'. 'Everyone knows', they said, 'that these children are vulnerable, abused, forced to marry, exploited...' Because they were told this, many people unquestioningly replied, 'yes, we know'.

This laid the groundwork for a fundamental shift in education law. Tomorrow, the Children, Schools and Families Bill has a second reading before parliament. In it, I can be denied my choice to provide the education I have built for my children. The local authority will be given the power to say I am officially untrustworthy; that I cannot prove I am providing a rich education; that my children will be better off, safer, in a school that can monitor them and provide them with a state sanctioned education that is provided for everyone. No choice. No individual education. No personal freedom. It would not matter that my children might be lost in this system, or that they might hate it, find it restrictive, narrow, alien. They would get the same as everyone else and that would be FAIR.

But it won't be me, my family, and my children alone who are punished for being different, for finding different off-template solutions to our problems. The state power held in this bill will limit you, too, whatever educational choice you make. Because it passes the ultimate decision about the education of your child to the hands of the state.

Why doesn't this government trust me? Why doesn't this government trust you? Why does it want to licence my education? Inspect my home? Interrogate my children?

I think this government would simply like to better control everything that we all do.

I don't know why they want to control. Perhaps it is good for business. Perhaps from more control, accurate statistics can be passed over to large-scale enterprises about service provision, shopping habits, our 'lifestyle needs', our basic choices, so that all these areas can become controlled, managed, ordered, and monitored too. Where is the trust in a community then?

Yet they want you to think this is all such a good thing. Of course you can't trust people to make educational decisions for their children! Of course we can't trust YOU. The government might say, 'to show what a good job we are doing, here is the proof! Percentage points on GCSE passes; levels of attainment targets; the number of boxes ticked that your child can achieve in all areas in comparison to any other child!'

I sometimes feel helpless in the face of this controlling, centralising, and mistrustful approach. And I feel if we are passive, if we say nothing, then the state will roll further and further into our homes; into our lives; into our decision-making; into our choices; into the very relationship we build with our children, because ultimately, the state will say to the child, you cannot trust your parent to know what's best for you.

I am involved in education, so maybe I can be discounted, because maybe most people out there trust the government to do that job; maybe people need to have that trust in order to function. I don't know.

But please be aware that changes in any education law potentially affect you. Please find out about them.

Finally, because I cannot sit back and do nothing, say nothing, there is a petition here with the words:

'We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to uphold that parents have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of their child, to not undermine parents legitimately fulfilling their fundamental duties, and to assume that the best interests of their child is the basic concern of parents unless there is specific evidence to the contrary'

Please sign it.


Please Grit, next time, just take the Tiger route.