Saturday, 31 July 2010

Let's go to Hay-on-Wye


...and try to come away, not having spent several hundred pounds on kid books. Let's just try that. Next week I will try balancing a horse on my left ear. I could try that too.

Friday, 30 July 2010

I don't want to forget these evenings


Memorable for Shakespeare, out of doors; we sit on grass, hill side rising. Memorable for love, deception, passion, suicide, murder, Romeo, Juliet. Memorable for rained on. Memorable for actorly ingenuity, boundless energy, and unstoppable physicality. Memorable: it's Illyria. Memorable for darkening skies, shaking umbrellas, and cool night time falling. Memorable, with home made chocolate cake, warm to the touch, shaped in a love heart. Memorable, explaining; stabbing at my bosom with a cake slice; thinking, your life and learning drive me. Memorable. Tiger sits against the evening skies, waiting for the performance to begin, and flips through the CGP GCSE book with the cartoon double page spread. She opens it, scrutinises it, then explodes in exasperation, slams the book down and shouts That book's crap. Juliet never says 'Let's snog'. And Shakespeare didn't draw cartoons. When are they going to start the real thing?









Thursday, 29 July 2010

Maybe the rest of my wish list will happen too


Thanks to Sam Stern's Cooking up a Storm. (I bet his mum helped. Probably not by saying Dinner? You do it.)

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Out of office autoreply

Maybe if I spend all the free time of my day reading the comments unroll over here, the house will pack up by itself. The laundry will put itself on, the floor tidy itself, the privet trim itself, and Shark might go shopping and cook for everyone, all day long.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Same words, different worlds

I'm a home educator. You can see what this means. Read any month.

I can say, from practical experience, that living this home ed life means opportunity and possibility. In all and any direction. Anytime, anyplace, anywhere. And to achieve this mind blowing state I'm not even smashed on Martini or high on drugs.

I'm beyond salvation to the normal, so I'll claim more. Living this life leads me to meet a more exciting diversity of people in a wider range of places, than I ever met before, in any of my former lives.

I have been a magazine writer, an advertiser, a teacher. In those rat-narrowed worlds, I could tell you train times in and out of Euston. I could tell you which hotels served the best biscuits on the press launch. Which person working in which capacity for which corporate could be relied on to give a good quote on the market for computer software. I could tell you ten different ways we could locate this printer in your product line. I could tell you the colour of my classroom walls; where the carpet moulded; which desk was engraved with what message; where Kevin sat today and how that was different, or the same, from yesterday. I could tell you what predicted grade he would reach. With revision; without it.

But as a home educator, I live in a fantastically interesting, complex, wonderfully kaleidoscope patterned world. It changes everyday. It is unpredictable. It is society. It is life.

Any home educator will tell you these things. That once you are in this world, you should be prepared for anything. We meet the widest type of people, from all society. People who open our ideas to thoughts we never had before; engage us in different beliefs, knowledges and ideologies; lead us to different perspectives and understandings.

I have met more people of more varied backgrounds than I ever did in a career. I meet people who live in housing estates and in mansions. People who are powerful and those whose jobs make them invisible. I've met the wacko, eccentric, impossible, normal, strait laced, visionary, brave. All dedicated. Sometimes, none of us have anything in common, except for the fact that we home educate. We inhabit this space now, to take part in the workshop, building this space rocket, all with our children, building their lives. The bizarre and the beautiful.

Home educators will tell you freely, too, about the communities they inhabit. I am more deeply involved in this society, more aware of my surroundings, my localities, than any job prospect ever offered. We hire your halls, use your local shops, build relationships, occupy public spaces, educate the press, tell schools what we want, forge new ways of working with staff at every level in every public service around you. I have made this place I inhabit. I have a right to be here: home educator.

In this home education world, I meet many women, too. Not one of them is weak willed, ignorant of the law, unaware of their responsibilities, or distracted from what they see is the reason why they choose what they do. The education of their children, the health of their family, the fulfilment of a lifestyle. I feel fortunate to meet these women. They are strong, intelligent, independent. They do not accept social values uncritically. They demand answers to the most dangerous question of all: why.

Everything that I have described here, this vibrant, exciting home education life, is the complete opposite to the world many people will read of this week.

If you are the reader of this, you are invited to believe that Khyra's world is how the home education world works.

It's easy to press on us the perils ahead for the school removed child. It plays to our anxieties of neglected, hidden children. Excluded, locked away, forbidden. It's easy. As a culture we can call on all our narratives of lost and lonely children. Their helpless faces, pleading, frighten us in our nightmares. We peer at windows, and imagine the worst; how it could happen. Here. There. Anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

But Khyra's mother was not a home educator. Khyra never experienced the life that is home education. She never took part in it. She was not home educated. She did not come into our world.

The agencies - those who were responsible for supporting Khyra - call upon home education often. It deflects attention from their failings.

The journalists - those who write quick copy to sell newspapers - explore home education from their simple angle. They draw the image of the child locked away from all society, all resource, all everything. Dead flower. It is a straightforward, easy to consume idea, and it makes for a good story.

These people do that today. They casually use these words - home education - as if Khyra's world means my world. As if our worlds are interchangeable. Then those words draw me, together, with Khyra's mother. They draw my strong limbed, life-filled children towards a squalid bedroom and a locked kitchen door.

The words sound the same. That's all. They sound the same. But their meaning makes us worlds apart. Worlds apart.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Tiger, this is your triumph

Tiger, I warned you I was flying two foot off the ground. And that I would tell the whole world.

Yes, Tiger, I'm proud of you.

There is a bit of a triplet brain that is very difficult to describe. Parents of triplets will know it. It is, how do you know who you are, when there are others who look just like you, staring back?

You might tell your difference by making different areas of personality to inhabit. You carve up identities, like you might carve up the last slice of pie.

She likes dance, so I can't like dance. I must like painting. She says she likes painting. Then I must like sewing. I don't like sewing. I'll say I do. Then I can be the sister who likes sewing.

I have noticed these forgeries, and I have wrung my hands over them, fretting about the wrongs you do to your who-you-are. I have worked to prise this bond apart. I have said, again and again, 'But it's OK to like the same things! At the same time!' (Yes, I know with the ice skating and horse riding, lessons together would break us, but I have an answer for that. Simply decide the order, one, two, three, and we pay the lessons, one, two, three.)

Tiger, you blasted this triplet grip apart. You declared that you wanted that windsurfing course, come hell or high water. Or both.

Dear daughter, you made it. You only feared that Shark would stare at you, mirror face accusing, reminding you that she is the water child. She with the monopoly on sails.

Shark does not do that. I said she would not. And this time I didn't even need to buy her complicity. (Well, only the cookery book, which doesn't count.) And what happens? Shark is delighted that she can share her watery world, with you, her twin/triplet sister.

Tiger, there is another reason why I'm proud of you.

This morning, you were suddenly caught by the terror of what you were about to do. This gigantic leap across your personality. Your sudden overboard jump into unknown water. Into a real lake. With fish. Who poo.

The horror froze you. For an hour. I thought you would refuse to go. Finally, I said that if you did not get into the car now then I must give your course to one of your triplet sisters. Because I paid already!

Your Oppositional Defiant Disorder kicked in, came running up and punched me in the face. Quick as a snap you bared your teeth, clawed the air, and leaped off that chair as if propelled by rocket fuel. Within thirty seconds you were sat in the car. The look on your face was unforgettable. More determined than I have ever seen you in my life.

And this, Tiger, makes me so very proud of you, daughter of mine.




Saturday, 24 July 2010

Better keep this post short

I have become obsessed by cleary-upping.

It is horrible. I think about nothing else. Only cleary-upping.

I walk about this house, putting down things up.

It's bad. I worry all my brains will leak out. Along with my capability to make a healthy intelligent mess. If it continues, I will be a hollow shell of my former self. I will wake up, wearing a floral pinny and a beatific smile, then take to smoothing over sofa cushions with an air of blessed devotion.

I may be too far gone already. Because I cleared a patch of floor, organised a shelf, and rearranged the sofa cushions. And I WAS PROUD OF IT. You see? It has all gone horribly wrong. I actually looked at the sofa cushions and thought, They look NICE.

Soon, too soon, will be gone the chaos kid fest of a house where I squat. I imagine myself already, ejecting them each morning at 7.56, precisely, to make a mess elsewhere, then patrolling the front room. My job will be security guard on early release at holiday camp.

My cushions will then be more important than my children. I will truly become the woman I despise. This blog will be filled with tales of Cushion Cover Drama! More pointless. More wittery. More twittery. Pointlessly squittered into oblivion. Phut. There it goes. 2,500 words on how I reorganised my dishwasher tablets.

For goodness sake, save me. I want to be a slattern, a sloven, a slop. I shall unshoulder this burden, take a day off, wear clothing from the stinkedoutbottom of the laundry basket, go and roll about the grass, and tell the kids, Those mud pies you made? Bring them in! We'll have them for tea.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Tidy tidy tidy

It is dawning on me, this idea, that the family will live some place else for a while.

I had the thought that I must clean up the house I leave behind.

I did think, Don't bother. Then I would simply exit the front door. Easy. But then I thought, if I did that, bad things will happen.

1) The debris, presently piled floor to ceiling, will rot and fester and stink. After three days, the neighbours will call the police. They will break in to look for the decomposing bodies I surely have stashed under the floorboards. To date, they are one rat, five mice, 2,456 spiders, and one gas man. The discovery of the corpses, and how we actually live, will be shaming, and I will be disgraced in polite society forever.

2) People might come and stay while we are away. People like Aunty Dee. I would like my house to be nice for her. I like to imagine that she is not a quiet and retiring, slightly deaf spinster with a career built in social work, but that she will use our house to host a swinger party for her work colleagues. I would like to imagine that all her office chums will admire how I have artfully arranged my colour-coordinated sofa cushions and thoughtfully offered a selection of tinned fruit.

3) While we are away, anyone who comes into our house will call in a plumber. This is almost a certainty. A plumber, an electrician, a glazier, a gardener, another gas man. They will all need to come and repair the damage I have left. It is true, isn't it, that other people notice what you do not.

For example, I can live with the tap. I have learned how to deal with the problem. Admittedly, my first solution was not good. I shoved a rubber bung up the dribbling end and upturned a cup on the turny bit. This was my DIY household maintenance. The bung solution was not good. I flooded the ceiling void, short circuited the electrics, and caused several hundred pounds of damage. Of course I look on the bright side. The tap stopped dripping in the short term. About ten minutes of short term, before the explosion.

Now, me and the tap get along. But someone else will come and fear the tap exploding, and think Something must be done! When the plumber arrives, I think it would be good for them to get at the mains water tap without having to remove the body of the gas man.

4) Dig says that how you present something is how it will be treated.

For example, you might take your car to the garage. But you forget it is full of crap! Like a selection of pasta in the passenger footwell, empty drinks cartons, banana skins, soiled trousers, and swimming costumes. The stuff you carry if you have kids. But when the garage mechanic sees this mobile skip, he will not bother putting down that brown paper in the driver's side. No. He will simply invite all his mates to come and sit in your treasured vehicle, wipe their boots over the stained upholstery, discard their chip wrappers, and treat the glove box like a spittoon. He is safe in the knowledge that you will not be able to tell. And he is right.

I heed Dig's caution. I will leave my house nice so that it is treated with love by the police, crumply swingers, and plumber come to mend the exploding tap.

5) I would like to come back to a nice house! This is the most important thought I have had. When I step back home after hours of torture by kid and aeroplane, I would like the house to be here, welcoming, safe, and clean. So that is how I must leave it.

Consequently I have so far removed one bottle of two-year old coriander from the fridge, and reorganised the Spanish peseta coin collection.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

How beautiful is this?












Architects of Air at the Milton Keynes festival of the senses, IF.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

We took a snow leopard to Paradise Wildlife Park


Today, my children left me. I stood among the big cats, all alone, and they left me.

I'm not surprised.

I knew it was coming. I heard them plan it. They discussed which animal was coming, what greetings should be exchanged, what friendships should be made, and what story should unfold in the secret jungle.

Then they packed their bag, ordered me to drive them, ran the snow leopard across the park, and left me.

They have been leaving me for years. They started soon after they could walk, and they took the contents of the dressing up box with them.

Later they came back, and towed away horses, jeeps, railway carriages. Soon enough, their little fingers grabbed onto anything and everything they could find, and they vanished out my life, with not so much as a See you later.

As they grew, they cared less what they took. They made what they needed. They dug holes and hollows and secret places for their playmates. They took earth, moulded it with purposeful hands into mud, then sculpted everything they lacked. Wings to fly with; talismans and tokens to safeguard troubled times; bread to eat on their journey through the stars.

Sometimes I came along, big heavy clumping creature that I am. I spoiled it. I swept everything away, often without knowing what I destroyed. I even took the stars.

Shamefully, sometimes I saw what I took, and I knew it for what it was. A fragment of paper with a scribbled note; a length of twine with a tiny bead; a pipe cleaner, threaded on a button. Each significant. This scribbled note, a unicorn's diary. That twine, a mark of loyalty to the clan. This pipe cleaner, a wizard's wand, spellbound to its owner.

When I am feeling hard and vengeful, I pick these objects up from the floor, take them away, crush them in my hands, and throw them in the bin. The house is only so big. I cannot save everything. Maybe I'll keep the wand two weeks. They'll make it again. Perhaps they'll forget what I did. I won't tell them.

But some things, I do not touch. Even I, ogre, know where not to tread. Those moments, which are not mine. That transition which gives rise to wrongs, disloyalties, betrayals, wars. And to resolutions, affirmations, new beginnings.

The point where my children leave me, and cross the line into the land where I can't go, is the reality they have which I clumsily call play, and which they know is real.

Their play is real and alive, and is part of who they are. It is the space they inhabit, the choices they face, the decisions they make, the people they are. I won't touch that.

So today I stand, and quietly watch the snow leopards come face to face, growl their greetings, and embark on their adventures together.



Tuesday, 20 July 2010

These people, they drop from the sky

We had a visitor today. The best sort of visitor to have at The Pile. Big Kate. All the way from California, USA.

Here is Big Kate.


She has that name on account of weighing in about six stone.

Bronzed, athletic, lean, all sunny state, fresh breath air, white teeth, CA. Standing next to her, I look like repairs are needed on the Hoover Dam. Remember that ancient watery pit straddled somewhere between heavy cow state and miserable dry desert?

Big Kate is the perfect visitor. Mostly because she has that happy, laid-back, easy going, West Coast air. She's unfazed and cool, no matter what indignities are served up to her.

Like lunch. The only thing I muster looks suspiciously like breakfast was swept up from the floor and deposited on a plate. Shark saves me, by making three or four varieties of sweet biscuits, whereupon we hold a biscuit-eating competition and see who's first to get a sugar high. I bet you don't get sugary thighs like ours in LA, I tell Big Kate. I bet over in CA they see fatball beauties like these as moral turpitude. She's so good, she just smiles and nibbles away and declares those butter biscuits delicious.

After lunch I drive the amiable Big Kate to Milton Keynes, where there's an art festival. I'm proud of this. It doesn't involve wicker, dead cats, plates of bologna or anything like that. It is a fantastic festival of light, sound, movement and sensory experience. It is IF. You should all know about it. It's just another reason why thousands of people think Milton Keynes is a vibrant and innovative place to live.

Anyway, Big Kate doesn't complain once. Not once! Even though I bet she's tempted. And, let's face it, there's plenty to complain about. Like the six foot piles of trash inside the car; the ride with triplets lined up on the back seat like a deadly assault weapon; the chaotic way Grit drives over pavements.

But there's Big Kate, so good and cool a visitor, she never mentions it. Nor declares how Milton Keynes does not for one moment compare to places like Los Angeles.

If she did, I would say Milton Keynes is pretty hot competition to LA. We have crime, shopping, fake tans, prostitution, disease, wannabe starlets, and gutter dressers. You just go out on a Saturday night down the back of the Point! Big Kate takes it all in her stride, even though she's probably starting to miss the civilizing comforts of CA. She even says, she kindalikes MK.

And why not? MK has the marvellous Manège Carré Sénart. All ours, for two weeks! Yeah, beat that, LA. All the little grits go on that magic carousel, and one even cries, sniffing it was scary and they thought they were going to get stuck. Howabout that for life on the cutting edge in a shit-hot town somewhere in Bucks?


To bring us down to earth, I take Big Kate and the little grits to an abandoned Sainsbury's supermarket building.

Janek Schaefer, sound artist, has installed a load of cars here, and called it Asleep at the Wheel. To Grit, it's amazing, and she nearly resolves to clean out the car, remove the two-year old desiccated banana skins from the glove box, and sell it to Janek for art. It shows MK is a cultural hub, right?

Big Kate agrees. She says it's amazing too. And Milton Keynes is truly like California. She might be working hard to be nice there. I don't know.


But all too soon, it's time to drop Shark at the lake for her sailing club, while the remaining grits fall out in the playground. We have to say good bye to our lovely visitor. Big Kate has to climb on a train for London. Next week's stop is home and back to work in California.

Big Kate, we'll miss you once again. Bring your California glow and come to see us next year. I bet if you think about it, you'd agree, that life in CA is not a patch on life at The Pile and the empty Sainsbury's in downtown MK.

Monday, 19 July 2010

This frightens me

Leaving behind a community of people I know and trust. Leaving behind this beautiful countryside and landscape that we discover daily.






This, a cool spot on the River Ouzel I never knew of before. I've lived less than ten miles from here for over twenty years and we discovered it today. The home ed kids go pond dipping, find summer trawling crayfish, tight clamped shells, willow roots and river banks.

I don't want to leave this behind. But I want to explore new places too. And, somewhere, there is a husband to find.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Ch ch ch changes

I looked at my life plan again yesterday morning, then put it in the shredder. That's the fifth time this week, and Week One of my Life Plan hasn't even started yet.

Life plans are crap, anyhow. Changes come upon us swift and unpredictable. One minute you're walking along tra la la and the next you're balanced in a canoe dangling chicken liver over the side. Hurry up, and catch that piranha! Your fellow diners are hungry back at camp! Don't ask me how that transformation takes place. All I know is that it happens in real life as well as in your unconscious.

Sudden change is common round here, which is why I tend no longer to make life plans. One day I was walking along all tra la la and then OHMYGOD what is that pregnancy? How did that happen? No one told me! Who knew these things?

Then everything started to go wrong, or right, depending on your point of view, when at the first scan the sonographer asked, Have you taken Clomid?

I never knew Clomid. Who is she? Some person I have been taking to places? Suddenly everyone is asking about Clomid, like I am an idiot, and I have been taking her places and leaving her there and she was my responsibility! At one point a young nurse comes in and shakes her head at me, like in pity at my outstretched body and stupid expression, as if she is saying You are so dumb, how are you going to cope with triplets?

Well that revelation brought about some more big changes round here. A complete reversal of Life Plan number 456. Now I am a stay-at-home mama. And you can see what that means in terms of lifestyle. Not surprising then that I have zero tolerance of the stay-at-home mama stereotype. You know, the one where we all stand around in 1950s pinnies, baking cakes, reigning supreme.

If triplets and a career change weren't enough of a turnabout from gadabout goodtime girl, there's our home educating decision to plunge us into the waters of change. Let's do that, head first with eyes closed! Now I tentatively plan only the day and week ahead merely to keep a grip on reality.

But on I go, through it all, weathering those changes. I keep my fortune cookie selection ready to hand: my favourites say Let not great ambition overshadow small success, and From little seeds grow big trees.

Early on I fastened onto one in particular, and that was Leave behind the life you planned and embrace the life you have. I don't know which Chinese meal that came from but, in the absence of religion, it has served me pretty well for several years and through various upheavals.

So when Dig, that absent husband I keep somewhere on the other side of the planet, calls me from Hong Kong today and says, OK I have signed a lease on a house. It has enough bedrooms for you and the children, so I'll book the flights for August, shall I? then yes, life just changed once more. Whether I can embrace it is another matter altogether.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Hooray! Huzzah! For English Heritage!

I know I look like the sort of person who spends her time face down in a gutter. I know it by many ways, including crumpled jowls, stained clothes, and the way that meat flies attend me, buzzing round my head.

Another way is the casual manner by which I am treated by National Trust volunteers. They routinely eject me from the properties of the National Treasure. Either that, or tick me off for standing, bending, leaning, sitting, or adopting any human body posture whatsoever while on stately ground.

On the rare occasions I've sneaked by without anyone setting about me, someone with a badge will find me and confiscate my possessions. Including, on at least three separate properties, my very own membership card. The one we actually paid for and no, we did not steal it. As I said, I just look like I live in a gutter.

Of course it cannot be my attitude. The way I slouch and tut. Or my hairstyle, which is coiffure electric. I blame the children. With three looky-likeys growling dangerously, I cannot be ignored, abused or hated enough. It needs to be done on a national scale.

I try not to bear grudges.

I fail, obviously, so I mention in passing that at Waddesdon Manor I was unceremoniously ejected from the house on account of possessing a single squirming toddler. The keeper of the National House of Glory became increasingly agitated, and started to squawk and flap when I distracted my thrashing offspring by pointing at a mirror. It calmed dear daughter down; she stretched out a small hand to reach the reflection, but the Keeper went berserk, fled up to me, snapped DO NOT TOUCH and suggested I might like to leave, immediately.

I get my own back. The National Trust own acres and acres of countryside. The volunteers don't police that, peering over hummocks, on the look-out for untrustworthy troublemakers like me who crawl from hobbit holes. A perfect place for my surreptitious revenge. In their grassy lands, I steal rocks, and wee.

Now I didn't even want this to be a blast on the National Trust. I just got carried away.

Really, I wanted this post to be about the English Heritage fantabulous Festival of History. The King of Reenactment Festivals, bringing thousands of us ordinary citizens, sprawling with kids and picnic blankets, all into a field, all at once. If that's not trust in the great smelly public, I don't know what is.

This is where they win. They've created something which includes me. Have a go at two thousand years of history. If we pick our period, wear the gear, we could turn up and have a go at the parade ourselves. The Austro-Hungarian war is represented by a bloke in a blue cloak and a hat. It doesn't get more have-a-go than that.

I want to say a big thank you to all you wonderful reenactors with your woolly leggings in the midday sun, your bearskins, metal plates, buckles, armours, cloaks and visors, who make me feel welcome, and you probably don't care how many kids I have. I feel like grabbing a few more and bringing them too.

We're invited to clamber about, muck in, ask bizarre questions, try our hand at an eighteenth century replica musket. We can all roll up our shirt sleeves and our trouser legs, cavort about the grass, stab each other with blunt sticks, and play up for England. We can stick our faces in replica helmets, make funny hats, watch the juggler, slay the johnny foreigners, applaud the victor, politely clap the enemy, and watch the dead arise.

So I know who won. Sorry, National Trust. Better luck next year. And to the victors, three cheers! Hooray! Huzzah!