Saturday, 31 December 2011

One way to finish off the year

Well, yes, I suppose technically me and my three kids are illegal immigrants. If you actually insist on that permit-to-stay thing.

That thing in the passport. The date-stampy thing I completely misread as 1 December 2012 when actually it reads 1 December 2011.

Consequence of which, over-staying visa, we spend three hours in queues down the Hong Kong immigration department.

Imagine offices as you would expect in a run-down UK local tax office, last decorated in 1979, and here you are. It is not the most exciting of places to pass a New Year's Eve morning, but Dig says if I implement Plan A - make a run for it via Macau to obtain a reentry visitor visa - then I will be arrested and deported. Better do grown up grovelling instead.

Words like extremely sorry are used with horrendous frequency. Honestly, I wouldn't apologise so much if I'd had an affair and nicked ten thousand quid.

And I did my humble look.

There was no need for the immigration officer to stare, horrid fascination, like at a car crash. It was meant to be my special meek and pleading face. Admittedly I do not use it very often, but still, I should be given credit for trying.

It was either my face or my other calculating strategy. Shove Tiger at an officer in a uniform. Tiger usually can be relied upon to look terrified at anyone in a uniform. I thought maybe seeing a distraught child would help bring out the soft and cuddly side of a Chinese Immigration Official. Children have to come in useful for something, and weeping and snivelling to get their mama off the hook could be it.

And don't ask me why Tiger looks traumatised by uniforms; maybe it was that time she was made to sit in the back of a riot van while I was cautioned, I don't know. Perhaps she thinks they're going to cart her off to prison.

But my plan would never have worked today. She is 110% pissed off at being prodded out of bed at 6.30am to arrive at miserable peeling tax offices before they open, and she's showing it with her enormous scowl, bigger than all Europe, and by growling at anyone who comes near her, uniformed or not.

In the end neither she nor my sad face plan works. I just use the words sorry sorry sorry. We have to write a letter on the spot as demanded with more grovelling apology and, proper Hong Kong problem-solving method, pay a wodge of cash to an officer with a till.

Thankfully, when they have extracted the letter and the cash, I can go relax in Starbucks, rather than in cells round the back. We have two weeks not to forget about it, otherwise I'm in Big Trouble.

But I haven't any defence. I simply have a chronic problem with understanding time.

2010? 2011? 2012? The way I live my life, it's all the same to me.

Friday, 30 December 2011

That's the way things go

No post of whine, complaint or misery today, on account of being visited on our at home afternoon, by The Pitcher and Ditta.

Their visit brings about my excellent spirits. The Pitcher and Shark push off with bikes; Tiger and Squirrel loaf about with books.

Occupied children mean that we two ladies of leisure can enjoy serious-minded discussions about politics, sex, education, and meaty mousse.

Our discussion is so enjoyable indeed, that even when Dig accidentally discovers how me, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are now living illegally in Hong Kong - having busted the terms of our visa conditions for which penalties are to be arrested, imprisoned, fined and deported at a moment's notice - it dents me not one jot.

I open the biscuits and pour another coffee.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Making decisions?

Here I am. Skulking behind a rock, and suddenly! Up pops a crowd of you, poking me with flashlights.

In other words, grit's day is receiving an upswing in callers.

But I know what this is! It happens three times a year. The days before a new term starts.

Well, in grit's day you will find wisdom on home ed pain, trauma, comforting communities, delirious joys, face-ache from sobbing, ear-ache from slamming bathroom doors, no time (or money) to go and buy shoes, crippling doubts, occasional dementia, educational over-thinking with a bottle of red wine, and the odd cracked-pot idea about what you can get up to with kids in a field, wood, museum, art gallery, craft shop, shopping centre, or National Trust property. Take consolation and search the blog.

Today, if you are researching home ed, you already know it's a big decision. Be reassured! The people who chose it know what you feel, and what a big decision it is. They will help.

And have a virtual hug. You need not choose this course of action purely for negative reasons, i.e. because your heart will break on January 3rd, at the sound of Tinkertop bawling her eyes out when she imagines returning to school, where no sanctuary is to be found from the little kid who has effectively modelled his playground career on Charles Manson.

You can choose home ed for positive reasons! (I know at the outset it will seem unlikely.) Consider these as you weigh the consequences of that deregistration letter.

1. You can loaf around in bed.
It's important! At 8am you can ear-wig on the street noises of other mummies screaming at kids on the school run. Ha! Ask Tinkertop to bring her books and sit with you while you both curl up with toast and chocolate. Call it your reading lesson.

2. You can do what you want, for as long as you want.
Activities last as long as Tinkertop likes. Two minutes, two hours, three days. You do not have to bash her over the head with timetables or tell her to stop the moment Gillian the giraffe becomes interesting.

3. You can follow Tinkertop's interests.
Flowers? Fish? Soil? Why not? You do not have to teach the National Curriculum. (Not unless you're slotting her back in school in February.) Seriously, at primary level, the NC is pants. Tinkertop will absorb the knowledge she needs as you live a normal home ed life, be confident about that.

4. Tinkertop can be her own person.
Yes! You have put years into raising an individual. Home ed lets Tinkertop find out about that in her own way. She can do a task simply because she wants to, and not because 30 kids down the road are doing it. She can form ideas and opinions about the world without fear of Crusher threatening her or Mrs Binns humiliating her.

5. Everyone can join in.
Home ed is not simply about transmitting knowledge to a kid's head. It is about living a shared experience. An entire family can be involved. You can each learn new skills, work out different ways of doing ordinary activities, find beautiful moments, and enjoy how time passes. Of course you'll argue how to do it. You would if Tinkertop went to school.

6. Tinkertop will make new friends.
In this brilliant community, you will meet the people who blast apart your ideas about normal. And of course you will meet the wackos. It is a privilege to meet them all. They are what makes this society sparkle.

7. You can develop skills you didn't know you had.
Abilities to sweet-talk your way to education officers, negotiate cut-price entrance fees, organise group tours, find workshops, barter for lessons, face the truancy patrol, learn the law, write philosophies of education. (To my way of thinking, all more rewarding than being bullied by the PTA.)

8. The world becomes exciting!
Once you break away from routines that are considered conventional, then everything is up for grabs. You'll hear, time and again, The world is our classroom. That phrase didn't become common because people couldn't recognise its truth.

9. You're special.
Turn up Monday to Friday 9-3 at a museum, cinema, ice rink, gallery, sports centre, discovery centre, swimming pool, and you have that space to yourselves. At most, your home crowd, come for a workshop, just for your group. Within days you will expect immediate access and reduced rates. Come the Easter holidays, you'll be pulling pouty faces and making outraged Who's in charge here? noises, simply because you clapped eyes on a queue.

10. School pressure is off.
You don't have to do what teacher says. You don't have to maintain uniforms. You don't have to smuggle a Jaffa Cake past the lunchbox police. And you don't have to become a teacher. You don't have to set work, mark it, or match any arbitrary standards that someone else is crowing about their child achieving. You just have to help your own child explore and discover the world.

(If Tinkertop is aged 14, obviously some of the above does not apply. Just join the Home Ed Exams list if she wants GCSEs, A levels, or OU courses, then leave her alone to paint her room black.)

Now if you want legal advice on home ed, go elsewhere. Sober counsel on Education Law is not my strength.

If you want tales of home ed glory and Hama beading, go elsewhere. Personally, I find perfection sometimes encouraging; sometimes it just makes me feel like a pissed off failure.

If you want to find contact lists for your local home ed groups, go elsewhere. (We have excellent connections.)

But please lower the flashlight because Tiger is trying to get to sleep. She has had a long hard day loafing on the sofa, reading a book. (And I call that an education.)

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Gentle progress

Hmm. I am musing about resolutions. I like this process, so shut up about it being a disaster from the word go.

I am thinking 2012 should be my year of dressing adventurously. I have improved a little from 2010, which ended on a disappointing note of a black winding sheet two sizes too large, held on by a safety pin.

But I cannot decide whether to go for the bizarre-adventurous or the conservative-classy.

At the moment I am erring on the former; this morning I discover grey socks and pink plastic flip flops is a stylish combo, probably worn by all the top models.

For the true fashion brigade I know the idea needs development. The socks match, for a start.

After a self-indulgent hour considering my options, I take to Hong Kong Island with Shark. We trawl Sheung Wan to SoHo, looking for Morn Creations.

I cannot remember where the flagship store is, forgot to research the address before we left home, and anyway, didn't bring a map.

Maybe to lose myself was a secret intent. It is no hardship to wander these streets, and I recommend them to all visitors: backstreets are left-over places for single-room printers, machinists, boot stitchers, junk shops. Older buildings are filling with one-off artisans, designers, galleries. Bistro-style cafes, street foodsellers with noodles and market stalls congregate in alleys where the road traffic does not go.

We find the shop, perhaps a bit too soon, and Daughter Number One decides which backpack she'd like, Shark or Blue Whale.

After some deliberation, she chose Blue Whale.

The evening is similarly gentle: I lay my healing hands on a wooden jigsaw puzzle of the skeleton. I imagine this will be a simple way of passing the time. I enthusiastically set about it, hopefully discovering how many vertebrae we need to stand upright.

After two hours I proudly show my results to Tiger, Queen of Jigsaws. She observes the leaning Mrs Bones whose legs keep dropping off and whose ribs I cannot make stay put. (I also cannot figure out where some of her bones fit, so have hidden them discreetly under a table mat.)

After brief consideration, Tiger curls one lip, lifts up the sellotape I have used to stick on the clavicle, and contemptuously declares it a mess. She takes over and completes the job, so there is triumph of a child's learning plucked from the jaws of the mother disaster.

But I remain proud of my evening's work, and take a picture of my accomplishment.

On closer inspection, I seem to have managed a photograph where Mrs Bones actually looks in pain.

Still, not a bad day.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Party time

At which event la famille Grit is fed, more generously and handsomely than has happened to me in years, with the sort of delicacies I haven't tasted in what feels like eternity.

Gracious living and fine dining rubs off on me, clearly. The sparkling wine is an excellent aperitif. From which point I linger over the mushroom pie, begin to lick my fingers with the blue cheese, make a pig of myself with the white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake, knock back another glass of the pink fizz, then experiment to see if wine glasses bounce on wooden floors.

Sadly, I must return to my normal life all too soon.

Inexplicably, that means carrying home a handbag stuffed with fried noodles and a pair of chopsticks.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Do what you want

Spent the day gently, thinking about four different people. That required dressing up paper off-cuts with stitching, stick-on jewels and, in the case of one thick wodge of curvy-cut cream hand-woven dream, a leather binding with the sun and some chains.

I messed up the inside stitching, and I'm only part-way with the ideas about the chains, but it was all highly satisfying.

Hope I don't mix up the handover of the four little notebooks at the last moment, pass Sun Woman to The Musician and give Blue Mood to Lilly in the Pink.

Well, it's a selfish pleasure, even though I'm not very accomplished. It keeps me out of harm's way (unless you count the mishaps with the pokey tool). Handling paper, fabric, leather, binding, art and craft materials; all makes for a quiet day and applies salve to the soul.

I probably couldn't have made a living from it anyway. Shop window design was my first job aspiration. Age four! Soon followed by potter, photographer, theatre set designer, model maker, sculptor, illustrator, artist.

I didn't do any of those as a career. Obviously.

To my credit, I did try. I was tenacious enough to withstand the two-year attack by the school art teacher. (I do her justice by forgetting her name entirely.) So I kept up my fantasies to age 16.

But I wasn't tenacious enough to face out Mr Bates who, deadly serious - as if my life depended on it - fastened his biro on the form and said, Choose three A levels. Suitable for university. Art is not one of them.

I still took my Art A level. Later. By then I was sure the occupation was illegal, to be conducted in secret under cover of darkness in evening classes.

From which point life was taking over anyway. I wound a slow, drawn-out route, fashioning a university graphics course, into what I imagined could begin to lay the basics of an art degree.

Finally, three kids popped up, sprouting thirty toes, six eyes, and one huge roar. Something properly to worry about.

Now with the art, I just tinker! No formal training. No organised structure. No actual taught skills. Half the time I don't know what I'm doing! I follow half-baked wonder if ideas and puncture my finger ends with the pokey tool. Working with pre-printed paper is more satisfying; scavenged materials, found objects, scraps that you throw away. It seems fitting.

And I'm not sure what the Eng. Lit. degree turned out for. The route that several adults, who all knew better than me, encouraged me to follow. I'm not employed by it, have kept myself barely independently alive from it, and I haven't managed to finish reading a book in years.

Maybe it did one thing. Gave me an insight into how schools don't always work in a person's best interests. In fact they aim deliberately to give you options. The sort of options you get if you narrow down life's choices to a binary set of alternatives that you don't want and wouldn't have chosen.

To which junction - since I'm mining a seam of sudden resentment - add: knocking you off course, making you fit where you don't want to be, putting obstacles in the way of ambition, and generally forcing you to do stuff you don't want to do, while telling you it's good for you because it hurts.

Then you look round and think bugger, it's all too late.

Sod it. Shark, Squirrel, Tiger. There's only one real message.

Do what you want. I didn't.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Only one way out from here

Yes, we are lost, floating on our island in the South China Seas, but are we forgotten by the magic that is Christmas?


For here is Santa, come to see us!

There! Can you not see him? Covered in what looks like brick dust, and strapped to a tree?

Forgive him. He has no face, so cannot see where he is going. And we have no chimneys on the island. Unless you count the incinerators round the grave sites. He must hang on somewhere. Brave and noble Santa! How dedicated he is to our happiness. Let us follow his trail of tinsel to find what presents he has brought!

For he will not forget us. He has been lured here by the warm and inviting lights of our town. Here they are. The yellow rope of festive sparkle, twisted round the bent metal pole, holding up the fence which separates the concrete wall from the builder's dump. See how brilliantly our lights shine! Santa was led by them to our tiny haven of happiness!

But we know that Santa must sorely miss his frozen lands of the north. We are tender hearted. The local chiller shop has sought to bring him comfort and cheer. To herald his arrival, and remind him of the frozen lands in which he dwells, they have hung a decorative bauble on their fridge. The one containing the fish skins and margarine.

But wait! What is this? It is the end of Santa's tinselled trail. See how gaily it is combined to lead we hunters of gifts to our joyous end. Follow this lustrous rope and see what comfort Santa brings.

Ah, Santa! You bring warmth and comfort to all at this time of year. Let us now wave you a cheery good bye. From behind the town recycling collection dump.

Fare well, Santa! Until next year!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Ahead and behind

Well, people of England, we have a time difference here, which puts la famille Grit eight hours ahead of you.

Rest assured then, that by 10am your English morning, I have hit the evening dry sherry and opened Squirrel's bag of cheesy wotsits. They serve as as a delightful hors d'oeuvre to my supper feast of noodles and tomato sauce.

By the time you are considering your afternoon cuppa I will be several glasses of red gone to bed, hopefully remembering to do my Mrs Santa duty. Of course I shall not forget. Midnight Christmas Eve is a traditional time to start turning the house upside down in the hunt for a pair of scissors.

The children have been tracking this time difference all day long, and now have set about tracking Santa on Google Earth, thanks to Norad and Dig, who made the plugin work.

I wonder in passing if British English might not be the first language of Norad's programmer, what with the Elf Toss. If it is, they need to acquire an urban dictionary, and quickly, before the letters on behalf of outraged family values begin to pour in.

Also incidentally, Dig has been in strangely jovial mood all day, encouraging the children with this Santa bothering business. He might have got me some divorce papers for Christmas, which would be fair, because I've got him sod all.

Thus I am signing off another Christmas Eve, this year without the annual happy party at the Hat's, but in fond recollection, and probably a quiet teary self-pitying sob, or two. I have found that wishes never come true.

But hope yours does, unless it is for my untimely end, or for your liver to be eaten by wolves or something equally odd.

Happy Christmas.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Stitch, stitch, sew

Anticipation is rising round here. (We'll soon sort that out, come Sunday morning.)

In deep concentration, creating a silence suitable for cathedral or mortuary, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger spend all the hours of daylight sewing their stockings.

This is a grand feat of needlework they accomplish every Christmas, for which, I proudly take my hat off to myself, smug home educating bastard that I am. For years I have required the children to create their own cards and novelty gift items. (I am falling short of knitting with my own hair, but only just.)

They might, of course, do this not in pursuit of mastering craft skills, but because they intuitively know a stocking's not coming from anywhere else, so they may as well get on with it.



Squirrel's stocking is missing. I am not allowed to photograph it because it is not finished.
The possibility that it will ever be finished is remote, so I have put in a picture of my favourite garment, ever.
It is a tongue costume. I bet I would look irresistibly sexy in this little number.
It has the bumps and white bits for when you are diseased and malnourished and everything.

We did nothing else as a consequence of hours of silent stitchery, so nothing to detain you, except maybe the moment I brought home from my exhausting shopping trip three lemons and six eggs.

Squirrel's eyes lit up at the idea of some lemony curdy tarty treat in store. Until I told her that the lemons were for my tonic and the eggs were for balancing on my nose to show how amazingly clever I could be after half a bottle of gin.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Dragging something from nothing

I am determined to enjoy the lovely festive season.

First stop, I take the kids ice skating in the Elements Shopping Mall.

Shut up about how ice is kept sub-zero in the sublime retail experience of the air-con sub-tropics.

Remember, now is that special time, when we ignore the bleeding obvious, perform acts of self-defeating stupidity, commit ourselves to wilful blindness, and basically lie while paying for the privilege of doing so. I have to find a happy Christmas somewhere.

And of course I'm not ice-skating, so don't ask whether my Christmas joy extends there. It does not. I haven't grown to my wise old age of fifty-plus by thinking it a good idea to strap metal blades under my feet and try walking on frozen water.

I push off to Starbucks with the rest of the expat home ed mummies, where we grumble about Christmas in Hong Kong, plus the fact that we'd go home, except you English people are inconsiderate enough to have an economic crisis and are only offering work that doesn't pay enough for ice skating down at the Elements Mall.

Apart from paying through the nose to trash the environment, give the kids something else to complain about, and find a therapeutic outlet for my misery guts, I decide to extend my complete enjoyment of the festive season by walking the children across Kowloon in a spirit of happy trial, from east to west.

Yes, I know you said it was a stupid idea and that my sense of direction is so bad I seriously have trouble finding my way out the bathroom. Shut up.

Alright, I ended up two hours later hopelessly lost before realising I was in Mong Kok, having negotiated a flyover and a building site, but I blame the map, which had a ruddy great hole thanks to Squirrel leaving a chewy sweet on it.

If only we'd brought the jumbo, we could have got out of here

Despite that minor three-hour setback, it remains a celebratory day suitable for a Christmassy outing. I did not weep and the children did not fall to fighting (well, only once).

Indeed, there are many successes. We saw a tortoise walking down the street (I was not hallucinating); I found a cook's shop on Shanghai Road selling spoons with long handles (needed round here); we met Daddy Dig for the exhibition on imperial examinations; ate at our preferred down-market, formica-table Indian restaurant; and finally went shopping in Temple Street Night Market, where I threatened Dig with a Chinese burn unless he bought me a medallion of Alice in Wonderland to use for my book art.

There. A day of profound success. I am counting it all joy. Maybe I can now feel the Christmas spirit begin to overwhelm me as I type.

And shut up about the Merlot as well.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Not a must-read for the joy-filled

Christmas is a great strain. I think it is made worse, being in Hong Kong.

In England, I can see the point. The lights and the tinsel are needed, because a December mid-winter is damn dark and cold. We have to bring sparkle into the bleak somehow.

Straight off, don't tell me to do it with the Christian. I am a gal of human blood, gristle and bone; earth, light and dark. This winter festival comes from feeding need. But I don't mind the religious believers overlaying my primitive with fine spiritual sentiments and the loveliest language, of course not. I'll get in on the act myself if it means I can take a time to join them, and listen to the music inspired by their devotions.

I believe it's basic fire and warmth which keep the cold from taking the hardest toll. And we can hope a bit of glam might bring anticipation; perhaps we could have rewards after all, even though in reality most of life outside looks dead and done for.

Show a few pin pricks of light, and we might also enjoy our imaginations. We can grow stories from dark places in long nights. For that, bring company, and add some over-eating to remind our bodies of human satisfaction.

Full stomachs, warm toes, shared minds, all safeguards in the moment against the lean months ahead, and yes, I can see the point of Christmas in dark, cold England.

But I am out here, and denied my December England. I don't have the props. No dark and starry nights, foot-stomping in frost, or winter breath showing me undeniable evidence before my very eyes. The weather in sub-tropics Hong Kong is lukewarm sunny, like an early English summer. The people stroll by in shorts, no-one looks to their own breath, and there are no hearths.

I can't give myself up to any widespread self-deception, either, as I can do in England. Few of the traders around us share this festival, so there's no cultural conspiracy which I can look to, to sweep me along. The shops will stay open throughout, the Christian families take their observations seriously, and the retail experience is just that. Christmas comes fast in the sales opportunity calender of round-the-world retail festivals, just after the Golden month, Hallowe'en and before the New Year.

I am left then, with a denuded Christmas of one plastic tree, 24 dented baubles and three strings of lurid tinsel.

But because I have an imagination and a bottle of sherry, I'm thinking up means to make one or two days more special than the rest. I will enjoy watching the children be delighted by chocolate and puzzles.

And I know, on peering into her stocking, Tiger won't ask, like me, What is the point? Well, I'm opening the sherry because we all made it through another year. And look, even though I am not in England, I'm still alive! That has got to be worth a moment of reflection. Please don't blow it to tell me otherwise.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Michael Gove; infant with train set

Not surprising.

Since Global Gove left China his eyes have been all wide-eyed and starry; his brain ticking away like an infant planning playtime.

What knocked him out in China, apparently, was an ordinary book of homework. He was told it was merely research papers - look, nothing special! Simply written by ordinary students.

There was probably a moment of silence as the awe-struck Michael took this document in his trembling hand, the jealousy rising, for what the Asian education system produces, while his brain tells him these papers by 13-year olds are surely to be compared to the professional academic, peer-reviewed journal articles in the miserable, fallen-behind, lost-the-global-educational-race, failed UK.

So, like infant Joe, he's determined to change your education system. He's bringing it up to date for a twenty-first century world. He has a train set. You are the dinosaurs.

Now what steps could Michael plan, to turn your kids into proper world scholars, whipping the behinds of the Mini Changs? With his eyes starred from the successes of the east, but with his Tory heart beating, here's playtime.

1. Raise your parental anxiety level.
Essential to all ideologically-driven change, the parent-dinosaurs must first be softened up, and made to feel like shit.

We ask, What is wrong with your kid? Tinkertop is failing. She is falling behind! Look! She wants to stuff worms in her pockets and she's aged six! Why is she not reading like her Asian competitors? Do you stupid parents not know Mini Chang has already read the Asian classics and she is aged five.

Huh. Tinkertop is doomed. Unless you access the right nursery from age two and pump her brain with a standardised Phonics Reading Course from a reputable education supplier to be conducted at home on weekends.

2. Undermine the professional authority of state-trained teachers.
Here's my next train coming! Toot toot!

PGCEs waste time, don't they? Dossy, scrounging students, loafing for a year? And look at the result! Failing schools. You dinosaurs are right not to value Tinkertop's poxy teacher!

What the UK train should do is make teachers better. Beat them. Make training courses shorter, 100% classroom-based, and no pedagogy nonsense.

Then howabout taking courses away from universities altogether? Encourage private business to take over training!

We could assign school functions to lower-class, state-trained ancillaries, on hire-em/fire-em contracts, and schools could buy in services of privately-trained, classroom-experienced Deliverers of Curriculum.

Schools could ignore the local authority, and buy services from agencies who supply specialist staff, for a fee. With only a small contribution from you - which you are sure to make to improve Tinkertop's chances of success - the government provides the service you want and saves money!

3. Set up UK Education on business franchise principles.
Put the dinosaur parents on the train! Then, even though I am in charge of the track, it looks like they are driving the train!

Tell the dinosaurs they have total control to buy Tinkertop's educational services. You want your school to be academies, don't you? Academies want to be run like businesses! What's more, they're an excellent means by which to cream off public money and put it in private hands.

Think of the possibilities, dinosaurs. You could buy in everything. Private companies could offer curriculum packages, school administration services, security, homework marking - anything!

You name it, everything educational could be outsourced! Tinkertop's entire educational career from birth could be supplied at competitive cost by private enterprise!

All led by Michael's mates, come round for playtime.

Nonsense. We are only playing.

Monday, 19 December 2011

We've been top to bottom, right to left

By now, it should be obvious to anyone curious about home education.

One reason we declined school and chose other, is that we wanted to give our kids some social advantage.

I'm not joking. It is true. The problem with school is that a young person is locked for up to fifteen years within an institution that contains, more or less, people just like them; all treated pretty much the same.

It does not give a young person the widest view of society.

You school-choosing parents I have encountered who wanted to rectify that - to pack into a child's 'free' time of evenings, weekends and holidays a greater range of peoples, with a full variety of experiences - have had to show similar determination and guts to the parents I usually meet in the home ed world.

Hats off to you, because at some point you inevitably end up sword-waving at some little Hitler in post of headteacher who threatens that your day off for an outing with Weird Aunty Laura is be defined as 'truancy' and thus will count towards your prosecution.

But I could never be bothered to go down that fighting route - nor roll out of bed, dress, make egg sandwiches, or play poxy school-gate politics - so we chose the conflict-avoidance path of other, and considered the wide range of social worlds home ed could lead us to.

And it has. Even though we've had plenty of family punch-ups on the way.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger have been pushed into many social worlds and met people beyond their normal boundaries of class, wealth, cultural values, and social attitudes. Some they've liked, some they've feared, some were frankly bizarre, and some they couldn't understand.

It's all our great experiment, you can put it down to that, if you like. To introduce children to a great many people and circumstance (i.e. the real world) in the idea that kids come out the other end as adults with a wider understanding of people and society, i.e. having social advantage.

Well this is how it works in practice. Yesterday Shark, Squirrel and Tiger considered the life of necessity and hardship led by Shoeless Farmer Chang.

Today (thanks to Sophia leading me astray), they've enjoyed the life of frivolous extravagance, taking tea at The Peninsula where, if you're one of us, no explanation is needed.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

On the market stall

I set up a beach mat on a concrete step. Then I make the children sit by the roadside for five hours selling hand-made leather notebooks.

I call it an Education.

The Local Authority probably calls it Child Exploitation, but they can shut up.

I'm teaching my kids about the horrors of the business world and, because it's a Sunday, how hard it is to practice the seven virtues.

Great self control required to abstain from yelling at the passers by WHAT'S THE SODDING MATTER WITH YOU? WHY AREN'T YOU BUYING THE DAMN NOTEBOOKS? HEY! YOU'RE NOT EVEN LOOKING!

You bet. The Grit and the Gritlets are born to this virtue. None of us is giving up. After an hour I set the mini grits the challenge: make people STOP.

Shark suggests trip wire strung between our stall and the banana tree opposite. Yes, this would do the trick. I would try it, only I haven't wire long enough.

After some buyer enticement strategy thinking I decide to employ my endless capacity for charm, added to a little light nudity and some come-hither eyeball rolling. Shark made me stop. She became extremely agitated, shouting, Not the hand gestures, mummy please no no no.

That actually brought someone over and I sold The Dancer! Success! And only two hours in!

Shark wouldn't say it again so we had to wait another hour.

Not applicable. I am sitting on the road that leads to the beach. And ladies, round here it is the temperature of a warm summer's day in England. Of course I'm not going to stop my eyes wandering appreciatively to manly bodies and well-turned buttocks.

Problem virtue. I am not patient and neither are the mini grits. We want stuff now; preferably without mercy.

In fact, I consider sitting at the roadside for five hours being peaceably nice to people is a challenge in itself. Especially when I am not allowed to trip them up, knock them down, verbally berate them, nor show even the merest glimmer of hostility. This is a tough one.

But I am learning. I managed to sublimate some of my aggressions into a scornful commentary whispered under my breath at their departing rears, Of course he will not buy you Little Button because he doesn't love you enough and he thinks your arse is too big.*

Aha! I sell two notebooks in one go! Lady Musician and Shy Romantic. To a woman who is clearly a discerning person, appreciating the fine accomplishments of hand-stitched notebook making.

And as for the charity, not bloody likely. I'm here to sell the ruddy books, not give them away for the improvement of my soul.

My next customer, requiring only a small amount of marketing manhandling, is very soon desperate to possess Flowers (the one where I may have filled the inside pages with pictures of semi-naked men). However, she persists in haggling Hong Kong style. I feel sure she is putting off the millions of other customers who are surely desperate for my lovely notebooks. In the end I take two dollars off the price just to get rid of her.

I think that could count as charity.

I'm sorry? I'm here to SELL stuff. As far as I remember, kindness did not figure big in the selling world. I consider that making the damn things in the first place was an act of selfless love for which I am now seeking enough reward to buy more leather and make some more.

Well it is a humbling experience, sitting at the side of the road for five hours, growing colder and more desperate with overtones of hysteria.

At the end of the afternoon, the old farmer passes us, tugging his lettuces behind him on a trolley. He is thin enough to hide behind a broom handle, has no shoes, wears rags in winter, and what he doesn't sell, he eats.

I make Shark, Squirrel and Tiger consider how he has to work all day, everyday, in all weathers for a product that can be obtained free of charge by slugs. Today he'll probably make less money than me, and he won't while away the time by consuming the profit in biscuits.

Humbling, indeed.

By the end of the day, my arse was numb, my knee joints frozen up, and I felt obliged to give the mini grits some of the proceeds in ice cream, plus their desired notebook each.

But we sold five notebooks (and one book box), considered humanity, earned enough money for six more offcuts of leather in Sham Shui Po, and delivered an education suitable for a Sunday. On balance, sore bum excepted, a day well spent.

*Throughout the ordeal I felt increasingly like Bernard.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

After my brain was sucked out by aliens...

...I was left with no understanding at all.

Why are three children following me? Who expects me to feed them? And who is that strange man? The one trying to pull himself up by his hair, while he stares wild-eyed at the heap of leather, sparkle, and paper offcut piled around me on all floors, surfaces and, inexplicably, hanging from the door.

Ignore these people. I find they go away in time.

Instead, look at my lovely notebooks!

The Cream Collection includes...

Ice Cream Swirl
What would it be like to everyday taste
strawberries and vanilla?

Nature Lover
Beguiles and frustrates in equal measure.
Slip your fingers in here and they'll only catch on the twists and tangles
of thread that stitch it all together.

Should it be Love?
Fireworks, sparkle, party time.
You never know which way it could go.
Shall we keep it light and simple?

Big Button
There's no denying it. One big, big,

Little Button
For the love of tiny, shiny, cream-coloured buttons.
Have to put them somewhere, Squirrel.
Can't hold the inventory system in your pockets everyday.

The Brown Collection includes...

The Sophisticate
You are one classy lady!
But I promise not to take delight when I witness you fall in the gutter.
In fact I'll help you out. I seem to be down here already.

Bound 'n' bead
A girl after my own heart.
You cannot leave those beads alone.
Is there anywhere you won't put them?

All the W's
Wistful, Wondering, Waiting, When will it be Wednesday?
Wonderful notebook for the Woman with the copy of Woolf, the Walnut desk,
the Whimsical gaze, and the Floral-patterned tea dress.
(Okay, there's an F. Obviously it doesn't all have to be W.)

Ahh, flowers!
And such a pretty cover!
Now who's to say the paper inside isn't bursting with delightful pictures of naked men?

(I'm only told you can get away with porn that way.)

The Red Collection...
Little Red Book
Chew on that, Chairman Mao.

You cannot betray the secrets of the boudoir!

(My secret is, there is no boudoir.)

The Black Collection...

Little Black Book
Strictly NO PEEPING.

Black and Silver
For the lady with the Halston spaghetti strap evening dress.
It's not true that I'm out to punch you in the face.
I just tell myself that when I'm jealous you actually have somewhere to go to wear it.

Some of these I must package and send to you, thank you for being here.

But for the others, I have a fantastic get-rich-quick scheme! I shall sit by the road selling hand-made notebooks! What could possibly go wrong on that one?

Friday, 16 December 2011

Notebook heaven


Suspension of household services.

No laundry. No cooking. No cleaning. No nice, soothing, consoling words.

No bleedin' nothing.

Mama is BUSY.*

*Making notebooks.

Not any old notebooks. These are notebooks made for characters.
Totally unique.

(And I think only of you when I make them.)

Shy Romantic
Leather so soft you can't tell where your fingertip ends and the notebook begins. Bound with a pink ribbon, velvet on one side, cord on the other. A design that cannot reveal itself ...until you gently unbutton the cover.

Once inside, turn the pages and they'll blush pink and cream. And ohh! Pictures to surprise and delight you! But I couldn't photograph those. Leave this delicate little book with some modesty, please.

Film Lover
It's obvious. You want to get your hands on this little tightly-bound suede number as soon as the cinema lights dim, when you can unhook that satin ribbon and unlace that embroidery cord.

I know you say it's to record the perfect elements of film noir. But here's the truth. You only want to get your fingers into this beautiful pocket-sized notebook, to make your mark on those beautiful clean white pages, and linger over those images of film memorabilia.

Save it till the lights come up, when you can open to unfurl...

the Buster Keaton umbrella! Sprinkled with silver sparkle!

To the Woman who Wants to Write Letters
Let's end our whiny envelope excuses and feeble letter laments! Let us take one of these notebooks each! With yours in hand, you can write me that message! And actually post it!

Here, see my answer in this cream leather notebook, bound by cord, clipped by peg, and wrapped about with beads to count the days before the letters arrive.

Let us unfold those pages together to display our note papers & pockets; essential to file stamps, stickers & paperclips.

Now I cannot take you by the hand and walk you to the post office, but would it help if I gave you the damn notebook?

Lady Musician
I know this. Life is hard when passion is your only guide. I know too, your suffering; you, driven attic-wise, moulded by creative forces beyond your control, your soul eased only on a Sunday morning when you get your fingers round the old joanna.

Then for you, this. A notebook of sound, to soothe you in your restless sleep.

It has a bell on.

And it tinkles.

Wild wire
Where is this character going next? What? They didn't die? Well, who gives a damn! It's too much fun to watch!

Life, held together (only just) with flexible gold wire. Fastens precariously with a clasp. Sometimes not at all! Totally impractical, unsustainable and unsuitable for all normal activities. Can't be held in anyone's pocket, bag, or briefcase. Needs a space all of its own.

The Dancer
Soooo cooool, this modern interpretive dance. Eggs and Lycra! And here's me, still trying to recover from the peacock and hoop!

It is true. I am a dance ingenue. But I make a mean gold-covered leather book with soft cream handmade paper pages which leap from the interior. A little like the dancers on the front, leaping to get off.

(I'm sorry one of them lost an arm in the attempt.)

Mine. Mine, mine, all mine.
Soft brown leather (like my eyes); single bead (like my tear); floppy tassel (like my beard).

More tomorrow.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

At last I discover...

...what I want to do with my life. It is to come and live here, in Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong.

I shall stay here forever, and spend my days making fine hand-sewn leather notebooks with unique decorations, fastenings, and creative embellishments.

Because Sham Shui Po is the only place a crafter can ever be.

It is a Hong Kong front end for the clothing, design and accessories manufacture in mainland China. Which means it is stuffed floor to ceiling, street to street, nose to tail, back to front, inside to outside, alpha to omega, with buttons, ribbons, threads, sparkly things, lace, fabrics, embroidery, leather, sequins, clasps, buckles, decorative metals, beads, chains, pom poms, crafty things and more crafty things at prices that mean they can have all my money for ever and ever amen.

By the third shop on the second street my heart had stopped working and my eyeballs dropped out.

It was only by Squirrel's support that I made it beyond the stone bead shop where I had begun to hyperventilate.

Sham Shui Po is nirvana, plain and simple. When you arrive here, you will find me where I left my body, propped up against the decorative metal pieces for attachment by thread, right there, between the cherubs and the antique fashioned love hearts.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

International just ain't English

Today, we home educating group of pan-global mamas and papas use Christmas as an excuse, and go out together for Christmas dinner.

There wasn't much I recognised of Christmas dinner in a vegetarian Indian meal made by Hindus in a Chinese district of Hong Kong. But I guess it was the route of least offence in bringing together a large mixed crowd of expat home educators, drawn from a range of nations, round the same table under the one banner of Christmas.

Then, for a moment, even though the company was very warm and lovely, I admit, I felt a teeny bit homesick.

Because from here, in the slide down to the big day, I know I will miss my local time-of-the-year ways of England. I have no neighbour with whom to compare shovel action; no Doreen at the Co-op with her Christmas tree earrings; no menacing threat of visitations made by extended family; no anguished considerations about whether to tip the paper boy; no ambush by tinselled charity muggers; no real opportunity to compete on points of mince pie snobbery; no enforced reindeer-antler wearing; and no repressed evening gathering where giggly and risque behaviour appalls everyone, if only they could remember it. (I certainly hope no-one can.)

I will miss all that. For the second year running.

I worry that the children too are far gone from England.

Here I am, teaching Shark, Tiger and Squirrel the multi-national, cross-cultural behaviour suitable for a global scale round the dining table, but are they in danger of being a little culturally lost, and even failing to pick up important local identities?

Like tonight. I fear that my children simply do not know how to behave properly, like English people should.

They refuse to join in the table running, cannot join the rowdy game of throw-balloons-about, and even fail to be drawn by the lure of Santa hats.

After an hour, I observe how my mini grits depressingly begin to resemble the middle management team at the office Christmas party. The tee-total ones. Despite the fact that everyone else's nationhood of kids is running around the tables and playing throw-balloons-about.

It tells me one thing. I must, for the sake of my children, forget I am international in Hong Kong, and get into the proper spirit of Christmas. Then I can teach my gritlets our fine English Christmas customs.

I will tell myself, it is all very well being a global citizen, but some local customs can never be bettered.

We will start gently with whiny complaints about trees, baubles, tinsel, the weather and the cost of everything. Then we will move on to complaining while over-indulging in mince pies. Next we will try social etiquette, where we alternate between being over-polite and downright offensive, before we try advanced skills: making cruel and acerbic judgements on someone else's Christmas decorations while pretending not to.

Finally, I will ensure everyone understands how your mother has a god-given right to get a bit tipsy and launch herself face first over the sofa because it is Christmas.

I think the lessons should begin tonight, ladies, with my large glass of port.