Sunday, 31 July 2011


In other weekend news of achievement, I have lost my job.

Perhaps more accurately, we have considered the options (none), deliberated over the future of this particular employment (none), then scraped a few papers off the floor and handed it all back.

It is inevitable. We have reached the point of this working relationship which resembles corpses embracing. The job has lost all sparkle and become nothing more than a thankless shovelling of shit for a publisher with whom the dispute is now the number of unpaid invoices as well as the number of unset books.

So, maybe a job not strictly lost. Apart from the income. That could be a problem. But there are more important things than money. (Holds head high.) Nevermind, lookonthebrightside, somethingwillturnup, etc. etc.

I am sad in a way, because in general I support the publisher's job, together with the blind dedication, peculiar interests, and unreadable output of the scribbling academics.

But I now know there are brutal sides to this academic scribbling business. Disputes with publishers apart, there are authors who have shown me how capable they are of making the process of their own book production a long-drawn out, horrible, painful, torture.

I'm not picking on anyone (okay, yes I am, but not saying who). All I will say is that there is a brand of academic very focused on empire building, where tomes are significant, and people not so much. Indeed, the weightier the tomes, the better they can be used to bash in the faces of their colleagues and competitors.

My part in their path to glory is tiny and invisible. Copyeditor, typesetter, designer, layout artist, proofreader, document dogsbody. (You only know it when something goes wrong or you spot the spelling mistake.)

And which literate academic author thinks this is a skills set they do not already have? They have spellcheckers! They have Word on their computers! They have ideas about layout and design! What is the point of a dinosaur's job like mine, except to impede them, slow up their book, and raise unnecessary queries over their referencing?

So in my experience, even if the publisher recognises they need someone to blame (which is where typesetters can come in handy), the academic sees us as someone of no significance whatsoever, and treats us accordingly. With very little courtesy or pleasantry, and no recognition that someone needed to have an eye for the look of words on a page, or gave (unpaid) hours to make their crap fit perfectly to the exact number of pages the publisher can afford to print without making a crushing loss. In five years I have been thanked by an author just once.

But I am kind! I bear in mind that these academics might have dug themselves into a shrunken mental wormhole from which they cannot now escape. Over 25 years they have invested more than they can lose. They must remain where they are, protecting their corner, eating away at their own tails, chewing away at their increasingly remote ideas.

Then I can be happy if they stay there. No longer will I have to put up with the arrogance, bleating, blame games and streams of muddled corrections.

Now, this may be my final entry on work-related matters, unless I am taken to court, or come up with a fantastic money-making scheme. So I depart the work label with as much dignity as I can scrape, and not name the publisher, the worst offending authors, and you can never say I mentioned the sodding linguists.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Smalltown Tax

Emerge this morning to find the Smalltown Tax is due. This is a regular payment we have to make.

Look on the upside. We have a large garden where the kids can scream I hate you, and a beautifully commanding proper-built house with a heavy wooden kitchen door that sounds like a thunderclap when you slam it.

We couldn't afford this type of luxury close to London. So we are here, located in rural edge small town, rubbing alongside traditional working class, middle class Victorianophiles, Bangladeshi restaurateurs, and newly arrived incomers, who probably can't wait to get out thanks to the vagaries of the Friday night tax system.

The Smalltown Tax, for those happy folk who never have to pay it, can take any number of forms: broken wing mirrors where drunken kids run down the middle of the road after midnight with outstretched bottles and metal bars; dented car bonnets and car roofs where the kids run over the vehicles (they usually get off when they meet the line of white vans); knife-attacked car tyres (see photo); and the occasional broken kitchen window, garden theft, or simply having your car written off as the police chase the forced marriage kidnappers (our unforgettably large 2006 tax bill).

In this list I count only those that involve depressing discovery, a day's inconvenience, and repair costs at the local garage.

I do not count the extraordinary taxes (murder, arson, muggings), nor the ordinary taxes, such as feelings of revulsion at having to clear up the wee from the Saturday night drunk in the lobby; misery at clocking the teenage hooker who mistakes my home for the den three doors down; depression at having to walk past the house where the druggies hang out; and irritation when the local youth cycle down the back alleys bombing the gardens with eggs because, apparently, this is all the fun you can have in Smalltown.

For me, after limping to the garage on three tyres, an hour's wait (and eighty quid tax), it's a dreary local tax, and all I can hope is that I don't get another one in quick succession.

More importantly, I spend the rest of the afternoon doing the real emotional and financial work. That is, the horse shop, equipping the newly horse-struck Squirrel for her week's residential fun with a stinking great mare (cost to my bank balance, hundreds, and all taxes to my soul, extracted).

Friday, 29 July 2011

Doctor Faustus

Take the kids and the visiting Aunty to meet Lucifer, stare into the horrors of Hell, and be carried off by demons.

No, not locking them all in the outside toilet and running away with the key (although I considered it, as a cheap alternative), but taking them on a fantastic day out to The Globe to experience Doctor Faustus.

Yes, I am in love with The Globe, the staging, the actors that play here. They may have all my money and I can be done with the drip feeding.

I cannot help it. Here is a perfect closed O in which the audience and actors meet, eyeball to eyeball. And with a fantastic spectacle like Doctor Faustus, I feel as voyeur and participant: heavy breather without the telephone line, the action close enough on the extended open air stage, that you never know. At any moment, a member of the audience might just decide to climb up and join in.

I wouldn't be entirely surprised. Amongst us winds dumb show sex, seven deadly sins, angels and demons, bony skulls and luxuriant furs, dragons, wings, fire, swords, and the DEVIL. What a story. What an opportunity for close involvement, huge enjoyment, fantastic spectacle. Who wouldn't, at the very least, pay for that?

Faustus would, obviously, and quite a heavy price too, so there is morality and theology. I feel a sudden onrush of adult responsibility, taking three 11-year olds to see The Exorcist of its day, writ by a blasphemer and anarchist, and I come over all obliged to talk these matters through, in case issues Biblical have not made it into the children's repertoire during the last eleven years.

I probably needn't have bothered, but on the train into London I witter on about sin, salvation, damnation, sixteenth century Catholicism, predestination and pneumatology. (Where I store all this lot, I do not know, but sometimes it comes in handy.) I do not bother explaining anything of this to Aunty Dee. She boarded with the Quakers, so I assume she is au fait with all key God-related matters, or at least, if I get the story wrong, she isn't going to fight me over it.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger take it all in their stride. Maybe these themes just aren't that unfamiliar to them. Maybe they play out dramatically loud battles of good and evil everyday down the bottom of the garden, as they dig pits, bury unicorns, fight each other for the cuddly wombat, and finish off in tears hurling barbed obscenities at each other with faces that say hurt pride, injustice, wounds and fresh betrayals.

Well, this is what we can understand about God, the Devil and Faustus. The stories are so human. And Faustus! He has all this potential power, and what does he achieve? Satisfaction of the same nature-driven impulses as would the rest of us, if only we could be unimpeded by conscience and could get the power without the scary soul selling.

Be honest. Would you do any different? Gratification, indulgence, and fooling about while invisible, tweaking the noses of people in power in revenge because they piss us off. I ask the kids what they would do if they had unlimited power over all the earth and they came up pretty much alike. Chocolate cake as big as your bum and stealing your chips with an unseen hand while they laugh at your expression.

So Shark, Squirrel and Tiger understand quite a bit of this play without the need for theological explanation. I give them a slightly tedious lecture about the mystery plays and the history of God and the Devil on stage, which I think is possibly more helpful to their understanding than my vicar routine, but otherwise, it's an accessible play with straightforward story and evident themes, even for children.

At The Globe it is beautifully delivered. Comedy runs through this performance and holds it all together, so don't expect the darkness and horror of a Doctor Slasher. Pissing, puppet breasts, sparkler vagina, and all manner of bottom jokes contrast with hubris, despair, forgiveness, divine mercy.

The visuals are fast and slickly delivered, the puppets are excellent, the costumes, no expense spared. Arthur Darvill as Mephistopheles stole my heart with his louche lounge lizardry. (I might sell my soul to him if he's buying it.) I even momentarily shared his glimpse of all the cruelties of eternity and his perpetual mental torture as he carried his personal hell with him, at all times, in his head and in place of his heart.

So yes, take the family, go and see this spectacle, give The Globe all your money.

I suppose, since this blog is an educational record and not a theatre review blog, I should make one final educational point, and that is, what the learning journey can bring about when you hand over the route finder to the kids.

For me, gratitude. I am deeply grateful to Tiger. I cannot thank her enough for leading us here. In Hong Kong she entered a mad haze locked in her bedroom with a kid set of ten Shakespeare stories, emerging only to declare 'I want to see them all'. I said, 'Alright'. And that's what started us at The Globe.

For Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, where can their natural learning and inquisitiveness not take them? Here, straight to the eternal drama: God, the Devil, and humanity. With an awful lot of bottom jokes thrown in.*

*Of course if she had come from her room saying Mama, I have developed a deep love of football and Millwall in particular, where I would like to sniff the sweat of the crowds, then you are right. I might not have been so keen.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

In preparation for visitor

Aunty Dee is coming to stay for le weekend. She will have one big shock. She will be able to walk in this house without having to duck, drop to her knees and crawl, swerve out the way, or be hit in the face with a wicker fish.

Yes, I have been tidying up (chucking out) as all visitor to Gritblog kno.

But while you kno about all this frenzy of Gritwork, Aunty Dee will be aware of the enormous quantities of crap I have lifted out this house and deposited in archival storage (landfill) only by its absence! Unlike you, she will not kno of the pain involved, so beautiful, clean and tidy is this house now.

Yet there is more! Not only will she be able to walk over the floors, she will have a choice of bedrooms! The White Room (rotting cellar) or The Garden Room (curtainless shed tacked onto back of house, once hiding hole for gardener).

But I am still not finished. The struggle of my own psychology and the demons of the cleaning process yet continue. There are things that remain undone. This is what I must now do.

Show courage. I must be fearless. I must enter the disused office toilet and empty the entire contents of a squirty duck into the monstrous porcelain.

Fear about this has paralysed me so far, but I MUST DO IT. Those stories I tell myself about evil red-eyed rats using the toilet bowl as a portal from Hell are NONSENSE. From this point on, I will repeat to myself: I can do it. I will not be intimidated by toilet bowls.

Show strength. I have the body of a reasonably feeble woman, but this shortcoming must not prevent me from mustering all my muscley power to take an axe to the piano. (Musicians, do not chew your soul in pain at this destruction. The piano is crap, broken, and was sold to me for a tenner by a man who couldn't stop laughing.)

Show resolve. Yes, if the children shovel in soil again to the schoolroom floor I will shovel it back out again! I have a RULE. And the RULE is, The outside stays outside and the inside stays inside. Unless I say otherwise like flowers.

I will be firm and resolute and determined, and not like last time, when I merely look at the pile of soil in resignation and sigh, Whatever, sure, fine, okay, I guess it is a nest for parrots, like you say, even though the only parrot we have got is made of polypropylene.

Show wisdom. I must only pick fights with Squirrel over really important matters like the RULE, and not over everything.

If I fail in this wisdom and start picking a fight over the glue gun, then I will only create pain for myself, i.e. the struggle about whether it is worth going to prison or should I experience the satisfaction of knocking her into the middle of next week when she starts with the eyeball rolling, lip curling, and general disdain, contempt and mockery. (Where she inherited these character defects from, I do not know. Dig, probably.)

(And that last one is nothing to do with the tidy-up, but is an ongoing issue.)

Now, I must stop blog and start toilet duck.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Go visit Flag Fen

Yes, you should visit this Bronze Age site. They need your custom, for a start.

Evidence: two cars in the car park when we arrive at lunchtime, and one of those belonged to a staff member.

So I asked where everyone was, given that this is a fine prehistoric site of England and it is the school holidays, so should be thronging.

I was told they had been busy, that very morning, for the school holiday activity, but now everyone had left.

Somehow I doubted it. I could see the very nice man at the desk was not struggling under the labours of nervous aggression where he would like to punch the next person he sees in the face. That condition I recognise. It can be induced in any grown human after two hours shut in a room of crafting children and a bag of sequins. And the woman he called from the back office to unlock the coffee bar did not look in a state of exhaustion or weary defeat either. I suppose it is possible that the leader of the school holiday activity was flat out behind a desk covered in glue and sparkle, but I saw no tell-tale signs of that and heard no groaning or sobbing. No trails of tears, slime, toilet roll or pipe cleaners, and the visitor centre was very clean. So I did not ask how many children had turned up. Probably two, including one with social phobia and pigtails.

I think one of the issues is that Flag Fen is located at the back of an industrial estate miles outside Peterborough with no shuttle bus. I wonder if it is a problem for people getting there. No bus, no train, a long way to cycle, especially if Tinkertop is a stroppy madam aged two. If you drive, the landscape for miles around is dead flat and, on the way, you may be impeded by driving into a watery ditch if you judge those corners wrong. That cannot help much either.

When they located this site, those Bronze Age people clearly did not think ahead to the problems of our road network or the fragile public transport systems of twenty-first century fenland Cambridgeshire.

We have the place, more or less, to ourselves. An elderly couple potter by the round house after an hour. Even then, as one is photographing the other, I manage to get in the doorway and he has to take the picture again. Then I notice a pair of cycling young men, a young woman who doesn't make it much further than the coffee area, and a small child with a face in an ice-cream.

I take the opportunity of the quiet afternoon to lie down behind a hedge and contemplate bird song and fens and romantic idylls and transport networks and whether, if I lived here, I would be making a nuisance of myself with the local council regarding a shuttle bus or some other means of ferrying people in and out. I worked on the handrail, community noticeboard, and language book shelf at our library, so who can say.

For the educational record, Shark, Tiger and Squirrel say the museum is interesting, the activity sheet alright, the round house fun (although one lost its roof since the last time we were here), the information panels helpful, the wet site exciting, and the Roman garden lovely.

From my point of view the coffee was fine, the bookshop needs a wider range, the site is filled with possibilities for talk and wonder, and the staff are extremely helpful and obliging. Almost like they were grateful we'd arrived.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Home educated children cannot socialise

Apologies for the title, but I am feeling arsey, thanks to HESFES.

HESFES, for people who use schools, is the home educator's summer festival. Here it is, just outside Bury St Edmunds.

Held annually over one week, it's a time and place where the off-gridsters, hippies, anarchists, pink hair brigade, and completely normal people like me, all meet each other.

Whatever the state of our hair, we have a common thread. We educate outside the conventional school system. While we're chatting in the workshops and over coffee, the kids can be chucked in a field together to build their own social system.

I last went to HESFES Dorset, but haven't bothered with it since. Really, the kids were too little and, although I felt home education was right in all the possibilities it offered, I was still trying to investigate the landscape, meet the type of people who do it, and keep an open mind with one eye on conventional school.

At that time, HESFES struck me completely as a wild camp filled with autonomous types and feral kids.

I have grown in my understanding and awareness of the many home ed communities since then.

I know that to many people like me at that stage - familiar with the sight of uniformed children progressing in crocodile chains, accustomed to the idea that to learn anything, children sit facing in one direction, still expecting them to do the same activity at the same time - then sure, a large cacophony of kids whooping it up at a camp Tom Sawyer style, dressing how they want, running over fields, in and out streams and up trees, all without much parental screaming and helicoptering, can look scary and intimidating.

Especially if you then add into the mix the hammering from the copper beaters, the singing of the weaving circle and the accordions of the music group, practising for the afternoon theatre show. The science roadshow will be ongoing too, right next to your ears, with experiments of air pressure rockets, and Mr Robinson is touting for his afternoon show on how the world was created. He's compressing the talk into 13.75 minutes; one minute for every billion years.

Then the pink hair brigade wander past clutching coffee cups looking wild eyed after a night when the air bed punctured. Yes, it can look like a good portrayal of chaos.

But it's not. Human behaviour is the same, regardless of the clothes it wears or the colour of the hair dye bottle. Look closer at this lot, and you'll see people from a slice of a society, same as you'd find anywhere in Britain. The teenage home ed kids do as you'd expect. They hang around in small groups, mostly dressed in black, hoping they look cool. The little kids get on bikes and race each other over the fields and into the stream. Their toddler siblings sit and bawl or eat grass. The parents wander about hugging babies or looking for coffee and passing comment on the state of the toilets, the weather, and the suitability of the tents after a night of rain and wind.

It's in this environment that I am completely won over to the delights of the HESFES experience. And even less patient with the vocal opinionated arses who have very little understanding of the many ways in which home ed can work.

Because here I can sit and chat about all the familiar home ed issues - approaches to child rearing, the state of the house, legal duties, the role of the local authority, the usefulness of labels like autonomous and structure, child-friendly text books, self-motivation, truancy patrols, the oddities of local home ed groups, how to get hold of tutors for special courses, the easiest ways to access GCSEs, how to approach college entrance exams, what university requirements are in vogue, and which home ed kid you know who is now travelling the world, studying history at Oxford, setting up their own business, or working for charity. I can discuss it all, not so much with like minds as with people who understand the territory.

And I didn't talk much about socialisation, except to feel sure that the griblets need to be located at HESFES not only for the day, but for the entire week.

Shark, Tiger, and even Squirrel, the declared arch enemy of camping, each say that next year we are staying in a tent and we are not driving over for one measly day.

Even in our limited time we clocked up science, bag making, weaving, leatherwork and copper. (No photo of that. I was busy over tea.) Plus Mr Robinson's excellent talk.

All of which shows then, that home educated children do not lack opportunities to socialise, nor do they lack contexts and situations which meet their endless stream of inquiries. Even the parents can satisfy their rebellious urges over a cup of tea and a chin wag about the vagaries of the English weather.

Let's hope for next year then, that the weather is kind, the toilets are cleaned, and by July I have figured out how to pop the pop-up tent back down.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Welcome to my tombstone of text

This question has been asked of me. What is grit's day?

(Apart from the obvious. A slab of words laid over a monitor screen; a deathly wordy winding sheet of the sad, self-indulgent bastard who put them there.)

1. It is a blog. Yes, I know blogs are doomed. I am a twenty-first century dinosaur.

2. It is by Grit. I write under a made-up name because I have something to hide. It is called my privacy (or what is left of it).

3. My kids are triplets. I blog about the dynamics of that three-headed body when it overwhelms me. Do not assume they are test-tubed, implanted up my doodah, or Clomided. They are a force of nature who split three ways because even in the womb they couldn't damn well agree on anything. And be warned, young woman, before voicing your contempt about population and irresponsible procreation. What happened to me can happen to you.

4. I blog the days. This is, in part, how I interpret my responsibility as a home educator. So I blog where I take the kids, what situations I put them in (or they me). Not because I assume you think my kids are cute. If I need to quickly compile information for any jobsworthy or local authority, this blog is my aide memoire. Aka, my goddam strong-arm righteous legal power.

5. But of course I am going to write selfishly and self-indulgently! Phobias, fantasies, delights, irritations, opinions, thinkings. I am human. I have no-one else to share this stuff with. But look, here is a blog!

6. No, I will not explain The Sorrow, so no point looking. This is a home education blog about raising triplets out of school. If I explored The Sorrow, you would read all paindespairloss, gnashingteeth, bloodandgristle, and know that I am half human, half dead. But see! There is yet another half, and It Lives!

7. Then take this blog as a celebration of living, regardless of whether the passing days turnbellyup, fallintoapit, or are simplyshit. Read the tone as - intolerably, unendurably, remorselessly, draggedscreamingthroughcorpsejawsandgrittedteeth - happily upbeat.

8. Yes, it is a lot of text. I write a lot, quickly. In the morning / late evening when no children are about. I do not watch TV because I cannot make it work.

9. I have very few expectations of you. That seems a little distant, even to me. It is not unfriendly, but practical. (Anyway, I have even fewer online expectations of me.) I do not get my kicks in the online world. I keep a distance from it, although I find some of ignorant attitudes irritating and the tiffs alternatively wearing/amusing, same as I would from a newspaper. My assumption is that you come and go as you please, and that you can be supportive, irritated, kind, or insulting as you wish.

10. Not surprisingly, I am not a good twitterer. I prefer a decent conversation with voice tone, real pauses for thinking, hesitations, ambiguities, deniabilities, smiles, back-tracking, assumptions, eyebrow movements, building of shared meanings and a glass of wine between us.

11. No, I am not on facebook. I did sign up under a false name which Dig said was missing the point. I received a thousand ads for hormonal replacement therapy and twenty messages from a humourless German asking me if I would be his friend. I did not answer.

12. Having said that, I do meet people who know of me through the blog, and I love it. So if you would like to meet, send me an email. I will be laughing it up in Hong Kong for six months but you never know. You might pass by. And then I come back to England and can say hello there.

13. Posts are late. This blog is not as it happens. I like to think this is an ironic comment on the genre.

14. No, I do not blog about everything. On some matters I am very discreet. I have learned when to keep my mouth shut.

15. You never know, I might show you a different way of living. Home education raises such predictable responses (your children cannot socialise, you cannot teach everything, you must be a religious nut-case, you are probably mentally ill, you undermine the local community, you must be antisocial, social workers should call on you, etc etc etc). If you read for a time, you might come to agree with those opinions, or not. That's up to you.

16. Have you read all of this? Apologies, unless you are the person asking yourself, Can I make money from this blog? Answer, in all likelihood, No. If you are offering something (not plastic junk, thanks) from which I can see an educational opportunity for my three students, then you never know. I might agree to play. But there are no guarantees. I am independent, and do not seek to be liked. Neither does the blog.

There. Did that answer it?

Sunday, 24 July 2011

A world picnic where everyone is nice to each other

See? Milton Keynes can organise the equivalent of the Notting Hill Carnival anytime it likes. This particular carnival day was set up by a lady who went off to be a primary school teacher.

She thought the world would be alright if all we people - with our different ideas, faiths, beliefs, attitudes, and opinions - would just decide to be nice to each other; if we sat down for a day together on the grass in the park, brought our picnics, and listened to all the bands play different music.

That's what we do, more or less. We all manage ourselves very well. We sit around, probably like they do on the first day at primary school, ignoring each other, watching the strange ones behave oddly over by the giant speakers, sharing our sweeties with our friends, and suffering the occasional opportunistic exhortations to find Jesus with a curious patience and without resorting to kick boxing.

So there are no punch ups, no effing and blinding round the teapot, and no offence taken. Well, Squirrel tried, but it just wasn't enough to cause a riot.

Saturday, 23 July 2011


So I have begun the assault on the house.

Here are the purchased items this morning: Bathroom tile spray; wood floor cleaner; bleach for the sink where the flies breed; limescale remover and death to all wildlife on every continent cleaner; shiny mirror spray; antiseptic liquid disinfectant; hacksaw; stanley knife; 48 jiffy wipes (bogof).

This suggests furious activity and determined intention, does it not? It is also excellent displacement activity. Acquiring this lot prevents me thinking about anything at all other than bleach squirting, foam spraying, and floor wiping.

The next step is to actually use them.

Yes, I will. Even though the activity will be fraught with dangers and hazards. I maintain that staying inside the house to clean it up, floor to ceiling, is educational too, and perfect for the home educated child to experience during the long summer holiday when the parks, discovery centres, swimming pools and museums are full.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger need to find out these ways. How house cleaning rituals are the revelation of psychiatry, including as they do all manners of neuroses, phobias and pathological behaviours.

During the ritual bashing of the house into submission I might even get onto the subject of electroconvulsive therapy, if I electrocute myself again. (The cleaning up routine has happened before and it does not always end with a stain-free floor and a pleasant odour.)

Well, half way through the day I can report the children are engaging enthusiastically in this new educational enterprise. They have been a little scared by the original purchasing and have removed the limescale cleaner from me on environmental grounds. Possibly to appease me after I snatched it back again (have you seen the state of the fishy toilet? Do you want to retch into that?) Shark has tidied her desk, Tiger has picked up three books from her bedroom floor, and Squirrel has stashed her finest treasures (including clay balls and splinters of wood) behind her bedroom curtain, where she imagines I will never peer.

So, I can say that house cleaning is all good, and good for us all.

I am feeling momentarily purposeful and vengeful and determined and resolute and going to punch this house in the guts because I am notfuckinggivingintoanything.

The house is looking better.

And the children are embarked on a new turn in their education, having learned that wood soap is very good, the word psyche is Greek to mean butterfly or soul, and life means you can tear good from all circumstance.

Even ones where mother knocks herself sideways with bleach fume, drenches her face in Cif and, without warning, suddenly sinks to the bathroom floor in a crumple and demonstrates psychiatry in action, saying No, nothing's wrong, everything's fine, no, do not worry, I will be alright in a minute. I am just cleaning here, behind the toilet waste pipe.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Of course I will never need this blog as therapy

I am a month away from The Return. The anxiety is starting to fill me up and pull me out of shape. When I stop doing what makes my hands and head busy, a picture of what I do on the Last Day pops into my mind.

On the Last Day I will count the luggage one two three four and the kids one two three and me one and then I'll do it all again, like some horror dumb show. I'll carry on doing that, repeating it all, because I don't want to go through the actions that come next.

But I shall make sure that it is all hilarious and funny, like the cutting of arms or the retching into a toilet bowl.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Head lice and naked men are always there

We have hit the school holidays.

Super FBI Detective Grit has tracked these 4 clues.

1. Tesco is stocking its Back to School range. All is formidably exciting, as ever. The colours of service: black, white. (Why bother? After the first wash it will all be grey.)

2. I have seen a woman walking our High Street with a pained expression. Small children were following, beating the crap out of each other. And howling.

Ladies, you must realise this is normal sibling behaviour. You can put up with it, threaten to smash Thomas the Tank's face in when you get home, send the kids to improving, educational and energetic activities (residential only), or say things like I will give you something to cry about in a minute.

I have tried them all, and none work. Except the last, obviously, because I am all motherhood superior of moral good, and totally gentle and kind and caring. (Though it is true that all Thomas' faces were attacked by giant plastic-eating moths with a bite like a hammer.)

3. I have seen children of all ages in the streets! Yes! Amazing but true!

Seeing people of all ages makes our locality look nearly like a real society, where one third of the population doesn't herd the small-people third into big buildings and then padlock the gates. (The gates are padlocked, I have been told, against the remaining suspicious 'others'. Possibly the third of the population who we do not want on the premises.)

4. In my secret stat counter (shhh) one of the most popular searches (apart from headlice and naked men) is how to survive the school holidays. So we must have arrived at that special time when the schools shut up shop and the teachers go travelling to Brazil or have a breakdown.

Then here. Have it. It has taken true learning from me, and is my gift to the nation. Hopefully it will allow the fizzog of pain to be eased, and Thomas to be spared.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

I have discovered gin

Strictly, rediscovered.

This delightful decoction I originally discovered, oh my brain forgive me, say 1982, aged in my twenties.

Isn't it a fantastically enervating drink? It is full of promises of skittish kittenish delight! A pure crystal sparkle with lemon, fizz, and ice.

And I stopped drinking the stuff. Because at some point, perhaps in my thirties, I became responsible. Maybe I found a sensible job. Maybe I became sober and serious. Maybe I knew there were children to deliver into the world. Maybe I had obligations, duties, loyalties. Gin became a momentary flash of a summer drink.

But now. The clock ticked round and now, starting into my fifties, I am rediscovering gin. The children are growing up. I want done with being sensible. I want to empty out those obligations. I am escaping life all nevermind putthekettleon, and here is gin! Gin. Gin is all heedless folly, delightful immaturity, and simple seductive enticement!

Well, the first one is. The second one, sadly, leads quickly to haveanotherone.

It is one divine drink that leads to folly. It starts off as a ticklish delight but quickly heads down the road of destruction.

The delight for me is obvious. It quickly provides a cushion for my brain. It is like sinking my head into a soft cloud of cotton wool. Gratefully. Better than morphine. I am a late aged female de Quincey discovering opium. It is enervating, relieving, cuddling. At some crucial tipping point, perhaps before the awareness of the sorrow, it is everything sublime.

Unfortunately, it is a cuddle with a vengeance. The third gin and tonic is one too far. The fourth is definitely filled with error, and who will drive me to hospital after the fifth?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

In the end, killed off by kindness

Going to the dentist is piss easy, isn't it? I can't believe I spent the last nine months fretting about it.

Fretting is an understatement. There were times when anticipating childbirth had less fear riding on it than the thought of what could happen to me in thirty minutes lying in a dental chair.

And it's not a fair comparison. Childbirth? I almost looked forward to it. There were comforts to be had, thanks to modern technology and chemical cocktailery. There were excitements ahead! I would be able to drop as many drugs as medically possible and my brain would freewheel while my body went numb. Ideal. No way was I at all interested in experiencing the ecstasy of childbirth thank you very much. Nor proving my female credentials with my bodily yielding of joy and pain. Nor winning any motherhood glory from the off with the enormous size of my ripped apart doodah to show in comparison at the new mother weeping circle. Nope. Thanks anyway for suggesting that, ye glorious natural motherhooders with the water bathing and the ylang ylang oils. You can forget about persuading me to cook and eat my own placenta as well.

But the dentist! THE DENTIST.

Anticipating the dentist is the stuff of terror.

For a start, they are still ripping teeth out medieval style by means of iron pincers and in dungeons with blood-spattered walls lit by flaming torches, of this I am sure. And even if they have got electricity in those surgeries, and the equipment has changed a bit, you don't know who those people are! They look normal, sure. They have a head, legs and arms and stuff. But what if the dentist I get is a crazed psychotic killer dressed up as a dentist? What if they have nurtured an angry festering grudge all their lives and are now so bursting with pent up fury they can no longer sublimate their pain into dental drills and antiseptic mouthwash? What if they suddenly want revenge? Or maybe they just have some sort of mental breakdown and forget what they are doing and disembowel me by accident?

Even if the dentist is strangely normal, what about the rest of the experience? They rip out teeth! What if they get the wrong tooth? The numbing injection will fail! The drill slip and pierce my cheek! I will swallow the mouth-hoovery-end by accident! I will surely choke to death!

I have thought of every horrible scenario involving dentistry and I can say, after the type of sleep where you keep one eye open, any one of those outcomes is perfectly possible in your thirty minutes with the dentist.

Except the one where the dentist is a lovely lady who is so calming and soothing, that within ten seconds she can be my mum, except she is younger than me, which is a bit weird, and she is also Eastern European and pronounces tooth as toos, which makes me want to smile and give her a cuddle in a strange over-protective impulse. I could go on, praising her genuine concern and quiet unhurried manner and the simple kindness which made her take time and even hold my hand.

So not at all terrified. And no thrashing about with funny muffled screaming like the time when the other dentist with the big arms actually sank back in his chair with a profound sad sigh and suggested, that at the next appointment, maybe then I would feel better about opening my mouth.

Nothing like that at all. Not even any pain thanks to the remarkable advances they have made with electricity. I will merely see her again in a year's time and she will say in that very gentle, concerned voice, How ees ze toos? and I will smile and think, Why did I ever worry?

Monday, 18 July 2011

Where is Milton Keynes?

Um, can't help you.

It's around here somewhere.

Maybe we're close to it now.

If I find it I'll let you know.

Wherever it is,

It has some cracking playgrounds.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Festival of History

Wherever we are in the world, on this weekend we have to be north of Northampton for this. Find me there next year, 2012. The event is an essential part of my annual experience. It is about as perfect an English day out as you can get.


It is fantastically English and I love it. There is a lot of dressing up, sitting down, arguing with Squirrel about the lemon curd or the strawberry jam, then there is queuing in the rain, fussing, drinking warm beer, spilling cups of tea, and making observations about bottoms, cod pieces and the weather.

With a bit of Richard III thrown in.

And some medievals. Plague, probably.

And at the end of the day, with the griblets clutching their treasure (signed copy of Michelle Paver's Wolf or something) and me clutching mine (Lemon curd), we can go happy home. For today, we have seen history.

Saturday, 16 July 2011


We gatecrash the Tolpuddle Martyr's Festival. By accident.

I had no idea this was the weekend when the museum is taken over by the TUC. I drove into the village, saw the red flags, the portaloos in the layby, and the cagoules in the rain with the dripping placards. Unity is strength and workers unite.

My heart sank. All I did was drive by the museum, on the off-chance it was open, with half an idea to teach the kids about the spirit of England which is to be traditional social and radical independent all at the same time, and now look. I have to sneak about a wet field pretending to actually have a service job, be a downtrodden worker, always on my guard against the fascist regime, and in solidarity with my working muckers.

Shut up, Shark. Don't mention I am an idle woman, gadding about the countryside, daddy legging it, selling his soul in Hong Kong for a pile of cash, and mummy hoping there's still a Chanel handbag hiding somewhere in the settlement. Be quiet. We are in solidarity with the brethren. Stop arguing. And also shut up about the do-your-own-thing style of education because look, there is NASUWT.

Now there'll be trouble. Shark says come away and stop yelling. But I have a particular grudge against them. I am sure I recall their pronouncement a few years ago. How home education was an abomination against society conducted by baby eating parents, how it should be banned immediately, and a uniform learning policy implemented for all five-year olds because that is FAIR.

I paraphrase. But I am sure I caught the spirit. Bastards. Anyway, they have to say that, don't they, because they are maintained as a collective of teachers with an interest in employment, and home education makes people wonder what teachers do, if it turns out that education is a job any attentive parent can do instead.

From my opinion, which obviously I am not allowed to express given the fact that I am sneaking about in solidarity disguise, home ed blows their cover. It shows that today's teaching is not, in the main, about education.

Teaching in schools is about managing large groups of people in small spaces using skills you might have to use in the disciplined services, or in confinement situations, or in prisons. That is, new teacher, you must contain the fringes of the crowd, please the mainstream, negotiate the behaviours that are weird, disruptive, unfathomable, call the bizarre healthy, normal and perfectly acceptable and, throughout it all, deliver a differentiated lesson that the government says you must if you want to be paid.

Don't imagine I am saying this impossible job is not needed. Yes it is. There are plenty of kids who want to go to school, plenty of parents who want to send them there, and plenty of people who have ideals to work there. Fine. What I am saying is, you do that, and let me, in my single community of oddball, renegade and radical, get on with my own thing, please. I don't want to be hunted down and beaten over the head with your enforced ideas about fairness and inclusion.

Which points to my fundamental dilemma with the whole union thing in the first place.

I grew up in a working class, union-oriented household where the party line was adhered to whether anyone liked it or not. A show of unity was essential. So I sort of agree, yes, I am trained to see the point of it, because the Tories will screw you down if you give them half a chance, and your strong bet is to join together and argue for a particular point of view. Down tools and up fingers.

Yes, of course we need to unite; even we oddball home educators need to join forces at times.

But there is not a lot of scope for high autonomy and individual dissent in a union, is there? And that is my particular problem. Joining a union means having to parrot an ideology that is given to me, inevitably by some fat bloke, who tells me, that thanks to him, I am empowered.

My gut reaction is to tell the git to Sod off. I will make up my own mind, thanks. Even if I find myself totally alone, with no benefit in it, and beaten up in a ditch.

Maybe I had a bad early union experience (possible). Maybe it is my own peculiar anti-authority misaligned character (probable). The result is, I am suspicious of all large-scale organised social groupings. I hate having to say what someone told me to say, and my skin burns with the idea that at some point I would have to chant the party line.

Okay, then yes, I am basically an argumentative loner and mouthy bastard who will pick a fight in a chancel if I don't like the clergy.

I think there is no way out for me from this tortured borderland and included/excluded perspective. Except, maybe to say, how I remain confident that I will never be totally alone. Because look who's coming to give me a piece of her mind. The apple never falls far from the tree.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Missing voice

I love the tones and timbres of voices. But those voices are missing from this record of home ed life, aren't they? I sometimes feel their absence, keenly.

I think, as I tap away about the day, this is the moment I should describe that person in this conversation; tell you what words there were, how they were said.

But I stop myself. I haven't been kind enough to ask, is it okay if I blab on my blog what you said? Maybe you won't mind if I mock it a tiny bit as well?

Or there are people I meet, listen, and I think, that is your story to tell, not mine. It is so personal and true and wise from the heart, it is not for me to say.

There are moments too where I am so pussyfootingly discreet - get me! - that I don't think an old beat up hippie blog is a fair and level place to put another human voice, one who never agreed exposure, to the casual gaze of any curious passer by. (How generous and gracious am I!)

I'm not sure which category this gentleman fits in today. The one in the floppy hat. With the purple feather.

Maybe none of them. Maybe I'm sensitive to the commerce of the voice. This gentleman sells his research, commentary and thoughts on a history tour of Lyme Regis. I'd tell you what he said, because it was fascinating and engaging, but that would rather undermine his work and all his effort.

So I'll have to leave you to imagine the voice of the gentleman in the floppy hat. Even though I'd very much like to say how he spoke with expression, gently and respectfully, carefully and emotionally, as if the Lyme executions from three hundred years ago touched him personally, and as wryly as if that young rascal Henry Fielding could still be spotted on the High Street, looking to snatch the object of his desire, Sarah Andrew.

I'll have to say instead, if you want to hear him tell you stories of how life is, then you must simply go along, book yourself a tour, and listen.

Enigmatic picture, not of a well, simply to make you keen to go and find out.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Showing our true selves at Brownsea Island

Here's an oddity. Brownsea Island. With castle. Strange place.

It's one of those islands off Dorset that the wealthy have simply bought and sold to each other, probably with small change, in much the same casual way that I buy secondhand books.

What they've bought and sold has been for centuries the home of hermits, a site of royal defences, and the tucked-away private playground for MPs (how surprising).

Without intention, each successive private owner has helped turn Brownsea Island into a nature haven. Apart from the MPs, it has been owned by art collectors, merchants, bankrupts, and the socially phobic.

The last owner, Mary Bonham-Christie, found it the perfect place to express herself. She turned out the farm herds to roam free, so I guess she qualifies as a member of ALF before ALF was invented. When she died in 1961, this rich person's play island was part of a death duty deal, so the nation had to stump up the cash to buy it.

So now this private island is ours, courtesy of the National Trust.

Nowadays, it is maintained as a nature reserve. No cars. No bikes. No shops (except the sacred commerce of the NT tea rooms). No paddling round the lagoon, either. The Dorset Wildlife Trust kick you out on behalf of those very scary terns with the very sharp beaks that look like kitchen knives.

Oddly enough, the island still brings out the character of people.

The Baden-Powell fans use it as a place of pilgrimage. They show how they are eager to develop their service, high ideals and fellowship by means of tracking each other, making mattresses out of ferns, and pretending to hunt whales in Poole harbour. The nature huggers meanwhile touch their inner spirits (or argue about the ice-cream) through the many quiet shaded strolls. And with no regular evening access for the public (the last boat out is 5pm), the squirrels enjoy it as a rest home. (Reds only. The greys haven't yet invented aqualungs.)

But, as the island does belong to us all ordinary folk of the nation, I had the bright idea of accidentally-on-purpose missing the last boat out.

I discovered that if you want to stay over as a tourist on Brownsea Island, you mostly can't. If you are scouting in an organised manner they allow you, so long as you promise to ibdibdob and woggle. You can stay in the castle only if you work for John Lewis and join their five-year waiting list for the cheap hotel rooms, or you could try the NT cottage if 2K is a reasonable holiday rate. What you can't do very easily is blag a free night out from the nation by claiming you have a dodgy leg and can't run for the boat.

Tiger helpfully pointed out I was probably not the first person to try that, and the NT were probably used to that sort of nonsense.

But as I say, the island sort of invited it. The place seemed to bring out something in us all. Squirrel and Tiger rolled around delighting in everything: woodland, wetland, heath, beach, and world war two crater aka the dragonfly pond, showing their true characters as generous, inspired and sympathetic to the world about them. Shark, showing how she is honourable, principled and committed, added that the best way to stay here would be work as a warden to improve their wetland and harbour conservation.

Of me, I like to think it revealed my little sparkle too. An unscrupulous weasel worder trying to freeload off the nation to bag a gratis night's stay surrounded by some very pretty scenery.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The geology must pause at Kimmeridge bay

I can tell. The gritlets are starting to feel the strain of geology.

Really, I find that extraordinary, given that this is beautiful Kimmeridge bay. And the Purbecks! My goodness, Eden fell down here and no-one told me.

I think I could go on with my geology tour. Yes, my knees are becoming quite sore, what with the kneeling on rocks to scrutinise beaches, and my back is probably broken, thanks to the megaliths that Squirrel drops casually into my handbag as she passes.

But Shark is pissed off. She realises there are people at Kimmeridge bay who will run kayaking and snorkeling sessions, and I have miserably failed to organise something for her. She snaps that this is a marine reserve and what else did I expect? She wants to see it.

Now she's not forgiving me. Look, here she is in the marine centre, and she's not talking to me.

I say what I always say. Where ever you visit, you should depart leaving something undone. Not your trouser zip or shoelace, obviously. I mean something by which you can think how better you can approach this place in future years. Except Weymouth. Just avoid that place altogether, that's my advice.

Shark ignores me and slopes off to sulkily adopt the rockpooling and geology postures we know so well.

Tiger is becoming fatigued with geology, and so gives up on the fossil hunting to amuse herself inflating a plastic glove to gesture in rude and deniable fashion to other holidaymakers.

Squirrel? There aren't any pictures of her, thanks to the stomping off routine. I merely said you cannot dig up the cliffs here, they are protected. And no, I am not putting that boulder in my handbag. Then off she went, with as much stomping off as you can do over a boil of slimy seaweed. (Memo: do not smile at an outraged Squirrel with no balance.)

So I give in. About 3pm I take everyone over to Corfe Castle to cheer up.

Castles are always guaranteed to raise a laugh. Especially when we can imagine the sieges, poisoned wells, projected sheep carcasses, murder holes and battering rams.

I say yes, on the remaining days of our week, we'll visit Brownsea Island, which is on everyone's list of places to enjoy, and we'll take the history tour of Lyme Regis with a quick turn round Blackbury iron age camp.

I think I have to give up the very opposite tips of our geology tour, Old Harry and Exmouth, but they'll stay. And I should always leave something undone. (Not belt buckles or bra straps, as I said.)