Tuesday, 10 January 2012

We can lose ourselves

It is true. This is one of our biggest delights.

Given constraints, such as the imperative to eat, wee, and go to sleep, we free-in-the-heads can go pretty much any place, to do anything.

Yes, this freedom is a liberating consequence of being human, but in home ed land, can you believe it has extra spice?

We are already living a life suspected by some and judged by others to be downright wrong. In this counter-culture, barbed and resentful comments can wound, fears can run deep, and quick, sideways glances from the disapproving can weigh down a spirit, but with an imagination and a place to put it, we can secretly say, sod them all, we're off.

Then we can put our freedoms into practice; which probably doesn't help our image, or lessen the jealousies of the desk-bound. In our limitless place of learning outside closed doors, corridors, rooms, and designated areas, we can go where we like, when we like, and we don't have to ask permission.

We can be up and off indeed, with extra quiet content - some would say smug self-righteousness - because, in the spirit of our duties - responsibilities, freedoms, rights, whatever you want to call them - we can take a child by the hand and not only lead them off the path of the National Curriculum, we can neither follow a timetable, nor work to hours, days or terms; not run the home like a school; use no lesson plans, nor set work, nor mark work, nor give formal lessons, neither present a blank face with a 'developmental objective', nor make anyone put a chair on a table so you can sweep the floor under the desk: we can simply do away with the desk.

Then yes, I can understand the lack of whatever looks like school combined with a free-range mind can suggest to the hour-tied onlooker a complete state of chaos and bewilderment. I guess they wonder what on earth home educators do, if they don't do a lot of what looks like what they are told to do, in school.

Well, as I said, we can pretty much do anything, anywhere.

To my way of thinking, when each morning opens, the possibilities are so ridiculously endless, the nuances so variable, and the permutations of any action so wonderfully limitless, there is sometimes only one place to pin ourselves down.

If Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are to experience as many states and futures as can be shoe-horned into one day, we must be at the library. Here they can let their minds wander, or they can go looking for an author who holds them long enough to extract their agreement to be held by ink on a page.

But I confess. Today, I have a secret urge.

I have found that I can slip away, even from the freedoms of the library. I can leave my three tender exploring minds for hours in the company of witch dolls, chalk horses, puppet people, and humans fashioned from melting stone - and I can take my own exploring soul down the bewitched back streets of Hong Kong Island.

Leaving their eyes quietly fastened on the endless pages, I can leave the library to aim for a precise slice of Sheung Wan, filled with all the strange practices of the printing of papers; I can peer into the mechanics of print, boards, cardboards and cutters; I can watch the pressers, slammers, stitchers, and loose-leaf folders go about their day.

Printing was one of the biggest industries in Hong Kong, but the biggest book work has upped presses and moved north, leaving behind a business of pamphlet and card print with slam-thunk machinery that would not be out of place in your local museum, Victorian section.

Working these print presses, in the space of your broom cupboard and spilling straight to the street, are the skilled people who always loved handling inks and papers, bindings and glues.

Between them slips the infrastructure they need: stationery stores, paper suppliers, envelope sellers and, most traditional Chinese, chop street. In these tiny booths with knife, stone and wax, your business chops are crafted to grace your freshly-printed letter paper, handmade to your most precise requirements.

Tucked between them, between the paper cutters, any size, and the stationery store with the rolls of green wrapping smelling of ink, is my bone finder. She finds me bones - ask no questions, tell no lies - which she sells to me in pairs, two at a time. These desirable pieces, fashioned to look like yours, half the length of your forefinger, snap it off before your knuckle, I need. I stitch these bone likenesses into leather and wrap them with bleached, pressed paper, making my miniature books. Folded in my bone finder's shop, squeezed between the end-of-line beads and the sinuous twine, strange, which I swear was not there before, I could lose hours.

It is how we free-in-the-heads and learners out-of-doors can choose to spend our days.

By dark, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are still seated in the library, heads bent, engrossed, each with a pile of books, chosen ones to bring home. In my pocket are my bones.

1 comment:

Nora said...

Yes, you do lose yourselves in your own well chosen activities. It seems to me you're hooked on yours. Do make sure you have a thimble to press the needle through the leather. I don't want you to spill any blood.