Monday, 30 April 2012

Safety inspector's nightmare

Cake stand inferno. (Aka birthday celebrations for the visiting Aunty.)

Sunday, 29 April 2012

A is for Adultery

Put myself in my shed and stitched up the adulterer's notebook.

PS. Apologies if you saw that title then came over hoping for tortured self-loathing, philosophical discussions on the nature of lust, and a few salacious tales involving laybys on the A5. Really, sorry. All notebooks are designed for privacy.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

You had to be there

No way can I explain how I end up taking the griblets and a sudden-visiting Aunty Dee to a small dark room in upstairs Smalltown.

Here are nine bicycles connected to generators, running the classic, Ladri di biciclette, The Bicycle Thief (1948) screened for a small group of us film lovers.

If the cyclists stop cycling, the film stops running. Members of the audience are invited to take a turn keeping the power going, which I was not expecting, so for once I was truly sorry I'd opted for the inappropriate short skirt.

If you are interested in keeping fit while you put on a DVD, go to Magnificent Revolution.

If you are a storyteller, then match this simple and profound story; a man who has his bicycle stolen.

Friday, 27 April 2012

I bet there are unicorns in Africa

I amuse myself by making Find Me, Stanley. Homage to David Livingstone.

I told everyone about him in a sudden flurry of educational endeavour. I reckoned he has nothing to do with unicorns. He might inspire someone to work out the full length of the Nile in millimetres.

Anyway, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger listened politely, then pushed off to discuss whether you have to anchor a unicorn tail down to stop it popping up.

I went to make my notebook. By the way, I supply all notebooks with matching bags. I fancy you can keep your passions more discreetly that way.

Is Livingstone taught in schools? He's probably too controversial, what with the Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation that I read about on Wiki.

But I discover he was a man of his age. One of the first Westerners to cross central Africa, bringing Victorian values to a whole lot of new people. Whether they wanted them or not.

So I made it with tribal shield on the outside...

and a coconut cross on the inside.

The student of Livingstone could keep their explorations, discoveries, and password to the Livingstone discussion forum safe inside. Over fifty pages to keep your Age of Empire notes.

Squirrel regarded it, and said she thinks Livingstone probably did find a unicorn, so it's worth going back to take a look. You could pluck one hair from the popping-up tail and bring it home in the bag as proof.

I say, with my notebook, you need not wander lost. Maps included.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Mapping the world

Today, group co-op. Measuring with rulers, figuring out angles with a protractor, creating an astrolabe and drawing accurate maps of Ancient Greece.

Looks like maths and stuff. Maybe what Joe Public equates with the word education. Thank goodness for it.

I need these pictures; they are signs that I wrestled from the week something that Joe Public thinks is an education (and which a bit of me agrees with).

Because I'm having one of those routine crashes - home educating parents will recognise them - brought about by the fact that Shark, Squirrel and Tiger seem these days totally determined to turn their backs on conventional stuff like measuring angles, but to focus instead on how to live life in the unicorn clan.

And this is all my doing; the prime reason I home educate is to give the children time to explore creative play, develop long and complex narratives, and enjoy the time and space to follow through their impulses and desires.

Every so often I just wish they would lay it all aside and figure out what fractions are, that's all. But it doesn't work like that, does it? I have given my children a large amount of free choice, but they do not seem to choose fractions. Being consoled about 'who needs maths anyway' never works, no matter how hard the autonomous wing tries.

So I'm watching the unicorn obsession take hold again and feel powerless as it rolls towards me. I fear we could be in for a deep-structure play of three months or more. It leaves me suffering severe doubt yet without the ability to do anything about it, thanks to a mix of crippling inertia and the certain knowledge that as I have no authority over my own children they are not likely to suddenly take up fractions because I am waving about a poxy worksheet, even if it comes with a chocolate bar.

Consequently, I'm having a crisis. In these moments, the only thing I am sure of is that my grand alternative provision is all a disastrously failed experiment and whose brilliant idea was it anyway to keep the kids off school? Don't we regret it now, eh?

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger remain mostly unaware of these pits of doubt.

They go about their days happily. Squabbling about unicorn clans, cutting up cardboard for unicorn carriages, making unicorn tea from grass as an experiment (I'm not drinking it), making unicorn money from clay, composing long letters to each other about unicorn law, and debating whether the unicorns need an independent police force or should Lem run a military junta?

I don't know whether any of this deep-structure play has any application in further education and employment, but right now I'm hoping it is rather a lot.

Maybe, what with the discussions on justice, law, and 'can you get away with counterfeiting', my kids will be ideally suited for careers in politics.

So long as the opposition are actually unicorns, they should be okay.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Guard your chickens

I wake up this morning at 6am sit bolt upright and think


so I pull Squirrel out of bed to make sure I'm not hallucinating or suffering brain hemorrhage then I make her run with me to the shops to buy a shortcrust pastry block then we whistle that soft block back home double-quick where I stuff it with feta cheese and tomatoes and


but this is a very surprising turn of eatery-event because for 40 years I have declared


maybe except filo pastry soaked in nuts and honey so where did it come from this


but it cannot be that I am pregnant unless 4,000-year old peat bog women can become spontaneously pregnant maybe through witchcraftery and demons working overtime in dreams

but the children remain in a state of shock about this unwarned-about conversion so I'm telling them tomorrow


because I might just wake up at 5.30am to leap out of bed and renounce my 30-year old vegetarian diet with the shout


Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Make the day what you can

Thanks to entering a depressive phase, I find the responsibility is on me now, not to give in to my self piteous blubbling stew of inconsolable miseries, but to find my instances of daily joy.

Then here, let me share it.

A delightful three tier cake stand, acquired today in Bury St Edmunds, centre for cook shops and all manner of cake stand choice: modern, vintage and retro.

Hmm, Lime Green Funky, Decorative Regency, or Service White?

Dear Bury St Edmunds! I cannot enjoy choice like yours in my Small-town-Home-town, I can tell you. We can have 'a curry or a fight, which one do you want first'? So you simply must excuse the Grit family ogling at your cake stands for three hours while we decide.

But then! Triumph! The moment we bring our new acquisition home (Service White), Shark sets about baking to load it up with her creations, before photographing the new kitchen treasure in arty poses.

(I have excluded the shots where she has used my moth-eaten wool jacket as decorative backdrop.)

But I can surely say, Yes. Today, this is my joy.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Photoblog: Museum of East Anglian Life

Another fine local museum. Where you can stare in proper bewilderment as history and the present day merge, seamlessly.

Personally, I think the museum curators should remove all explanatory signs, information panels and 'what you are looking at' boards.

Then I could wander about rural East Anglia happy in the belief that I must have inadvertently wandered over the fence into a working farm, past East Anglia's finest haberdashery, and into someone's front room.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Instructed and improved

I hear that education is not fulfilling our aspirations regarding social mobility.

I resolve to sort that out.

I haul my little Grits from the unicorn swamp they have dug for themselves in the back garden, and I drive them over to Cambridge where I dump them in Downing College. My beady eye has spied that there is a fine Early Music concert taking place here this very afternoon with the celebrated Jakob Lindberg.

Behold two of my little Grits, moments after they have received an inspiring Mummy Grit lecture about how unicorn swamp maths and a decent pair of shoes could help any ambitious young lady access Oxbridge. You can tell they are already educationally instructed and much socially improved.

The other little Grit isn't in the photo. She says she is not aspiring to Oxbridge, because they don't study enough fish. She says she is aspiring to Southampton. (I hope unicorn swamp maths can help there too.)

Well, we haven't any tickets to actually get into the Early Music concert, of course.

No matter. It is an opportunity for me to instruct the little Grits in the social skill that is called Buttering up the lovely lady at the door so she holds tickets for you and feels sorry for you because you tell her how you cry if she mentions Pay Pal.

So we're in! See? Educational instruction and social improvement, and it's not even tea-time.

But then I make everyone visit the toilet before the concert begins.

At this point, I'd like to instruct you about this, so you avoid my social errors.

Downing College offers delightful squirty hand-creme containers in the ladies. When I naively squirt mine, the hand creme goes in a huge oily blob all down my light brown silk skirt and slides down my right leg. I have to scrape it off. It does not look good, I can tell you that.

But I always look on the positive! I tell my little Grits that at this point I may not be socially improved but I am instructed. Always cover the squirty nozzle of the hand creme container completely with your hand! Otherwise the kindest interpretation you can give on emerging from the ladies is that you have wet yourself.

But then! A lovely concert of Jacobean lute music! With the lovely Jakob Lindberg and his very lovely lute!

You can listen along with me here if you want.

Thus, after nearly two hours of lute education in Downing College, I am much instructed and very much improved.

Shark agreed. She said, after the event was over, that despite my suspiciously oily leg, she thought a music education like that really did confer a sort of social improvement. Because at no point this time after clapping eyes on Jakob Lindberg did I throw my panties on the stage.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

We survived

Well, I did it. I fed four people for seven days given a budget of five pounds a day; I spent 35 pounds in total for the full week, providing three meals a day for me and three kids, food on the table.

I cheated three times. Once by transferring my evening beer to the Entertainments Budget; once by smuggling a mackerel home in my handbag (purchase took me two pounds over budget but I was desperate); and once by eating out. (Not at the Ivy. Three pasties at Euston Station, but they still came to over a fiver and I ate nothing.)

A fiver a day? What's the going rate? How low can we go?

I don't know what the rest of miserable Britain is doing, because here I am following Shark's Rule. She wants to see what dinner is like, eating on a fiver a day. Maybe she is preparing for student living, and planning her cooking early.

If so, I have done her proud. I won't detail the gory (many lentils; plenty of reduced-bucket veg; potatoes past their best; not enough fruit) but will concentrate only on the glory: home-made burgers; cheese, onion, potato pie; vegetable stews; fruit curry and a delicious pitcher of home-made strawberry and orange smoothie, thanks to my shamelessly aggressive elbow technique at 20p mark-down time.

The kids said it was 'alright' albeit not enough fruit. I thought it was jolly hard work. I had to ignore any special offers or bulk-buy deals that took me over budget; I had to deny whims, fancies, and delights; and I had to shop with a mix of steely purpose and competitive opportunism, the like of which seemed to prove the existence of a gene for survival of the fittest down at the supermarket.

I concentrated on price reductions and felt miserable, becoming the recognisable woman hovering around the man with the reduced ticket sticker. I didn't have any feelings of camaraderie in recognising the other women daily doing the same. I merely saw them as opponents for my strawberries, and I resented the man with the ticket machine for having power over me.

Shark, of course, felt none of this. She was high on her Captain Mainwaring streak, following this home-made personal rule as if it was a point of decency and morality.

And she saw the end result, which looked and tasted fine to her.

Verdict. I am glad we do not live it every day, but am glad I know we can, should circumstance or need force my hand.

Now, I shall quietly prepare for Shark's next brilliant idea of three pounds a day or less by stocking up on lentils, hiding away my beer, planting the courgette seeds, and stocking up the freezer.

Friday, 20 April 2012

No compassion allowed

That was a news article I stumbled over, and read again, and again. Teacher sacked after hugging and kissing a student.

Not any old teacher, but my former colleague.

I couldn't believe the words. Cuddled? Vulnerable pupil? Unless black is white and white is black I'd swear that Phil's act was totally in keeping with the man: I'd know him for his generous and impulsive acts of genuine feeling and compassion. And I'd bet my heart that the kiss was a consoling middle-class peck on the cheek, not a French job in a cupboard.

But I could imagine Phil falling into that moment. He'd be visited by a child showing distress over a scrap of GCSE work and he'd want to do something right there and then to alleviate that fear.

Yes, his perspective would be so much wider and wiser than hers: he'd know a D-grade at GCSE isn't going to ruin your life, no matter how the school says it will doom your prospects forever. Seeing her collapse in a fearful, fretful weep, he'd feel emotional empathy, and have a real need to help.

Hugging? I've done it myself. Peter, a wiry and scruffy bruised kid in my form - hard boy image, so a lot to protect - he won't go to assembly, but hangs round, hands in pockets, affecting indifference. When the room finally empties, he crumples to the desk, folds his head to his arms, and shakes with loud, clumsy sobs. His dad's left them that morning. Packed three bags, and slammed the front door. Peter watches in shock. His mother, screaming, throws everything she can reach with fierce and vengeful hands, hurling all objects at the closed front door. Glass shatters. Peter silently picks up his rucksack, slips out the back door, shaken, sits on the bus to school. He doesn't know whether anyone will be at home when he returns. He's frightened. Of course I put my arm round him and hug, because what would any human being do?

But teachers must deny they do the same, and pretend it never happens. Even though schools are environments where staff are placed daily on the receiving end of the raw emotions of pupils who are bringing to school all their needed growing up experiences. Inside this intensive, closed environment, teachers must suppress their feelings, deny their emotions about learning, and pretend affecting experiences are merely intellectual challenges; better to find a policy, a procedure, and a professional guideline rather than a simple human response. And above all, whatever happens, we must never show compassion. This feeling is a weakness, and makes us vulnerable. To cover it over, better show nothing, or mockery and indifference.

Then staff are judged on their ability to play this sleight of hand; how well can they disguise their feelings, cover over these relationships, and smartly deliver the curriculum? Ofsted will no doubt reward those who deliver the learning event to the prescribed outcomes, even if what we're left with is a soulless experience; learning denuded of feeling. It plays to our myth that schools are centres of intellect. 

I had to leave that environment; I had too much feeling, and so lacked professionalism. But even if I failed there, I want teachers like Phil in our schools. In my world view, it's a very great quality indeed, to bring compassion into a job where most of the time you simply have to deny it.

Thursday, 19 April 2012


I've concluded (spoiler: no great surprise ahead) that for primary age kids, home ed is alright.

Do it. If Tinkertop finds school boring, threatening, or plain hates it. (And if you can face the days when Tinkertop wakes up in a grump.)

Really, there's no shortage of options out here, away from your conventional desk-and-uniform. So stop worrying. Look around and you find events, walks, talks, more events, workshops, activities, fields, meet ups, social groups, sports, and more pond dipping than you ever want to do.

Imagine, your classroom is the world.

And stop worrying about that social stuff. You can meet everyone out here, from experts and enthusiasts, to Doreen at the Co-op; your activity in society is whatever you make it.

The support for your off-template choice? That's good. I recommend the home ed community. They're well connected. Someone can recommend someone who can help. Think of it like any group offering expertise, knowledge, recognition, support. Like the gay community! (Only with more books about trains and dinosaurs.)

So home ed can work for primary. But what if you withdraw your kids from school after primary?

Oops. The way it is, you leave one culture, and enter another. Then the worry about exams! All your responsibility! Suddenly, with a syllabus to follow, mucking about in the woods seems much more problematic.

So, if you're transferring from primary school to secondary home education, I recommend:

1. Meet your local home ed group. If you can't find yours, find the nearest one; we're a connected network and you'll soon be given names, contacts, advice, ideas; you'll also find people to put you in touch with others already following exam syllabuses or hiring tutors. Go and meet them, but do not fear the hippies, and do not take the repellent spray with you; remember, we're no longer living in 1968.

2. Join the discussion lists. If you are worried about exams, join the Yahoo Home Ed Exams List for info on IGCSEs, OU courses, A levels, and college entries. Plenty of lists exist, and some contain delightfully mouthy, opinionated people who fall short of coming round and beating you up, but only just.

3. Research, wherever you find, and talk over your options with as many people who will listen. Many home educating types suggest avoiding school staff, local council factotums, and people with clipboards at this point because their agenda can be so very different from yours; you may not get a wise or understanding ear, but you might receive a lot of misleading advice with mumbo jumbo about the law thrown in as a deterrent. People with practical experience are a safe bet, although some may froth at the mouth if you suggest meeting your council staff. However, they may be able to give you local advice on the best way to get what you want from the council on your terms.

4. Enjoy the process of creating and exploring a new venture in both your life and that of Tinkertop, who can now forever boast her dropout status, and tease her sometime school friends by slouching around in jeans, reading at length, negotiating her workloads, and making cake (maths, French, geography etc). Who knows, she could be reading history at Cambridge in another couple of years; and she won't be the first home ed lass to do that.

5. Be reassured; home ed kids lead normal lives. It's true. I never met one yet with two heads, or sleeping on a park bench.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012


I take Shark, Squirrel, Tiger, and my recalcitrant bottom* to the British Museum.

Mostly goes okay. Apart from a tiff between me and Shark, about the best way to get into Mesopotamia.

I considered it sorted when she stomped off in one direction and I ran up the stairs to get in the gallery ahead of her, so I won.

(See? See what classy arguments you can have with an educated child? We come to blows over access to Sumer.)

Sulky feeling from the vanquished hung around a bit through the following Egyptians, Greeks and Romans (I told her I was doing it in standard narrative order), but thankfully it had largely disappeared by the time the guard chucked us out the galleries. (5.20pm prompt. Annoying.)

But you can have pictures. (Not taken by me. Part of any negotiated peace treaty is that I don't enjoy possession of the camera.)

We are given superb help from Neil MacGregor who may not have Teacher as a job title, but who is a brilliant educator. In fact I am so won over by him that he can now count another Friend of the British Museum, despite the bottom incident.

If you like, you can do some education along with us, choose your objects to discover, then decide which society you'd like to live in: Mespotamia, Egypt, Greek, or Roman?

Shark chose Greeks on the basis of the maritime connection, therefore bound to be sailing and fish. Tiger chose Romans, possibly because of a decent bathtime. Squirrel pondered on the Egyptians, what with make up and hairdos, but I reminded her they sucked out your brain and removed your organs to get you in the afterlife, when really you ended up being gawped at by coach parties.

Me, I choose Babylon, albeit with a confusing moon-based calendar. The weather was sure to be good, dinner on the table, and clearly a literate society where you could expect a written receipt for your temple chicken.

* It's not that I bear grudges, but I had an argument already involving my bottom at the British Museum. And they started it.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

I have to smash the right plate

Now here's something cheery and essential. A notebook for Goodwoman Cooks. Very pretty; pink suede; practical; retro.

I confess, I do prefer the partner version I'm working on. Badwoman Cooks. Notepad for writing down really bad words, a pocket for storing cards from the local takeaway, and broken crockery stitched to the front. (That bit I yet have to do.)

Monday, 16 April 2012

That's final

I finally plucked up courage. I told the children about the death in the family.

Death in the family? Close enough for me to stare open-mouthed at Dig on the computer screen and utter What? But far enough away for me not to howl in rage and beat at the walls. So I'm left in the middle. Death before time; incomprehension with certainty.

Then I left it some days before I told the children. But there's no getting round this, is there? It's a line, right there. I can't weasel my way round it; I can't put a bright side to it; I can't say nevermindputthekettleon.

First, I thought I would choose the best time, like there is a best time. Then I thought I would tell the children all together, like gathered in assembly. (Contemplation, no prayers.) But then I thought, I'll tell one - the other - the next, by which time I'll fear that my mouth will be accustomed to the sounds of the words; my repetition will lack the due weight. I'll forgo proper attention, and anyway, by number three I'll be doing the dishes. All wrong.

In the end, I seized the moment and told them. Tiger, sensitive and in tune with your feelings before you can know what they are, recoiled in shock, said Oh no, and clasped her fingers to her cheek. Shark, father's daughter, stared ponderously for a moment before suggesting with weighty authority that the planning of the family holiday would have to accommodate this new circumstance. Squirrel said nothing. Later she asked if I was going to make her wear the pink and white dress again, the one that I made her wear for the last family funeral.

Glad of that, glad of the protection she gave me, I took my way out and wittered on about white froth net under summer cotton; off the hook from further explanations: who was where, what he was about, the late night car park; the dissecting talk of post-mortems.

So, yes, it's me and Dig now staring glumly together over a computer screen, with talk about intention and prediction and expectation. Inside, we're both looking to our own mortalities.

I will tell Squirrel, Shark, and Tiger, dress to celebrate. You shall not send me off in miserable black. I want to know you'll be in party froth, sparkle, and pointy shoes.

And make sure, when I go, that I am, too.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Otherwise tasted of cocoa and vanilla

Morning walk, thanks to the geologists from Buckinghamshire.

Honestly, you need to find your local geology group. You can take to the fields and skies, and join in our soil and rock enterprise. You can span space and time as you navigate round your local quarry.

We can each learn about our horizons, limited and limitless, while we stare at veins, cuts, gouges, and ice wedges.

Best of all, here we are in touch with people who have found their passions. They are, in my view, the best sort of people. They let nothing stand in their way. A passionate person sees no boundary between amateur or professional; supremely resourceful and creative, they simply pursue their interests, come what may, regardless of judgement.

Thankfully, it also involves huddling in huts, looking at mammoth tusks. Just as well, because the wind has bitten my face off.

It is all to our local good. Squirrel comes home and sets about making a home educator's demonstration of solifluction.

Delicious. Especially after the rain came down on my slice.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

(Secretly, I love the hippies)

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger embark on their New Great Adventure.

Joining the Woodcraft Folk.

Squirrel tells me off after the first meeting. She says I have to do something about my social skills. Apparently, it is not okay to hiss at circle time, See? I told you they're just a bunch of hippies.

Well ladies, you can look forward to a summer of camping and outdoor pursuits. Me, I'll take you to the campsite, and then I'm staying in the local hotel where they can feed me a good dinner and a hearty breakfast.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Food finance

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are learning how to manage a household budget.

Or, making the sums work between four people, a house, a hamster, a notebook lust, a secondhand bookshop addiction, the garden, all trips, outings, visits, memberships of everywhere, the bottle shop, and running a car. Phew, the car! Fuel, costing the price it does!

Because what if I die? Someone's got to take charge and organise things. Better Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, rather than daddy Dig, quite frankly. Otherwise you'll all enjoy a plate of computer bits for tea.

This week, we are focusing on savings we might make to our food bill. So far we have brought this down to a daily budget of ten pounds, which puts food on the table to feed four people. It has gone well for the time we have run the tenner system, and we haven't felt particularly deprived. We have enjoyed some pleasant meals, indeed!

But now Shark suggests we should experiment and see if we can manage on a daily budget of five pounds.

Hmm. I am not sure. That looks a bit grim. I am not given naturally to making myself suffer.

But, as always, Shark's idea provides an educational opportunity. It could be the start of some real practical lessons in finance. Such as:

1. Obfuscate. I shall create another food budget called Social Dining. I can shuffle over to that any expenditure on food eaten outside the house. Maybe I could also create more budgets called Mobile Eating and Party Food. Creating more than one budget headline, redistributing the costs, and redefining a bowl of porridge as Party Food is an excellent way to meet the five-pound target.

2. Interpret. As far as I read the household budget in place, we count food 'on the table'. Then reasonably, if I stand away from the table to consume the smoked salmon, it is technically not on the table and I should get away with it.

3. Deny. Here's a plan. I pass Squirrel the purse and make her pay the check-out lady. Then I deny knowledge of the transaction details. If Shark asks, I can say that Squirrel took the decision and I was merely following her wishes.

4. Plan. Yes, the budget can be moved between days! Spend less today; move cash over for tomorrow. This means I can also borrow against Friday for today, then move the remaining money back again. Not called cheating.

5. Give to charity. Tiger is looking peaky. She is a charitable cause for dinner. I can supply food aid. It takes the form of baked salmon, raspberry mousse, and a bottle of Pouilly Fume. It's not my fault she won't eat it, but I can give it a good home.

6. Declare a dividend. I can set up a fund by which I own shares in the budget, but I exempt myself from all daily trading transactions. Then tomorrow I declare a dividend! I pay myself fifty quid. That is perfectly legal and I totally defend it.

There. I should be able to stick to my normal modest food expenditure, not suffer further, and provide the griblets today with practical lessons in household finance; teaching them to be prepared when they enter the Tory heartless lands of tomorrow.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Down with Skype

I think Skype is a totally inappropriate medium and should not be used by children.

I mean! They could meet anyone through that camera!

For example, they could see a grown semi-naked adult staggering around just upright from bed at 7am, falling out of a dressing gown with a coffee stain down the front, scratching their behind, then tripping over their own feet on the way to the shower and uttering a string of very rude words thanks to a smack in the face from a bathroom door.

How could any responsible parent allow their child to witness adults behaving like that? Any sensible parent would not let it happen. Stop them using Skype, that's what I say. You'll spare your child the traumatic and disturbing image of people who should know better. And you'll also save them the moment of total humiliation, when they have to sink their face in their hands and whimper, It's my mother.

Well, I for one am a responsible parent. Since this morning I have banned Squirrel from using Skype at the top of the landing at 7am.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Nothing else happened

I apologise in advance, okay?

But today all I can do and think is notebooksnotebooksnotebooks.

Just for today, ignore the children. They can hide themselves away with books and audio stories and soil.

I have them trained well in this independent home ed lark, have I not?

Anyway, it's fair. I am teaching myself how to make lovely notebooks. The kids can go off and teach themselves how to build a fridge, how to smelt iron ore, and how to lead a Mogoshiki Warrior from the Clan Thurror through the secret unlocking spell to release the tribe from the perilous Lake of Death by page 224 before the Beast of H'throngar comes to eat them in Chapter 13.

Frankly, I don't care, so long as everyone's quiet and leaving me alone to make these:

Catch Me. For people who are hopelessly seeking what they cannot have. You're doomed! You'll never have it! Believe me, I know. Let us keep our secrets safe in here. (This one, I'll put on Etsy, and promise not to write my confessions in it first.)

Knit Me. How can the world survive without your mug cosies, Aran sweaters which boil your eyeballs at 3000C, and a selection of knitted bootees for dollies? You need a notebook for those inspirational moments, ladies.

Tell Me. Not for sale, as yet, but generating a range of pocket notebooks for story tellers. (Who needs Moleskine, when you can have Grit?)

FSKGW ME. I need to sell these at Scrabble conventions. They'd sell like hto ckesa.

That is it. And all I can say about the passion is, I'm sorry.

PS. Gritsday Etsy.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Teaching the boys

We three intrepid mamas took our gang of five girls off to the great outdoors today; we sent them into the fields, lakes, and adventure grounds, and we left them.

We hear that they picked up some boys and taught them a thing or two about life.

Like, how to make a bow and arrow from willow and bark, how to stroke nettles without getting stung, and how to swear in French.

I hear from Shark that one of the 8-year old lads looked at her from cautious eyes, and whispered in blushing admiration, You're really clever. For reward, Shark taught him how to weave with bull rushes and how to dig river mud.

Boys, it's time to get out more.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Your Easter fun ends here

This is what you need to see. A bunch of home educators on a public holiday, round the kitchen table.

We have the maths worksheets out, and we're armed to the teeth with protractors, compasses, pencils and rulers.

Worse, it's a bank holiday Easter Monday.

The only point of which is to provide an excuse to teach division of boiled eggs into latitudes and longitudes.

Tsk. We are beyond all normal boundaries of sanity.

So have this as proof, that home educating parents are a bunch of hot-housing slave drivers driven to control a child's mind and destine them to lives of grinding misery, purely so we can pursue our selfish goal of breeding children with an Oxbridge degree by aged 14.

Oh come one, I was locked in the house all day with kids. What else did you expect?

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Easter Sunday egg hunt

A trip to the local museum where we fight a dozen kids from the Emmanuel Evangelical Church coach party for possession of the chocolate egg tokens.

(We win, of course we do, because we cheat.)

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Everyone should have an Aunt Fanny

Squirrel has found Enid Blyton.

(Yes, Enid Blyton and God are equal on the same footing right now, so either reading will do.)

When I discovered just how bright and glorious was Enid's salvation, one side of my brain exploded into melty panic. So would yours, if you saw how Squirrel's face lit up in a combustion of heaven-sent glee at discovering a 1968 copy of Five Go Off in a Caravan at the local charity shop (5p bucket).

What?? After I've plugged away for years, determined to create scholars of fine literature? Is this what it's come down to? Enid and a caravan?

So what does this say about my provision of a kiddy EngLit education? Here I am, feeding my offspring fine classic books of childhood, a selection of great and ageless literature, all the worthy kid lit authors, and I've paid for the Morpurgo-inspired plays, lit the incense at the shrine to David Almond, and ploughed my way through a routine and seasonal Dickens with all the voices.

So help me, I've even had a crack at a kid-style singalong with TS Eliot over the breakfast table. Believe me, I have suffered for the written word.

And now this is my reward. 'Mummy! They're going off in a caravan'. (Read: Self-evident access to Paradise/Heaven/Eden/Glory Be).

I am trying to stay calm. I have said nothing to Squirrel about her choice. I'm even letting her run through every 5p charity shop bucket within miles so she can collect and enjoy the entire works of Our Lord Enid.

But now it is true, that the calmer I remain, the more I can hear the other voice in my brain. The one which whispers, Enjoy Enid.

Because isn't it a terrible thing, to be denied the excitement of a caravan holiday, an adventure with Timmy, and an Aunt Fanny?

Maybe there is a bit of me, that is a touch envious of her innocent reading joy. I have had mine beaten out of me. Better preserve it in Squirrel. Perhaps she's inherited that special gift from her grandmother; my mother who would cosy up with Catherine Cookson in the morning and sit with Leo Tolstoy in the afternoon. She was happy with both, and then she would pick up a history of trade unionism in the evening.

That is a great gift. To be free in your choice, able to take in wonderful worlds at a leap, and happy with your ability to walk anywhere with anyone, judged by no-one.

Except me. Miserably, I would judge. I had been schooled. I had been brought to that meagre, uncharitable state, where you are given sanction and approval to be snooty about everyone else's reading pleasure; that elevated state where you can be shamed by popular writers colonising the family bookshelf, taking the space of worthies on the reading list.

Wisely, my mother took no notice of my fingering Cookson's pages as if they were diseased. She went to the library, and stocked up on Josephine Tey.

I have grown up since then. A bit of me - no, the normal, human, enjoyable, unschooled resistant large chunk of me - is now able to utterly enjoy Squirrel's delight, her lit-up bright face, at finding Enid and the Caravan.

I'm willing to bet it won't stop her racing off to Trollope or Dickens, and - without my messy intervention of pompous schooled prejudices - she'll always be able to unashamedly say, Enid Blyton? I loved her stories when I was growing up.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Good Friday at King's

I tell Squirrel we're going to a sing song. She nods off anyway during Palestrina's Stabat Mater, so I never needed to explain why there wasn't also a knees up like I promised.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Next, the kiddy chocolate stash

Oh dear. It is the Easter chomp-fest. I must consume gargantuan proportions of flour, fat, eggs, sugar and pink icing.

Faced with the tempting delight of 30,589 calories per day, luxuriously and generously sprinkled with edible pink glitter, I am faced with a real dilemma.

Does wanton consumption of raw sugar suggest my own willpower-weakness or my lack of resolve? Surely not. I could not accept any fault, blame, blemish, or imperfect stain upon myself.

It can be only one thing.

Dorothy and the ladies at the WI cake stall are undercover, merely posing as old ladies who enjoy making glitter cup cakes and selling them to each other down at the town community centre.

Really, they are evil, double-crossing conspirators, fuelled to madness, jealousy, and vengeance, plotting to destroy my petite, delicious body, and turn it into Size 24 by next Tuesday. They are conjuring with my mind, playing games with pink icing, and forcing me by spooky psychosis to buy and consume their cakes.

My daughter Shark is in on the plot. She has knocked out 36 almond biscuits, spread them out before me, and so far, I can tell you that 24 of them have been delicious.

(Thanks, Sam Brick.)

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

I can hear only laughter

The whole house has gone into lockdown. The children have discovered Just William on the iPlayer, and that is that. No more to be said, apart from the fact that I could give both the BBC and Richmal Crompton big smackeroos.

Edited to add: The sound of laughter conjured by the world of Edwardia is now meeting Little Britain in the Gritty front room, thanks to the following exchange:

Squirrel: Mummy! Come and see William give his talk with the dog in the summer house!
Grit (thinks): Damn. I have to complete my Tie Me Up bondage notebook for the lady at the WI.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Note Me Note Books

Ellie and Mr W came to dinner. I say dinner. I mean, takeaway curry.

That is probably what you'll get too, if you come to dinner at Grit's. Because these days I'm spending all my free time not preparing delicious tender meals with a Nigella cookbook and a pouty face, but cutting up leather, threading industrial-strength needles, and trying not to guillotine the edges of my fingers with a razor-sharp blade. That is, I am absorbed with my current quiet passion, making lovely lovely notebooks.

Of course I showed them to Ellie and Mr W.

Ellie ran her fingers over the metal, laced, and gilded butterfly on the front of Collect Me, and we talked about transience, change, and the impossibility of capturing what we seek, then she stuffed it down her bra and refused to let me have it back.

Mr W is less poetic. He manages his own business, which is old world print and practical and no-nonsense. He has hands the size of dinner plates and uses them for plain and frank speaking.

First he lays his hands flat on the table and tells you what he's thinking, take it or leave it. Then he rolls his eyes when I cringe a bit pathetically and whine that the lovely lovely notebooks are maybe worth not much because I'm not a trained or professional book binder or maker or even much of a leather crafter or doer, and hey, doesn't matter, I'll give them for free, sure no-one would buy one at a fiver, not even two pounds, I'll cover the cost of materials myself, can't possibly think about it, let's agree it's a stupid idea and never mention it again.

Mr W lays his hands on the table and tells me the law. He gives me a talking to about business, cost, profit, stupidity, and tuts when I whimper. He's clearly had more than a bellyful of this nonsense. He slaps his hand down hard at misery words like can't, and sets me up with an Etsy account, ten minutes flat. Then he says, That's how things are.

So here they are. My hands and my notebooks. The working space is here. The Etsy store is here. Take it or leave it.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Ms Dior, I presume?

Brought sartorial elegance to the Post Office today.

I was a little surprised Scott Schuman did not jump out and snap me in the act of standing in the queue, but I considered he must be busy, what with hanging about the old town in Milan, Rome, or Bologna, so is unlikely to be looking out for me in Bletchley.

Well if he's not coming to me, I must go to him!

On the street! (Actually I'm lying. It's the front room. But I have known people to stare when I photograph my own legs on a street corner.)

Anyway, shut up about that. See! Kenneth Cole boots!

Not exactly the 1950s Left Bank Paris look I was pitching at, but a bargain from the car boot sale! Only two English pounds! The woman said the wobbly heel was intentional. She said it makes me walk very Marilyn Monroe. Yes, Tiger, thanks for pointing out that my calves are too fat to squeeze inside them. But the zip ain't bust yet.

Cartoon jacket circa 1984.

Rather ingeniously, I strapped a leather belt round my midriff to hold it all together, because I think the jacket (one pound) is actually size 20. Now, can you imagine the swing I've created on that hemline? It's very Dior New Look 1947! I cut off the shoulder pads. Shark said she was never going out in public with me ever again.


A present to myself from Lamma Island tat shop. Beautiful, soft and warm. Not what you normally expect from acrylic. I told Squirrel she was not to use it as dolly bedding.

Now see what visage of elegance you have missed, Mister Schuman?

And as I have told Squirrel, Shark, and Tiger before, I try to remain in that blissful state where I know, but don't care. I try hard not to allow English tutty-tut-tut to penetrate my thick brass layer, so can more or less wear what I like.

Simply enjoy it, mes enfants! Or console yourselves. In six weeks I could be back to the old jeans and dribble, then find, to my misfortune, Mister Schuman lurking in Bletchley Post Office, waiting to snap for his new and hilarious collection, Mess of the Month.