Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Disappointments abounding

Single act play in less than two minutes.

Dramatis Personae
Mellors, The Gardener (aka man with chainsaw)
Grit, Woman of Shires (aka one of the living dead)

Setting, lobby of house.
Enter Mellors, sweaty, wearing skimpy vest smeared in dirt, holding chainsaw, fresh from cutting hedge. He regards Grit, obsessively rearranging plastic flowers in lobby (covertly trying to get an eyeful of Mellors in his underwear).

Mellors: Hi Grit! You look fantastic!
Grit: Oh!
Grit: [undoing top button on blouse discreetly] Really?
Mellors: You're looking SPORTY.
Grit: [hitching up skirt as if completely casual but probably thinking this is going the right way for hot sex with Mellors in the garden shed. Affects coy attitude.] I am?
Mellors: [Triumphant] YES.
Grit: [Triumphant] YES.
Mellors: By the way, did I tell you I'm putting up my rates? I'm afraid next time I come round to trim your privet I'll have to charge you ninety quid.

The end.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Have week, will achieve

Tiger is on her summer holiday this week.

I do not approve of her choice. Living at the stables, having fun.

My sympathies are with Splash, or Splish, or Slasher, or whatever name Tiger's unfortunate horse is blessed with. When it claps eyes on Tiger's determined expression heading towards it, I won't be the only one who tenses my buttocks. Fun at the Stables will involve undignified arse painting with a barrel of pink glitter. Then will follow all manner of frenzied attention. Plaiting tails, bejewelling manes, decorating hoof, and goodness knows what else the misguided stables girls can dream up. Brazilian waxing and vajazzling are probably not far away on Slasher's dreaded list of beauty treats.

Meanwhile, in this house, with one child out, something akin to peace will reign. I am left with twins, and they are always, always easier than triplets.

And I already have them half-sorted! Shark I will ferry between swimming and a spray-can bash where she is to graffiti a catfish. Squirrel I will take to the charity shop. Not to offer her as a donation, obviously. She is on the prowl for some unwise sparkle shoes. I shall try to prise her off that idea and suggest she sticks sequins on her plimsolls instead.

Apart from these not very onerous duties, I can see ahead of me a whole week of relative stability. I shall not waste it. In my usual way, I will achieve something everyday, or die in the attempt. To that end, this morning I have ceremoniously writ my to do list.

I have pinned it to the wall. To my eyes, it reads like a triumphant poem of unquenchable aspiration, calm bravery, and ongoing perseverance. Nation, I share it with you. And the knowledge that I have already ticked one.

find trousers
cook rock
pay hedge
buy gun
post Henry V
book horse
feely box
stitch on harp
duct tape
go to Anglesea

Sunday, 29 July 2012

No longer Educating Rita

Well, the news round here is, the sparkle's dropped off the Open University.

We once thought the OU might be a viable route for Shark, Squirrel, or Tiger. I'm sure I recall that you could combine short study, single modules and a variety of courses to put together an impressive CV of wide learning thanks to the OU. With their help a woman could totally bypass the conveyor belts of school certificates and GCSEs without harm or hindrance to her future employment or that PhD she yearned for in astrophysics.

Once, maybe lost in the mists of mythologies, wasn't the OU also about offering alternative educational opportunities? Choices? Routes into learning? Second chances? Especially to those people who never got on with school?

These days it's all about grabbing the market for first students completing a single degree. So we're looking around at higher educational opportunities and we see the OU is just another competitor in the global learning products and services industry, assessing its worth and standing via the international finance league tables.

What a let down. Last year the management sent out press releases congratulating themselves for putting up tuition fees to a mere £5,000 rather than the (now standard) £9,000. Yes! At last! Now you can pay thousands more than ever before!

But there was, wasn't there? A time when the OU genuinely aspired to be open? How it had socially benevolent ideals? Devoted to life-long learning before those words became empty eduspeak, didn't it attract scholars engaged in groundbreaking academic research, promoting equal access?

I'm sure I'm not imagining how it quickly gathered a reputation for a passion of learning; a place where you could go to rewrite educational wrongs, put yourself in the place you should have been after school set you off all wrong.

How noble that must have been!

Pooh. Now add the OU to the list of education businesses. Where the OU once created academic excellence, now it re-packages online distance-learning courses devised by administrators. Led by people who have impressed the world - not with their scholarship, pursuit of academic research, nor their contribution to human knowledge and inquiry - but by their careers in Microsoft, Marketing and Middle Management.

You don't have to look much further than the point when the OU appointed a Vice Chancellor who was a former General Manager flogging Microsoft's education products. That was a decision which spoke volumes about how the university saw its place in the future.

Well that's the soap box for today. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, unaware of society's fine educational ideals or the betrayals that can sour an allegiance, remain indifferent towards the OU. Shark says she's going to Southampton. I say at least on that score, the OU can breathe a sigh of relief. Shark eyes Squirrel a little dangerously when she pips up that if Southampton has a geology department that takes field trips to the Philippines, she might consider them. Tiger says she's going to take an art course, and as far as she's concerned, the OU's not in the running.

Sign the petition. The Guardian 

Saturday, 28 July 2012

In the sandpit, not the chalkface

Today's educational outburst brought to you fresh from the disused sand and gravel pit outside Buckingham.

See here, as evidence: one crappy photo showing sediment deposited from glacier meltwater, containing stones from Northamptonshire and Scandinavia.

That is not my original research, you can guess. I learned it from a geologist. She taught me. Using herself and her practical teaching aid, pegged to a rockface.

I know it doesn't look very teachery. But I trust her. She knows what she's doing. Even though last month she fell off a cliff.

In fact, she is just the sort of wonderfully inspiring person I want my children to meet. Outgoing, adventurous, enquiring, a teller of tales for rocky marvels. She never fails to enthuse us with lumps of sand. They teach us the ages of the earth. Two minutes in, mouth open, face agog, Squirrel whispers, Amaaazing.

Then, when we pass our friendly geologist a rock we've found and ask about a tiny colour and crystal detail, she turns it over in her hand, and might say after a pause, 'hmm, good question! I don't know!'

I love her. The expert admits the limits of our knowledge; the bluffer never does. The bluffer passes hot air for authority and says, That's the way it is. The expert passes the rock back to Squirrel and says, That's why we need more geologists. To find out why.

So as for that news - more non-qualified teachers like my treasured geologist to be hired in schools - I have mixed responses.

Because Gove and his buddies are right - people obviously do not need qualified teacher status to communicate a love of a subject. Parents are first teachers, and we didn't need a certificate for that. Now who cares one jot whether the geologist inspiring us can wave a PGCE or a QTS?

We home educators, we use local knowledge, word of mouth and contacts to find these people who are passionate about what they do; who communicate their loves, interests, and curiosities; who engage us in thinking and make us imagine there's a place for us in their world.

To us, their certification is pointless. They are either the inspiring people we need, or they aren't.

So what's a teaching certificate for? It isn't a measure of an ability to enthuse, and it doesn't grade your talent to capture the imagination of a child.

A teaching certificate is a product of the system it supports; it says you have passed through a structured classroom route; you've been induced into the way of things; shown the mechanisms behind the scenes; seen how the institution works as it does. A teaching certificate assumes you fit into the way of the educational world; you have an interest now to do so. You're stamped with certified classroom management skills, you can fill in endless diagnostic report cards, and you've received tried and trusted techniques for crowd control. Your teaching certificate speaks first to the institution and then to the parents. It's a stamp of approval for a mass system, where the children really come last, but everyone says they come first.

But Gove et al. are fudging. How many passionate, dedicated and inspiring people in music, language, or gravel will give up a life of free-thinking pursuit for classrooms and admin? Brave souls are few and far between. Children are awkward. Schools are hard work. Free thinking is not an option. Creative spontaneity is not on the curriculum. Field trips are discouraged. Timetables are rigid. The management is suspicious. The paperwork onerous. The parents litigious.

For our passionate geologist, I wonder how she'd handle the routine of the school day, day after grinding day.

Well, we're fortunate. She's not at all inclined to take up teaching and lock herself in a classroom. She'd probably smile a happy smile and say, I think the sandpit is where I belong.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Lodho Joue à Tom Waits

HesFes is over for another year! Book us in for 2013. It's the only week I can take off duty.

But it's time to return to the party life that is home education chez Grit! Of course we have an appointment with the bizarre arts. This evening, with L'Orchestre d'Hommes-Orchestres.

You'd almost think they were British, this lot, with their uncanny ability to simultaneously celebrate and undermine.

They're not, they're Canadian. Along with the New Cackle Sisters, gloriously exploring the music of Tom Waits.

The gritlets are a little bemused. Unsure what to make of the tea cups, wine corks, chocolate bar, golf club and crash helmet.

I loved every second. Perfectly suited to this niche market of experimental music theatre, in homage I might now declare myself Canadian, so long as Canadians are welcome at HesFes.

But now I must drag the tent out the car. The festival pop-up tent that I can't pop down, so must drive with a popped-up tent squashed painfully into the boot, obscuring my windows.

Meanwhile, as I undergo trial by tent, I leave you to amuse yourself with Lodho. Interview. Review. Youtube.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

King Lear, Rendlesham Forest

Here I am, back at the hippy festival, sat in a field, thinking, Isn't wireless amazing?

At the press of a button I can hear disembodied voices talking to me, all the way from BBC Suffolk!

After listening to the kerfuffle about the shameful graffiti on Wolsey's Gate, a speaker says, in passing, that  King Lear has been spotted running about Rendlesham Forest.

Communications in a field being what they are these days, I'm straight tapping the ipad to check availability before calling the box office on the mobile to book us tickets.

The wonders of modern technology! Thanks to the inventions of the twenty-first century, we spend the evening in company with BFF Elle and Kate at the Theatre in the Forest, watching the most bizarre representation of King Lear I've ever seen.

Not for you, if you like your Shakespeare dark, deep, and from the 1600s.

In this version by Red Rose Chain, King Lear rides a pimped up mobility scooter and is dressed like a clowning eighteenth century courtesan. Does that go some way to suggest the style?

Yes, of course this enthusiastic and spirited cast lack the venerable age of years to pull off the horrible despair and revelation King Lear experiences. I get the feeling this team would represent catharsis by an NHS tube and a bladder bag. The blinding of Gloucester was done via laser beams, and the Fool was represented by a ventriloquist's dummy.

But if you enjoy mischievous creativity, provocative shows, and youthful fun in a forest, then you must see it.

The off-beat presentation of this weighty play held our summer holiday audience without trouble. The style helped draw out the play's references to what duties belong to a child/parent and king/subject. The cast found new ways of telling the story and they taught a message to the kids. Edgar leans over to a five-year old in the front row, wags a finger and says sagely, Obey thy parents. Greeted by laughter. Comedy? Sure. It's not often you get that in King Lear.

But best of all, this energetic, part slapstick performance introduced new ideas for my group of mini Shakespeare scholars. The ventriloquist's dummy nearly worked. It became a symbol of child dependency, a portentous sign of madness, an expression of touching vulnerability, and a downright spooky moment of malevolence.

Go on, get out your computers, ipads, phones, Google map directions, picnic hampers, and midge repellent spray, then spend an evening in a forest being entertained by the unlikely comedy/tragedy King Lear.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Ephemeral and useless? Sounds perfect.

Whizz to Milton Keynes IF Festival for the 1926 Lotte Reiniger film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed with live score by musician Mira Calix.

Yes, I agree. I am one of those spoilt home ed mamas who don't earn their own wage, am destroying everything of equality that feminism worked for, live a pointlessly vacuous life, and am nothing but a ruthlessly selfish, ambitious middle-class parent destroying the community, everyone else's educational futures, and the nation's cohesion.

Er, I suppose it's no defence then, to claim this dash across country is to provide Tiger with a scenario for her future? Employment in movie animation with electronic sound trackery?

I suppose you're right. And I agree. That claim I make - education - is wearing a bit thin, even to me.

I'm whizzing over to see the 1926 Lotte Reiniger film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed with a live score by musician Mira Calix because I am totally self-indulgent. I'm not missing it.

This is Grit Life Plan A. Do what I like, avoid paid employment, follow curiosities, and enjoy a self-indulgent lifestyle. If someone else is paying, thanks. Am I really to sacrifice Plan A so I can spend a life in dedication to someone else's great enterprise? My heart groans. Do I have to give away my whims, fancies and desires for the benefit of all? I think I would rather provide everyone with a social service by being uniformly resented.

And after Prince Achmed I have tickets with the Hat to see At The Tipping Point. I'm not missing that, either.

It is true though, that this astonishing acrobatic performance, with an even more astonishing stage-becomes-screen, induces a sense of my earthly doom and my general uselessness for a moment, yes.

But it quickly gives way to my conclusion that we're all stuffed! Better make the most of the day, waste not the time, and indulge myself in what pleasure I can. Put like that, life lived ephemerally seems a good enough option to me.

And, hopefully, the evening reassured Tiger that no matter what a person's desire - animating wooden rats, bashing away at a computer sound system, or suspending yourself from a metal wire - we all, on our own accounts, produce unique moments of wonder. Annoying people along the way is just part of the deal.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Home ed camp

You education malcontents, people with children unhappiest, and alternative school seekers.

Next year, resolve to come by HesFes on a day ticket. The gatekeepers will let you pass, I promise.

For your visit, bring kid, or something of equal spirit, like a window in the childlike part of your soul still open to all things curious and promising. Come, safe in the knowledge that to be among these alternatives you need not disguise yourself by dress bizarre, nor by flowers in the hair, not tie dyes, nor dreads. Neither should you fear that in two footfalls of your entrance, some suspicious twitching hippie will offer you industrial strength smoking fluid.

Although yes, this home ed camp for a slice of this society is a little like you strayed through a time portal into 1969. A little unreal, like a psychedelic vision trapped in a field off the A1120.

I sit flopped in the shade, failing to find my computer a clear route back into the internet world of 2012. A teenager saunters past me, touching his black satin top hat and softly smiling. His fluffy brown dressing gown flaps about his ankles. He's followed by a four-year old, singing happily to herself, dancing alone to her own story in a neon pink scarf, all a-rattle with spinning silver coins. Six or seven skinny boys, coats made of mud layers, chase each other with water guns. Their faces earnest on urgent matters of life or death, closing in on enemies with fierce determination. Strange, their intergalactic game play, cutting through the scenes where children of all sizes and ages and paints weave around, some dancing, some running, some on bikes, some leading small panting dogs and headed happily for the showers.

If you bring a kid unsure at school, then warning. Come here early, fix a meet-up time to take them home, then watch them go. You won't be wanted. There's too much to choose from and too much to do. Adults are superfluous to this playground.

Displaced persons, these accidental grown-ups, they relax by standing idly by, hands in pockets, shuffling their feet, waiting and talking or hanging about in the hope that they're needed. Some sit huddled outside bright marquees, clutching teas and earnestly talking edubabble. Others listen inside tents, weighing up wisdoms of speakers on personal experiences of education laws, special needs, local authorities, education plans, government policies, how to open doors of learning when others closed them down. I sit watching and wondering about everybody, while children chatter and music plays.
Around us all are places for activity: the grand solar cinema, tents for food, coffee, and rest, the travelling library, the art tent, the pole lathe, the empty chair dangling the label Public Speaking, and a plastic body displaying stomach, heart, and lungs.

Behind me another sign goes up. These signs catch me with their intentions: for a moment, they promise this great heaving, moving camp might stitch my dispersed children back where I would see them as a single group again, maybe for a Thursday flowers in wood at 2pm; perhaps come as a team at 4pm to shape beads, play games, write poetry, print scarves.

Maybe over there, come 6pm, I could find my children. Or not. It wouldn't matter. These hours belong to them, and I am one of the flow of parents, not needed. The notes I peeled from my purse this morning have sent my tribe scattering away, hunting their own cooked dinners and ice creams; secured them gone for better things to do than I can offer.

Someone interrupts me and asks whether I found the internet connection out of here. I say no, not yet. So I'll shut down the computer, settle back, and soak up the time.

Sunday, 22 July 2012


See the delightful Dior-tinted Big Toe of Grit. Here it relaxes, taking the lovely Suffolk air, having fun, CAMPING.

PROOF that I have put up a tent at HesFes and not died in it. Additionally, I would like to say that I actually have slept a night in it!

Honour is satisfied. Dig owes me a fiver.

But the campsite at Stonham Barns is very lovely. It has six toilets and a shower. Maybe there are some 750 people here. Who can count?

Oh look! I see how my very lovely brother lives not far away from this centre of all alternative education action taking place this week in Suffolk!

He possesses, I note, certain living essentials. Like walls, doors, roof, curtains, functioning toilet, shower that some kid isn't occupying with the sole aim of washing the dog, bed, and bedlinen (get it yourself: Val has kindly departed the house in a huff, in anticipation of my imminent arrival).

Ahem. HesFes is a wonderful place where the children can live the autonomous dream, is it not? Here you are surrounded by like minds. You can let your children run free, safe in the knowledge that they will sort themselves out with friends, workshops, lectures, books, discussions, free play, music, practical tasks, films, public speaking, washing the dog in the shower, threading knitting needles and tent pegs in each other's hair, painting themselves blue, and feeding happily on breakfast, lunch, and dinner if you bung them a tenner every morning and mutter Be off with you, young autonomous types! Psst. I'll be back tomorrow, after breakfast.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Tomorrow, DIY surgery

Go on! Ask me that question AGAIN.

Do home educators ever take a holiday?


Everyday is a holiday. We just choose unlikely activities for our holidays, that's all.

Today's lesson: disembowelling

Friday, 20 July 2012

Two delights, but one week

I have a lot to thank The Stables for.

No, not the horse house. The Stables.

Jazz and live music outfit.

Thank you Stables! And Arts Council, MK Council, and performers. For creating the fantastic 2012 International Festival, Milton Keynes!

Thank you for your imagination, vision, and ambition, for procuring an international array of performers, creating a national event, and having the staying power to send a lot of organising emails. I bet it involved that.

Flipping through the IF programme with great excitement, I can choose a dozen things for the mini grits to do, from the quirky to bizarre.


Not so perfect, during the IF week: Team Grit isn't here.

We are out. In a field at Stonham Barns, Suffolk.

IF coincides with HesFes, the home educating festival. Magnet and exhibition centre for alternative educationalists, out-of-schoolers, part-schoolers, unschoolers, hippies, travellers, radicals, libertarians, autonomous anarchists, pink hair brigades, ferals, half-wolves, small people who know how to handle a knife, Cassandras in their own lands, and righteous principled harbingers creating your country's educational renaissance, if only you would bloody well listen.

I bet HesFes took a lot of vision, ambition, imagination and organising emails as well. 

My fingers flip the programme for IF. My greedy eye and arty heart catches the pleasure that is ahead, but it's too late! My principled soul and clapped out body must go to HesFes. And I am obliged to Dig's wallet. He paid for HesFes tickets already. The month he was safely in Brazil and didn't have to live in a tent.

The IF programme winks at me, seducing me with its loveliness. I am easily led.

After a struggle with my soul (takes fifteen seconds) I decide that Wednesday I will abandon HesFes and pop back for a tryst with IF at Lotte Reiniger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926). Can't miss that.

But for today, the junior Grits can experience the gorgeousness that is the beginning of IF.

Enjoy then, Sacrilege bouncy Stonehenge

 and Carabosse fire gardens.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

But it is triumph

Brave! Undaunted! Resolute! I STAND ASTRIDE the local field!


Because today! is the day! when Colossus (and helpers) test out a mound of old camping stuff scammed from the local charity shop for a fiver!

After an hour, the helpers have legged it.

Colossus resolves to reign supreme.

After two hours, Colossus reflects how a person of great dignity will stand undefeated despite great provocation by a pile of non-matching tent poles, a deflated mattress, and fourteen yards of split nylon.

After three hours Colossus declares the bastard tent will submit to an iron will or DIE.

After four hours Colossus requisitions a hammer, a foot pump with a hole in it, a large roll of duct tape, three puncture repair kits, two children (neither of them related) and discovers the uncanny ability to swear so bad it is sure to make every tent for miles around QUAKE TO A SINGLE COMMAND.

After five hours Colossus observes how proceedings have been slyly watched by a scabby cat up a tree. The scabby cat is IMPRESSED. Colossus is PROUD.


(Forgot to take picture.)

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Learning the Olympic spirit

Should be a day when I am simply cockahooping, doublehighfiving, overmooning and doing what all expression signifies a glorious tootatooting day.

The Home Ed Olympics. At a stadium in St Albans.

Forget the sideshow in London. This is the day when home ed children come from counties all about to take part in an organised athletics day with a proper timekeeper, clipboard, numbers, medal set and audience a-clapping.

Now at this point I should also be HAHAHAHAing because a day like today clearly proves how very well sorted we are. One in the eye for the naysayers who think home ed kids cannot be sporting nor can socialise in any way. They underestimate the determination, organisation, and extensive contacts of the mamas and the papas.

I drive there in great full heart, despite the lashing rain, plummeting temperatures and extensive roadworks on the M1.

But there was something in the air not quite right about our competitor Tiger. A cloud looming about her head, settling in her scowls, and gathering in her heart.

Suffice to say that Grit drove home two hours later in the lashing rain and plummeting temperatures while the happy Home Ed Olympics continued their glorious day behind us.

Grit of the Shires finds only positive life lessons here, of course. Pin a medal to my chest for indefatigable endurance (read: obstinate stupidity). Say that the lesson of the day is, Home Education offers you hours to discuss issues of personal expectation, achievement, involvement, competitiveness, endurance, success, failure, and getting to the races on time instead of locking yourself in the toilet, all while you are stuck in the traffic back home through the extensive roadworks on the M1.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Surely home education will be good for something

Tiger has fallen in love. Again. Honestly, she is a fickle child. One minute it's all a-swooning after a glimpse of Bubbles. Next she's enamoured of a Daisy. Or a Dandelion. Or a Delilah.

This one is called Sparkle, or Splash, or something. I forget. Take a look at it. Looks like all the others, doesn't it?

Really, I should be a horse fanatic. Out here in Buckinghamshire, practically in spitting distance of the Cotswolds.

Aversion to Horse is, of course, not doing me any good. Not with my ambitions for my daughters. Because there has to be a Plan B regarding this home educating enterprise, doesn't there?

If Plan A fails (an independent life after university? Frankly, I am doubting the possibility of a lucrative career in embroidery) then Plan B it is.

Plan B is to slyly turn the story of home education into one of private tuition, then launch my offspring at the gentry, where a Fail in NVQ Forestry is guaranteed to classify the bearer as a member of the intellectual elite.

Once there, my darling daughters are sure to find themselves wealthy young men, blinded by the idea of a private education and deaf to the defects. One sure way to this end, I am convinced, is to get a girl on a horse.

We are at some disadvantages here, I do recognise that. First, socially. Second, I cannot bring myself to pay for the upkeep of a horse; handbags are more useful. Third, I am not a stables woman. As is woefully evidenced by my performance today. But for Tiger's sake, I will try.

I have set myself some goals.

1. Swoon, obviously and decorously, when in company of Lord Horse. (Must not go UGH UGH UGH.)

2. Remember the stable girls are individuals! Even though they are all aged sixteen, thin as twigs, 'living in', fair to blond, sporting ponytails, and called Am / Em.

3. Careful with behaviour. I simply end up showing myself out like a gangster's moll. I am so completely not. The cash is honestly acquired. Nothing to do with my husband's activities at all. I can tell the Tax Office anytime how Dig is utterly scrupulous in all his dealings with the pimping business.

It is me. Blame me. I never got the hang of the banking system, and now the wretched Barclay set won't give me any chequebooks. What else can a woman do? I simply have to settle the stables bill (two residential holiday weeks, riding, purchase of hat) in fivers.

Of course this causes a fluff at the desk. Dropping to my hands and knees to scrabble about a handbag for a roll of fivers obviously isn't the done thing, but it's not as if I was keeping them down my bra. I learned my lesson about that when I went to John Lewis to buy the sofa. Do not keep a roll of two thousand quid in the left cup of your bra. But surely, keeping cash in the same purse I reserve for my sanitary towels is sensible. If I am robbed at gunpoint (in Buckinghamshire this is common) then isn't my robber least likely to touch my private sanitary towel purse?

Well, my shortcomings at the stables are obvious. But I am never beaten by life's troubles! I resolve to continue another few months in the hopeful pursuit of Plan A (or until the maths, spelling and general gaps in academia become obvious), and then look to Plan B, quietly placed up my sleeve.

PS. Please do not tell anyone, but my only interaction so far with the Old Berkeley Hunt has been to swing punches at them in the defence of poor persecuted Mr Fox! Obviously I can't do that anymore. Not only am I a woman of maturity who cannot run fast enough now to avoid arrest, I have three young charges to launch at the upper-middle class in a socially responsible manner.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Now pass me the iced buns

Monday! The day I throw open the doors of the estate to a small group of home educated offspring so we can happily follow the curriculum Mapping The World Through Art.

This regular event is always a success. Partly thanks to the iced buns at break time, partly thanks to me, and partly thanks to Ellen McHenry. (No, not that one. You are confused. It is Ellen MacArthur who sailed round the world and went bonkers.)

It is not only my skill with dividing an iced bun into six that leads me to taking some of the credit for running a brilliant Mapping The World Through Art session this morning. It is because I have the wit and wisdom to abandon Ellen McHenry's activity (watching a video, yawn, yawn, yawn) and instead get out the trusty Adana Five-Three.

All women of the shires have an Adana Five-Three up in their attics, don't they? By what other means are we to produce personalised invitations for the Parish Council announcing the end of season history talk entitled Old Boundary Stones and their Rightful Place in the Poetic Tradition.

As I expected, there were many squeals of delight when I squirted out the indelible ink, placed the print roller on the kitchen table, and unscrewed the previous message (Tel: Mrs Henderson on Wisbourne 82). Then I tipped into the eager hands of the happy children some 2,456 lead blocks of type which they had to sort out into the words Mapping Through Art, backwards. Sadly, we were forced to miss out The World after failing to find another R and considering that The Wold didn't quite match our ambitions.

Inserting the words Mapping Through Art backwards into the Adana Five-Three caused a few minor problems for the compositor (especially the spaces and when the letters all dropped out), but we managed to hold things in check even though my colleague in this enterprise, Mrs Andrews, realised with horror she had printing ink on her cardigan. Proceedings erred a little on the dangerous side only once when Mrs Andrews suffered an attack of the control freakeries and began breathlessly screaming NO DARLING NO NO NO THE LETTER M GOES HERE but apart from that, everything was fine.

We all enjoyed this lesson on 'how print changed the world of maps' very much indeed! My own dear child (the irrational phobic one) realised, after the session with the Adana Five-Three came to an end, that she had been handling lead, which is poisonous (as previously researched in our chemistry lessons), and began obsessively washing her hands before demanding I scrub the kitchen table, clean the floor, bleach the Adana Five-Three and wash down the walls.

Nonsense, I said. In this wold (!), you have to take risks if you are to pursue an education, and that is precisely what we have so obviously achieved once more, on this very satisfying, learn-how-print-changed-the-world-of-maps Monday morning.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Woman of the shires remains undefeated

The thing is, even though my weekend plans have gone belly up, thanks to English Heritage submitting itself to the merciless weather, I cannot give in.

I cannot let a mere flood defeat me. I must beat down this monstrous, vile, miserable, washed-away day with my happy face!

I look outside to this morning's rain, streaking and clawing the window glass. If it is scrabbling to enter, like a furious sleeted poltergeist, cold and wet and remorseless, I can say, it has won. The lake on the office floor is widening daily. Soon I will need to navigate by means of a small boat to reach the back door. Dig says this is easier than finding a builder to mend the hole in the roof.

Oh well, what with the rain, the event cancellations, the camera that will not obey me, the oven that doesn't work, the lights that cut out, the tap that drips, and the hole in the roof, there is another option, and it is to measure the drop on the banisters.

But remind me. What am I doing here, house-bound? I am one of those undefeated glorious women of the shires! I have taken on that happy responsibility to provide an education to my little grits, day by joyous day, week by hopeful week, disappointed month to painful year. More, I have resolved to make this an outdoors education. Outdoors as much as possible, given that I have three kids and a wooden floor that I adore.

I consider its ancient knots, gnarls and lustrous swirls, and how it might show itself to me if we stay in, bound and defeated by the rain. What will become then of its deep lustre after careless use by those child tokens of happy play? (Paint, glue, scissors, home-made spears, pilfered screwdrivers, wire cutters, masonry hammer.)

It is obvious. I must find another outdoors event to bring brightness to the toil and spare my floor. The best options are those that provide my children with an active education; the downright excellent ones are those where someone else takes my kids off me while I congratulate myself on what a fantastic a job I am doing single-handedly.

After an hour's research, I have amassed eight options. Eight! I consider them all, near and far. But really, given my own dispositions, there is only one choice today. Northmoor Hill Nature Reserve.

Here I know I will find a geologist standing under an awning with a rock. I feel sure I can persuade her to lead me and my happy band on a splendid walk, pointing out hillocks and woody bits, highlighting swallow holes and pointy stones.

We, in return, will bring to her all our enthusiasm and interests! Our bright-as-a-button curiosity for all the world and the brilliant education we can find in it - an outdoors education, a don't-care-if-it-rains education! In five minutes she'll have forgotten she now walks on crutches or ever fell off the cliff.

So that is what we did! We walked over Northmoor Hall Nature Reserve with a Geologist! Oh Happy Day!

I would show you photographs. I cannot. As I said, the camera will not obey me. But you can be reassured, after a day with the wind in my face, and a rock in my hand, I know that now I need not measure the drop on the banisters.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

No FoH

By 8.30am I have had a breakdown. It started with a minor fit of the swoons leading to a full-blown pulling at the hair and screeching like a banshee.

Shock induced, probably. Inevitable, however, since English Heritage cancelled the Festival of History.

Yes, I know to you, well-balanced, socialised, sane human being, the word cancelled slipped past your eyes with ne'er a care. It is an inconsequential matter is it not? Inducing the scale of household panic we might expect if a five-year old left the fridge door ajar for one minute, i.e. a 0.0009 ounce of panic, compared to the hysteria that a five-year old and a fridge can bring about. But to me, sad and lonely old maid that I am, the Festival of History is a BIG THING. Its cancellation, bigger than anything.

You'd think for me that matters can't get any worse, but they do. The FoH - those of us in the know like to call it FoH - is one of those events of incalculable worth I actually plan my year around.

Come our January planning meeting - the thing we parents in two countries must do - I say to Dig, Summer is non-negotiable. I must be in England for the FoH.

He looks at me without pity because I am an irredeemable human being, but I do the laundry and look after the kids, so let it pass, because you never know when she might turn ugly with the tin of baked beans again.

What he does not realise, probably along with everyone else in the world, is how important FoH is to my home educating year. The potential of it is so great, there is in it a year's worth of value. From a single day at FoH I can keep going with 52 weeks of activity: discussion, pulling-books-off-shelves, watching history programmes, attending minor local reenactments, taking part in craft sessions to make costumes, astrolabes and pomanders. I will say Remember when we spoke to the Romans/Georgians/Scott of the Antarctic at FoH2012? and off I'll go again, on my tireless circuit before we reach the glory that is FoH2013.

Anyway, it probably doesn't matter to you. Or anyone. I just thought I would say that if I look a little downcast over the next year, the cause is probably not the helpless matter of life, nor the thread of hopeless daily despair I find myself in. It will be all down to the cancellation of FoH.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Ice Age 4

Took my kids to see the 1925 Eisenstein classic, Battleship Potemkin.

Only joking!

It was Ice Age 4.

An enterprising home ed mama secured a private screening for 30 of us home educating types at a discount. (See? You school choosers? We home ed parents HAVE IT ALL.)

Now any parent obviously needs to know about Ice Age 4. It's one of the school holiday things to do, right?

As you'd expect, Ice Age 4 is not a ground-breaking film employing montage as a narrative device to explore the drama that led to the 1905 Russian rebellion against the Tsarist regime.

Ice Age 4 is actually about a woolly mammoth, a sabre-toothed cat, and a sloth.

Oh yeah, there's a squirrel called Scrat, who really is the star of the show and should have his own movie.

The mammoth, cat and sloth run around a lot going NOOOOOOO! because the rocks and the ice are breaking apart! and they have to run to safety.

Dramatic tension is provided by way of a baboon lookalike called Captain Gutt with his piratical lifestyle (selfish, deceitful, sure to end badly); additional humour for grandma is provided by the sloth's granny (looks like a vulture and is mean but insightful); and the love interest for the sabre cat is provided by way of a lady cat (looks a bit like a snow leopard). She has an attitude problem (cute'n'kooky so you know it will end in submission).

After a lot of flying-through-the-air, crash-landing and ice-breaking, all the animals reach safety in the land of the free which looks like America.

Yeah. That's it. It's like Ice Age 1,2,3 except this one is called 4.

I'm telling myself it's a media education, of sorts. And just another step on the way to Eisenstein.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Can't say it any clearer

Unambiguous communication is becoming a bit of a theme this week.

Not just me, delivering the news to Squirrel that I shall chop off her hair if she doesn't brush it. That's pretty unambiguous, isn't it? And not only Matthew Dunster, directing Queen Titania to bare her bosom at the sight of Bottom with his ass head. I think that's pretty unambiguous, too.

It's Pushwagner.

No, I'd never heard of him either. I won't pretend I had. His first solo exhibition outside Norway is at MK Gallery. Don't imagine he's some callow youth. He's venerably over 70 and a modern-day Munch, so it's time we knew of him.

I throw Shark, Squirrel and Tiger at his work today, joining a group of home ed kids and a workshop. Not knowing what we were to see, never having heard of Pushwagner, I arrived expecting more of the same old clap, having been bruised last week at the Tate, but that totally unprepared me for the graphic art of Soft City.

This is astonishing, determined, obsessive stuff, suited to autistic spectrum art. Mind-blowing in its detail, compulsion, and perseverance.

The message is unambiguous, too. I don't stand in front of Pushwagner wondering what he's trying to say. He couldn't say it clearer unless it included a knock-out blow straight between the eyes. Modern society, with its deadening mass production and relentless drive to consume, has created a population of individuals without identity or difference: they are like automatons in metropolis. In this system, where are you?

Metropolis (the 1927 Fritz Lang film) is exactly what I stick in the DVD after the workshop. It's a perfect complement.

The little grits are slightly underwhelmed by this message of mechanised life in a dehumanised dystopian city. Possibly they are a little bludgeoned by the heavy mix of Pushwagner, Lang, and the workshop leader who managed to get our group of 6-12 year olds to compose faces of mindless robotic automatons using sugar paper and marker pens.

I wag my finger at Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. I tell them they have yet to learn about crushing totalitarian visions filled with the walking dead. Home ed kids always think they're unique and that every day is different! Worse, they imagine they have power over their decision making! That they can choose not to lead a life made from mind-numbing, spirit-killing labour dedicated to mindless consumption!

I add, don't forget, there are loads of home ed people to whom this sort of thing speaks volumes. I only have to whisper New World Order and they're off with the total oppression and manipulation of the masses, and don't look for any ambiguity in that, either.

After a day of Pushwagner, Lang, and a little light reading from the depressed on the home ed lists, I'm feeling a little bludgeoned myself. You can go and see why. Then let me know when it's time for some poetry, ambiguity, and deniable interpretation.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

A post of two parts

Here is a great benefit to the home ed world. We are connected.

I know it doesn't look that way. When the school-choosers eye-spy the solitary home ed family navigating the High Street at 11 o'clock on a Monday morning, they must imagine we are alone in the world, without friends, and excluded from all society.

It's probably not interesting to know we're taking the kids to an education - call it the High Street itself, or Tesco, post office, dentist, library, playdate, or the local community hall for a two-hour stick-and-paste session on Renoir. I sometimes think, I dare you. Ask me that question, No school today then? I'll play the devil and answer, Nah, Couldn't be bothered. We're all bunking off.

But we're not as solitary as anyone might think, trust me. Home educators have secret signs and magic codes! (Okay then, the telephone, email, and internet.) Late yesterday, in the midst of my solitary day (via Luton) I get a call. Psst! Four tickets going cheap! Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, Dunster's version of Midsummer Night's Dream. Wanna come?

Like I'll say No.

Home ed has the benefit not only of an active community all over this country, it also offers a scattered, half-planned life. We can be open to spontaneity and well-timed ideas, especially ones that seem good at the time. And so what, if it's a theatre production ending at eleven in a closed London park miles from home? It's not like I prise the kids out of bed each morning for the school run.

So tonight we leg it to London to breeze hello, and see Matthew Dunster's direction of Midsummer Night's Dream.

If you're thinking of going, I can tell you, I found Dunster's version both truly enlightening and utterly annoying.

Qualities which are sure to make me fall in love, so I won't be able to get it out of my mind for some time to come. A niggling scene will wriggle its way back into my head, piss me off, and then I'll have to think about it all over again; I'll come to a different conclusion than the one I made before. At that point, I'm enslaved to it forever and say, The Dunster Midsummer? That was a crucial production. You should have seen it.

Simply, the Dunster version brought the play to me in a whole new light. And for that, I am totally enamoured.

Placed in the present, you're met by a brilliantly vivid and realistic set. The setting fringes the mainstream - complete with road traffic noise, functioning crane, old caravans, directional signs, and ad hoarding. The promo highlights it as gypsy, although it could easily be travellers, migrant workers, temporary squats, condemned housing estate, construction site.

In this fringe society, one which is breaking apart while reasserting values and reproducing customs, the issues become mainstream social: what is it to make an abusive relationship, to forgive, love, take power over another, take control, rebel, comply, or find liberation?

I don't know how I could ever have missed some of these issues in this play, and it took Dunster's direction to bring them out. Take, for example, those lines, you are but as a form in wax By him imprinted and within his power To leave the figure or disfigure it. Why didn't I see the physicality and threatening brutality before? In this version, it's clear: Theseus speaks these words as Hippolyta, defeated queen, stands by his side, eye blackened, foot bandaged and wrist, broken.

Dunster brought out these readings and pulled this play to unambiguous ground. Queen Titania I never saw before chest naked, nor with such ferocious sexual energy. When the plastic purple dildo was waved about, Mary Whitehouse, aka Tiger, sitting next to me with her fingers over her eyes, whispered Did I know this play wasn't suitable for children?

No, I'll never see Midsummer Night's Dream again in the same light. But that strength was also its weakness. Because even without the director pulling it about here and there, it's a strange play of parts. We already have to collectively agree that yes, they belong together - Athens, woodland fairies, court politics, personal love traumas, summer nights, brawls, magic, confusion of identities, patriarchal order.When you add in My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, sexual politics and a group of construction workers banding together to perform Pyramus and Thisbe, I'm not convinced the whole thing gelled.

Perhaps it didn't matter, and perhaps it didn't need to. I tell myself, I overthink everything. You're going along on a surprise to sit in Regent's Park, for Heaven's sake, and Pyramus and Thisbe was ridiculously funny, exactly as it should be, so just be grateful for the spectacle of disco trees set in an imaginative location.

Go. It might work for you, or it might not, depending on how you like your Shakespeare.

But, if you take my advice, pick an evening with a clear sky. Unless, like us, you take advantage of a sudden phone call providing late seats in the wettest July on record, when you have to tell yourself that you enjoy the irony of watching magical frolics in a hot summer forest, while you sit drenched with cold sleeting rain sluicing down your face.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

I never was impressed by statistics

Of course I listened to Niall Ferguson's lecture on education.

He lives in a more sheltered world than me, that's for sure. If his chums suffer an attack of the vapours after he expresses an opinion as mild as 'there should be more private schools', then my recommendation is, he should extend his social circle.

That is the problem with the lauded opinion formers. They have limited opportunities for socialisation. Stuck in the same circles, navigating a way between the deferential, the groupies and the awe-struck. They cast about for something mildly provocative to say, something that will cause a bat-up-the-nightdress moment, and they gauge its impact on people who think not much different to themselves. But when it's said, and the kerfuffle died down, then everything proceeds much the same as before. So they did not do much, except make a bit of public noise, create an uncontroversial controversy, and ultimately reestablish business as normal.

Niall should meet a few types out here, in the world of alternative education. Easy to please, easily shocked, apathetic, unopinionated, we aren't. We are the land of the bloody awkward. Let him meet the angry, the educationally outraged, the genuinely disaffected, the rocket-propelled zealots, and the zen-philosophers. When he's had an earful of them, let him meet the paranoids and revolutionaries. Somewhere between are the pragmatic types, and the simple souls who just imagine your schools have already served their purpose, so look online: the future's there, if only you could see it.

We've all educational options in our world. Betcha we'll be influential, too. We have fundamental rethinkings and radical imaginings for education. We put ideas into practice, put our monies where our mouths are, and show you ways forward; better than twiddling and tweaking a structure that's already not working.

Take that as a challenge, you thinkers and doers in my landscape. You have to provide the stale educational world with persuasive alternatives. While they twiddle about with more of this and fewer of that, you have to present imaginative ideas, provocative questions and coherent arguments about the educational routes you're already creating. 

Be careful about what you sell, too. At the moment, what's being sold to the public is a set of scores on an international league table, measuring economic success with corresponding marks in school attainment tests. How those numbers are wrought to alarm us! We're all invited to feel guilty and ashamed that we're routinely outscored: humiliated by Korea and Hong Kong. But isn't it true that alternative forms of education offer different paths from 14 A* GCSE scores or the opportunity to have your commercial productivity tracked by the OECD until the day you drop dead.

Me? I agree with Niall. Especially when he says that if you want to find out about the type of educational success Britain can enjoy if we adopt the Chinese model, then you simply must go and look at it.

Monday, 9 July 2012

This one will do it

I am on the search of another cure for my tortoise balloons. The diet isn't working. It is ages before the hospital appointment. I must embrace the homoeopathic approach.

To this end, I first have to abandon the kids in a park. Not any old park, obviously. The park of our Monday meet. When a bunch of home educators come together so we can introduce kids to other kids, call it the S-word and, while the offspring disappear to beat each other with sticks, chat about how no-one understand us.

I think of our local home ed groups a little like an extended family - dysfunctional disparate people, some of whom have nothing in common except for the fact that we all educate outside of normal - yet we still come together routinely to alternatively amuse and piss each other off.

We can support each other too of course, while we bitch and whine, which means I feel safe to dump my kids on them while I attend to something much more important. Me. I need to zip across town and track down this miracle homoeopathic creme with its seductive packaging and fragrant promises.

Back in the park, someone would phone if there was blood.

See? This is how focused I am on the kids and home education in general. Not at all. I am the centre of my attention. I have to make myself be fit for purpose, which presently I am so clearly not.

For a start, I look ahead in my diary and see that I am soon to be sleeping in a field, joining all the other hardened home educators in the annual sleep-in-a-field-fest.

I doubt my capabilities for enduring that, even when I am on top form, so I have already negotiated an opt-out clause mid-week. But I'm worried that in this present state of health I shall not be able to carry out this sleeping-in-a-field responsibility at all. I won't be strong enough. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger will never forgive me.

So the only option is to dump them with the helpful extended family who can complain about me when I leg it, and go grovelling in alternative remedy shops looking for the perfect answer.

Yes! I find it! Aqua, Prunus dulcis, Calendula, Lavendula, Anthemis nobilis, Citrus grandis. A force of Roman deities sweeping to my aid!

But this cure will work, trust me. It promises everything I want in the world!

Instant relief, perfect skin, normal eyelids, a properly responsive autoimmune system, refreshed spirit, fortitude, emotional strength, the stamina to sleep a week in a wet field, weight gain to make a shapely thigh and not a thick ankle, a dinner of spinach and salmon, deep red wine, a vulnerable naked man, and a tiny toy fox terrier to keep in my handbag.

This could be it. Now all I need do is apply it thrice a day, and lo! The magic will prevail!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The last choice

Diary has a dozen entries for today. Fancy the local museum's display of pig sticking poles? Clay at Hatfield House? A dash to Suffolk for Kentwell? Playdate on the local field? Or the Royal Society's Summer Science Exhibition in Piccadilly?

Science won, but no-one could face London Midland trains.

Engineering works are a hazard. If there's a bus, it won't run. If we miss a train, wait an hour. There's a danger we'll spend the day not having passed GO and it'll cost us 200 quid. And could we face the ritual argument? The one we're sure to suffer because we broke the rules, whether we knew it or not. Maybe we passed the date at which the rules changed. Or we can't travel on this train with this ticket wearing those shoes.

I thought I could drive to a tube station. Could I face the underground? Tiger has a nightmare she's locked underground where she can't get out. I swear I did nothing with her and a coal hole when she was three.

Anyway, no-one fancied sitting in a car staring at the back of a Volvo for two hours while it rained.

So we didn't go anywhere. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger chose to stay home.

I wasn't very happy about that. If I'm out, I can distract myself from my medical miseries. If I'm out with the kids, standing in front of a prof talking about Doggerland, I know the children are receiving an education (regardless of whether they're picking it up).

But I was outvoted.

I passed the time sending myself down holes, chasing the DAO digestion enzyme.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger set themselves a bizarre competition to each write a travel guide to countries they've never visited. Six hours later they unhunched their limbs from over their desks to proudly show off pages of scribble. They demanded I award marks out of 10 for Brazil (Squirrel), New Zealand (Shark), and Canada (Tiger).

I don't give marks out of 10. Of course not! This isn't school. I gave grades, and everyone got an A, even though the Wikipedia pages had been copied.

I had to do that quickly, because by then I had to investigate the impact of grape seed extract on the capillaries.

I'm proving nothing with this post, am I? Apart from the fact that, denied an outing to somewhere more interesting, left to my own miserly devises, and faced with this stupid body behaving in its unknowable ways, I have become the most boring bastard I know. I squandered hours on searching magical elixirs to make it better again, or kill it by accident from an overdose of pansy extract combined with 2,000 mg of zinc and 2 pounds of vitamin C.

Nah. I have 12 pages of illegible and badly-spelled Wikipedia travel pages to Brazil, New Zealand, and Canada. It must therefore prove that kids always find an education wherever they are, whatever the circumstance, and no matter what better the options.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Henry IV Part One. Or, BBC2, come and get your kicking

Kicking? That's for causing chaos in this house at precisely 9:01 pm.

And again, at 9:03, 9:06, 9:15, 9:20, and 9:32. Thanks for nothing, BBC2.

Clearly, BBC2 does not understand what a bloody big thing is The Hollow Crown in this household.

I already frantically made a telephone call to Brazil. Could I make the bastard TV work? I'd punched its knobs for a god-forsaken hour. The only human being this heap of valve-based metal junk responds to is Dig, and he's snoring in Rio.

Never mind what time it is. TELL ME WHAT BUTTON TO PRESS.

Against all odds, at 8:59 la famille Grit is all lined up, on sofas, chairs, and cushions, eagerly staring at a creaking prehistoric TV, anticipating Eyre's version of Shakespeare's Henry IV Part One.

Death. Amorality. Kingship. Rebellion. Dishonour. We watch people hit a ball to each other.


9:01. Confusion. 9:02. Doubt. 9:03. Fear. 9:04. My heart is palpitating. Where is Henry IV Part One? Did I press the wrong button and get the wrong picture? Shark is screaming WHAT'S HAPPENING? Tiger is pulling herself up by the hair and Squirrel is hyperventilating.

Then BBC2 calmly announce they're showing tennis! Maybe not; maybe later for The Hollow Crown; maybe never! But hey, THERE'S TENNIS.

In this house, there is CHAOS, pure and simple. The triplets respond in much the same manner they always have done when brought together for a great overwhelming excitement, but are then denied the moment. See them as they see their joyous expectation cruelly snatched away and emptiness dumped in its place. They thump each other.

They have done the same since birth. Since Tiger hit Squirrel with the shovel. Since Shark punched Tiger in the face with a cycle helmet. They are triplets, BBC2, and  THIS IS WHAT I'VE LIVED WITH.

I am straight on Twitter, which shows you just how far things went to push me there. I'm telling you, BBC2, if you had reneged on that promise - failed to screen Henry IV at 10:00 - there would have been riot vans outside this house at 10:01 and I'd be marching straight down to London with the first things that come to hand on exiting the front door and that is fittingly one lily vase and a tennis raquet.

Now, having got that off my chest, I can throw out first thoughts on this production.

Oh happy day!

Weird it was not. Neither outlandish, nor dressing everyone in space suits, no shit like that. Wonderfully cinematic, the scenes were beautifully medieval, from the audience-involving opening scene in the street outside the Boar's Head Eastcheap tavern to the final battlescenes at Shrewsbury.

Visually delicious, the tavern and castle scenes were perfectly presented for spotlights, diffusions and shadows; the music was discreet and well chosen; the costume colouring was excellent, blending tones of browns, russets, pinks, plums, greys; and the camera work brought out characters and ideas in the play smoothly and gently.

Yes, it's all licky love. Rare on gritsday. Oh shut up. Let me enjoy the gush.

Hiddleston as the rogue Prince Harry was brilliant. He trod a careful line in a wide range: from being pleased with his own wit but never smug, delighting in the company of Falstaff but never seduced by it, being simultaneously disingenuous and brutally honest. In his dealings with Falstaff he trod borderlands of mockery and true affection and, in the key play scene - the father/son relationship explored in the tavern - he showed both remote kingly authority and intimate human insight.

Joe Armstrong as Hotspur was fantastically hot-headed. I loved that no-nonsense accent. The yelling at slamming doors after the royal meeting. The growling and pacing, turning and snarling, the mouth-wiping with the back of the fist. Perfect. I loved too the representation of his relationship with wife Kate; the slapping about and intimate physical interaction which showed the character perfectly.

What can I find annoying, misplaced, or overdone in this? Damn, nothing at all.

The entire cast was cracking. Jeremy Irons was well suited to the drawn and gaunt-faced King Henry. I wouldn't cross him with all that tortured suppressed angst. Who'd enjoy a ticking off from the lean and grim Jeremy Irons? 

And Falstaff was so much better, thanks to Simon Russell Beale, than the version first put in my head, c1977. At the age of 17 I obviously hadn't spent the proper amount of hours in boozers getting irresponsibly drunk with characterful people. The Falstaff I store in brain bucket A Level is far too abstract - he's a removed-from-reality globeful of sinful continents; the academic inverse of royal governance.

In the Eyre production Falstaff is not abstract at all; he is a social creature, feeding from other people as he feeds them. And Beale brilliantly plays the crucial theme of the father/son relationship. As the alternate father to Hal, he can never show the sacrifice that love requires. A father would put his son's interests first. Beale (Hiddleston, camera work, and the tender music) bring it to that point where - almost - I could believe Falstaff would care about Hal, but I know those eyes are ultimately for Falstaff; his self-interest and self-love comes ahead of all; he sacrifices nothing. These wonderful actors have put these performances on lines that bring out the nuances, complexities and interests of the plays.

See, I'm looking for a miserly thing to say about it but I'm still failing.

Okay, the soliloquy Hal speaks early on - the secret plan to immerse himself in the underworld and emerge great and glorious - I know you all... herein will I imitate the sun etc etc - never quite convinced me. But that's in the original play. Hal's obviously enjoying living the low-life, and Shakespeare provides him with a lot of fine notty pated greasy roasted tallow to enjoy.

Howabout I declare an interest in the Welsh aspect of the play, having married a family which throws itself back to Welsh poets and scholars? Any opportunity to be simultaneously proud of them and take the piss out of them always proves attractive to me. What can I see, but that double edge shown here? The love scene between Lady Mortimer (speaks Welsh) and Lord Mortimer (doesn't speak Welsh) needs Interpreter Daddy (bombastic, self-important Owen Glendower). The relationship deserves to be, and is, mocked, but there's touching tenderness in it too.

Well I have to find something annoying, right?

Okay, t'castle oop North looked stereotypically grim. Plenty of lowering cloud, bare grey stone, studded wooden doors, harsh light, echoes, gloom. Reflects a twentieth century interpretation of life in t'castle. But did it harm? Damn, not a bit of it.

Someone point me out something in this production that was vile, for goodness sake, otherwise next I'll be ascending to heaven on a cloud.

I've thought of something.


Friday, 6 July 2012

Oh well

Spent the morning flat out in bed.

Wait there.

If you like to imagine what follows is a glorious sustained essay on the joys of sexuality, stop reading. Take the fantasy with you, and elaborate the narrative in your head. Go happy.

If you are still here, you can have the truth.

Last night (conveniently after the doctor's appointment), corrosion, buckling and general chemical erosion hit the entire Grit edifice. The complete structure gave in. Steel nerves, brass neck, stone heart and thick skin. It all tumbled down, blasted by a wrecking-ball bug the size of Planet Jupiter. Actually, a knock-out blow from Planet Jupiter was just what it felt like. These days I have not much resistance. I could probably have been floored by a microbe a hundredth-size of the Higgs Boson particle.

I expect everything will be fine and I will spring up again, back to normal, within 24 hours. I haven't any other option. Dig is pimping in South America and the Junior Grits need dinner. 

And I am not surprised the stupid body fell ill. It is all a bag of bone. Anything can attack it. Thanks to the restricted diet I eat while I try and stop my even-stupider autoimmune system from attacking the body that offers it a home, I find out that I now weigh in at a weedy 7st 11lbs. Man, it hurts. There are some days I feel I can lift my glasses to my face and I'll knock myself out.

Well, at least the diet is progressing and working, slowly. It started from a luxurious base of around 8 rice crackers and a glass of water, before it became water only.

Introducing regular foods from a zero start, bit-by-bit, is the key, so I am told, to discovering the thresholds about your diet that can help you. In my case, stop my own throat from strangling me, and preventing my skin looking (and feeling) like the neighbour lost control of his blowtorch. But look on the bright side! Tomorrow I intend to experiment on myself with a Brazil Nut.

To get well as quickly as possible and arrive at the joyous point where I can eat, put on weight, and be normal, I am of course seeking supplementary and alternative forms of remedy. For a start, optimistically swallowing somewhere in the region of 980 vitamin tablets a day. No, of course 250mg of B6 in a camomile infusion might not work, and why don't you tell me the dosage gives me nerve damage. But I think I at least deserve a letter of congratulation from the Board of Trade or something, just for helping keep the international pseudo-science industry alive.

Because I am simply happy to try any dietary experiment I can by also introducing all irregular, faddish, get-well-quick food and drinks. Especially any substance that promises immediate good health, great well-being, and general nirvana. I exclude traditional Asian medicine like snake face and panda nose. I am still vegetarian and ecologically minded. (Although give it another few months and I might change my opinions.)

In this spirit, yesterday I tried the magic elixir called Beetroot Juice. The bottle carries a line which tells you that it colours urine pink, and do not worry, this is normal.

As I say, I always look on the bright side. Abandon the life you planned and accept the life you have. Yes, that saying might have originated in a fortune cookie, but it has served me well. I think of it now, as I lie in my bed, wondering how many years I have to drink Beetroot Juice and never taste a Burgundy again.

I planned a life of dissolute irresponsibility. Enjoyment, travelling to intriguing places around the world, dinner engagements, alcohol, spending other people's money, avoiding all work and eschewing serious enterprise at every opportunity, indulging in routine idling, and enjoying entire days in bed blissed out for all the right reasons.

I have managed none of them - or all of them for such a short time it now barely counts in my favour - but look on the bright side. I might manage what I could say is the finest achievement yet. Piss in pink.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Dunno. Maybe a Norman reenactment

A happy band of education-wise parents take their offspring to the delightful Forest of Marston Vale!

  Idyllic countryside offering peace and relaxation amidst the joys of nature. 

(Aka, set of old brick pits, ex-industrial sites, gravel bowels. Now wooded up, pimped up and, with a cafe, ready to party.)

I would show you pictures of what our happy band of students did in their play date educational outing, but they all ran off after this shot and we didn't see them again. We wise elders took advantage of our leisure time outside the cafe where we sat puzzled by the thing called sun-shine.

After three hours it was, sadly, time to cease discussion of womanly things like best-suitcase-packing-strategy and saggy bosoms, and depart. We flushed the juvenile party out from a bush where they were hiding, whittling bows and arrows in preparation to defeat the enemy. No need. We came prepared with ice creams.

A remarkably peaceful day. (And educational too, I'm absolutely sure of that.)

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

oof ooof oooof

Honestly, I think I might be growing old.

Another two years and I'll turn into my father. Sat in front of the TV, denying I am deaf while the entire family tuts. I'll interrupt with a constant stream of What's he saying? Should I know him? What's happening now?

Finally, bewildered by the plot complexities of Coronation Street and unable to resolve the character confusions presented by Emily Bishop, I shall emit an exaggerated, exasperated PPFFFFFTT! then grip my hand to my chest to indicate ITV now drove me to that heart attack, and serve-you-all-bloody-well-right.

Having got your attention, I will shuffle myself dramatically off the sofa with a suppressed pain noise of oof ooof oooof, before marching in an undignified huff back to my shed where I will tinker with my train set.

My father's reaction now begins to make sense. Life is calmer when you surround yourself with things you understand.

Don't get me wrong. I am fine with our visit today. To Shakespeare's Globe, for Henry V. He is not my problem. Neither is his story; I accept the jingoism as of the time, speaking something to ours, and I see they downplay the potential for the anti-French jokes, probably in the spirit of European harmony.

If anything, the character of Fluellen, the scene-stealing Welsh Captain, only adds to the narratives I wander about with in my head. He provokes some satisfying discussion afterwards with Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. We wonder if showing Wales as producing spirited men who fall short of playing buffoons, but through their humour engage us with their sense of fairness, loyalty and honour, was simply politic of the time - Catherine, Henry V's widow, went on to marry the Welsh Owen Tudor, and thus give rise to the Tudor line and Elizabeth I. So we can all make parts of the play fit comfortably in the whole stories that I can understand.

Here, have a celebratory picture, just as we're about to begin.

But then I make a mistake. After the production, we must kill an hour before our next two appointments (eat at The Pasty Shop; have an argument with London Midland).

I suggest to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger that we visit Tate Modern.

Aged 20? My younger self might disagree with the griblets. I would say that the poly-plastic foam nailed to the wall is tremendous, radical, art.

(Oh, sorry, that last one's the ceiling.)

But now I am aged 52. I have grown a moustache like my father, and I grunt oof ooof oooof sounds when I lever my backside off the sofa.

So I should have foreseen trouble. In two minutes I am swinging punches at the suggestion I might like to give Damien Hirst some of my money. He has never given me any of his. I evade him for floor three. In ten minutes I am making annoying comments in a loud voice in front of the art.

What's he saying? Should I know him? What's happening now? It doesn't make sense to me. It doesn't fit my narratives. I can't see any craft. I can't see the point.

It is just as well there are no explanatory statements. I am likely to be tremendously underwhelmed by artistic visions which suggest now is the right moment to be passionately overwhelmed. Especially by art which splinters across time, space, and being in the enactment of making with resources which includes life itself.

But the Tate then interrupt matters by picking a big fight with me when they try to impose rules to protect the sanctity of art which is, I'm betting, challenging the sanctity of art by reconfiguring our hegemonies.

They asked for it, and they started it.

But I'm not alone, am I? I'm on the down escalator, ear-wigging the conversation of two better-bred ladies than me. One whispered, Well I'm not sure it's my thing. The other conspiratorially replied, I know! And you're not allowed to be rude about it in public, are you?

Ladies, I beg to differ.

On the streets outside, as we walk by the river, we pass the creative ideas of National Theatre's outside/inside: coloured sand (splashed over pavements thanks to kid play), wooden booths for listening (teenagers lolling inside, shoving each other about and chewing gum), and a cafe mocked out as backstage (refuge for adults). All vibrant, in use/abuse, colourful, creative, imaginative. It fits into one narrative I have, and that's for sure. That I'm reaching my father's age, where art on the streets is much more relevant to me than art in the Tate.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Bosom bare

Attended the breast screening unit for a mammogram.

I went out of incompetence, because I forgot to cancel. That, and my fear of humiliation, so bashed about the head I am with tickings off that my missed appointment with the NHS just increased the debt to your nation by another 3.5 million. Indeed, the guilty shame of bringing the nation down to its knees is even greater than the fear inspired by Doctor Internet telling me that clapping eyes on an X-ray machine will give me cancer.

But I had every intention of cancelling, yes. Within seconds of opening the 'invitation' I came to the conclusion that I am so low risk for breast cancer I am probably skulking in the bottom .000002% of the mother of all likelihoods.

I live a low-risk life, sadly. I wish it were otherwise. Vegan, non-smoking, no substance abuse, no risky behaviours (unless late-night jam making counts), non-drinking thanks to a hundredweight of antihistamines swilling about my bloodstream, with the last sexual experience conducted in the eleventh century. Life is an ascetic experience more properly suited to the miseries of a medieval nun sat on a rock. I am neither proud nor happy about it. And those are simply the joyless deprivations I am prepared to admit to publicly.

But I reckon it was the unconscious part of my brain that made me forget to cancel. That part of my brain which, if it could articulate coherently, would probably caution, Matey, with your range of freak and borderline experiences - let's include the wildly improbable multiple birth - the chance of a parcel happening again like that is .000002% of all likelihood, so better get that breast screen; better safe than sorry.

So I went. I made myself believe it was out of curiosity; I have never had a mammogram before and wondered what would happen.

I can tell you. Check out the car parks first. Driving around the hospital grounds for fifteen minutes, cursing, with blood pressure rising, is no good way to start. Clearly stated in the letter is Car Park 9. Only there isn't a car park 9. There is car park 4 and 5. Maybe the solitary posts once carried numbers, but the numbers are ripped off. On health and safety grounds? Or simply for my added convenience? So I had to drive round counting car parks. Not much defence, I know, for blocking the ambulance entrance to A&E, but there you have it. When I later found the receptionist huddled in what looked like a riot van parked round the back of the education facility, I suggested I could help out right there and then if she would supply me with a bit of string, a piece of cardboard, and a marker pen.

Once we got started (or after she patiently listened to my complaints about signage), I was processed quite smoothly. Chat in the pre-scan gave me the idea I could back out completely and still save face, but I decided to go through with it if only to find out what happened next.

At this point, I should warn you that if you are fat, you must lose weight immediately. Certainly in the step you take between the reception and the cubicle where you must remove your bra. The cubicle is the size of your broom cupboard after you have filled it with brooms. I am an unimpressive weed of a measly size, and when I took off my glasses my elbows were bashing the walls. Incidentally, those are made of a polyester sheet, so don't bash them too firmly or the whole structure collapses.

Also on the advice list is do not wear a dress, obviously, unless you have a pressing need to show off your Victoria's Secret must-have knicker set to the x-ray lady who isn't interested.

From then on, when you have left the tender heart of the receptionist and the womb of the cubicle, it is all machinery. You intuitively know what it feels like; how your own weak, clay-made body, skin and bone can stand, when confronted by the giant industry of metal and plastic.

The x-ray machine used on me was appropriately called the compression unit, which is exactly what happens. Stand upright - well, exactly as you are told, with a fuss made about pointing feet, shoulder position and elbows - then there is an undignified lifting of the right breast and flopping it out flat on a tray, whereupon it is promptly squashed by an overhead unit pumped down by a foot pedal. Then the left. Then the side. Then the other side. Now you can go.

The fifteen minutes it all took from beginning to end were conducted practically and efficiently, which is either good or bad, depending on your preference. Too efficient at the button pressing and you feel those medicals have forgotten your heart is still beating; too inefficient and there's nothing but a sense of outrage that while you dutifully turned up for the appointment, the disorganised incompetence of the NHS just squandered 3.5 million of your taxes.

For me the time was all redeemed by a touching moment about a handbag. Where is it? Have you got your hand bag? So ladies, my final advice is, even when you are standing naked to the waist in what looks like a riot van with your tender extremities uncommonly squished by a gigantic machine resembling an industrial trouser press, keep your handbag with you, at all times.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Did it rain?

This weather! Cold and windy, it rains and it rains. What can you do with kids when it rains, eh?

Well, you could wrap yourself up, make sure you're warm and dry, then bundle your kids down to that point where the river meets the town.

Then you'll see what your kids can do when it rains. They run at that river, energy bursting like sparks. They'll pull off their shoes and socks and, if they're attentive to anything you say, they might slow down their eagerness just enough to don their wellington boots.

Unless your child - like Shark - delights in feeling the river stone hard under their soles and the rippling green water flow over their toes. Why would anyone ever need wellington boots when you can have that?

Then the other kids come.

The dog too.

And the tiddling nets come out, the trousers are rolled up - or slip off altogether if you are aged three - for now we are wet in river flow and rain splash, and water can merge altogether to drench and soak.

Let them stay there then, bounding and jumping in water, filling their boots and swinging their nets, until it is four o'clock. The adults with their cold faces buried in their dripping hoods, and their hands pushed deep into warm pockets, can shout Time's up! Now the kids and the very wet dog think of dinner, and clamber out the river to trek back home through the town, running and sloshing happily or, if they are aged thirteen, inching forward on hard pavement, giggling, because who needs shoes when you have feet?

And the never-ceasing rain, it pours down on us all.

I could say, That's our education. That's our home education.

But I won't.

I'll say, That's childhood.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Dodge the clouds

Quick! It's not raining! Let's run to the farm...

...pick strawberries and gooseberries...

...and make it back home again!