Sunday, 30 September 2012

See you later, daughter

Thanks to the news - maths teacher runs away with teenage schoolgirl - our local group fell into that conversation. Again. The one that starts, Would you trust your daughter to them?

No. Not if we're talking education. For which read, learning about life at a speed my daughters feel comfortable with; learning about themselves, their skills, interests, ambitions, intellects, desires. I trust the world at large; the world that isn't containment and isolation. Outside, in this world, with luck I can keep my eye on proceedings, know my daughters, myself, our contacts, the community, this society.

If we're talking grades at exam passes? Schools have a process for that. But still I trust myself to help pin-point the help each daughter needs with those GCSEs, A levels, university entries.

If we're talking physical risk? Sure. A bunch of middle-aged men are kitted out in skin tight suits walking backwards into the local quarry, taking my daughter Shark with them.

And that is no problem at all.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Not all was lost

Drove around the countryside, looking for a wood. As time ticked by, I got increasingly stressed. Didn't help.

I wasn't as shouty as that time I went looking for Salcey Forest.

Then, I was careering around the random lanes of Gayhurst, the car screeching on two wheels as we spun round hairpin bends, and I'm shouting to the children Look out for trees! They unhelpfully sent me hurtling towards neat rows of firs standing to attention in perfect country gardens - manicured trees, pruned, cleaned and tidied up trees, trees who hold their arms prettily by their sides, compliant with complementary herbaceous borders and sweet alpine flora. I started yelling then, too. I wanted messy trees, blown down trees, spindly trees and every type of tree, the disaffected, grumpy, awkward trees, the little bastard trees who wander about, muttering, cursing, looking for trouble. Look out then for the peace-keeper trees who muscle in when the night turns ugly, when they square up to each other and rustle their branches, and the rebels say, You looking at my leaves?

The children fell silent. I may have become slightly mad. But I was driven by the hour and growing desperate. And today it's the same. The small mammal group? Due to assemble in the wood at 10 o'clock? Look! It's 11 o'clock! Surely they'll already have set the traps, trapped mini mouse, found her, examined her tiny fearful eyes, soft brown fur, thin trembling tail, all gone aahh! then let her scamper back to Mr Mouse, and we'll have missed it all!

Yes, it's nearly as bad as that time in Salcey Forest when the group assembled and went off without us to look for the elephant in the lake. We missed that, too.

Well, eventually we do find the wood. Late. It is just as I said it would be, there on the horizon, encircled around by spreads of neatly cropped fields, rows of fences and close shorn grass clipped by quiet horses. Access is hard. That single track road I missed and missed as we drove by? It is a hidden, private wood. We slip inside with a strand of public access. But bursting entanglement, this land is densely filled. Inside, messy, spilling, disordered, a frontier space for any woodsmen to relearn their crafts while they tangle with mad birch, vengeful elder, the blackthorn sprites and whipping hazel to catch them unawares. It's a perfect space. For light to dapple, mud to congeal, growth to sprout, oak to soak, ash to splash, and for kids to peer, looking quietly for mini mouse.

We missed the group. Of course we did. But for an hour or more, we caught the wood.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Not bringing arts to the community

What a waste of time that was.

I just talked at the totally immobile face of the director for the local Arts Centre. I wasted 30 minutes of my day doing that. I mourn every second.

But I was led there. She said she was interested in setting up community events. As it turned out, she was interested in where was my source of funding. Unfortunately for her, it's our own pockets.

The deal I offered was the usual home ed. A group of 10 alternative educated kids, aged 11-14, for two hours once a month, using their facilities, picking up the intuitions, skills, and examples of their artists, loving the Arts Centre forever, forging links, becoming great publicists. Providing us all with the satisfaction that we're sending out kids to local colleges to pick up GCSEs and A levels in Arts and specialist crafts, maybe gunning straight for apprenticeships or art schools via their own business on the way. What could be better for our local community to work together, demonstrate commitment and allegiance blah blah blah.

No deal. The Arts Centre policy of installing a CRB-checked officer at all workshops was just the start of a way to say No. The real issue is cash. Home ed kids bring in a measly fifty quid divvied out between paying parents. This falls sadly short of the two hundred and fifty darlings required by the Arts Centre before they even think about letting their artists touch a paintbrush.

There's no shortage of demand on our side. I observed their heritage funded events - free to the clients - are routinely booked up by home educators, long before any other community actually gets to them. With an involuntary pinch of her nostrils she agreed, commenting that in her experience the South London lot were particularly savvy. Apparently they can sniff out a free arts project designed to engage the community long before the community hears about it.

For home educators, it bumps up against that issue we have. Funding.

Unless you come up with an alternative source of funding... Save it, lady. I'm not the person that's going to try. I have no inclination to jump through the hoops my local council would dream up to bung me a few measly quid to spend at the Arts Centre. Neither do I want to be the link person drumming up business, negotiating finance, nor filling in assessment forms.

I'll probably follow the usual home ed route. Try and stitch up something in private and bypass the community arts completely.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

It's a feature of the modern age

I use this as example of practice. Just in case a dinosaur still lives. One who assumes home ed equates to kids alone, isolated, missing out on learning, or otherwise excluded from all normal life.

It's a Phoenician ship.

A steady stream of London- and shires-based educators march back and forth to this ship, and have been doing so, probably on a daily basis, since it moored at St Katharine's Dock in London.

As the little grits climb aboard, one home ed family is departing. And as we depart, a bunch of Hertfordshires arrive.

We hear not many schools are visiting. As we're led around, our guide says of these home educating tours, you guys are keeping us afloat. That's sad to hear, isn't it? The ship may be on the doorstep of a hundred schools - a demonstration of individual vision, great problem solving, endeavour, trial and error - but the Phoenicians aren't prescribed in the National Curriculum.

Never mind these ancient mariners can teach us equally and ably about trade, power, politics, navigation, the role of peace and war in protecting economic interests, stuff which we can apply to the 21st century. Nope. Between the scales of league tables and exam scores, Phoenicians are not worth learning about.

Along with much of history, I hear, bar Henry VIII and the Second World War, which Every Child Must Study in Detail, Amen, enduring six evacuations by age 12, and writing three sentences on the 1936 remilitarisation of the Rhineland by age 16. Tick.

So this month we opt for the Phoenicians instead. Well, their ship is here. Let's take advantage of it to teach us what it can about the past, the present, and the future. And it ticks a chord for us. Inspired, individual, off-beat.

Isn't it brilliant? Built by hand using traditional methods to test those ancient sea routes. Track it yourself.

Apart from the story this can tell you about our society's endless opportunities for practical history out of school, this day can also tell the dinosaur what a formidable network home educators enjoy.

Dear dinosaur, we are here, evolving quicker than you with our networking, planning, meeting and arranging; all of which you know nothing of. Education out of convention has a remarkable ability to cooperate, coordinate and cohere. Don't assume we all dance to the same tune, nor educate the same way, nor often have much in common beyond our shared educational lives. But by goodness, news of the Phoenicians arriving travels fast.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Perfer et obdura!

Vero, the little grits from the scholae Grit have begun their studies in Latin. With a TEACHER.

Ita vero, you read that right. Her name shall be Lingua Latina and she comes round once a fortnight.

As a real proper ex-teacher of the retired variety and the spit of Giles' Grandma, she wears a gabardine coat, flat woolly hat and a stern expression of grim control. She is to sit at the kitchen table on a stash of Cambridge Latin Book 1 whereupon she will lay down the law regarding glue sticks and pencils.

But I know it for what it is, this teacherly authority over the crayons and the six-year olds, thus cannot help but love her for her weaknesses. I know they exist. I am looking forward to Latin lessons enormously. I have quietly resolved to learn mischievous Latin phrases and drop them in our innocent games of Snap! at unguarded moments. And in this naughty provoking endeavour, I am finding X-treme Latin is helping, enormously.

Sit iucundus tibi dies.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Can we please have a home ed stand up?

Is it anti Semitic to fool about with Hitler?

Well, I'm not likely to submit myself to the Joke Police. Not to arbitrate or judge me on my behalf, tell me what my words really meant, no thanks. Not even for my ill judged jokes, casual expressions, incautious references. I'll take responsibility for my stupidities, blind spots, prejudices, knowings, provocations, and naughtiness myself. I think I'm now old enough to do that.

Yes, I'll have respect for your world view, but don't demand that I edit from my spoken register every flippant word. Neither am I going to fret too much if my joke against you falls flat, if I get it wrong, step on sensibilities, confront a belief I never knew existed, until that offence was taken.

The way I see it, face to face, is that I have a responsibility to be aware of who I speak to, as you to me, for us both not to be unhumorously insulting, venomous, vindictive or plain nasty - unless you give it to me first, in which case have it straight back, with barbs attached. Neither should we approach each other with a list of prohibited words, illegal metaphors, and phrases placed under by-law legislation.

Better than language regulation I think we could loosen language up; all enjoy a few more wandering jokes, casual banter, rough and tumble, linguistic snap, crackle and pop and no offence taken.

Would I have a problem with humour aimed at the world of home ed? No, not at all. Neither done by school choosers nor home ed choosers. Widening the language we all use to explore, provoke, define, tempt and express ideas is fine by me. If we want to be serious about it, each home educator can use a joke against them as an opportunity to state their educational philosophy, approach, and rationale. If we want to be flippant about it, we can use the opportunity to pat that salvo straight back, find shared areas of understanding, create common ground, move any debate around, and simply find the people who laugh with us, at each other, and at ourselves.

Now please can we have a British version?

Monday, 24 September 2012

Whatever happened to John Cabot?

One story goes that John Cabot sailed from Bristol in 1498 and was never seen again.

Our home ed mapping group come up with some theories. He bumped into America and decided to settle in Newfoundland; his ship was lost at sea and he is at the bottom of the ocean; he sailed too far north and was eaten by a polar bear; he was abducted by aliens and is living on the moon. To introduce their theories, our mini scholars produce between them a presentation, a news report, a dramatic reenactment, and an animation. Then we all applauded each other, laughed a lot, and ate biscuits.

Who can possibly think that home educated children cannot work together in any project nor collaborate to produce any results?

Who can imagine that parents do not have the responsibility, authority, skill, perception nor understanding needed to educate their own?

What we need is more understanding that home ed is suitable and efficient, can be perfectly tuned and tailored to the age, aptitude and abilities of each child, produces some satisfying results in all disciplines and comes with no terror, no bullying, no prescriptive toilet times, and a hugely supportive network of people. And biscuits. We need lots of biscuits, including home-made flapjacks and chocolate chip cookies. And cake. Add that, too.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

I accept the chair

In recognition of Grit's enormous scholarly achievements, her ground-pounding research into home education while standing in fields and ditches, and her many original and worthy publications at the University of Pontification, she is today awarded her very own Birthday Chair.

Professor Grit modestly stated, at the official Chair Handing-Over Ceremony, I accept this honour and I will bring my own blankie, as The Chair is positioned just by the fire and opposite the TV.

To mark the dignity of the ceremony, Professor Grit will this evening lower her stately rear end into The Chair, then we will all watch Taming of the Shrew (Zeffirelli, 1967).

Prof Grit will end proceedings by leading the little grits in a chorus of Not Bloody Likely in close harmony before bed.

Thank you.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Gird, loins, that sort of thing

It is with foreboding I come out of Wales, I can't deny it.

Even though the landscape is beautiful and makes us all want to run about in hiking boots declaring poetry

... and we all vote the sheep the prettiest in the world. In fact we speculate they are fairy sheep in disguise

... and, after meeting the gentleman slate splitter, I find myself surprisingly fallen in love with Wales, all things Welsh, and gentlemen slate splitters.

But I still carry a foreboding. There they are. The Welsh Government. Creeping behind me. I can see them if I look over my shoulder. They have plans. Like, 'compulsory registration and monitoring for children who are home educated'. Who doesn't believe it's a scheme tested in Wales? Or, if they're successful, that the ptb will aim to up and run the same system in England before I can unfurl my Badman banners?

I don't doubt the route planned. We seem to be entering a linguistic landscape for the 'accountability of the individual'. Handy, if by that means I am drawn into a system where I'm coerced into participating in pre-set packages and fined if I don't. And will I get any sympathy? Pah. Joe and Joanna of the general public probably think registration and monitoring is a great idea! Maybe they're surprised that maverick home educators aren't inspected already, don't have to be teachers, or aren't made to hoick our non-compliant arses up to a school supervisor who inspects the children for bruising then tests us on our annual timetables.

I shall adopt my usual strategy. Go about the world noisily with my big home educating smile, pointing out the arguments as I can, telling anyone who listens that home education isn't scary and unknown. It isn't school-bashing, it isn't nirvana, it doesn't suit everybody, it doesn't turn the practitioner into mother superior. It is a legal option, you get to enjoy creating a principled and thoughtful way of life, and home educators are just like everyone else. They are not, in my experience, coordinating a clandestine network of child abusers, mind demons and maniacs, but are often disappointingly normal. People who itch, bleed, sorrow, joy, cry, and laugh.

And the other thing I did today was buy a bed.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Caution. Mother on soap box.

I feel a pang of sympathy with the hardships endured by the Welsh slate miners of 1896. Even though I'm not Welsh, not a slate miner, and wasn't born in the 1890s.

My touchy feely is stirred up by today's educational visit to the National Slate Museum based at Penrhyn Quarry, North Wales.

I blame my mother. The mother tongue passed to me this particular responsive chord. Listen to the trials of the working poor. Aged six in 1926, she remembered the General Strike with a special reason: her father was a foreman in a Sheffield mine. He was a total bastard, manipulative and cruel, so I'm not romanticising the past to convey the idea that he lived through a time when working people were boiling dishcloths for dinner while the indifferent wealthy were serving pineapple froth in picturesque mock castles.

What sets me off today is this mother memory evoked by the gentleman slate splitter. A deadly combination. He tells us the economics of the slate mining industry, the bargaining of the slate sellers and the easy profits to be accrued from slate mined in China and South America. Then he tells us about The Great Strike of Penrhyn. He says, For three years I don't know how they slept at the Hall at night, when they knew how people down here were starving. 

Well, my touchy feely nerve is ringing nineteen to the dozen. I lay aside the aspirations I originally began with - to introduce the little grits to Welsh industrial heritage - and begin lecturing my offspring on the selfish money grabbing bastards who care nought for people and all for power, privilege and profit, and don't forget your grandmother and the history of the labouring classes. And this is only a starting point, because from here I wander off into green belt development, home education registration, shareholder loyalty only to profit, environmental impact of mining in South America and where peas come in the supermarket profit industry. It'll be a history that comes in useful when you're trying to sort out the future, unrolling right before your eyes, so follow the money, and when you track it, look on a global scale.

With my offspring locked in the car travelling at 70mph I end dramatically about four hours later on Junction 15 on the M1 with the words How do you stop this history being told? How? HOW? CUT OUT THE MOTHER TONGUE.

Unlike the little grits, you can be spared the lecture. You can read about the Penrhyn Strike in Wikipedia.

The quarry holds a significant place in the history of the British Labour Movement as the site of two prolonged strikes by workers demanding better pay and safer conditions. The first strike lasted eleven months in 1896. The second began on 22 November 1900 and lasted for three years. Known as 'The Great Strike of Penrhyn' this was the longest dispute in British industrial history. 

For brevity, and without the dramatic strangling sounds, finger jabbing, or multiple hand gestures, I recommend it.

Squirrel, learning a skill bound to keep her poor, exploited, and out of work.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

I take my pleasures where I can

Today is old phallic rocks day.

I don't tell the children this, obviously! I tell them we are meeting Fizz to explore old prehistoric ways to live.

At the very thought of squatting in a roundhouse nestled on a hill surrounded by ancient hawthorn bushes while knitting shoes from deer gut, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger jump about with excitement. There is suddenly a flurry of talk - if not activity - around spear-making, tree medicine, clan vows, wolf brothering, knife-carving and debate about whether or not you can get away with skinning Mr Tiddles, given the ridiculous sensitivities of the modern age.

For this complete and total immersion in the daily drama of Ancient Darkness BCE, we can all thank Michelle Paver.

I am sure it is her. It is unlikely to be my choice of inspirational reading material. A Guide to the Prehistoric and Roman Monuments in England and Wales by Jacquetta Hawkes, the hardback edition that I have armed myself with from the local Help the Aged 50p bucket. There is nothing wrong with it! Okay, apart from the bent cover and the way it reads a bit 1951, but that's alright with me. I enjoy stories about a pink nursemaid mixed in with the Quarley Fort.

But, to my mind, better than all, we have warm human beings Chris and family to point us prehistoric roamers and phallic rock hunters to the houses of Din Lligwy, the Lligwy burial chamber, Bryn Celli Ddu, and Holyhead's Ty Mawr huts. Here then, for your old stone appreciation (I shall save the much stroked phallic rock till last):

The children have a fantastic Paverish time of it, claiming houses for their own, making ferny beds, weaving grass, vowing vows and, bizarrely, carving a entire cutlery set, presumably for use after the hunting of Mr Tiddles. Thanks to Jacquetta, I learn about iron age life on the island too, 'the late stronghold of Celtic Druidism in Europe'.

Now, if you have waited all this while, then be rewarded, as I am, with the prehistoric phallic rock of Bryn Celli Ddu. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

A very positive castle day

Utterly wonderstruck by the loveliness that is the castle on the fair marsh of the Menai Strait, Beaumaris. Building begun 1295. Not yet finished.

 The little grits agree as to the wonderful castlyness. Here they are, scowling.

Friendly viewer, take these expressions to mean enjoyment. Only understand that the little grits take their pleasures seriously.

Honestly, I am not forcing them into this permanent holiday lifestyle home education malarkey! They are simply scowly-type characters, heading for deep teenage years. Unlike me, smiley-type character, heading for incontinence and dribbling.

They do scowl a great deal though, it is true. People usually greet them with What's the matter? which doesn't embolden me for the explanations I am about to give on our home ed lifestyle being completely tip-top, enviable, great, and generally all-round hilariously fantastic. And there are my scowlers, standing right by me, feet shuffling in the gravel, hands shoved in pockets, shoulders resentfully hunched, and faces looking a picture of abject misery.

Cheer yourself up. Have some more of Beaumaris. I wondered why the locals didn't pull down that stone to build the local pub. Chris said the Welsh wouldn't touch it. It's English. Edward I built it, ran out of money, built a bit more of it, then died, demanding his thigh bones be carried north and used to bash the Scots.

But I like to think Beaumaris is a testament not to the fierce and bony Edward, but to the deft planning and clever thinking of his chief architect, Master James of St George. You only need look at that brilliant defending symmetry and those concentric castle walls. There is a surviving letter, too! Where Master James sounds reet pissed off with the Westminster bean counters after they stopped paying the castle builders. Which means the castle stands only half height.

It was all perfect. I even liked the signs of mayhem and misery. Especially the curiously floating child and the person looking for something while birds fly overhead. Shark suggested the hazard was sneezing, more specifically These birds carry avian flu.

She set me on a lecture about the shared cultural references we need to encode and decode signs. Like, if I send out a sign, how can it be read in the way that I intend? I drew the parallel that she needs to send out signs on her fizzog that say I am happy with my home education, and not I am utterly miserable with my chosen education and forced to do this against my will. She stomps off.

But it's not all fun and semiotic analysis in the fair marshes, you know. We home educators have castles to see. Take Caernarfon.

I buy the services of a Welsh tour guide to tell us stories as we walk the castle. After he greets the children with What's the matter? and I politely explain we are home educated and we enjoy it very much, Squirrel lays into him. He makes the mistake of casually suggesting that children watch too much TV, at which point she gets all huffypuffy and says we don't watch TV actually, then Tiger unhelpfully pips in with a list of all the television she has seen in the last week, including Inspector Morse and the age inappropriate Four Lions. I say that home education is completely tip-top, enviable, great, and generally all-round hilariously fantastic.

I shall conduct more lessons in how to engage the public - particularly the Welsh Government who are gunning for us home education types - so that we all send out very positive messages about ourselves and our home education choices, and yes, probably about everything everywhere too.

Have some more of Caernarfon. Highly recommended for a wonderfully first-class castly experience and a thoroughly tip-top home educating day.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Travel, broadening the mind

Isn't Wales breathtakingly beautiful?

I swear I always said so.

Even though I refused for years to step across the border, and okay, maybe in 2008 I did so by accident and became slightly hysterical and ran back over the field to England where I was sure I would not be cursed, stabbed, maimed or otherwise assaulted and have my naked torso dragged behind a horse.

I'm sure I never thought that. Never about anyone with a Welsh heritage being capable of violence towards my English head, because that would be WRONG and BAD.

And anyway, say if I did, well, you can't pin on me the label that I am a screaming racist against the Welsh because my fears are merely sublimations from my several points of special insight.

First, I have (apparently), an entire extended family of Welsh people. I think I have met one or two of you at funerals, so please do not find this blog. But yes, I have married into a family proud of their Welsh connections to scholars and poets. So there.

Second, I have heard insider tales about the cultural elite of the Welsh and I cannot say the literati come out well.

Third, because the extended family are in Wales, I jolly well know how parochial and small-minded they can be. I mean, you cannot select and draw to the forefather's bosom only one member of a family on the basis that their middle name is Madoc and 'they look a bit Welsh'.

Fourth, I suffered my thirteenth birthday in Swansea. I had a miserable time of it. By miserable, take the full teenage experience of profound, deeply, life critically, death-formingly horrible pain. I subconsciously must have decided death was a better option than what lay ahead, since I came home and set about trying to achieve it. Swansea should take the blame for starting it all.

So you see, I am safe with my Welsh-fear heritage.

But it doesn't stop land in Wales being achingly beautiful, and I immediately wish we were staying for much longer. Then I could walk some proper sights, rather than drive-thru Snowdonia en route to Anglesey.

Now, because grit's day is, in part, a blog able to be read by a woman chained to a desk at a council office in the shires, where she has been given a shed load of home ed files to sullenly stare at, then have this. Our home educational experience for today. I wish you a moment to pause and reflect on the usefulness of your job sheet, and I bet your annual holiday is a long way ahead. Out here the sun is shining, the wind is gently blowing, and I don't have no boxes to tick.

Record 1: Visit to Parys Mountain and Amlwch's Port to explore The Copper Kingdom. This thoughtful, well-equipped, and beautifully presented museum sits in a geopark of worldwide status. Material indeed for the gritlets in their general geography studies and in particular for Squirrel's love of rocks.

Record 2: Walk along the North Anglesey coastal pathways for lessons in geology, coastal geography, history of Christianity, and rock climbing.

Our lovely friend and walking leader Chris is really a goat, merely in human form. She springs about these rocks, bringing their points, pitfalls, and sunken pools of water to life with her stories of growing up alongside them, how they change and stay the same, and how her sister nearly drowned. For that, you can tick Geography (twice), History, English, and languages. (Welsh.)

Monday, 17 September 2012

My mother would understand the attraction

Had to visit Chirk Castle.

Needed to, ever since I fell in love with Roger Mortimer.

Yes, mutter about the age difference, if you must. Seven hundred years? Sounds like nothing to me. If anyone likes to count such time-trifling, Dig was born in the eleventh century.

And the other hazards too, with Roger, my Roger. Ignore Isabella. I'm sure it was just a passing fancy and nothing serious. Not referring to her. I mean the dark deeds. Like murder, deceit, connivance, deposition of a divinely appointed king, that sort of thing. Ya ya ya ya. To me, simply makes him more thrilling and dangerous.

I can trace the moment, of course I can, when we met. And I learned who Roger was - 'brutal, intelligent, passionate, profligate, imaginative, and violent'.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Home educators missing out?

Too right. I'm missing out plenty.

I'm surrounded by a dozen home ed groups scattered across four counties, and they're all busy with activities that are far too interesting. One group is making a film. Another has organised a photography course, and a third is sat under trees, telling stories. Clashing with activities the kids already do, I can book in for none of them. And I won't even mention the drama group, swimming group, French club, Mandarin lessons, museum workshops, art gallery trips and the countless visits I can't sign us in for. Honestly, I haven't got a handy 236 hours in each day.

And have you any idea what just one of the local home ed mothers gets up to? She's organised golf lessons, sledging, skiing, trampolining, and horse riding. You naysayers, roll your eyeballs at that and say pushy mother, but where's she pushing? At the local sports facilities, youth clubs, and community centres. Exactly where a member of a society should be pushing.

But there's a problem, so we don't usually join in. Her children are aged nine and seven; most of the group that muster for a sports calendar are aged under 11. But Shark, Squirrel and Tiger say they want to be around the early teens groups. See? I have to let those activities slip away again.

Ditto. Say We'll have to give it a miss for the home ed South group, the home ed North group, the home ed East, West and just-off-the-M1 group.

But wait. I've only referred to the activities that are public. When I say public, I mean public to me, as a home educator, not public to schoolies!

Privately, groups get together for lessons, exams, co-ops, meet-ups - and they're sorted between known people, preferred people, people who you know share your kid's interests and values. Hey, I cook up one of those myself, with the fortnightly mappers.

So this is my problem. I'm missing out. Home ed life is too busy, rich, and varied. I can jot down 15 activities a week to choose, easy. But I only have seven days in each week. I have the age-related interests of three children to organise. I must focus on those activities likely to be critical for their choices in the next teenage wave, and I have a terrible streak of juvenile distraction.

Now, I simply must down tools and drive off to Anglesea.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

The fun never ends

The annual Smalltown celebration. Inexplicable to anyone who doesn't live here.

Basically, it's the happy seasonal opportunity to explore your alter ego via old newspapers and the embarrassing contents of your wardrobe. Some of us do that everyday. But the idea is, once a year, we all do it together. You make your dummy, sit it on your hedge, prop it on your door step, hang it from a tree, or dump it in the gutters, then all the neighbours walk round, point, and laugh.

It's not much, but it's all we've got.

Well, I was too busy this year, so I left the household entry to the kids. They came up with Life in the Jurassic Swamp. Shark took 200 pictures of her ichthyosaurus in a range of subtle poses and said the battery ran out when she tried to take pictures of anyone else's endeavour.

It was probably just as well. She observed how this year a great many stuffed heads were drinking heavily from gin bottles, there were three hangings, and one was shoved face first in a post box.

Friday, 14 September 2012

There goes the neighbourhood

Went round to see the neighbours. Hopefully, I looked like a person they'd listen to. For that in Smalltown, I'd normally need red arms, a neck tattoo, and a pit bull. But I hoped the Moleskine and a black biro would do instead.

The thing is, we've long lived next to a house used as a shelter for difficult teenagers. Now that part, I am not too bothered about. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are brung up very strong on the idea that we all help each other out. And everyone needs a few chances to straighten themselves, okay? Anyway, I might be visiting Shark there one day, after I kick her out for lip like she gave me this morning. So I can deal with it.

As I can with the knowledge that we take a direct hit on all the crazy things your average teenage can throw at a Smalltown residential street, from drug taking and prostitution, to 3am music and smashing the wing mirrors of 50 cars parked along a midnight street, including ours. For this theatrical display of teenage spirit, teaching prepared me. It was more than an eye-opener. It was like a crash course in the antics of a delinquent underworld.

But, after seventeen years, the contract changed on our local homeless shelter. Joan, the woman who previously held it all together, was one fierce operator. She believed in involving residents immediately with information on house procedures for all the inhabitants, from the damaged to the dangerous. She popped round, called Hello neighbour, and shared her observations about the car parking trauma, the wheelie bin theft, and how the window cleaner ended up in prison. And she had a mean kick. She helped out in a trice by kicking in our gate when the iron locked in the brickwork. Neighbours like that you don't find too often.

But now, as holder of the previous contract, she's gone. Along with the permanent staff. I miss her. Agency employees have moved in, supporting a fresh set of clients. Yet we still expect we'll need the huge tolerance and patience that anyone does, when they have a house bursting with miserable screaming teenage angst. Even if ours already have a home, we'll still need that kindness. I expect the homeless shelter will want the same from us.

Two months into this change in our street community, it's sad that no-one's come round to say Hello, neighbour. Maybe they're busy getting to grips with the police force. Representatives of whom arrived at 2am after things turned violent.

Best not wait any longer for the first move. Time, is it not, to equip myself with the Moleskine and black biro, proffer my hand and say Hello, neighbour. It's either that or chuck a brick through their front windows.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

We finally did the 3 hours standing up

Day of success, made perfect for our triumph of - at last - becoming the stinkpots that I have so long known the griblets are, and I have wanted to become. For the last year Squirrel and Tiger have stayed deaf to my entreaties, preferring soft cushions and a seat.

But not today! Our home ed party stands in the pit at The Globe for Shakespeare's Richard III, an all-male cast with lead played by Mark Rylance.

If I have any complaint at all, it is that we groundlings are far too polite. A little more original practice from us of gambling, promiscuity, leering, jeering, brawling and drinking would go down nicely.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

I call it the tensions of a creative relationship

Not doing anything worth reporting today.

Busy. Shouting at the children, throwing great lumps of congealed pasta at them and gnawing on dried gruel (aka my nutritional salvation: oat biscuits). Busy. Busy. Busy. Working with Dig.

Dig is in Hong Kong and I am in England, but that doesn't stop us fighting over the composition of the Great Book of the Comma (not for sale in a bookshop near you). For this two-handed operation read (his part) writing and photographing, and (my part) copy editing, photograph cropping, and general page designing and layouting.

The wrods and pictures bounce between us, peaceably and affably enough for a couple of minutes, but then things begin to break down, probably over the placement of the butter dish but more likely because he is WRONG and I am RIGHT. Then the tone of the emails begin to sound a tadge tetchy, what with the phrases if you actually read it and it's not rocket science being thrown about, before the obvious becomes painfully clear. One hand of the operation is itching to type fuck off and the other hand is merely waiting for the opportunity to come over all hoity-toity moral and holier-than-thou. (Not telling who adopts which role there.)

By the end of an hour, I thought, I shall get a blog post out of this, matey, and indeed, was half-minded to blast the entire declining email exchange over Planet Internet, driven as I am by the outrage of injustice, but then I quickly thought better of it, having a regard to my roof and bread and all our rights of privacy.

Suffice to say, neither of us came out well.

But to anyone foolish enough to desire to work closely in any creative procedure with a chosen life-partner, I can impart to you my advice, which I have gained from much intensive scrutiny of communication between one part of a nearly-functioning working relationship and the other, and it is this. Watch the quantity of kisses at the foot. The more resentful, frustrated, ugly and bitter the relationship is becoming (by the minute) the more kisses are offered. I submit, merely for example:

DA1 is NOT the same as DA1 which is what you did before and I have moved to DA0 which yes you haven't seen but it is a new PART and as such starts on a LEFT and NO. That photograph looks dreadful. If you insist on sticking it in the gutter, then do it. But you are WRONG.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Grit

Right that's it. You are unlikely to get any more spreads tonight although I will TRY but now I'm off into the dark to see if I can find a loaf of bread and apparently it is $20 night at Dev's bar. 

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Dig

Pretty good going in under 2 hours. And we both started off with one x.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Tea time (with ratty)

Took tea with Miss Dilly.

Miss Dilly is not a character in a book. Although sometimes I think she is. Miss Dilly is an elderly English Lady. She looks the part, with her fine bony features, porcelain complexion, and sharp, perceptive eyes. To the foolish, lumbering youth of Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, towering above the dainty Miss Dilly, well, she must be as old as their grandmothers. Maybe their great-grandmothers, with all their mythological ages combined.

What I like about Miss Dilly is her permanent expression of innocent bemusement at the world, her simple and disarming gaze, and her resolutely childlike manner: she sees what we do and how we go about making a mess of everything, yet good naturedly knows how to improve even the worst of circumstance. With a calming cup of Jacksons of Piccadilly, served in a rattling bone china cup, to be taken in the garden while the children sit on picnic rugs and we all watch Mrs Brown peck about the borders in the late summer sunshine.

Miss Dilly suddenly interrupts our tales of who in the family is the greatest criminal so far, and what recent torture has been the hardest to forgive. She sits bolt upright, puts down her cup on the wobbling garden table and says, Would you like to see my rat?

Silence falls. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger fasten their eyes on her. She has come up trumps before, with a cockerel named Benjamin and four kittens in a box.

It's perfect! She exclaims. Would you like to take it home?

Squirrel glances towards me. She has never got into a forgiving mood over the fish. Or the renewed hamster responsibility chart.

Miss Dilly springs up. Come and look! She cries. It's by the shed!

The children advance, nervously. Miss Dilly lifts up a rock. Behind it lies the perfectly flat skeleton of a rat. Look at that! she declares triumphantly. I came home from holiday and there it was! Isn't it amazing! You can see where the fur fell off! Look at those teeth! You can boil the head to make it perfectly clean. Would you like to have it?

Tiger's face has drained of all colour. Squirrel has retreated to the safety of her picnic rug, and Shark bears enough of an expression of curiosity that suggests it might be worth a try, so long as there's no touching.

I should thank Miss Dilly profusely, and say under normal circumstances we would gladly accept! Unfortunately we're busy this week, what with our full timetable.

Of course I don't say that. I say Not likely. I am not boiling a rat's head. Not for anything in the world.

Miss Dilly looks crestfallen, and for a moment I feel I should have chosen the way she would have; the softer way of things. But then she says Oh how disappointing! I thought you'd be just the people to learn about that!

And at that simple and disarming invitation to step up to the mark, to be the sort of people treasured in the life of the tiny, elderly Miss Dilly, wonderfully alive with a child's perspective on the excitement of all things, to be offered an impromptu education in a whole new world, I am not telling you whether at that moment I was fantastically won over, whether I slipped that corpsed head in my handbag or not, and whether I spent several hours this night reading up on how to bleach skulls, nor whether or not I quickly set my ambitions on a goat, maybe a sheep, even a cow?

Really, I am not that easily led.

Monday, 10 September 2012

How does home ed happen?

Ran the second of two workshops about Shakespeare's Richard III in a local park. This is how home ed happens, if you are unsure about that, you people coming in from Mumsnet.

Parents get together, talk over what their child wants, and someone usually says, I can do that! Then we create a load of activities, think up some more we can share, and we run them. Simple.

Between us, other home educators, Planet Internet, and a blind, dogged belief that anything is possible, we can divvy up art, languages, English, maths, science, making unwise electrical items using string and dog hairs, and conduct a trip to the local museum that doesn't end in a brawl. Usually, no money changes hands, except for hall hire, contributions to the cake and crayons, the two pounds the museum wants from each of you for the workshop, that sort of thing. And if you run your own event in the park, then bring waterproofs, just in case.

Now is there anything else that stops you doing this? You don't need to let anyone know; you don't need to do any risk assessments; you don't need to tick boxes from the Local Authority; you don't need to have them come and watch; you don't need to do much apart from enter into the enjoyment of learning about the world, communicate your passions, be prepared to make a loud noise of yourself in a park, and enjoy the dangerous company of children. That, by the way, includes your own. Even when they keep interrupting your brilliant demonstration of the crafty Buckingham to ask, When are you handing round the chocolate fingers?

This is a way of doing learning that people sometimes struggle to get to grips with, it's true. Maybe people tend to think, if it's learning, then it must involve an organised hierarchy with post-holders or official functionaries, that it must carry out pre-set duties, follow systems of accountability, and provide diagnostic reporting feedback on learning goals and achievements.

Well, I suppose a home ed group could do that, if anyone can be arsed to set it up, or needed to do it to fulfil some other motive, like working with the council to extract cash. But fundamentally, for the vast majority of us, I'd hazard that really, home education is the motivation of parents to see their own children succeed in a way which meets their interests too.

Now, I've brought up the mini grits to love Shakespeare because him and Richard III are passions of mine! Obviously! As is The Globe, and mucking about in fields with dramatic tendencies on my side, transgressing those borders of normal.

The Wars of the Roses. 
Or, the key defence team deciding where to plant a flag in Capture the Flag.
It all turned tribal and competitive quite quickly. 
Then the opposing team won by sending in the fastest, tallest runner.
Reassuring me that despite all the terrible administrative deprivations our children experience, 
they still turn out the same as yours.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Mary deserves better

Spend no small amount of time peering at angels on the wall and trying to see a virgin.

No, I am not off my face on smack. Along with the little grits, I am enjoying the heritage afternoon at the fourteenth century Chapel of St Mary, site of worshipful pilgrimage and home to a Mary cult.

They desperately need a watertight roof. Even though I don't have one of those (I move the buckets about) I did my bit and chucked in my cash. But honestly, it's a sad sight. Those medieval wall paintings are just hanging in there. Go on, if you have a few spare squillions, then send them a fiver for the guide book.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Looks familiar

I've submitted my application form to be an honorary member of North Crawley Village on a once-a-year basis. Now I wait until next year's historical field walk to see if I've been accepted.

If you don't understand the social and political life of our English countryside, maybe I can also help with this fragment of conversation, taken in Suffolk when I walked from one village to the next with Big Bro and we visited the pub by the green. The old lady on the next table leaned over and whispered Are you local? To which Big Bro answered, No.