Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Please get the evening done quickly

We amuse ourselves in our anti-social, marginalised, home-educating hovel in the dark hours of All Hallows Eve - this glorious multi-million dollar festival - by doing the opposite of the rest of you in merry consumer England. That is, shunning the get-up in a bedsheet, avoiding all trick-or-treating, not answering the door, hiding in the kitchen with a couple of carved out melons, and spurning all Haribo, symbol of the festival and the devil's work. Yes, I know, Agent orange, chemical biohazard, and cow hoof has to go somewhere. But it doesn't mean we have to go face down on it in a plastic bucket.

And of course you will have spotted the concessions to the wicked joy that is Hallowe'en thanks to my melons.

I would really, really, really like to say I made Squirrel and Tiger carve out Honeydew melons in my miserly spirit of teaching not-Hallowe'en, but I did not. Tesco ran out of pumpkins. Anyway, melons work just as well, if not better. We can eat the insides of a melon without being guiltily pressed into pumpkin soup, which means we also avoid messing about in the dark with a saucepan and a hand-held blender, and no mass clear-up of pumpkin guts from the kitchen walls when I get the angle of the blender wrong.

Now hope all the Saints rise again when you look upon something truly horrible.

It is a wooden cat. Dig brought it home from Mexico a few years ago when pressing urgencies drove him to take a small holiday looking at temples. It scares me witless. I have nightmares it will come alive and chew my living corpse. Yes, I know, also irrational, given that it has never yet shown signs of animation and a mouse has nibbled one of its ears, but still, look at the dreadful growl on that grim mouth. The cat is evil, I tell you, evil.

If I do not rise tomorrow, then know that no saint protected me, Hallowe'en is all true, the cat got me in the night, and we should have eaten the Haribo.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Theatre friends

We take our seats for Timon of Athens at the National. That play with Simon Russell Beale about the convenience of friendship, the social networks we stitch together for the pursuit of self-interest, and how to avoid the accountant, thus putting off the inevitable nemesis for as long as possible.

Squirrel immediately points out there are no children in the audience, none at all, except her and Tiger. It's true. Maybe parents think that Timon of Athens doesn't offer anything for the ordinary youth; there's no smart-talking lion or exploding building.

I scrutinise the audience, partly wondering what type of people choose to see Timon of Athens, and partly hoping I will see someone I know, so I can wave.

This is absurd. Especially how I peer at the rows of faces, when I know for sure there will be no-one I recognise. I don't have the type of friends who take their seats at the National at 7.20. They certainly don't wear dark suits and support women on their arms, women who wear heels and sway gently.

Thinking about it, I have never seen anyone I knew in the theatre-going audience; no-one I can wave to, and no-one I can't. Once - I forget which play - someone pointed out John Cleese in the stalls. Would that count as recognising someone, even someone I couldn't wave to and who wouldn't respond if I did? And in 1982, a crowd of us went to see When the Wind Blows, except someone was sat, bang in the middle of our booked seats. Obviously I chucked them out! I only paused to wonder why the rest of my party stayed huddled together in the aisle, whispering and pointing. Neil Kinnock? Well I didn't recognise him. If he wants to be leader of the Labour Party he should bloody well not inconvenience your ordinary theatre-goer, that's all I can say.

Anyway, a little bit of me is wistful. I wish I did see someone. I wish I could wave to people I knew. Only from the people I know, they would look weather beaten, run in, and dressed in old clothes. Maybe smelling a little of Linda McCartney's sausages, possibly even sporting a dribble of ketchup down the left side of their shirts.

I think I should start finding theatre friends. Ones I can air kiss and wave towards. I resolve, I will begin waving to people I don't know, and see if they wave back. Then I will choose someone's arm to lean on and sway, even though it's only 7.20, and I would find out if they held me, or let me fall.

Monday, 29 October 2012


Shark is out all this week. She is weaseling with the Woodcraft Folk.

I am not even making that word up. Shark tuts and says Don't you know what weaseling is? She adopts the scornful and contemptuous tone you might reserve for anyone you wanted to cut off socially, forever.

So I learn what weaseling is. It is squeezing your face, gut, and bum through tiny cracks between rocks and hoping you don't get stuck or explode. Apparently it is very popular. Except with the morbidly obese and pregnant ladies. They don't find it so much fun.

I tell Shark I could be quite good at weaseling. Only yesterday I had to worm my way through your father's office. I had to reach the fireplace without getting stuck between the accounting pile (1986-1987) and the pile of manuscripts submitted by the academic elite living in the world of commas (2005-2006).

Shark lets out a little snort.

What does she know! Last time she visited papa's office was 2010, and it's got a lot worse since then. Excavating a two metre mountain of rock-hard paperwork, concreted together by a solid mix of mould, spider steel, petrified dust and inertia is no mean feat. And when I did arrive at the fireplace, guess what I found? A bookcase! It contained stuff like Tre Utomnordiska Perspektiv, the 7010CT User's Manual, and a folder of letters from an increasingly shouty publisher about a boring arse of a book (print run 250) only promised for December 1987.

Shark says she thinks I have a point. Indeed I have! Papa says he hasn't time to do the deep pile excavation because he has to look at it and decide. Well, it might come to court. Hmmm. I suspect he is merely driven by Mr Trebus psychology to pile everything up, floor to ceiling.

Shark says maybe we could all set out for a weasel in daddy's office when she comes back. I think that sounds like an excellent idea. I could set the weasels going at one end, and see if they make a complete circuit to come out alive! Shark is quite enthusiastic about that. She says she will have learned some techniques for extracting her left leg from the gap under the table and her backside from between two chair legs.

Yes, I say, let's do that! Wouldn't it be a lovely surprise for papa when he comes home, to know that we have been resourceful in his absence, solved all his problems in one fell swoop, and turned his office into a lucrative theme park, Weaseling Wonderworld!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Bed end

I dismantle Squirrel's old bed and give it to the Aged. I am sure they appreciate it.

Squirrel, on the other hand, does not.

I don't know how any other parent manoeuvres themselves in this delicate job of replacing and exchanging kid stuff, but I do it terribly. There are tears all round, so the process obviously requires diplomacy of a sort which I cannot boast at all.

For example, I assumed that by dismantling Squirrel's old bed (shoved in spare room, not used for five years), dragging the dismembered bed parts to noisily clatter across a kitchen floor and prop them in the hall where we all fall over them, then wangling them through the front garden and into the boot of the car before driving off with the whole lot bouncing and crashing to a Help the Aged Furniture Warehouse, well, it sort of answers that question Are you going to put my bed back?

Er, no, Squirrel. Did you not see me take the corner in our 5-foot 11-inches car with your 6-foot bed frame squished against my left ear?

Now, since you've burst into tears of disappointed realisation that the words I am going to dismantle your bed really weren't my cunning metaphor for Would you like another hot chocolate? maybe I should go and retrieve it, huh? And bring its new occupant with it. Because I am sure your delightful bed will have a new owner before I get there. It is a lovely bed and you never trashed it. Okay, not too much, which is why it's sure to have a low price to convince some lucky bed-seeker that this bed is, indeed, the bed of their dreams.

It is not the stuff of my dreams. It is occupying good bookshelf space and creating an annoying nuisance and no-one has chosen to sleep in the bed or the room for five years. Aunty Dee even prefers the flooded cellar, the suicidal mice, and the Thomas the Tank Engine bedsheet.

So to this particular lump of non-desirable furniture breathing a sigh of death into the entire room, I can only clap my hands and say Good Riddance.

Squirrel is not in any way moved by this argument. But seriously I thought I had won her last weekend to my master plan to turn this pointlessly small room into a delightful bijou reading room and study. Suitable for - let's say - any child who happens to want a quiet place to concentrate on a few IGCSE geography exam papers which might fall off the printer. I remind her that only last week she agreed to choose the cushions.

Squirrel stomps off upstairs, yelling that it is her bed and no-one is ever going to have it, and she is never using that room ever ever EVER so there. I might turn it into my S&M room then, see if anyone minds that.

But this is the problem with Squirrel. Just when you think she agrees to something she brings you to confused bewilderment with a question like Can I put strawberry sprinkles on it? Then you are back to square one.

Well, she wins in a way, sort of, because when I get home from delivering the bed of misery to the fortunate Aged I discover, in my back jeans pocket, all the bolts to put the thing together.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Let's dance

Come on, it's how I enjoy myself. The kids, on the other hand, enjoy themselves not by photographing jiving trees, but by dragging the forest about and sorting it into sacrificial piles. I am told this is called den-building.

But it's true to say, that no matter how much we both enjoy tramping the winter woods, we're unlikely to be tree-wise enough to correctly eye-spy that ash dieback.

Friday, 26 October 2012

How you know they grow up

Acquired an extra child for our night's nesting.

This is the sleepover culture. At first, I was absolutely terrified by this swap-your-child madness. But now I am a big fan. You merely hand your child to other people, and you get to enjoy a quiet evening!

Of course there is the other side of the equation. They hand you theirs.

This used to be the moment when I froze in terror. What if I did something unforgivable by accident? Like feed the treasured offspring my poisoned dinner? Abandon them in a field because I only ever count to three?

Then I realised I was approaching this problem all wrong. On the arrival of the night-nesting child, I merely had to smell like a tramp, behave in an embarrassing manner, and look like I hadn't slept in a week. My own children, mortified by my hideous presence, would rush to protect their overnight friend, hurrying them far away from my endless capacity for embarrassment. Thus I recommend my tactic! On many a happy evening, my adopted overnight visitor has fled from my vicinity, spoken to me in hushed terrified tones and, in one case, made their own den where they became totally invisible to my fearful gaze. Success!

But times they are changing, and I know it on this night when I take the four bodies on our annual turn for the Hallowe'en ritual come early; when the Parks staff accompany a local theatre group to dress up as ghouls, witches and wolfmen on a guided story walk through the local wood.

Within seconds, I realise I need not have come. The bodies are becoming teenagers. Now I am not simply embarrassing, an object to be avoided at all cost, I am inconsequential. I am invisible. The nearly-teens want to giggle and shove each other around without any adult presence at all, not even a looming one in the corners. I could have dropped them at the start of the after-dark capers, then picked them up at the end.

So that is my lesson for today. Their independence is my independence. I shall leave the nearly-teens to do their own stuff. And on spooky story night, the corpses can do my job for me, while I push off to the pub.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Death dealing

I learn today how there is yet a thread of woolly feeling not yet cut away from the dead Grit heart, because by 5pm I am brought to tears by a paralysed mouse. Not any old mouse obviously - not one that shiftily slips around the skirting board after nightfall, finds the trap and swiftly snaps out of time and place - this is Pet Mouse, two years in, two years of care, all come to the inevitability of the dead end.

In my defence, I wasn't expecting it. I was just dropping Squirrel off to her sleepover. Instead of the normal greeting (cup of tea, celebratory game of Cluedo), I was met by a family coming-to-terms with a tiny skinny bag of inert fur, a feeble grasping claw, and one glassy eye.

I cried. It wasn't the mouse. It was watching how the family household stopped while San held that ridiculous scrap of next-to-nothing. That possibly touched my weakness. How humans can care, tenderly, over life's tiniest scraps. Maybe I had forgot how people did that. San cradled the mouse in her cupped hand. Mouse was wrapped in a lint duster, warmed in case the chill shivered on her bony body. She lay with one paw held out and one blind eye staring. Her live side twitched and her good eye blinked. San stroked her carefully, nose to tail with her thumb, and held a pipette of water to the tiny whiskery mouth.

When I come home I watch Sparky, the Grit family hamster, here under my disapproving gaze. She is industriously spinning on her wheel, happy on her rounding road to nowhere.

How I'm not looking forward to that day of Pet Hamster Death. How I hope, when it comes, that I never did succeed in cutting off that woolly touch of care and understanding for all tiny things beloved by children. I pray I don't emerge that morning, late, too many unobtainables jumbling against my over-ambitious to-do list, to thoughtlessly blurt, 'What? The hamster's not moving? Must be dead. Leave it in the cage and I'll chuck it in the garden later.'

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Learning and play; one and the same

Yay! No obnoxious arguments, no bad-tempered grudge matches with weapons, no precarious, sulky, half-brokered truces sure to be broken when one side of the army breathes at the other.

Nothing today but the pleasing sound of play with Viking Voyages and the quiet triumph of mapping the Lesser Antilles. (And the scratching of Shark's quill pen. That, too.)

Thank you, Ellen McHenry!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Hunger Games? Discuss

To the cinema for The Hunger Games.

What a film! A rom-com roller-coaster! Fun and laughter from the word go! A must-see!

That's what I didn't tell Squirrel to get her in the cinema. With her, I set about managing expectations. I laid it out fair, that this was a film of implied peril, menace and threat, interspersed with death and reality TV. But it would be useful. It will set us thinking hard about the rules by which a society works.

I said it like that, in italics. That was a mistake. But then I compounded the error with my stupid clockwork mouth, by bullet pointing techniques used by a ruling elite to suppress dissent, deflect criticism, disguise naked power and maintain social order.

By the time I got to Foucault and opened that opportunity to explore the fringes of social theory, re conspiracy of mind control and world domination, her eyes had glazed over.

Then I said, Look, I've got the tickets now! There might be dragon in it after all. I'll cook your favourite dinner and open the tinned peaches. And on the plus side, I hear the violence is not all mindless! 

It did no good. I could only bring her to consciousness by promising Madagascar 3.

No surprise, Squirrel was not impressed by The Hunger Games. Shark and Tiger thought it was alright, which I am counting to my side. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and resolved to buy the books as soon as they hit the charity bookshop.

So the upshot is, I fully recommend The Hunger Games for any socially aware 12+ who can discuss the rules of reality TV. But for one that likes stories about dragons? Not so much.

Now I hope there's not an unending set of sequels, so it ends up like the wretched Twilight.

And due thanks to National Schools Film Week, from the bolshy parent wing.

Monday, 22 October 2012

We are Victoriana

See la famille Grit once more! Zipping out time's arse, to land smack in our proper homely time of 1894.

Captured, enjoying our Victorian fire-sitting, lace-doily making, and rat watching. Outside, the chill wind shudders the glass and Jack Frost nips unwrapped noses. (It's taken hours to zebo that grate! Will no-one think of the servants?)

Yes, there is Squirrel, suffering the stifling oppression of her Dickensian family. I am sure she reads improving and instructional work! (Unicorn crap and horse trash.) Imagine how the mother sits nightly by her side, repairing linen collars and cleaning boots. (Imagination is all.)

But soon enough, out comes the toasting fork! Now I expect the vicar to call. I shall dutifully polish our finest china and starch my apron. (Mind you, I shall count the teaspoons when he's gone.) Then we might sing Bless our Blessed Sweet Blessed Home, Bless while gathered round our old broken joanna. (Shit, I forgot. I gave it to the bloke who sings Any Old Iron.)

But then! Maiden in the corner projects the rest of us time-challenged gritties into the nearly present world of October 2012!

See! She has a marvellous electronic magic box! It offers infinite and wondrous instructions from all around the world! (Can you flip a dolphin into outer space?)

Aha! It also offers this. We are complete. In our evening of connectedness with our Victorian past, we also find instruction. Of sorts. May you too, in these winter days to come, and bless that home.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The problem is, it's all ideal and no real

I read this week how home educators make it too damn easy! What with our Waltons generosities, we're simply offering ourselves up to be eaten in mockery; hair, teeth, toenails and all! Just look at our homely home-crafting ways, our photos of hand-baked bread, and our ridiculous child painted gift items!

I agree. Craft, cooking, museum trips and mucking around outdoors with sticks may be the texture of home ed life, but I am putting early 21st century pleasures on my to-do list: I must alert the little grits to sexting, trolling, persecuting a facebook weakling, watching humiliation TV, then how to do mindless vandalism and running amok with silly string (uhoh, they met that last one already).

Sadly, until then, I can only offer a bit more ammunition, because here is a day well spent by the happy home educating family. Wrapping up warm in scarves and gloves to walk the autumn woodlands, then returning to enjoy hot chocolate, after which Squirrel happily plays conkers with Tiger while Shark enjoys an hour of woodland-based crafts.

If it helps, I can also add that it was a day when the rat catcher - a man I find strangely off-putting and intensely fascinating all at the same time - arrived with yet another bag of poison bait, Squirrel went on the rampage in a conker-related frenzy, Shark knocked her entire home-made hot chocolate drink into my Woman of the Shires flower arranging box, Tiger had a furious scream over possession of a stretchy rubber rat, and I trapped my finger in the kitchen door hinge while hanging Shark's delightful autumn wreath. (Which fell down. Twice.)

From which I hope early 21st century society has a better range of material to take the piss properly.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Chimney sweep at work (no boy involved)

We never miss an opportunity round here to uncover another unhappy history. December Rose, we read it already.

Friday, 19 October 2012

I heart Film Education

Home ed outing to see the cinematic loveliness that is Hugo.

Courtesy of the even lovelier Film Education, to whom all thanks and no brickbats are due for allowing the home educating brigands to come down from the mountains where they are living in tribal huts and throwing spears, to take part in the superb National Schools Film Week. 

I have not a bad word to say about the Film Education people, even though I bet they were hissing forth a froth of choice words to describe us as a bunch of ingrate anarchist hippy home ed gits, especially after the provocation we gave them, when they had to issue a public disclaimer on their website that they were not, as suggested, a bunch of bastards with a covert anti-home ed, school-centred policy which probably hid an agenda to take over the planet and establish the New World Order.

I did not find this at all! I simply booked seats online for our straggling home ed group and voila! The seats are ours! I can only thank the Film Education people heartily, and give them my big gritty kiss for letting us come to see fantastic free films!

So I am only just saying that yes, the website is a tad schoolie when you go to it, and yes, I understand how this can look a little scary and off-putting to us home educators. I know it only seems like we are being excluded, when in truth we're not, so I'm just saying that given how we are not teachers but parents, of course it would be refreshing to read invitations to study film not within the curriculum but without it, and not with resources suitable for key stage and learning experiences, or have the teaching nailed so exactly between our eyeballs, but that it would be comforting to know how our choice is supported; that film education can take place out of school, that film study can be engaging and inspiring all for its own sake, and because there are some great stories out there to visually knock us all human beings for six while we sit in the seats at the side of the school party.

There. Just saying.


Thursday, 18 October 2012

Giving in to desire

I don't know how you demonstrate to yourself that your powers to withstand the pressures of temptation are holding up, but round here, Woman of the Shires cruises by the National Theatre website and says to herself Look at Me! I'm not buying tickets for Timon of Athens!

Nope, no matter how much Woman of the Shires wants to see the fantastic Russell Beale with his must-see turns, she's not going. No matter how cheap the tickets! No matter how much she yearns to take off the pinny and dress up a bit!

Like all Women of the Shires, she is surrounded by economic imperatives. Ipso facto she is broke. These are challenging times. Those children need shoes! Dependent on the husband's income, earning sod all on her own account, soon she will be garbing herself in mended worsted and her grandmother's hand-me-down mop. That shed-load of non-existent money in the bank is getting so bad what with the consistent input/output imbalance, it is now likely that Mr Barclay will come calling with a machine gun and a death threat after the bailiff is discovered at the foot of the garden with an axe in his head.

Thus, forced by circumstance, she must know herself how good and wise and careful she is being! She cruises past the National Theatre website AGAIN where she can know for sure that she is not buying tickets and not succumbing to desire!

Now she is not only economically wise, she is somehow strangely moral! See her glow! She is practically glowing with economic virtue, morality, and mended mops.

But then she thinks, fuckit. How many tickets? Perfect.

(As a study of journey to ruin, probably strangely appropriate.)

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

I can't waste time, let's sort it now

Busy watching this. The children are bored witless.

Questions, answers, procedural talk, discussion, more questions, waffle, waffle, waffle. It all takes so much time!

But this is what I must do, my children! Politics isn't all about teasing Ed Balls! I must stay with the undercurrents of power rolling and churning in our direction. I need to know about those statements No definition of suitable. No definition of efficient. The law is open to interpretation.

Which way will those words churn? Will they be cast aside because the implications are too great? Or will they be the quiet start of a hungry cry for changes in primary legislation?

Shark, Tiger and Squirrel are unimpressed. They say it's time to stop poring over tedious parliamentary committee meetings and take them to an Art lesson. Carol is doing shading with five pencils, and that's hard enough.

Okay. Time's up. Let's agree with Melissa. It would save a lot of energy and effort if we left nothing to interpretation. Let's say exactly what we mean, then I can go.

Chair: Hello! We're here today to earn a wage, show we're busy, and pretend we care. Home educators are as mad as a bag of badgers, but some of them want us to do stuff. Do we need to do anything?

Local Authority Body 1: Nail the bastards. I want a law I can point to. Then I can get the deviants back in school and the illiterate parents bang to rights.

Local Authority Body 2: I agree with her.

Local Authority Body 3: Me? What am I doing here? Why do you keep asking me these questions? Did I use the word 'register'? This is all so confusing and no-one gives me training!

MP: We're not paying for anything, matey.

The end.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Next, a survivalist camp in the Derbyshire Dales

I keep finding stone-age axes and hazel-based arrows. The feathers look suspiciously like pigeon. They're glued in place by gummy resin from the damson tree.

So far, bows and arrows, axes and deer-gutting tools have turned up on all kitchen worksurfaces, under the sofa cushions, in the bath, and stashed behind the Flour tin.

And then I had to ban the experiment with the incense burner in the cellar.

I'm blaming Michelle Paver.

Peter Dickinson, I'm blaming him as well.

Look, after the smoke-out incident of this morning, I've had enough today. Cannot someone please write a story which does not prompt any of the following: setting the house on fire with the stress-relieving, relaxing properties of vanilla pod; disarming the neighbour's cat with home made flint and slate weaponry; pegging out unicorns on the barbecue (we don't have a sacrificial altar); digging a three-foot trench in my lawn; recreating a dinosaur swamp in the hebe garden; and living in a tree.

Oh I don't know. Howabout a really exciting plot line where triplets compete by doing their homework on time, and then becoming rivals in blood to get an A* at Latin GCSE two years early?

Monday, 15 October 2012

But not doing the rom coms

Ran the Shakespeare workshop. That means, gather a group of home ed kids in a field (saves the hall hire), choose characters (we have some great exhibitionists), run through the plot (key twists and turns), game-play themes (have you any idea how hard it is to find non-cooperative games on the internet?), and make sure I wrap it up in an hour (quick and energetic).

Just look how things have changed! Years ago I could have wrought Macbeth slowly, watching the pain as he dwindled and pined through weeks of slow-drip torture, all locked in a classroom embrace together - him, them, and I - until we met our bitter twisted destiny, not even the sniff of a live performance to sustain us in our final crawl towards death.

Just think! These days I can kill him stone dead in a chill field in under an hour, then book the am-dram seats for next month.

Next workshop? Hmm, possibly Hamlet? I'm thinking theme: we could all take to the field on a grey blanket day, stand in a circle looking philosophically miserable for 59 minutes, then stab each other with cardboard swords.

The benefits of home ed: you get to do what you like, how you like, then run off to play, 
like we were doing anything else all along.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Aunty Grit is so helpful and kind

I received an email this week, and because I am kind - honestly, I am! You don't have to bribe me with a bottle of Hendrick's or anything! (although clearly it helps) - I thought I would respond.

Well here goes. Yes, it's something home educators are not usually allowed to talk much about.


We know that if we confess in public anything like being lonely, it can be used against us in all manner of unhelpful ways, supporting dangerous judgements how our cursed misery is the result of our self-inflicted social isolation, our exclusion, the imposition on our children of this cruel, inhuman life, missing out all their normal friendships and all normal relationships. The type of life that sees a child locked up in the house for hours and hours and hours, to wither in strange solitude with only an unhinged mother and the sneering cat for company.

Talk one more step in that direction, and with the political wind blowing in the wrong direction and at a brutal strength, it'll be compulsory social training for the lot of us home educating Norma No-mates. The mothers will be whipped into shape via an Oliver James article about how clinically wrong in the head we all are, and the children will be sent for compulsory companionship down at the local comp.

Better let us say nothing about that curse of loneliness, and stress instead how fantastically busy we all are with our home educating social calenders!

But of course these states of loneliness, friendship, companionship, sociability, clubbiness, they aren't all unavoidable destinies that come with your chosen way of life.

Home educating does not necessarily result in loneliness, as school does not necessarily result in sociability. How many school children complain they have no special friends, no group that lets them in, or that they spend everyday avoiding Jessie and her gang?

In truth, it matters not a jot what you do, whether you home educate or not, nor whether your child attends school, flexischool, or whether they reluctantly attend the miserable anarchist home ed co-op knitting group that meets once a month in the scout hut. Everyone, all of us, feels lonely at points in life, because it's human.

We all feel it, and you do too, unless you are a lizard in human form. I bet you feel it most keenly between one state and another, say when you change route drastically, jump from the frying pan of school into the fiery pit of home ed, and suddenly lose those familiar routines and social networks, but are yet to build new ones. Or when your happy-to-be-home-ed 11-year old suddenly grows up to announce they don't want to play stupid baby games with the 9-year olds anymore! They want to chill with kids their own age and type. When you look around and realise there aren't any 11-year old girls called Tinkertop who like drawing wombats left in your area. They all moved back to school last September. Except one, and you had a blow up with her mother about a plant pot.

Look at it this way. Loneliness is part and parcel, comes and goes, feels keenly there and is far away. I know that, because last time I looked, I had no zip to let the lizard out. But it's a human thing, so it comes with a human reaction. Whether it's me, or my kids, who say I want friends to play with, we check out the lists for social meet ups, make an excuse for coffee, tag along somewhere, invite someone over. We'll make an excuse, create an event, find a group, send a pleading email, make a new connection, attend a meet up, offer a date, make a suggestion, and say yes, let's do that. I recommend all those approaches.

But of course this is grit's day. I accept things don't always go to plan, and sometimes my advice ain't worth the keyboard I typed it on (the letter r is dodgy).

Maybe you can feel better when I tell you that this weekend we didn't visit the space centre, we didn't go to see the battle at Hastings, we missed the talk at the art gallery, we never saw the play, I never sent the email, and I lost the number of the geocaching group.

We all stayed at home stirring the miserable stew that is our own family. Dig collapsed in a travel fugged heap. I grew bored facing the laundry. The little grits acted like kittens locked up, left in a house all day long. They intermittently stalked and cuffed each other, fought, snarled, sloped off to sulk in a chair. Minutes ticked by before they'd come again, batted each other with paws, hit each other with cushions, claws, feet, and finally wreaked vengeance with a plastic frog. Then one squealed, another went off in an arched huff, and a third howled with the frustration, boredom and loneliness of a ruined day.

I console myself. Next week I have several appointments for us all, and they are sure to be social.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

On the borderlands

We didn't get down to this month's Battle of Hastings reenactment after all.

Dig came home. He dropped by from that earth's arc which strings together your Hong Kong with your South America, then he took the opportunity to do what he normally does in response to any domestic crisis. Adopt a sudden fighting spirit of determination and resolution, take a sledge hammer to a bit more of the house, and chuck the broken remains in the front garden.

In this instance, he discovers this month's domestic crisis is my plague of rats. And the bit of the house he feels compelled to dismantle is an internal bathroom. After that, he will be exhausted, so I don't expect anything else will be touched.

But at the loss of the bathroom, I am heaving a sigh of relief.

This is the bathroom that I closed the door on in 2004 and have never entered since. It is in a slice of Dig's house that is falling apart. The ceiling on his office side is crumbling, and in his kitchen the rain drips through into a bucket. One day he might come round to pulling the roof down, too.

This is the problem with old houses, isn't it? They require such care and maintenance, and they need someone to be here, to complete that cycle of destruction and restoration. Dig finds the destruction hard to face, but the restoration almost impossible. It takes such commitment. Which is difficult for a man who is not here. So I am usually left to look at the house and think what has gone, been lost, or is destroyed.

But it is all a success! We have the horrible bathroom at the tip! Ratty and all his family too, have been given their marching orders!

See? There is good come of it, even though I am faced with a gutted room and a plague of rats.

Yes, I know this spirit is annoying, but I'm not likely to apologise for it. I am always mindful of the man whose oven wouldn't work, so he took himself off to the woods to hang himself.

Friday, 12 October 2012

'How do you teach it all?'

Of course I cannot answer in the street!

Not even in the time I am standing in the Co-op queue waiting for Doreen. Have this instead. Make yourself a cup of tea.

1. Announce to Tinkertop, I am your teacher.
Yes! This course of action is best pursued if you are slightly unhinged. You need only engage a supersonic energy drive, construct a timetable, demand homework, introduce a uniform and replicate school-at-home for this one to work perfectly. Ignore Tinkertop's pathetic pleading. Chain her by one leg to the desk if necessary. While you are forging ahead, preparing, teaching, marking, assessing, planning, resourcing, you will also need a servant/dogsbody/cook/housekeeper to take on all your other life responsibilities.

Personally, not an approach that can work chez Grit. Apart from lack of a willing servant and the combined force of three kids who help each other slip the chains, the sight of a timetable blows up my head.

2. Click BUY on 458 internet curriculums.
Common solution to late-night home ed panic. The very arrival of a curriculum through the post - guaranteed to lead Tinkertop through all stages in Maths, English and Build-your-own-fridge - consoles the home educator as effectively as a cuddly blankie, a bottle of gin, or a face full of chocolate. Even when you actually open the parcel to the promised land of structured learning, then decide to stash it in the cupboard because it's too difficult, it continues to work magic. You can push off and do what you want, safe in the knowledge that one day Tinkertop will announce she wants a GCSE in Fridge building. Now you'll be in that cupboard! Ta-Dah!

Not an approach that works here, although I have tried. I did succumb to a Parts-of-Grammar board game that makes no sense and no one likes. (But I keep it in the cupboard, just in case.)

3. Use people in your local community.
Perfect for primary education on the basis that everyone can teach us something! Yes, that includes Doreen with the dodgy leg working the Co-op tills. Decide on a next-to-nothing tuition budget and see how far you get. Try the toy library, scrapstore, library storytime, arts and crafts events at local heritage centres, tours of museums and galleries, community festivals, cultural events, walks and talks groups. Then try the fire station visit, police talk, tour of the gurdwara, behind-the-scenes at the supermarket, the lady who fits the glasses at the opticians, the bloke who runs the canal enthusiast club and the local bundle of eccentrics who will be delighted to show a crowd of home ed kids the skills needed for clog dancing and chinchilla balancing.

A strategy that has worked well round here for years!

4. Ingratiate yourself with the insanely busy woman in the home ed group who organises stuff. 
Butter her up, say how marvellous it is that she organises workshops for Maths/Physics/Verb conjugation and how much Tinkertop loves them, even when Tinkertop defiantly sits sullenly with her arms crossed and a face like a slapped arse. Keep going. Remind Tinkertop (while holding her pocket money in one hand), that this tuition is organised, relatively cheap, and you can tick verbs and socialisation in one swoop, for which all you need do is smile and never ask of the PTA woman of your nightmares, Are you on acid?

Of course I routinely try this approach. It invariably ends badly. One of the offspring refuses to have anything more to do with the infinitive, or the woman on acid puts Crispin back in a more demanding scholarly environment where people take verbs seriously.

5. Share the load. 
Coerce a bunch of co-operative parents to each offer to teach something. Whatever is their special skill. Can be an excellent approach if your chums offer PhD Chemistry, Practical Archaeology, Theatre Studies and Maths. The additional advantage is that you get to crow that the whole tribe is raising your child (sounds vaguely ethical, hippie-friendly, and somehow morally righteous).

Works for us, after a fashion. Although I have noted the approach isn't so effective if the only skill set the parent group can raise is fibbing about watching Jeremy Kyle, scoffing bourbon creams in secret, and getting the TV to work.

6. Buy the services of a private tutor.
A useful approach if you are sick of pushing water uphill on the maths. Lower the cost (and the stress) by admitting your defeat and dredging together a group of parents who are similarly prepared to give up with the simultaneous equations. Then you can share one private tutor between eight of you at a satisfactory cost.

An approach with many attractions. The hazard is, your offspring might stare at the tutor with undisguised loathing while the tutor does the same to you.

7. Join a flexischool scheme. 
The advantage is, you can use school teachers.

The disadvantage is, they are school teachers. Teacher training is geared to taking students in a class of 30 through a painfully lengthy process with tortured testing points for extra box-ticking purposes. (However, I still reserve my right to dump my offspring in a flexischool scheme at a moment's notice. Even if the offspring hate me and I end up teaching the stuff at home myself.)

8. Get the kids to teach each other. 
Ignore Tinkertop and Moonbeam. Let them get on with it. The theory is, kids teach themselves, so your job is to run about satisfying their need to learn Ancient Greek (and not, you pray, run about preventing them from roasting Tiddles over the fire they have lit on the kitchen table).

Of course I have tried this child-centred approach! It works fine. For about half an hour. After the expert in marine biology becomes a tad too competitive with the expert on horse maintenance she may pin her down to beat the crap out of her. Meanwhile, the expert on rocks is off with the fairies and is conversing with a pine cone. (You may have better success, depending on your genetic mix.)

9. Demand support from your local council.
If you have had enough of conventional school but are not convinced by home education, this is a possible approach. Get the council to pay for tuition. You might even wangle a tutor for Tinkertop at home. Of course your child might also need to possess a serious long-term illness, disability, or an ongoing school issue, while you will need a track record of single-mindedly terrorising all local authority staff to get out of them exactly what you want and it's not called home education.

Not a strategy used at Grit's. Say the same for all dealings with administrative types, wrestling with fund-holders, having ambitions to set up a free school, or interacting with any official from any local council any second more than necessary.

10. Redefine the words teaching and learning then call it an educational philosophy.
The perfect option if you are a home educator. You can define education how it suits. You don't have to teach in one way, nor in any way that a person familiar with school can recognise. You do not need to adopt the role of an authority taking control of a discipline, nor divide a subject into parts to assess. You can say I don't know, let topics segue one into another, stop to allow time to talk, pick up non-conventional areas to learn about, and find someone who can speak knowledgeably and passionately about something they love.

Works well. I would like to say all of our home ed life can continue in this blissful state, but as we begin to imagine ourselves staring down the barrel of the exam years, I am minded to say, if you are just starting out with your five-year old, don't set out with the thought that you must teach it all. Indeed, with your five-year old, don't fret and struggle to teach much at all. Just relax, enjoy it, and let learning take its course.

Touch of number 4 with number 6 for the costume workshop: private tutor and organiser with much more efficiency than me.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Just think! We could have stayed at home and read a book

This is the joy I have to tell myself I can experience, placing my days at the calling of a child's educational life. I get to follow where there is the visit to a working sand quarry, held after hours when it is turning dark and is barely visible, while the rain, the hardening rain, begins relentlessly hammering down until my clothes are soaked through, my skin reaches maximum rainwater absorbency, and I am caked in building sand until I am all but beaten flat on the quarry floor, crawling and whimpering for warm and dry, begging for mercy. Then the second part of the visit, to the sand processing plant next door, is conducted in near total darkness, bar the odd blinding floodlight, which serves to pick out the sand heating thingummy and the torrential deluge that is now a plague of rain beating upon my hard hat which bears dents thanks to the passing hailstones. But I tell myself that learning is the pursuit I have chosen, and because I never will throw in the towel, even though I actually do use the old towel I keep in the car (thank you, experience), I will maintain an evening like this is pure educational gold, the sacrifice of my dissolving body worth it if the offspring understand the economy of sand and gravel a little better, and anyway, I have no other life to make euphoria of, so better make it this one, in a quarry in the dark, in the cold, with the coarse sand for consolation and the relentless rain beating down on my cracked hat.

Happy you can join us, from the comfort of your computer screen.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Let's eat Africa!

Perhaps it should be somewhat embarrassing to be eating Africa, given that our normal consumption of this diverse continent is a media diet of starving children, lost migrants, mad dictators, unsanitary refugee camps, bloody civil wars, sky-rocketing crime rates, bizarre voodoo rituals, genital mutilation and slaughtered wildlife. It all seems to require us not to provide cake, but a general sense of powerlessness, misery, regret and guilt.

Unfortunately, I do not do those states very well. But I do make a mean cake. Then let us proceed unashamedly. Biscuit dough with a huge dollop of cocoa powder makes a fine land mass. Chocolate chips make mountains, marzipan makes effective desert and the chemistry lab can provide us with blue running rivers for the Nile, Congo, Niger, and Lake Victoria.


Thank you, Ellen McHenry, for supporting this child-friendly approach to African history, politics and economy in Mapping the world with Art. (And cake.) 

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

7.46pm Lock car doors. Begin Memorial Lecture. 'Apologise and you get to live.'

1.30am Wake to scuttlings and scratchings. Switch on light. Steely-eyed Grit observes rat. Steely-eyed rat observes Grit. Grit shrieks. Rat skits sharp.

Sleep remaining night under blazing lights scared witless, calculating cost of replacement mother when present one dies from rat-disease.

(Rat probably stays quaking under chest of drawers, panic-stricken at sight of Grit jerking bolt upright like a zombie rising from the coffin.)

6.00am Spring up, grateful for first light. Disinfect self, house, bathroom. Bundle kid clothes in laundry. Clean kitchen furiously. Forensically inspect bread.

7.00am Drive to Co-op. Buy more coffee.

8.00am Thank someone's Lord! The Ratcatcher's here, prompt for appointment made last week. He patrols the house, sniffs rat, and lays bait under floorboards.

9.00am Kick children out of bed; serve toast with shouting.

9.30am Lingua Latina arrives for the Latin lesson with a house full of home ed kids, and home ed kids mammas. Spend the hour regretfully wishing I had a servus like Caecilius.

11am Office. Speak to Dig about The Book of the Comma (South East Asia edition). Bind two books for his Important Meeting tomorrow. File mail about the recent fraud committed against my dodgy name and dodgy address, for which I am probably now blacklisted forever and will never be able to have a TopShop credit card ever again.

12midday Send pleading emails re: please book in for sub aqua, can kids come to your quarry visit, please pick up your child from sleepover. Dash to Co-op, meet neighbour, share miseries of homeless household next door. Plot.

1pm Serve soup with scowling. Clear up kitchen.

2pm Encourage Shark to overcome reluctance and play Latin game (cost=3 chocolate chip cookies). Resentfully pay bill for Astronomy course for Squirrel when she could do it herself if she was arsed. Ask Tiger about books in non-confrontational tone so she does not bite my head off. Change laundry with half-chewed face.

3pm Plan home ed mapping workshop for Wednesday. Make shopping and to-do lists. Sigh a lot.

4pm Supervise Shark cooking batch of apple and ginger jam mostly by ignoring her and hanging out the laundry. Say yes Shark, please now prepare apple jam tea-time for all your sisters.

5pm Resign self to hour-long journey through slow-hour hell, driving Shark to Woodcraft Folk.

6pm Drop Shark, nervously head for supermarket clutching list for tomorrow's Africa cookies, the workshop of which is high stakes and must not fail.

7pm Shove into car boot bag loads of crowd-pleasing cookie-making ingredients.

7.05pm Promptly fall asleep while sat in car outside Sainsbury's.

7.30pm Wake up! In a panic, drive back to Woodcraft venue to fetch Shark. She climbs in the car 7.45pm.

Grit: Gosh! It's lucky I woke up when I did! Can you imagine? I fell asleep in the car!

Shark: Hmph. I don't know why you need to do that when you spend all your days just sitting around.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Something is going on. Avoid stuff and eat antihistamines

Spend your taxes.

Take my allotted hour in the NHS, locked up in the Hospital Dermatology Department with Doctor Skin. She explains tortoise balloons and I think, I knew that by Googling.

In short, her diagnosis is, Something is going on. Avoid stuff and eat antihistamines.

I knew that by Googling, too. Honestly, the medical profession might be snooty about the untrained patient using Doctor Internet, but to me her medical knowledge has been essential. Through her, I have learned there are literally hundreds of women - hundreds! hundreds! - who are exploding all over Britain every night!

If you do not know about the tortoise balloons, I can tell you. Essentially it is not a search for a fashionable allergic condition that you hope makes you more desirable at middle-aged swinging parties, it is a bizarre experience where your face goes to bed at midnight and wakes up in the morning twice the size. Two days later all your skin drops off.

Angioedema and urticaria (swelling and hives) are not fun, and do not make me interesting. In fact, they make me sodding boring. I mean, invite me to dinner. I'll bring my own rice cakes.

Well, thanks to my late-night burrowing in bloglands, I have learned from the experiences of many far worse afflicted than me. Now at least I am convinced it will pass. As is Doctor Skin. I narrate, on request, the cocktail of blessings and curses that life has shaken (no cherries, no ice), beginning with the spontaneous triplets, the deaths, the hole in the chest where the heart should be, the international relocation (twice), the hypersensitive explosive daughter, the chill wind blowing through my miserable soul, and the funny knee that goes clicketyclickclick.

Doctor Skin says a person's body can react when it enters a period of relative content. I tell her that would make sense, since I mark this period of stability from the funeral of the brother in law who locked himself in the attic.

Now for all other people doing that late-night search on angioedema and urticaria, the most effective approach I have found is to stick to a boring bastard of a low histamine diet with no alcohol so you can take the antihistamines.

PS. The NHS was okay. Thank you very much.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Apple result

Our haul this year is much reduced. Not because we're inevitably the last family raiding the community orchard. For this poor yield, I blame the weather.

But nothing stops us when we've set our minds. (For which streaks of resilience and determination in Shark, Tiger, and Squirrel, I'm taking all the credit.)

There's a powerful motivation too, of course.

I did none of the peeling and coring. Nor chopping, nor stirring. 

The results you can enjoy with us, if you like. Have the Gritty mother's recipe for Apple chutney (and don't expect her to use any metric nonsense):

2lb apples after peeling and coring
1lb onions
4oz dried fruit
12 oz sugar
half pint vinegar
1 tsp picking spice
1 tsp ground ginger
salt to taste

Put chopped onions into a saucepan with a little of the vinegar and simmer until nearly soft. Add chopped apples, dried fruit, spices, salt and more vinegar to stop the mix from burning. Cook until fruit is soft, adding the vinegar as you go. Add sugar. Boil until chutney is thick. Pour into hot jars. Hide in cool, dark place. The longer you leave it, the better it tastes.

And the Gritty mother's recipe for Apple and Ginger Jam:

2lb apples after peeling and coring
2lb sugar
big chunk root ginger, peeled, chopped

Stew apples slowly in a little water until soft. Throw in ginger. Pour in sugar, and stir until dissolved, or until you can no longer feel the crunch of sugar on the bottom of the pan with your spoon. Turn up heat and boil rapidly. Watch carefully! Apple jam is ready after about 3-5 minutes. It's probably ready at the point when the colour begins to change from yellow to light brown. Remove from heat and pour into hot jars, except for the bowl of jam the children will want to eat on buttered muffins, right now, right this instant, and after a day's work like this, they've earned it.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Hidden in plain view

Home educated children aren't hidden - they are peculiarly visible.

I read Graham Stuart said that.

He who is Conservative MP for Beverley and Holderness, Chair of the All Party House of Commons Select Committee on Education, previously member of Children, Schools and Families Select Committee.

Love him, hate him, vote Tory or Loony, tell me he's no friend of home ed, this wolfman dressed as lamb, I can't help it. I love that word, peculiarly.

Anyway, home educators don't have thousands of people coming with his power connections and from his social networks, observing in public that our corner is peculiarly visible.

So I'll take it and use it. And add a picture. Shark, Squirrel, Tiger, last week, 2 pm, in a park playground, with a dozen home ed kids meeting for their usual runaround. Could be any day, any park, near by.

See? Never believe they're hidden. Home ed kids are visible and, better than that, are peculiarly so.

(Photo taken from Mother Grit's supine position, who you can report, is obviously smashed on gin.)

Friday, 5 October 2012

The dangers of home education

'There is not a broad public understanding of home education: its strengths, weaknesses and, on rare occasions, dangers.' Mr Badman.

Oh, Mr Badman! Come thou hither to grit's day.

Here you can learn of the strengths, weaknesses, and dangers of home education. But you will surely tremble to hear the woeful chant of perils, hazards, and horrors that befall the poor, weak, abused home educated offspring!

Can you hear them mewling in piteous lament? Hear their innocent voices now, cry, Save me! Save me from these home educating dangers! 

For you, Mr Badman, I list them, sorrowfully, here.

Danger 1: The Mother. See her, arranging a house of certain death. Slippy carpets! Gas cooking! Sharp pencils! Obviously the house is composed with abusive intent. She is certainly mentally ill. Possibly with Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy. I recommend separate mother and child with all haste! Three days with her is three days too long!

Danger 2: The Father. Absent or present or just popped down to the grocer's? Watch him here, slumped in the arm chair, crawling with babies. Know him by his unstable stagger on the landing at 4am tripping over the Tankertop truck. Hear him yell blasphemies when the 5-year old wakes him up at 6 in the morning singing the Octopus song. Oh, poor unschooled infant, to have such feckless parents!

Danger 3: Siblings. Terror! A 'fun game with my sister' is to carve knives, spears, and pitchforks, then lay into each other! Children must desist from this dangerous sibling activity. Adoption is the only route. For this sorry state of play you can blame Michelle Paver. In fact, she is so dangerous, I give her a bullet point all of her own.

Danger 4: Michelle Paver. Her, and all her wolf-bothering books set in the stone age. Yes, add Morpurgo, Pullman, and the rest. Throw on the fire all authors and books referencing all child hazards - water, sand, sea, bikes, trees, outhouses, peanut butter sandwiches. All becomes threat in the impressionable minds of the innocent! Unable to separate fact from fiction, the unguarded home educated child sets about nailing together a unicorn from an old brush and shovel because they read it in - the horror, the horror - a book.

Danger 5: The library. Common home educating haunt. But a child's head has been known to literally explode on entering this disturbing space! Close them all down.

Danger 6: Countryside. Have you seen the perils in this risk-filled place? Have you? Grass! Electric fencing! Agricultural machinery! Staring cows! Diseased soil! Zombie-death-killing sheep! Crows! With beaks! Bushes with sharp pointy bits! Trees! More tetanus than your local A&E can cure! Did anyone ever, ever conduct a risk assessment? The only safe solution is to concrete the lot.

Danger 7: Local museums in old houses. They look safe, but you and I know these places can kill. The hazards are countless. Stone steps. Rickety doors. Little old ladies in the foyer fixing themselves with PG Tips. We must allow school visits only where CRB-checked staff and safety officers can hold fire extinguishers and rubber batons at all supervised viewing points.

Danger 8: The High Street. Is there any circle of Hell more malign? Filled with the swill of all humanity? Anyone could be here! Control these places of dangerous assembly. Inspect all haunts of commoners and home educators: stick up CCTVs in swimming pools, theatres, art galleries, community spaces, scout huts and worst of all, that den of vile vipers, the village hall.

Danger 9: Words. They are all around us, these shifty slippery things with their tricksy ways. And these untrained parents, not a PGCE between ten of them, blithering nonsense on Chemistry, Maths, Physics and Art? Using our fine scholarly words unsupervised, as if all was spillage and slop! Language must be controlled, Mr Badman. We must know what is said, to whom, at what point, about what content, for what mark, and this must be approved and rubber stamped for meaning.

Danger 10: Family culture. But this is the Devil's arse, is it not? This is what causes you sleepless nights. Feckless parents passing on suspect cultural values to their offspring unsupervised by any inspector. We could be teaching the innocents that dinosaurs are chickens, that God is a woolly mammoth called Nigel, that plastic crocodiles run the Isle of Wight. We could be saying anything.

Finally, I would just like to point out, in the interests of balance, that:

There is no statistical evidence to support your assertion that home educated children are at a greater risk of harm than any other child who attends flexi-school, school, or any form of alternative educational provision. Indeed, the numbers of children who attend school with domestic problems and home difficulties suggests that 'being seen' by an employee of the state does not in any way prevent sexual abuse, domestic violence, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, psychological attack, bullying, or any other perils of humanities that you can find in the general population.

Second, causing thousands of home educators to register, be monitored, approved or inspected is to increase surveillance and knowledge control on the family; it will not find the child you claim to be seeking who is at risk of abuse by their parent. There are already many routes in existence to find that child, but the problem seems to be that Local Council staff do not use their powers wisely, with competence, or indeed, in knowledge of the laws they already have. Take, for example, the case of Khyra Ishaq, known to child protection teams long before her withdrawal from school. Local Council staff knew of her plight yet failed to protect her. Home education cannot be blamed for their failure to take appropriate action using the powers they already possess.

Oh, and another thing. Baby P was not home educated.

Now I am so glad you are still here Mr Badman. Without you, today's blog post might have been a photograph of Shark's dinner.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Left brain / right brain

One half of my brain says Yeah, go for it.

The other half of my brain sighs. Then it blips a message to the mouth. Hey! Beer would be refreshing! Even though it's only 8.23am, and the face is sure to break out in hives.

My schizo moment came about with James Naughtie's comment in that burble on poetry. All children have to go to school. (BBC Radio 4, the Today programme, 8.23am. Just in case you missed it.)

The militant home ed brigade would have been frothing in sanctimonious outrage by 8.24am. They'd be busy jamming the switchboards, crashing out emails, and leaving vengeful voicemail about your educational duty under Section 7. Of course all children don't have to go to school. Everyone knows that, Jimmy. How come you don't? Tosser.

Restrained, I'd say. They'd really like to shove a death threat skewered to a rat's kidney through the BBC letterbox.

But of course the BBC aren't going to waste airtime apologising to a measly bunch of offended home educators! They'll let the comment slide away in recognition of the fact that to the majority of listeners, it's just not that controversial. The resigned beery bit of me sighs. Turning it into a pitched battle with dung throwing and outraged sensibilities can make a home educator look foolish, like we can't discriminate between the battles that matter and the battles that don't.

But then the other bit of my brain - the bit that thinks a spot of direct action fire-bombing might be a reasonable tactic in the dead animal fur coat department - says Yeah, go for it. Because don't we tire of hearing misinformed doodah, day in, day out? Especially when it makes my job harder. Even if it is a job to walk down your High Street at 11.30 on a Monday morning with three kids in tow, one of whom is experimenting with a scarecrow hair-do and the others you can't tell apart when both are covered in yesterday's mud.

And believe me, that judgement against the home ed chooser is everywhere. David Usborne, writing in The Independent around that topic of legitimate rape and the US Todd Akin campaign? Out the blue pops this: But some are willing to forgive, like Vicki Sciolaro, 51, who is one of scores of home-schooling mothers – parents who believe they can instruct their offspring better than teachers – who turn up for Akin events. 

Uh? Why – that comment – between the dashes? Unless it's to throw in a judging tone of slight superior  contempt, a sneering towards a homeschool identity conflated with a woman's belief in Akin, showing how far crackers he must be, followed by such crazies as her! And how crazy can that be, the belief of a crazy home-school mom who believes in womb mechanics and no doubt tells her children that, too? Crazy! Shows you home-school should be watched if it can't be outlawed.

So Yeah, go for it.

If we don't have a pop, if we don't make your assumptions explicit, if we don't tread on a few toes, use our elbows, broaden that discussion, yell like kids and make idiots of ourselves, then no-one else will on our behalf. Now if you give me a day or two, I might be able to come up with a rat's kidney.

Meanwhile, I'll resign myself, and let the judgements and assumptions pass. But because brewer's yeast is terrible for my hives, pour me a gin instead.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Welcome to Herman the German

Yes, Herman the German was brought to us, to keep safe in our home, by Em and Zee*.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger gladly took him in. They loved him. They looked after him, feeding him as he needed, wishing him goodnight, bundling him up warm and cosy, and staring at him, longingly.

Today, they divided him up, cooked one part of him, and ate him for lunch with chocolate milk.

They declared him delicious.

If you know what I am talking about, enjoy.

If you don't, go here.

* Absolute proof that the home educated isolated, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, really must have friends, no?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The glamour, the glamour

OMG, I must, must, MUST tell all you school-choosing mothers this news!

You know some of the things you've read about those middle-class mummies choosing to home-school Tinkertop?

OMG they are TRUE!!!

The home educating life is EASY! We roll out of bed when we like, spend our days reading Fifty Shades of Grey, fuss about our homey-homes, fluff our cushions, plan our menus, and arrange our wardrobes, and all we have to do is set the offspring to complete a CGP maths book (and who needs friends anyway?), then we simply mark our darlings 10/10 and it's time for papa to come home! He's on evening duty and when he arrives to lead the offspring through some improving enterprise, then off we mummies dash! Out for our evening meet-ups! Tapping our kitten heels, swinging our Jasper Conran leather bags, and adjusting our satin knickers!!!

Believe me, all of that is TRUE.


Or it could involve a day-long ear-bashing argument about a woolly bat; hanging on a telephone to arrange next week's social meet-ups; responding in writing about the forestry group; printing out GCSE Latin texts; reorganising the art session; reading Nathaniel's Nutmeg aloud while everyone runs off so you have a big shout; telling her to stop doing that before it ends in tears; watching the front room be trashed when two of them play 'Horse Jump'; listening to a litany of complaining about the mothering failure to schedule a visit to the community orchard and produce 5kilos of chutney; producing three meals plus a packet of biscuits, and finally spending an evening sat in a cold car in a Luton Sainsbury's carpark waiting for the sulky home-schooled child to emerge from the Woodcraft Folk demanding yet more cash while realising that all day you have worn yesterday's Asda value knickers down the leghole of one jeans. Yes, it might involve all that, too.

Monday, 1 October 2012


Rat! Overnight visitor, kitchen-bound, quietly slipping the drains, sliding over the pipes, back-flipping the floorboards and wham! Home and dry.

Hours of night-time fun then to be had, dancing cheek to cheek with my Co-op squirty ketchup bottle (used, abused, ultimately dismembered); playing fast and loose with my onion (undressed, discarded, spat on); and finally, shameless, nameless horror, leaving two of his ugly stools perched precariously atop my filing cabinet. When I open A-G, they declare themselves, wobble in, and squish against my Car Insurance.

But I have the measure of him. I know his fate. If I don't trap him, it is the white van for him. The one that discreetly, unmarked, draws to a halt outside, when the lady rat killer slips into the house quieter than he, when she'll place a cocktail for his evening party where he's sure to find it, how she'll lay it temptingly, to be sipped before his fun begins, and ends.

Until that point, that moment when I take revenge for his assaults on my ketchup, onions and A-G, I am rat-proofing. Against my night time invader, each evening before bed I feel around all my kitchen underskirts, plug my floorboard holes, secure my corners, niches, pipes, and I lay traps of wood and wire. Each morning, I narrow down his entry.

I have found it. That tiny gap between sink and wall. Rat! Ratty, rat rat. I have you. Count your party nights now with my onions. Number them. Three, two, one.