Friday, 30 November 2012


Spent the morning filling the diary for January 2013.

Then February and March.

I claim we don't have a timetable. Obviously we do. The events I just pencilled in - workshops, tours, theatres and social meets - must fit around the fixtures of sub-aqua club, mapping workshops, Latin lessons, art lessons, Woodcraft Folk, astronomy club, wildlife watch, 10-13 youth group, the new bodger group, the monthly coppicing club, our reading group, the seasonal science lectures, and my once-a-week film studies night.

I proudly display my efforts to Tiger and say how brilliant it will be to see Twelfth Night with Propeller, visit the Royal Academy, and see Ice Age art.

Interrupted from her computer screen where she is shooting an armadillo out of a cannon to hit a banana tree, Tiger looks at me with her indifferent, unfocused gaze. Then she curls one lip, shrugs her shoulders and turns back to do what's important for the moment: increase her score from 1,300 to 1,500 by knocking out the toucan.

They take it all for granted, kids. Unaware of how others move the world to help them out, make their path easier, support them through life. While it all happens for them by magic, they can be totally unaware, uncaring and ungrateful.

Man, I wish I were aged 12 again.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Joining the hunt

Not the horse-back way of enjoying the countryside. Not that type of hunt.

This type of hunt. 

Where we meet in a field to huddle round website print-outs and scrutinise copies of an old OS map to realise we don't know what to do.

Ten minutes in, and I am learning that I cannot read a map to within eight co-ordinates and don't know where I am.

By the measure of things, I am not alone.

Never mind, we have a leader!

Leadership is of vital importance. Otherwise, within the hour, our happy band will be roaming wildly all over your weathered land; trespassing, getting lost, calling the emergency services, considering who is the fattest and can be eaten first, and generally blaming each other for starting this misadventure.

But our leader is very good, so all dangers can be avoided. Looking a bit like a Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes type, he strides manfully about with the bearing of one who could wrestle a few sheep if the need arose.

Here we are, he has led us to stare into this hedge. I very much approve of this sport.

And we discover so many interesting places on our countryside trek! Would I have dared the old canal route under the bridge where someone has scrawled DIE DIE DIE. I don't think so.

This is what our leader suggests we must do as well. Crawl under footpaths into drainage channels.We do that, readily.

To you muggles, I accept this might look like we are searching for the drugs stash left last night by Skull Crusher.

Did ya get that clue, right there?

Yes, this is the most brilliant afternoon Grit has spent in a long time, and she has had a few in this home educating lark.

Thank goodness we had a leader, and I need to brush up on my shonky map skills, but I now count myself as a totally blissed out geocacher.

All there is left to do is persuade you, too. Go and treasure hunt your locality.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Legally, this does it for Wednesday

Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act states your parental duty is to equip Tinkertop with an efficient and suitable education. 

How would you define efficient or suitable

Round here today, I'm defining efficient as taking the quickest, most expedient, and cheapest route to an end. Which means I take Shark, Squirrel and Tiger along to a community hall to thrash about in a Willow Withie Workshop with tissue paper, masking tape, and glue. I'm given a discount on the basis that triplets share. See? Quick, simple, and a bargain.

And suitable? I'm defining this to mean Shark, Squirrel and Tiger must have the cultural understanding to fit into, take part in, and help grow the life of a community in which they are a part. 

Then we can give a big happy legal tick here with the Willow Withie Workshop. Because this is in preparation for the event, taking place in a short time, when our local community comes together, out and about on the streets, in a night-time outdoor ceremony involving candles and twisted wicker. 

(I merely recommend strangers don't come into town on that day.)

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

I am absolutely not paranoid delusional

The Highways Agency is gaslighting me.

Tonight they closed the A5, then denied it.

But I have them sussed. They are messing with my mind, trying to drive me to madness by preventing me from driving myself home.

More precisely, at 8.30pm from the Woodcraft Folk, not driving myself home, nor Shark, nor Shark's chum Tigger, sat behind me in the car innocently blathering away about throbbing glow-in-the-dark Santa hats. Well, she was doing that, until I had a minor temper thanks to closure of the A5.

Did I pass any warning Road Ahead Closed sign? Pah. It was more fun to let me waste yet more fuel and another 15 minutes before leading me to the shut-off Flying Fox roundabout. At which point, I could see no way out of this predicament without a U-turn, an extended tour of Leighton Buzzard, two more road diversions, the closure of the A146 and another hour and a half until I could be spat from the back-end of Bletchley in a fuming boil because the chippy shuts at 9pm.

Stupidly, I tried to make light of how another tenner in fuel costs and another two hours was added to my evening drive time, plus we were all going to bed starving. Ahem. I humorously suggested to my young passengers that the entirety of Milton Keynes was now sealed off in emergency lock-down due to a poison gas cloud, escaped mutant virus, rampaging pyschotic lunatic, or maybe flood, so now all the citizens were evacuated to Aylesbury. Let's go and spend the night there! It's easier to get into.

My attempt at humour didn't go down well. Like a lead balloon, in fact. Thus I faced the prospect of having to explain to Tigger's mama how I had not only hurtled her daughter about the Bucks countryside for two hours late into the night, starved her half to death without any supper, I also now had to explain why the next 15 years will be spent in trauma counselling.

Monday, 26 November 2012

It's only a bit of water

Well, plague might stop the home ed meet.

But only if it's really bad.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Rock watching

To a village hall, somewhere off the M40. For an all-day workshop in geology. Led by a geologist. With lots of rocky geology samples. Worksheets and maps. Geological maps. 

Yup, that pretty much defines the day. I finish with only mica, schist and slate in my eyeballs.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

There are many of us out here

Another day, another sleepover.

I woke this morning and wondered, Whose child have I got? I couldn't recall. We have people in and out on a rota.

Is it the graceful, stick-thin horse girl with the delicate, fragile features? Get on the wrong side of her and, like a sword-fighter, she'll chop up your mind and expose the dismembered bits to her forensic gaze until you're blubbing for mercy and miserably agreeing that you demonstrated a complete ignorance and a total lack of rigour in your off-the-cuff remark about wombats.

Or is it Tigger, the force of nature who bursts into this house, bouncing off the walls, ceiling and floor because it's all! so! exciting! and DID YOU KNOW?! Soon it's CHRISTMAS! and there are REINDEERS! and there will be a tree! and lights! FLASHING! and it is all so TASTEFUL!

Then I remembered. It is Fizzy.

Planet Earth, know this. You are visited by a unique energy in Fizzy. Fizzy understands you, Planet Earth. She listens. Or she would, if your rocks could stop chirruping for a few moments and talk to her in a sensible manner. Fizzy is intuitively in touch with rocks. And earth, water, trees, sky, plus all animals. She listens to the complaints, knowledges, and endeavours of them all, engaging in discussion equally on the creaky knee joints of elders, and the wisdoms of deer.

After five minutes with Fizzy, she blurs into one great surge in my head. Sparrows are energising, as are force-fields. Sky can pulsate but that is okay because badgers send you messages by snorting.

She may actually be from Planet B897-Minor, put here on earth to confuse your expectations of normal.

But no. By afternoon, I know she is normal, because together with my own adorable offspring she can still trash a bedroom in the time-honoured sleepover manner.

Friday, 23 November 2012

I know it's not rational

Men, I suggest you do not read this post. Achieve a goal more useful, like make a cup of tea, and cherish your beloved.

Today I had the routine once-every-five years smear for cervical cancer. The second smear this year, note, because the earlier attempt two months ago produced no cells for examination.

Really? Well, I can tell you why it didn't. The same reason I expect this attempt with the dreaded speculum also to fail.

Because, strangely, when I am flat on my back on a medical couch vulnerably exposing my doodah to a Chinese woman with a focused stare, watching in growing horror and fear as she draws back her arm to skewer me with something that resembles a bicycle pump, terror kicks in. My body reacts in a completely involuntary, uncontrollable manner. This always takes both of us by surprise.

Personally, I think my body has examined the options. As far as it can see, they are:

a) suffer being stabbed up the doodah with a bicycle pump
b) punch Chinese Lil in the face and record-break the three-minute mile
c) confuse the enemy, by levitating.

Obviously, it is option (c). My body has worked out that by jumping to a height one metre above the couch with the speed of a cricket, this unexpected manoeuvre will confound the enemy, secure its safety and thwart the evil attempt to stab it in the doodah with a bicycle pump.

Unfortunately for my body, the limbs and torso have not yet learned how to jump like a cricket. This is where it cunningly employs the hands. The left hand attempts to scale the wall while the right hand grabs at the modesty curtain to lever the whole being up and off the couch.

I think my hands do very well, considering the people who make walls forgot to put in handles. My left hand, for example, does a sort of flat-palming technique half a metre up, which works fine and is a good start for elevation purposes. The right hand does not fare as well, sadly, because a thin modesty fabric curtain is obviously not as rigid or secure as a wall. The scrabbling right hand can therefore have the entire screen tipped over on the floor in seconds; curtain, hooks, metal rods, the lot, crashing about the feet of the confused Chinese Lil.

The worst isn't over, because once the body attempts the levitation, I have started screaming. I have tried to stop this panic reaction, and simply can't, unless it is to suppress this sound into a sort of gulping sobbing noise punctuated by shouting GET AWAY FROM ME I MAY PUNCH YOU. It is not very dignified, it is true, but at least I can be relieved that there is only the final act to go before the horrible scene is complete and I can crawl home in ignominy.

The combined forces of the failed levitation attempt, the falling modesty screen, and the fight-or-flight reaction invariably tips me over, unbalanced, off the couch, sending me lurching towards the floor. Given that my legs are at ninety degrees to the rest of me, it is understandable that I have zero stability and no point of balance to help right me in the fall. I am not a cat, after all! Thus one leg swings wildly round to locate a floor while Chinese Lil steps back to avoid my foot in her ear, simultaneously tripping backwards over the fallen screen. Give it one misplaced footstep now and we will both be sprawled on the floor in the wreckage, wishing I had cancelled like last time.

I can find nothing, absolutely nothing, to say about the whole experience which suggests it is a good one. In previous years the only way I have found to control the involuntary terror is by drinking a triple whiskey beforehand. I do not emerge well, and Chinese Lil is now completely terrified of me.

To her credit, in the hour-long appointment I take for this two-minute procedure, she attempts to calm me by reason (fail), with humour (fail), by showing me the speculum which she confusingly labels 'virgin size' (fail), telling me the techniques of others (fail, you are insane), suggesting a variety of pain-lessening positions to do with buttocks and hands (fail), asking me to use deep-breathing exercises (fail), giving me a badge which reads I have been brave at the doctor's today (fail), and suggesting, as a last resort, that in five years from now I don't take up the offer of the smear on the basis that I am probably low risk for cervical cancer and frankly it is doing more damage to her nerves than the good it is doing for my medical reassurance.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

There's a challenge

Yes, there is a little bit of me (maybe the left upper arm) that once a month is driven to do an 'I'm in charge' teachery thing.

Normally I don't like to admit to it.

But there it is. Once a month I run an English group, where my little band of willing pre-GCSE victims are kind enough to let me witter on about readers, writers, expectations and delights, then read out a short story before setting them a writing task.

I am all in the manner of an English teacher who is probably elderly and confused but you tolerate them nonetheless because they seem fairly harmless.

Today's writing task was to bring together two sentences. The first must describe or introduce an event that is routine, predictable, normal or comforting. And the second is to pounce on the reader with an idea that is so strange, extraordinary, or unusual, that you draw up in your seat to wonder how the world can be so composed.

I gave a couple of examples.

The alarm clock sounded as usual, at 7am. The death sentence would be carried out that afternoon. 

The house looked as it had always done. Except for the gigantic elephant, balanced delicately on the roof, its trunk stuck down the chimney.

I suggested ten minutes would be sufficient to come up with two or three sentences like that. Enough to get us wondering about expectations.

After fifteen minutes, Tiger was still stuck.

She had plenty of second sentences. She just couldn't think of anything that was normal.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The force takes control of our minds

1. Strange! Did you see that tribe of adults and kids pass by? At 11 am on a weekday morning? I wonder who they are, and where they're going?

2. Everyone seems to be trailing one kid on a trike. She seems to draw us on. Let's follow her.

3. Uh-oh! There is the drawing force. Water. Creeping up behind, pretending to be innocent, tempting the vulnerable with its wicked ways of flowing about and rippling, trying out the endlessly mischievous possibilities with an occasional come-hither gurgling noise.

4. Inevitably, the strange tribe will become aware of this unique force. Resistance will break down. Daring members will experiment by making tentative investigations of the strange and beautiful material.

5. Too late! Within ten seconds,  the water has woven its charm. It exerts a magic power. The entire tribe must now call a halt to the walk while those under the age of 13 start sacrificing sticks to it, working out how to control it, and what can be done with it.

6. Suddenly, as if drawn by the force of the water, an even larger crowd assembles. (If you see this on the high street, the focus of devotion will be a puddle.)

7. Five minutes, and one of the junior tribe will strip off to clamber over the wondrous material, barefoot. Even though it's winter and sodding freezing. The elder members of the tribe now know all is lost. They are powerless. May as well give up all ambition of making for the wood and stand about here.

8. The assembled tribe now waits patiently for the junior tribe to complete their mystical devotions. Elders pass the time by talking about a) local council education practice b) home education approaches and philosophies c) how we always have to wait for hours in the freezing cold while the kids get in the river, for goodness sake doesn't anyone have any control over this? d) Strictly Come Dancing.

9. Teenagers gather. Resembling parents. Too cool for the lure of the water. Talk is not of power and powerlessness, but Warhammer, and this really wicked thing that happened at the weekend.

10. But all is lost! The water will win! As it surely, always, wins.

Then know this strange tribe as your local home education group.

We are the ones returning to the meet point three hours after we began, eschewing all paths to wade through puddles, rivers, canals, streams, sluice channels, and lakes (if we had wellington boots big enough).

And we have the reputation that we're odd!

It is not us. Blame the water.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Happens once a fortnight

Posted for Mrs Gradgrind.

See? Looks like HOME SCHOOL.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Working hard

Last week the gritlets came up with the smart idea they would earn money.

Normally, I would immediately agree to this. Quicker than you could say exploitative child labour I'd have them stitching Claire's Accessory bags, or gluing the wiggly eyes on soft toys in the dead-eyed manner of a Special Economic Zone migrant.

Unfortunately, their idea is nothing so vaguely helpful as earning their crust via a scheming employer. No. They came up with an employment scheme called Helping around the home.

I am unhappy about Helping around the home. It is basically, 'we do jobs, you give us cash'.

Hmm. Sounds to me like extortion from my pocket when the grislets should jolly well pull their weight. Four of us are here, and when I last looked there were no staff, housekeepers, laundry assistants or 'women who do' hiding behind the curtains. Between the four of us we surely have the sense and ability to wash, cook, clear up after ourselves, and not set the place on fire. (I only set the dinner ablaze once. For goodness sake don't keep going on about it.) Daily assistance around the home, in my opinion, should involve no cash. Only the satisfaction gained from helping each other and creating a mutually supportive society. And then what happens next? When the employment experiment is over? More hazard. As in, I am not picking up my coat because you are not paying me to do it.

Obviously, I tried to put the griblets off their ghastly scheme. Primarily by turning every household job into a long-winded, difficult and problematic tendering process.

I listed six areas of housework and insisted written bids for the contracts were presented in a proper manner. Then I demanded each job be submitted to a further round of wrangling and bargaining. Because I am ruthless (and know how to divide triplets), I egged on Shark and Tiger to undercut each other on the Table Setting bid until both of them offered to work the entire week for one penny. Then I gave the job to Squirrel on account of the ridiculously unrealistic bids coming in from the competition.

But despite my best efforts to recreate the misery, daily grind and routine back-stabbing involved in office politics, the grimlets persisted.

Eventually I gave in.

They have just completed the week's employment. I incorporated into the end process a further smidgen of realism by means of a staff appraisal designed to identify areas where they failed.

Gratifyingly, it took all afternoon, and meant I could use phrases like performance-related targeting and action to improve client satisfaction. Now I am in hope they never, ever, want to re-run this experiment ever again. It has left one in a fuming temper, one not talking to me, and one locked in the bathroom. Thus I hope their next idea to earn their meagre pound is nothing to do with me, but is hiking round the neighbourhood, offering to wash cars.

Tiger. Won bids for dusting and vacuuming. Frankly, the vacuuming was terrible. She swung the Dyson round like a weapon, scowled all the time and sucked up next to nothing before finally demanding two pound fifty. I gave it to her gladly, just to get her out the way. (I might take a note of that strategy, actually, for when Dig comes home.) On the plus side, she enjoyed the dusting since it required the purchase of an extendable fluff-on-a-stick with which she could stab her sisters.

Squirrel. Won bids for table duties and tidying the shoe racks. Dreadful. It was like putting Chaos in charge of time-keeping. But her winning of the bids was political, so I can't complain.

Shark. Won bids for laundry in and laundry out. She made an attempt. Then I realised we were washing the clean clothes all over again while a pile of mud-stained jeans was crawling out the door looking for pedestrians to mug. Did the job myself when she'd gone to bed.

Sunday, 18 November 2012


Take the little grits to see a local am-dram performance of Macbeth.

I was expecting to watch this performance in the usual manner, i.e. in growing disbelief, as the yawning gap between enthusiasm and skill set (I know that chasm well), is here demonstrated by Belinda from Accounts, launching into her moment as third witch.

That is what I was expecting. By Act I Scene ii, only horror, fear, and pity; none of it wrought by Shakespeare.

By Act II my toes would have curled. By Act III I would have exited the bloody scene because sitting in the third row with my hands clamped over my eyes, peeking between fingers, would be noticed. That is exactly what happened with Sleeping Beauty. The am-dram group gave it an upbeat contemporary turn. Sleeping Beauty was a drug addict, her mother was a prostitute and the prince was off the cast of Shameless. I had to go and sit in the car.

But I am pleased to say that Macbeth was not the humiliation I was expecting. In fact, several members of the am-dram group were quite good. One or two were excellent.

Yes, there was a touch of the Office Administrator about Lady Macbeth, particularly when her ambitious lord, covered in ketchup, crawled out from under the eternal damnation brought by Duncan's bloody murder, and Lady Macbeth tutted and rolled her eyes. There he is, he can't put the paperclips in the right place again. But apart from that, they were good. I made the gritlets analyse the performance in the manner of a local am-dram critic.

Thus, in conclusion. Despite my fear, it all turned out alright.

I am taking that as a lesson for life.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

I'm sorry, it is notebooks

I should put these photos on the notebook blog, but I am too busy, so here they are instead.

Note the uncompromising tone. I can supply it with impatient scowling.

Fortunately, my children are used to this level of Saturday morning indifference where the notebooks are concerned.

Unfortunately, they have a sleepover chum who may never call on us again, since I already traumatised them with my neglectful parenting. The young innocent was expecting warm home-made chocolate brioche for breakfast, clearly the standard set by the last upstaging parent on this sleepover circuit. But what the juvenile failed to consider is that round here they get Grit, and I have a craft stall coming up. I only grunt from deep within the darkened chambers of my leather lair the morning instruction, Bread is in the bin. Sort it out yourself.

Now, to more important matters.

Walk Me. Notebook for all of us who need to pound earth and soil. Supplied with sticks, stick-collecting bag, a snatch of Robert Frost, and a couple of sticks carved by Squirrel. She has 34,000 of them on the floor while she learns to whittle, so I'm pinching them. (The thefts will probably be discovered when her inventory and database system fails to match her inspection report.)

Evolve Me. Notebook for evolutionary biologists. Not as niche a market as you might think.

Goth Me Out. One of the many enjoyable consequences of stitching paper and leather into arty creations is how much I actually learn about the world while I'm doing it. Really, who knew about all those subcultures of the misery-fuelled gothic experience? Good preparatory research. It will up my credibility no end. When the Gritlets drag home the sulky-pouty Nigel I can inquire on the darkwave recipe he blends for his mascara without bursting into laughter.

Now, back to Unearth Me, notebook for archaeologists. (Or I could turn it to that kink in the market for people who like to bury themselves alive.)

Friday, 16 November 2012

The wrong woods

Scared myself witless by getting lost in some woods. Fortunately I did not become so totally out of control that I began growling, stripping off, and daubing myself in horseshit while swinging from a trunk.

I had plenty of crap to choose from, actually. And a lot of mud. But I retained enough sense of sanity to remember my pocket talking device, so I telephoned my way out. I was texted back to the car park by a friendly fellow home educator who told me I was in the wrong woods.

The wrong woods? Yes! I spent all that time being trailed by children turning ugly and confrontational because I was making them miss their woodland play session and I was in the wrong woods. But the right woods look totally different, don't they?

No wonder woods, trees and forests have the reputations they have. Not for the dogging, but for the spooky sounds, or absence of sounds, and the way those bushes kept creeping along behind me, muttering blasphemies and shaking their undergrowth.

I may have lost my mind a little at the sight of that four hundredth tree, it is true, but it also struck me how I simply have a different emotional reaction to different woods. Some my guts like, and some they do not. Pine-based ones do not smell right. They do not feel right, and the air does not move in a comforting manner. Macbeth would feel quite at home in the clammy embrace of the dead sounds and still airs of the pine place. What a relief to arrive in the beeched-out bits with their red gold crunch and a sensible way of twisting your bark. I was more than relieved to see them.

But it's true, isn't it, that woods are both exciting and scary. And you don't have to be lost to know that once you're inside them, you're not the one in control.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Desk processes

I have nothing better to do while dinner cooks, so let's see the creative process in action. Yes, it's Desk Round Up!

Squirrel. Off in some corner, making wings. Leaving on desk an assortment of cut-up fairy costumes, Chinese scissors (mine, pilfered from my secret scissor stash), a bundle of wood shavings from her experiments in whittlings, ABC books she is making for teaching unicorns to read, plus a dictionary, because I am on at her about inner resources, self-improvement, and being able to spell the word knocking, which came up the other day, and which she had as konking.

Tiger. Presently a sort of brooding half-woman, nesting on the sofa, taking personal possession of every available cushion. Seizing by force, in particular, the fluffy one, plus my treasured red cashmere shawl and, indeed, all the souls of the unwary who pass by. Mark, you innocent travellers betwixt front-room bookcase and kitchen cupboard. Know my words. Tiger will grab you, snap your bones, chew on your sinews, and spit out your spinal fluid. Otherwise, you will find her simply charming. But should you ever doubt your place in her hierarchy, the gold-covered creation you see on her desk with the title picked in gold beads is the book called Law.

Shark. Usual fish chemicals, liquid paint squirted into bottletops even though I have told her to use proper pallets, calligraphy brushes, bits of paper ornated in indecipherable scribble, plus daddy's old computer, which she managed to drop in Hong Kong while manipulating fish books, and it has never been the same since. Now it only works if it faces North and is plugged into a power socket, permanently. She has not learned from that experience, clearly. Note the liquid paint waiting to spill out the bottletops. Shark, meanwhile, is evading the mother-talk about liquid paint and computers and is squatting on the step into the garden, burning holes in paper. Let us close the (wooden) doors on her, and leave her to hopefully not set my nudiflorum alight.

Dig. You don't see Dig's desk, unless you wish to see me divorced, living in penury in a bedsit above an offy in Maida Vale.

Grit. Desk not worth the glance, covered as it is in leather off-cuts and empty cans of zero-alcohol lager. How I wish it were otherwise: that the lager could be a decent glass of red or maybe a small pre-dinner champagne.

This, however, is what came off my desk. Smugly, I can glory in product, rather than process.

Find Me Diamonds, the diamond hunter's notebook. Lovely, lovely stone, studded with a real fake diamond.

Soft wrapping suede cover, plain inside. It had to be, because a thought can turn either way. And life is made of stone and diamond, as sung I am told by a Mr John Denver.

Bagged up and ready to go.

Now, if that is burning I can smell, then the dinner process is done, and hopefully we will find a leek and potato product.