Monday, 31 December 2012

Got that off my chest

Upholster Me! Yes! Note book/needle book/cloth book/presentation sample book, not for a bra-maker, but for an upholsterer!

Am I buzzing that niche market button yet?

Soon I will be preparing a Knicker Drawer Note Book for a one-legged lurcher owner living in Haltwhistle who grows cauliflowers, eats road kill, and whose hobby is sculpting miniature figures of past British Prime Ministers out of green melted candle wax. I won't know where to begin!





I chose this gentle art of notebookery to end the year, because notebookery is how I intend to start the year.

And it's a better choice of subject than Lynne Truss.

Look, I know I'm a bit late here, but I was prompted to remember her ungenerous and unkind responses, because today the year ended very neatly when I received a round robin. By email!

I obviously don't receive the type of round robin that Truss receives.

I don't find round robins upsetting or annoying, and I take no slight from them that needs vengeance. Not at all. Quite the opposite. I loved reading the round robin I received today. For the end of 2012 it summed up death (it was inevitable), life (a million things left undone), loyalty (living in two countries can't be done, but we do it), sorrow (I have to be grateful), resignation (I'm on a quest for immortality) and joy (I danced in the chip shop with the doctor).

What I found from my round robin was not boastfulness or achieving children - although they certainly were in it, and well done Jem - but I found ordinary common-all-garden triumph and despair; deaths and failures, impending horrors, and tiny tragedies we humans live through, stated or squished between the lines, and from which we annually bounce, suffer, endure, then paste over again with stiff lips and determined smiles, finding humour, strength, or achievements as we go.

I'm delighted the round robin came today. I was touched by all those states, and happy to be remembered, and not resentful at the once-a-year. I'm glad you're here, alive; I'm glad that Jem got the result, even though it's taken him ten years; I'm glad Em's graduated, even though she had to leave the country to do it; I'm sorry to hear Bushka died (but wow, was she old); and I thank you for the info that divorce is not on the agenda, just in case I put my foot in it.

Sure, we can judge the human being who sent the round robin by the trusty Truss-o-meter, and they'll probably score just below toilet paper (used). But to me, you round robin people are both singularly unique and so completely human, you make me glad to be alive.

Come to think of it, I could probably make you the perfect Round Robin Writing Note Book.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Where shall we go today?


Given this wonderful two weeks of the year when the agenda holds not much more than eating and sleeping, the entire family is taking the opportunity to absorb themselves in their own projects. Shark is making a film, Tiger is drawing horses, and Squirrel is painting micro pictures of birds. Maybe this had an impact round here. Enjoy.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Time apart

I enjoyed this article.

Continuity of family; it's so very true. We ridiculous humans emerge from our accidental family groupings carrying snatches of their obligations, duties, suffocating miseries and dilemmas and foolish mistakes and shifty compromises and doomed ambitions and hopes, then, in separation, we continue the process seamlessly, pretending we don't, before layering down another new generation over the past, and thinking this time it'll all be different. And it isn't. We just reinvent what went before, in a new setting, and a new time.


I wander around the house, photographing children, wondering what family celebrations we annually reproduce, beyond the baked potatoes and fish stocking.

I snap Squirrel, in the schoolroom. I like this photograph for what it says to me about the family in which I live. The room mixes disordered, multi-layered clutter and simple, quiet labour on a desk-bound detail. Here she is, enjoying solitude in the family when we all complain no-one leaves us alone. She is quiet amongst noise; intellectual labour in practical space. Sat in this old scullery turned bedroom, turned study, turned nursery, turned messy room, turned schoolroom, it's a second of time, flowing in a history of people and place, of moments significant, or moments unimportant because they are so unadorned and ordinary, so plain, and simple.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Playtime for Grit

Isn't footling brilliant?

I'm free wheeling, free from imperatives of timetables, workshops, lessons, life stuff, I'm left alone, in solitude, to twiddle with bead and paper, string and cloth, ribbon and pins. I enjoy the snap of scissors on leather and follow the whimsy of thinking. Out of these gold dust moments grows who knows what? A new direction, a new idea, a result I never planned.






So what if I look like a hobo, haven't showered since last week, am up my eyeballs in a trashed house, and the kids are doing who knows what. Worth it, for a load more new books, and a new direction for February. Already I'm looking forward to that craft stall for Victorian Goth.


Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Waited two years for this


Mama's vegan Christmas pud.

It differs from Rose Elliot's in several ways. First, I bet she remembers to put the flour in. And the ground almonds. My dried ginger had a sell-by date of June 2011. And I didn't bother measuring the treacle. Also, I missed out the nutmeg. No astrology, either. I'm not cooking this pud in Piscean star time, just by suppertime, so leave a good four hours for the steaming. But I think she is mean on the rum. Pour in triple quantities. And obviously my pudding basin has a crack in it, so I cooked mine in a souffle dish.

None of this matters to Tiger. She just wants to see us ceremoniously set the thing on fire.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Open the presents, quick!


 Presents! Presents! PRESENTS!

I didn't deserve them!

Okay, maybe the corn dolly reindeer. Yes, I did deserve that. In view of the awkward moment I introduced round the Christmas tree.

But the best and most deserving writ-for-Grit present, here. I totally recommend. If you are a lover of window sills.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Proving no learning is ever lost


Grit! That module on packaging design wot you took on your design course when you had to make safe packs for 3-pin plugs and tea sets has really come into its own! I bet your lovely ole tootor is now a-looking at this fine packaging result with tears in his eyes.

Of course it is not wot Dig says! A dismembered body part casually wrapped in chip paper.

No! It is a beautiful gift item, lovingly wrapped in chip paper.

I can't remember what's in it now. By Christmas Eve I've got loads of packages like this! Maybe it is the stitch-your-own-cat I found in the charity shop for 25p. Hope the ears are all in it. If it's not that, it could be the bundle of wool from the old lady, the three 2012 diaries I got free from Scrapstore, or a jumper for Dig. I hear reindeers are v. popular these days. We wouldn't want tears of disappointment on Christmas morning now, would we?

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Santa's not real

I agree.

Not because I am a miserly niggardly little bastard hoping to destroy all shared cultural values, spread my miserable cantankerousness, and undermine every decent shred of behaviour in your civilised society, taking the innocence of childhood with me. Pft.

All days are special, from beginning to finish, start to end, cord to nail. I see my job as a parent is to open my arms wide to the feeling of it all; whether prompted by the tiniest detail or the biggest view, and it doesn't matter if it's unknowable at both ends, there is still human emotion to be found there.

So I fully agree with this:

'Arguing that a belief in Santa Claus injects magic into childhood is, in my view, rather cynical. It tacitly implies that the world by itself is insufficient to inspire a child with awe and delight. That is simply untrue. A child can be astounded by the smallest brush-flick of nature – the spinning sycamore seed, the sea, snow – they don't need to be lied to.'

Yes, yes, yes. Plus I am crap at lying. Especially about something so blatantly unsupportable as a bloke in a red one-suit. I would probably find it easier to lie about an adulterous affair than Father Christmas. At least I could invent an entire fantasy rationale about that. But the first question about Father Christmas would send me spinning into a mumbling wreckage of um. umumumum. um.

Although I have to observe that any honesty I've used with my children has not worked particularly well either, if the goal has been to coerce children into agreeable behaviours.

 Squirrel, there is no fat man dressed in Coca-Cola brand identity to come busting down the chimney.

No, mummy. But there is a child-eating eagle living in the rafters. Which is why I'm not going up for a bath, not going upstairs early, and not going to bed before midnight.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The best ones, you can ignore

There is a first-world disaster at Grit Towers.

I have a leak in my Krups.

I have suspected it for some time, but it is now that I am sure about the scale of the problem. Indeed, I have measured it. This morning I put in four cups, and got out two cups. The remainder leaked all over the worksurface, down the front of the oven, and dribbled a little puddle on the floor. I stood in it.

That, I am afraid, marks the finish of my Krups.

I am sorry to see it end. I may need a mourning ceremony. Maybe a coffin.

There will never be another like my Krups. Simple and honest, without affectation, pretension, or fiddly buttons making upsetting demands, it did the job. For 15 years, it made me happy. In fact it was so understated and undemanding, it only had one button. On/Off. Which broke shortly after I bought it. But it never bothered me, because the socket has a rocker switch.

With a heavy heart, I must now seek a replacement. I must be cautious. If I rush into a decision on the rebound, I will wind up with something all twinkling and flashing but in my heart I know the experience will be nothing but unsatisfactory. After an initial enthusiastic button-pressing, everything will break down. It won't do the job; it will stew my needs; spit spite and recriminations; then leave. There will be nothing but bitterness, resentment, and tears to spend the hours.

But it is not only the simplicity of my Krups that I will miss! The no-fuss way it was all in-and-out/over-and-done.

I will miss its stylish curve, pleasing me. Quiet elegance, sleek line, a robust heaviness that feels right in the hand. Weighty and worthy.

For now, I can only sigh. I know the world has moved on beyond my needs. One glimpse tells me so. Over-engineered, over-designed, over-buttoned, I will soon be brought to tears with a confusion of front-loading, automatic, drip control, reset timing, pause button, steam clean, hot pressure pump and would you like shower head assist?

When all I want is an honest girl's on/off filter coffee machine with a thermal jug.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Uh-oh


I am telling the little grits, You can have a puppy, or you can have your father. Which one do you want?

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Evolution at the Horniman


To the beautiful buildings of the Horniman Free Museum in Sahf Lahndan.

Fortunately, the practioners of Arts and Crafts design were prescient enough to engrave the word Free in stone in the original 1901 edifice. Hopefully that will cause a bit of a nuisance if English museums ever try charging entrance fees again.


Also, I should warn potential visitors, the gardens are not up to much in mid-winter. Maybe try spring.


The anthropology exhibits are wide ranging and well-presented, however.


I couldn't help feeling that the Horniman has lost a bit of an edge since it was voted Museum of the Year in 2004. Maybe it could take a leaf out the book of the lovely Ipswich Museum!

But we're at the Horniman for a specific reason. To join a happy band of home edders in a Key Stage 3 workshop, Evolution.

I checked it out on the website, like a dutiful home-educating mama. We were promised Darwin, Lamarck, and Mendel.

Because I am also a girly-swot home-educating mama determined to drill some academic approaches into the junior brains of the mini grits, I then delivered a packed lecture on the history of evolutionary thought while travelling two hours on London Midland, into the underground, and on the overground train to Forest Hill.

I hope, fellow travellers, if you listened in on that, you found much instruction.

Then we had the workshop.

Horniman, I think you need to match your workshop to your promise. The leader had two points to make (apart from publicity puff for the museum and the rules of workshops). The first was how the theory of evolution didn't need all the evidence, so there.

I thought maybe I had been picking a fight again. Had I become disoriented and begun defending a corner for creationism? It didn't seem likely, since I am not a fan of creationism, not even as a devil's advocate. So I assume it was just a dialogue the leader felt it was necessary to have with an invisible interlocutor.

That is okay by me. I keep a blog.


Her second point was about adaptation. I have to make that point for her, because she didn't. It got lost somewhere between the snake vertebrae and the shark mouth. Disappointingly, adaptation was not mentioned. Darwin, not much. Mendel never got a look in. And Lamark? Who's he?

Horniman education department, can I help you start here?

I will leave the last word on the workshop to Squirrel, since she sums it up accurately: 'If that's Key Stage 3, I could do that when I was seven. It was all just Do you want to stroke a dead badger?'

Otherwise, I am hugely grateful that home educators continue to use up the resources, times and staff of museums, and it is not all lost. The aquarium guard, for example, provided us with a proper learning in museum culture, guarding duties, boyhood reminiscences, and an accent Shark couldn't understand, so at least she got an education from that, as well as a lot of fish.


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Called to prayer in The Merry Wives of Windsor

Take the kids to Stratford-upon-Avon for the RSC understudy performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor.

I loved it. It is an excellent production, with glorious sets and sharp acting, the Shakespearean wit stitched into a setting of present day suburbia with a shade of Alan Ayckbourn; from which place we can know that these wonderfully enduring themes - secrets and lies, marital compromises, infidelities, tricky moral arguments, jealousies and neighbourhood conspiracies - they never end, they merely continue rolling on from one generation into the next.

Go and see it. It is a brilliant way to fill your belly for the start of 2013, with laughter, at the weaknesses, follies, triumphs and humanities of us all.

There was only one annoyance to spoil it. About 2pm, what sounded to my ears like a tinny electronic Call to Prayer. At first I assumed it was a ring tone from someone who couldn't be bothered, was too dense to find an off-button, or (kindly), they just forgot about the phone in their pocket. The audience sighed and the distraction caused Martin Hyder, excellently playing Frank Ford, to slip a line before deftly picking up the drama.

But then it happened again, about 4pm. This time Falstaff sighed and laid his arms heavily on the table.

Later, because I am a nosy girl and have listened to the Call to Prayer early in the morning from hotels around the world, I checked the times. They fitted.

I'd like to imagine I'm wrong. Stupid Grit. It was just a ring tone! And the holder couldn't turn it off because the phone button was jammed!

But if I'm not wrong, and the electronic Call to Prayer issued across the theatre was a new manifestation of ill-mannered selfish ignorance, the imposition of someone's belief system on me, mine, in a context I value, then no, I'm not going to find it in myself to be tolerant.

I don't want my beloved Shakespearean performances to expect the electronic call, where we all must wait while the devotee of this particular practice leaves the audience to respond as required. What I want is for the RSC and all theatres - when faced with anyone who leaves for a Call to Prayer and then expects to be let back in - is don't. Do not allow re-entry.

Instead of lobbying for change in the British workplace - in this case, the stage upon which the actors at the RSC work to a superbly high professional level - I would like to see the theatre workplace space protected, and the attention of the lobby for change focusing instead on any institutions who require such anti-social practice.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Taxing the spirit of forgiveness at Christmas

The local home ed group meet for a Christmas party in the woods.

What on earth possessed me, at that meeting point, to volunteer to wait at the car park, in order to direct late-comers?

What? Anyone who reads this diary knows that you can stick me in a wood and within ten seconds I am hopelessly lost. I do not know what happens to me, apart from I discover I have no sense of direction and never had any. Suggesting that I might actually be able to lead someone else to a meet-point in a wood is asking for trouble.

It was, it did, and I got it.

But wait! In my defence, listen to these instructions. At the time I heard them, they seemed perfectly reasonable. BUT YOU TRY FOLLOWING THEM.

Grit to leader (happily, obviously demented): Shark, Squirrel and Tiger will come along with you! I will wait here and bring the late arrivals! (Clearly defective in the brain.)

Leader to Grit: Great! Go along the path, through the gate, up the hill, and there's the tree.

Grit to leader: Fine! See you later! (Someone should knock some sense into her.)








TWO HOURS PASS

Grit (to party blindly following her in circles through a wood, except for the wing who saw what was coming and legged it back to the safety of the cafe): I think the tree we're meeting at is in that direction! Wait! What time is it? Oh! Is the party over? Hey, everyone, the party's over! (Long pause.) Does anyone remember the way back to the car park? (Lucky to be alive, quite frankly.)

Monday, 17 December 2012

Education, everywhere


Look! I have taken the little grits to Church!

We pass through the lit up entrance door and are not struck down for our godless ways by the Victorian archangels carved into the porch, so there is enough welcome and mercy here for us foolish sinners after all.

But like most of the rest of you however, I'm not coming here for worship, or for a service.

The thing about churches is, they make great community halls where your local independent cinema group can dust off the 1951 Alastair Sim version of Scrooge, crank up the old projector, and screen this fine black and white film alongside servings of mulled wine and platters of Co-op mince pies.

Personally, I think cinema is a fine use for a church, and is at least one means of embedding the little grits into our local history, culture and community without actually doing the God bit.

Oh yes, and I'm also ticking the boxes for literature and film studies.


Sunday, 16 December 2012

Not quite the effect intended


Peeple are coming round! For my Evening's Entertainment in the spirit of our Great Aunt Laura! It is so exciting. I will candle-light the house. Or at least the bits of it we own and which haven't fallen in.

I am so determined to offer up my theatrical Victoriana, that I even clean off the flotsam that has washed up on the fireplace mantle. Books, final demands, rubber rats, tinfoil, more Squirrel stones, that type of wreckage. On my delightfully naked surface I then collect together an assortment of candlesticks turned out from every cupboard in the house.

I proudly light the candles, and think the effect is so very chi-chi I might sell photographs of my Period Party Decor to Tatler.

Dig agrees. But he adds the mantelpiece now so looks like an altar, it has brought about in him a strange anti-social urge to sacrifice the postman.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Bathroom wonderings

I am having a critical moment regarding the house.

Tomorrow, Peeple are coming round. Worse, I invited them.

For this sorry state of affairs, I blame the children. I suspect they have become intoxicated by a character in a book, like an eccentric Great Aunt Laura. She will be an ancient of a woman, smelling of man's cologne and dressing in Edwardian black lace. It wouldn't surprise me if she conjured up all manner of excitement at Christmas, like decking halls with holly, lighting wax candles, smoking cigars, and dispensing cheese. Naturally my impressionable offspring expect the same thing round here.

Well, we will all feel sadly disappointed tomorrow.

While Great Aunt Laura will live in an inviting mansion with seductive turrets, winding staircases, and faded red velvet curtains that hide locked oak doors, I live in a house that is a practical demonstration of the laws of chaos theory and entropy.

And, unlike Great Aunt Laura, I have to consider practicalities. When Peeple visit me, I have to think, What if they need to use a toilet?

I bet that moment doesn't happen in Laurel Towers. When the children disappear into the turreted room and the door slams shut, I bet everyone has a great lark of an adventure, creeping round passages and discovering concealed treasure. I bet at no point does anyone say, I'm busting. Where's your toilet?

Of course it will happen here. I could direct them downstairs, to the cellar bathroom. The tiles fell off in 2000-and-something and the shower stopped working and another problem, but I can't remember what. Suffice to say, the solution was costly and expensive, so let's find another bathroom to use.

Unfortunately, the original bathroom (it's complicated) is now a cupboard. I tip the hamster cleaning fluids in the bath, and I have wedged pieces of wood over the top to serve as shelves, in the spirit of There, I Fixed It. On my improvised bathroom shelf system I stack Shark's fish buckets, all home-made calligraphy ink from boiled onions, and the river stones that Squirrel collects to grind up slate. The vacuum cleaner sits on the toilet.

Of course if people were brave, they could attempt the toilet at the back of the house. They would have to squeeze safely by the pipe cleaner construction in the schoolroom which resembles a scale model of a nuclear power station, then they must pass through my craftroom the reading room, where they may be assaulted by hanging wet leather skins. Maybe it does look a bit like the cutting room of a psychotic serial killer inspired by Buffalo Bill, but someone's got to suffer for my art, apart from me. May as well be the person who wants to use the Fishy Toilet. Which, if you make it, you will find out why it acquired that name.

If none of these celebrations of bathroom artistry appeal, I could always direct Peeple upstairs. Not to the middle of the house, which we do not own, but the attic, which we do. In the attic is another bathroom which is okay but the flush broke, so until it's sorted, fill a bucket from the bath.

I suppose if it all fails, we could knock at the neighbours, and ask to use their toilet. There might be a slight problem with that plan, in that one of the Peeple coming round is in the middle of a taking them to court, so we might not get the positive response we hope for. In which case, I will feel justified in telling everyone to piss in their privet.

Now, having written all the sordid details of our bathroom failures, I cannot help but think that inviting Peeple round is not a disaster in the making, but a jolly good idea.

Once they are all here and bursting for a wee I could detain them until I have extracted a fiver from each of them to go towards the cost of bathroom repairs, and in this way turn my Christmas Entertaining Event into a type of Bathroom Charity Appeal.

I bet Great Aunt Laura would approve of that plan. I will take a leaf from her book, and also dispense cheese.

Friday, 14 December 2012

See? We don't even miss out on the school party

It's Christmas! I understand this means the school terms are now drawing to a close.

With the approach of Christmas, your secondary schooled child will naturally assume this run-up confers complete and total right to do sod all, watch videos, play games, turn up late for everything, generally doss about, cover all their folders in glitter and, for a too-brief time, experience the life of a home ed child. All because It's Christmas!

Normally, the end of the winter term and the approach of Christmas holidays make no difference to your average home ed kid. We do each of the above, and more, all year round and only have ourselves to blame. Except, however, when we hire a local ex-school teacher to lead our scholarly Latin groups. She imposes on us a sort of school-based pattern of lessons and terms which end with her becoming a bit giggly and saying This is the last lesson because It's Christmas!

Thus a group of home ed kids studying Latin are commanded to sit in a circle and snatch each other's hats shouting petasus! The game is followed by hunting words, responding to phrases, eating biscuits and learning Latin while pretending not to.




But because this event is led by a retired teacher from the local school, that is enough fun for now. The homework goes IN THE BOX on the way out.

Thank you very much and lessons start again in January.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

A frosty start


Dig has returned home in time for winter! And England is obliging! Hasn't the frost shown us all the exquisite detail of life? For every tender stem, slender twig, and crooked coil of bracken passing this freezing winter night out of doors, nature provides a sparkling coverlet, a perfectly formed crystal coat, better than any gem wrought by human hand!

What poetry! What perfection! Enough to make me leap out of bed, cry yes! yes! YES! and click away with my trusty camera, to try and know I'll fail to catch the wonder of winter's coat! But the very attempt to know the precision of nature merely adds to my marvel of it all.

Dig, inspired by this poetry and the novelty of frost, because you don't get that in Hong Kong harbour, picks up his travel-worn camera and delightedly steps into the street to photograph a tree; it hangs from the garden over the hedge and drips into the road. 

Within a minute Dig is assaulted by a passer-by who harangues him for attempting to photograph their movements, then threatens to sort him if he doesn't delete the photograph now this instant. 

A mere 24 hours in England! In Dig's first day he is assaulted by London Midland, children, a disfigured cherry tree, and me, demanding something is done about the fallen down office ceiling. The second, by a random stranger in the street! 

And winter has only just begun! England hasn't yet offered him drizzle, grey cloud, constant rain, a flooded cellar, and his Christmas present.

Oh what seasonal delight yet lies ahead.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

It's all an act of faith

Am-dram, at the local theatre. An Evening with Charles Dickens.

Interview with the writer, readings, dramatisations, fond resurrections of those moments we know from the books; you get the idea.

Unmissable!

No, I don't expect the theatre critic of the Observer or The New York Times to tell you that. But I am working hard to support local am drams in the face of the steamroller that is the Lloyd Webber franchise. So what if occasionally I have to clench my buttocks, curl my toes, and bite my knuckles? It is no more than I do on any ordinary home educating day spent in the company of my own children.

Anyway, I have to support am dram now for another reason. Last month Tiger wondered if she might not become an illustrator after all; she might like to design theatre costumes and sets for a living instead.
 
I do what any home educating parent does who believes practical experience trumps 20 starred A-grade passes at GCSE, and that is, shove her in with the practitioners of her wondering career, let her think about the practicalities of the choice, and find out what skills she needs to win her way in or create the job for herself. Do it, don't sit and swallow facts about it while sat behind a desk.

So far, that philosophy and practical approach has worked fine. I have submerged Shark in the local lake with a dive team and sent Squirrel down a quarry with a bunch of geologists. Theatre visits should be straightforward, considering they continue a family way of life.

Of course it will all fail when Tiger reaches the age of 17 with one GCSE pass in Art taken part-time at the local college and declares what she really, really wanted all along was 10 starred A-grades in Science.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

It's a time for children, so I'm told

Tigger, the irrepressible bouncing chum of Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, is off her face with joy.

Mostly thanks to having the world's best parents. They know exactly how to set her Christmas Joy Switch to a permanent state, ON. Simple. Turn your entire house into Santa's Grotto.





Result. Tigger is bouncing off the walls because did you KNOW? It is CHRISTMAS! Come and see our LIT UP REINDEER and SANTA and FAIRY LIGHTS and it is all WONDERFUL and mama makes a GROTTO and it is BRILLIANT and there are STARS and that is usually the point where I pass out, and someone has to slap me round to bring me to consciousness.

But Tigger makes me realise how awfully wrong I have got this Christmas lark. Here I am, with my strugglings to regain a patch of front room decorum, I have totally failed to lie about fat men with presents entering your bedroom late at night. Then there is all my Soviet-style military marchings backwards and forwards to the 10p bauble sale at the Community Re-use Shop, where I come over all control-freakery with the front door wreath.

No darling DON'T CHOOSE THAT ONE. It is so vulgar! Choose these discreet silver baubles instead! They are much prettier, ARE THEY NOT. Right, shut up crying. We're having them, because every time I enter the house, I have to look at your choice and quite frankly a dangling thing that looks like a tinselled stool on a stick will make my face melt as well as alert social services to what we get up to behind closed doors.

What I should have done, I now realise, was proudly and defiantly tip the contents of the local skip onto the front door step, chuck six foot of fairy lights over the lot, garnish it with a blow-up Santa, and declare it a grotto. Then I would have raised three children similarly off their heads with joy at the spirit that is Christmas.

But I fear, with my curmudgeonly ways, that I have done the stiff and judging British thing with my offspring. I have introduced them to social anxiety, made them aware that they will inevitably get on the wrong side of the scales of social judgements, and I have brought them to that point where they must apologise it is Christmas and they are not even Christians. That is what I do, and I can say it is not exactly healthy.

Well I am going to change my ways. Tigger, with all her uncomplicated joy and delightful bounce, has taught me wisdoms about the needs of children. It is not enough to shove the plastic Christmas trees at my offspring, then tell them to decorate them up to the eyeballs with crap in their bedrooms where I can't see them, I must proudly declare my altered child-led vision of Christmas in public.

I am going to tell Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to decorate the cherry tree that stands in the front garden and which is visible to the WHOLE WORLD.

This, I feel, will be a sign that I am finally led, totally, generously, and fulsomely, by children at this special time of year.

Thank you, Tigger.

Edited to add: When Dig enters the house from his long, long journey home from Hong Kong for the Christmas holidays, his first words are not Hello my lovely family! But Call the Police. Someone has tipped rubbish all over the front garden. Honestly, the vandalism that goes on in England is one reason why I stay in Hong Kong.