Thursday, 31 January 2013

Of global significance

Somewhere in the last few days we made it over to Stony Stratford Library.

Don't scoff! Stony Stratford Library isn't just a tiny local library sited opposite the RSPCA charity shop, and containing 879 books, 12 audio tapes, and a soft cushion shaped like a ladybird, you know!

For a start, Stony Stratford has a history stretching back to Roman days. Zip forward a few hundred years and the town found itself perched against the Danelaw. In 1483 it was the town where Richard III's men took hostage the uncrowned boy King Edward V. And that's before we even get to the Cock and Bull of the coaching story. See? Stony Stratford has history.

Not surprising then, Stony Stratford library is living up to this high standard of national significance by making headlines around the world. Look, here's a story from the New Yorker. The residents put the tiny library under the international spotlight (news spot reserved for cute, funny, reassuring, eccentric) when they mounted a protest against closure by taking all the books out. Shut up about them sparing the local authority the bill on book removal. It worked, dammit, and now Stony Stratford is on the international literary touring map! Up there with Hay on Wye! (Ahem. Give it time.)

Well we have to make it over here. I have tickets to listen to the renowned Jerry Brotton.

No, I didn't know who he was either. He has an interesting book title though. It fits right in with our fortnightly mapping group.

It's only in the course of time I discover he was presenter for a Channel 4 map-fest, which explains why all the tickets were sold. Grit has ways and means, however. I had to threaten to disembowel myself on the doorstep of the organiser. Eventually she gave in and promised to squeeze me in, so long as I bought the book. (I did.)

I just thought I would tell you all this, partly so you can see to what lengths the home educating Mama will travel to secure an education for her juveniles, but also because it is an interesting book - bar the title which is now well hackneyed.

Indeed, I almost forgave Jerry Brotton for looking faintly indifferent and unimpressed as he sat in the upstairs room of Stony Stratford library waiting to flog us his book. I don't think he quite appreciated the importance of the place where he sat. We once read I Am A Fish on that exact spot.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Propeller, Twelfth Night

How long have I wanted to see Propeller? The all-male Shakespeare theatre company? Forever, that's how long. Or maybe since they started winning awards and I became aware of them. Either. But they don't come to play in my lands of Smalltown, so I have to go to them, to home city Norwich. That's lucky, because we're over here, so let's take the opportunity.

And, by the way, isn't Norwich grown up? Blimey, I don't remember this swanky city centre architecture looking pretty good, new next to old.

Norwich? It's the place to go! But watch out on the missing signage to turn a left or right to find the car parking by the Theatre Royal. I spent 15 minutes blaspheming, so maybe, innocent day tripper, leave extra time for driving the Norwich city streets while cursing. And the lack of independent cheap-eat evening options in the centre just before show time? Grumph. 6.30pm sees me defeated in Pizza Express, regretting the choice but unable to find alternatives. Not that it matters to anyone else. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger remain enthusiastic about high street pizza, which is a benefit to being aged 12.

Parking and pizza aside, Norwich Theatre Royal is an effortless affair, so long as you can find the entrance door (another signage issue. Either I am dumb to signs or Norwich assumes I live here).

But then! There is Propeller! The anticipation of that stage set!

I have driven miles for this, cursed the one-way system, and eaten no dinner, then Twelfth Night begins. And I had that creeping feeling I'd chosen tickets on the wrong play. I should have picked the flip side of their season's double bill, Taming of the Shrew.

The first scenes of Twelfth Night didn't smack me in the face, like I needed them to. I wanted an immediacy and a physicality, which is one reason why I've come to see this company, and I had to endure people talking to each while standing still.

Don't get me wrong. It's not like I'm hooked on Starlight Express on Acid, but maybe Propeller have a reputation before them, and after the trials I've had (and no dinner), I need to see their particular kapow demonstrated there, right up front, so I can have the luxurious pleasure of revisiting those opening salvos in my head for days afterwards.

But Twelfth Night gives possibilities for physical interpretation, and Propeller does take them; the stage becomes a boxing ring and a hall for a tap-dance routine, the fish-net tights strut is excellent and the garden scene is beautifully visual with masked and chest-bared actors becoming statues, shrubbery, and local wildlife.

Then there is that other reason I need to see Propeller in Twelfth Night. Men playing women playing men. That did not confuse me at all. Well, maybe a bit, and I put that down to the replica blond wigs on Viola and Sebastian giving them a touch of the androids with me sat far away in the mean seats of the circle. I had to squint my eyes, at one point convincing myself they really were twins. In the ordinary run of men playing women, Maria was excellently played. No squeaky voices or silly mannerisms, except just enough hip thrust with the character arrival in kitten heels and tight skirt.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger enjoyed it all, laughing at mama's incompetent fury on her drive by, enjoying their perfect pizzas, and notching up another Shakespearean performance in their goal to see every play from mama's purse before they leave home.

But that's enough from Grit. You have to go and support Propeller, even if they're still controversial. And apologies. I just couldn't fit into the diary or the bank balance the all-female version of Julius Caesar at the Donmar.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Ancient House

Ancient House, Thetford. No, honestly, the museum is called just that, Ancient House. I know it's not very imaginatively named, but this is Norfolk. Anyway, here I can entertain my passions for windows, walls and doors. I would be very happy if you were to enjoy them, too.

Otto and Tiberius, not so much.

I thought they were a little out of keeping with the Tudor mood. I mean, sticking into the old lobby of the Ancient House the busts of two Roman emperors struck me as downright odd. Just because the Earl of Arlington brought them back as souvenirs from his holidays then stuck them on top of the building opposite doesn't mean now you have to shove them atop a couple of coffins in the lobby. It seemed to suggest to me you're cursed with them and you can't think of anywhere else to put them.

And it's only because he's posh that they're in the museum at all, let's face it. If I offered you the wooden Ganesh I brought back from my holidays in 1992, you wouldn't touch it with a barge pole.

Apart from Otto and Tiberius then, pleasing.

Monday, 28 January 2013

(Ssh. Keep my choice of West Stow secret)

I don't quite know what it is about West Stow Anglo Saxon village, but I totally love this place. Sometimes I think what moves me is the rise of the hill and the child's shape of the houses on the crest, then I think it must be the feel of the timber doors, or maybe the smell that rises up of sun on wood, or the feel of the curved floors and walls that reconstruct these Anglo Saxon houses. Maybe it's the way the village has knowledge and care behind it; there is thinking and consequence here, people have thought through ways of building, brought knowledge of hand constructions, made in this space artistry and practical considerations of living, all of another time.

Whatever it is, I've told the children they can scatter my ashes here, maybe from my right leg, just between the trees, the left leg can go to Grimes Graves, but don't tell Bury St Edmunds Council or Weeting-with-Broomhill Parish, obviously, because they're sure to disapprove.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Crisis meeting

Here I am, busting into Suffolk, because I care.

Get old Grit, eh? She may be made up inside with bagfulls of rusty crooked nails, clanking metal, crushed glass, twisted iron and old snapped bones, but she has a Big Bro with a heart. Broken, too, with the flighty woman trouble, she who batflapped off to another man's embrace.

Tsk. These pensioners, they never learn.

I can offer only a listening ear and what comfort comes from sisters. He speaks, and I know, when we are older, the clock makes all loss worse. We are on the wrong side of time.

Family crisis then, to be wrapped into the coming educational days. Expect pictures instead. Fields stretching over Suffolk. Comfort for the unrepaired soul.

 (Well, okay then. But it works for me.)

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Really, they are mocking me

Look. One of the world's premier collections of second-hand cake stands.

I searched for an entire bastard month to locate a three-tier cake stand on which to display nine home-made fancies and a bunch of plastic grapes given to me free by an old woman desperate to get rid of them. The sight of two dozen cake-stands piled in a barn comes at me a little like a giant mocking bellylaugh from the cake-stand sprite who has been amassing them all along.

Now there is sure to be someone like me - I am rarely a pioneer in anything, including theatrical tea-times with table cloth, cake stand, and badly-decorated home-bashed fancies - so I just thought I would help you out with your cravings. Risby Barn Antique Centre. Now you know where all the cake stands have been hiding.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Quick, before we come to our senses

Ellen McHenry takes me by the hand once again, egging me on with her seductive written materials and her fun educational games, to give me enough self-delusion that I can introduce a fortnightly Chemistry session to a bunch of kids in a sort of let's-have-a-bash-at-this-before-we-all-fork-out-for-a-GCSE-tutor.

The molecule building set we found at the sad animal shop for a pound helped enormously, and much amusement with hydrogen and carbon was had by all.

Ellen McHenry The Elements, recommended to the home ed hoards.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Ladykillers

It's undeniable. Most of the audience is aged over 60. I feel sad about that. Not at any age over 60 - the benefit of that means you can notch up a few wisdoms and experiences - but at how few audience members comprising this particular theatre-going evening are aged under 60.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are the odd ones. They're being introduced to new-hope post-war Britain to see The Ladykillers, the stage production of the film which most of the audience saw the first time round. I bet their feet didn't touch the floor as they sat in their cinema seats.

This is the stage version of the film, created by Graham Lineman and Sean Foley, and thoroughly entertainingly updated it is. Bonus scenes and a don't-take-it-too-seriously car chase up a scenery flat are played out on an impressively lob-sided set.

Banging the waterpipes joke is retained, and General Gordon is there by dint of your imagination, but there's no horse and no Frankie Howerd barrow boy. Instead, you can enjoy a modern music piece and wonderful background stories to help the character development. No, I couldn't tell you who does what and why, it would spoil the emergence of those needs and quirks, so yes, watch the video of the film, assemble a group booking to lower your ticket price, and go to see the stage play in a spirit of compare and contrast.

The other clear benefit is that you can introduce the juniors to the practicalities of acculturation as age meets youth. Where we can all be reassured that what we find funny stays just the same.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

And tell me what is wrong with modesty and courtesy

Doubletake Film Club today, plus an Art session with a home educating artist.

Latin? The tutor cancelled, due to icy roads.

I said Snow? Ice? No excuse. Spend time on Ten Ticks maths website instead then go out and scrape together an ice dolphin. Someone can help me prepare dinner and we'll watch Alec Guinness in The Ladykillers.

See, education officer slumped over your desk at the local council, helpless in the face of this week's snow closures?

Pft. We don't have to wait for the grounds to be gritted. Everyday is a gritty learning experience round here. I expect Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to bust into life and carry on with their activities through the blizzards, even when everyone else gives up.

Which brings me to my point about this.

Broadly, I agree. Except about the control over the 'secret garden, strip-tease culture'.

The culture is most certainly not out of my control, thank you very much. Culture is very much in my control. The responsibility is mine, and I am in charge of teaching it to three future citizens. I am not letting them grow up to blindly consume the tripe from the lowest common denominator or passively consume the dross without question. And the rules for behaviour are ultimately set by me, not by Jessie of 3G.

Say no to the sexualised imagery and land punches on the superficial garbage dressed up as freedom of expression that washes daily across the nation's television screens, monitors, phones, games and toys.

Do not adopt a helpless stance and sod off with the victim of corporate power. Take the power back. Boot out a school that's failing them and open a book instead. Turn off the TV, don't buy the games, restrict the phone use, keep tabs on the internet access, choose the friends wisely, and eat together - or as much as the family as you can muster - where you can argue out the 3Rs - Respect, Responsibility and Resourcefulness - then use the damn RRR to hammer out a few non-negotiable ground rules, and find out which ones the kids can't agree with.

As a last resort, get the offspring in the car, lock all the doors, drive them to the woods while delivering a moral assembly, then tip them out and put into action some values of mutual support and cooperation in finding the way home.

I have one final card up my sleeve, and it is to be utterly, totally, fearless when talking about anything and everything. Being open and receptive to any question means the children know to trust you, parent, to ask, at their own pace, to wonder at their own speed, and to learn by their own instigation.

Parent. Not state, school, government representative, local council officer, Lady Gaga, Mr Spooky from the corner, the NSPCC, Hot TV, Femail, website XXX, or Jessie of 3G.

And this, to me, is taking control of culture.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Perhaps where all the passion is going

Into these. I am combining sensuous materials in ever more inventive ways to conceal, making these delightfully intriguing items more difficult to reach, more improbable that the viewer could claim 'your book? It just fell open', and more desirable to tuck away between your knickers in your knicker drawer.

Monday, 21 January 2013

On the ice

Spend the afternoon in the freezing cold a-perched upon the highest hill we have for miles around, watching Shark, Squirrel and Tiger tear downhill on their grand sledging adventures.

The damage cost is not high, considering the enthusiasm with which they throw themselves downhill. They only bust two plastic sledges out of the three. They recruited the pack Labrador to tow their stuff back uphill, which probably saved the third, and they conducted a sort of practical pioneering test by crawling up the 45-degree incline of the hill, back to the start line, supported only by a broken hazel stick which doubled as a not-very-good climbing iron.

(Okay, I tweaked one bit of that tale of the afternoon for dramatic effect. I did not stay for the full three-hour ice experience. After the first fifteen minutes I legged it to the safety and warmth of a nearby Village of the Damned, aka, Shopping Centre, where I spent two hours in Paperchase fondling pencils.)

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Need to care

I think something wrong is happening with me. The wrongness may have been brought on by the menopause or something, but today I am strangely walking about the world in a softer, perhaps even a non-aggressive, manner.

The stair carpet, for example. It tried to kill me, and I merely sighed as I tripped over the hanging thread, lurched forward to swing off the banister and narrowly avoid putting my head through the picture window at the dog leg to the stairs.

In other ways, too, I have noticed a gentling in my reactions towards ordinary irritations. Those routine disturbances, like the office ceiling falling in and the oven door (or what's left of it) sinking its iron tooth into my leg, then tearing out a chunk of my jeans as I pass.

I am sure I would have bit my knuckles, ground my teeth, or kicked the crap out of the oven door (or what's left of it) before beating my fists in despair at my solitude and uselessness to do or change anything about my decaying state of life in this house.

But in these uncommon days I seem to have become more resigned to the mash, mess, and loss, which I can only put down to changes in me. The house is certainly no better. I have bound up the tap that leans with a rubber band, wedged a plant pot against the door that won't shut, banged another nail in the doorhandle, and stuck duct tape over the hanging threads on the worn, torn stair carpet. Maybe I am become resigned to it all, have given up the fight on it, and have surrendered myself to the wobble on the kitchen floorboards and the garden door handle that always comes off in your hand.

That would be sad.

So I have promised myself. Next time the oven door leans over to rip a strip from my old clothing, I shall turn round and aim a kick at what's left of it, then go on the rampage to threaten the doorhandle with two more nails and a hammer.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Double love heart with a cupid dart

Apparently I double booked. Now on three days running, so compounding my crime.

Kid can't do sub aqua. I scrounged tickets to hear a man talk about maps. Kid can't do Woodcraft Folk. I just forgot. I booked the theatre instead. Mummy, what about the science fair? Sheez. I paid money for the horse workshop.

I could make a point about being overwhelmed with stuff in this ridiculously busy world we live in, home ed la-la land. I daily wade knee-deep in activities, events, workshops, and would you like a ticket opportunities. There is simply too much to do, and too much to follow up. Fear not if you're aiming to jump from school to home. Poke about this earth, and find education is a deep, rich field.

But on the time thingy, I tried! My wishes never came true for two Tuesdays in every week and the magic spell totally failed for 78 hours every Thursday. So I have to face it. Given the obstinate and uncooperative way the calender behaves, I just can't fit everything in and, worse! I double booked the entire week.

Okay, then there is that other thing right now. I admit. It's not only a too-wide educational vision and a slight dose of dementia with a smattering of calender blindness.

My head is bound in leather, ribbon and chain.

All I can say to Shark, Tiger and Squirrel is I'm sorry.

How about as punishment you take away from me the entire responsibility for organising a timetable and shut me in my craft room instead?

Friday, 18 January 2013

Chain or cord?

Either is spot on. You just can't go wrong with book bondage.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

S is for Secret

I'm finding felt is a great additional insert to these keepsakes books; it's simply great to pin things to, from charms and cloth fragments to paper and card. Brass pins, safety pins, nappy pins, all work fine. Felt and pins come with all the right connotations, too. Like traditional hand working pragmatic solutions. Red leather works a treat, too.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Frill Me

And another thing. Knicker books absorb your weaknesses, strengths, boldnesses, experiments, expressions, fears and secret delights, and they take those confessions completely without judgement.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Nothing here but sex and power this week

No apologies. Blame my Valentine's stall. I just booked it.

Love of that type, sentimental and romantic, pft. Booted firmly out the window.

I'm running with my goth and steampunk lines; designs informed by immortality, death, submission, domination. Works for adultery, love forbidden, non-sanctioned, disapproved, filth, dirt, and desires plain wrong. Enjoy.

All notebooks are made for privacy that becomes secrecy: a hold for wants, confessions and forbiddens, close and private. Concealed pockets, hidden folds, and discreet envelopes store incriminating evidence.

Texture, touch and feel with leather, embossed card, handmade papers, velvets and embroideries. Ribbons, ties, and chains wrap and bind the pages you don't want casually exposed. One customer tells you better than me. Three fastenings to get in? Someone would have to be pretty bloody shameless to pry.

But, wait a moment, the seekers of these books won't be the sort to splatter their desires over Facebook or Twitter, nor show to the world my handiwork folded in their knicker drawers, so I'll photograph these darlings now, before they flee from me forever.

(And in the making of these places for your desires, the guilt might be all yours, but the pleasure is all mine.)

Monday, 14 January 2013

Monday playtime, home ed style

Usual hard-core outdoor group, meeting in hail, wind, snow, mud, rain, gale, storm, flood. Wherever there is playtime.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Clock without hands (30p)

I have a problem with time. The problem is complex and has no solution, so I'm not expecting any answers.

When I look at this problem, this problem that has no solution, I know that time is frightening and scary and leaves terrible scars and deep wounds and then look what it did to my hair (grey) and my jawline (sagging). The bastard.

But time is comforting and consoling and kind. Time places deep layers of forgetfulness over my sorrows, so that when I colour my hair (brown) and do my most determined jaw exercises (firm) where I am sure the muscles along my throat outline a perfectly smooth neck (I am standing just so and the light is dim), then I can't recall how I was so dismayed.

But time is more annoying, most frustrating, more complete with anguish than any other circumstance I know, because I can never grab hold of it, not one thread nor spark of dust to keep and hold and say, this is the moment I'm keeping. Forever.

Time won't let me do that. It moves on so beautifully effortlessly and smoothly with day and night flowing regardless of me, that I can only admire its resilience and staying power and think, here are qualities to draw inspiration from. Quiet understatement and unbowed vision. Set your face to the horizon and let nothing impede your course in life. Those are strengths indeed to teach the children.

I don't have any answers to my problem with time. Maybe I just like having the problem.

But I do find the most perfect present to myself today at the car boot sale that Squirrel loves to junk monkey her way round, every Sunday morning.

I've put my clock without hands on the only piece of hierloom furniture I own, standing proudly between the broken decorated picture frame that has no picture and the carved wooden box that holds all my secrets.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

The lolling about in bed blog

The home ed life is so relaxing!

Except, obviously, for the general concerns about the unknowns, the daily trawl through the family politics, that dread of responsibility, the penury that comes from the loss of one income, and the abyss into which my head is routinely plunged - sink in there and I know for sure I've destroyed the future of my children forever and blighted their lives in a misguided educational experiment with no guarantee of reward.

Apart from that! The home ed life is so relaxing!

Take timetables. Home ed means that childhood is not a process of dancing to someone else's deadlines. No school makes me do the job I don't want to do for someone else's benefit. Specifically, I'm not whipping the entire family activity to fit in with school bells and homework diaries.

Better still, I get to divide up the week to my benefit.

Not only can I plan stuff the kids want to do - supportive workshops, field trips, museum visits, outdoor tours and theatre visits - I also specify no early morning starts, no 7am beginnings, no requirement to climb out of bed before 9am, and one afternoon a week I can fit in a swim. But it is cold, my bed snuggled toes are warm, and I'm waiting for the heating to kick in, so today, getting up can be 9.30. Or 10, because everyone is still quiet in their beds, reading.

The late start won't make much difference. We have squished into these last seven days the Whipsnade animal workshop, Shark's sub aqua, Latin lesson, Woodcraft Folk, homework afternoon, movie club, art lesson, science lecture, play away, Astro club, wildlife group, family reading (Nathaniel's Nutmeg), film night (Goodnight Mr Tom) and the installation of another bookcase.

This is very comforting to me, the woman who yolks together her control issues alongside the horror of knowing I have no control over time - but I have to say that having the responsibility for how the week divides up is not as bad as I once feared. Encouraging, even. I'll get up at 11.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Creating leaders for tomorrow

Once a month, a group of us fearless parents take our home ed kids to the great outdoors, where we dump them, en masse. Then we parents leg it, leaving the offspring entirely to their own choices, negotiations, problem-solvings and knife-sharings.

You can tell we parents do this in great conviction. You know those notions: the tribe raises the child; it's an interdependent society; we all have to learn to co-operate ourselves out of hazards; we must learn to negotiate routes through problems; find those places in ourselves that are strong, weak, indifferent; and set in motion the reality and wonder about being a leader or a follower. 

I entirely believe in these ideas, too. I'm more than happy to put them into practice. And the afternoon is always a test of kid co-operation. They quickly come to face their options. Once we've frisked them for breadcrumbs and pebbles, they have to consider that if they don't form some functioning social cohesion, one of them will be eaten by lions, picked up by the police, or become feral and have to be raised by wolves.

After a suitable time, we return to pick up our children, praying it hasn't gone all Lord of The Flies.

But this time, it's the parents who are late at the meet point.

All I can say is, I have nothing but a quiet awe for people who can find their way out of woods.


I simply do not know how they do that directional north-south-east-west positioning thing without technology. Have they got more magnetic sensory equipment located in their noses than the rest of us? 

If I had become a leader rather than a follower on our six-mile hike - across every track that looked exactly the same as the last one - I would still be there, somewhere, lying dead and stiff under the mud and frozen soil. But no, thanks to my wise choice in becoming a follower, I wasn't dead by sundown.

Neither were any of the children. Don't ask what went on with them. Be happy only to know that this time there were no broken arms, busted teeth, split lips, torn clothing, or a pig's head on a spike.