Thursday, 28 February 2013

Taking control

To newcomers, I usually explain home ed like this, with my arms spread wide, as if to show the spectrum is wider than I can stretch my waving hands:

'At one end there are the school-at-homers.' (I waggle the fingers of my left hand, helpfully.) 'They might follow school subjects with the national curriculum, stick with timetables, and may want to slot a child back into school.'

'At the other end' (I waggle my fingers on my right hand, taking a deep breath and trying to choose my words carefully, so I don't blow anyone's mind to kingdom come), 'are those for whom the child is a natural learner. The child takes control of the learning, leads the family, and might pay no heed to any constraints like time or subject boundaries.' (I don't add, 'Or the opinion of the neighbours who think that 3am is not a good start time for a woodworking activity involving an electric heating circuit and their cat').

Then I say (rolling my arms about a bit), 'Most home educators? We're in the middle. Parents try a bit of this and a bit of that. Structure, organised workshop stuff, worksheets, maybe timetables, sometimes hire a tutor. But the kids are also free to do as they want while we parents run about behind the scenes and try to help on the way to their goals.'

(Usually then I stop, waiting to hear a response before launching into an explanation of the TCS brigade, the radical unschoolers, autonomous crowd and those for whom the words home education and home schooling might end in you coming away with a bloodied nose and blacked eye, so watch it.)

But I now add the line: 'What I've found, is that home ed changes. Every year. It can go in directions that you can't always predict'. Finishing by bringing my palms together and sliding my arms side to side, in the form of a giant animated prayer.

I could now say, every week. This week, the gritlets are locked firmly in a structure. I can't tell where it's come from. Whether it's by their desire, my connivance, or our mutual unspoken and pragmatic realisation that to slot in all the ridiculously diverse activities we've come to demand from Monday to Sunday there's no other option.

But I have mixed feelings as I stare at today: English 10-12; Maths 2-4. My nature is not the school at homer. I resent the hours laid out like corpses dissected by my efficient pencil. I want to leap out of bed with sudden purpose and intention to Let's hunt otters and fly planes.

Yet even I can see, a divided week helps Squirrel organise herself around outings, deadlines, projects and jobs she otherwise cannot do when the days are thrown jumbled into the air. Tiger too, has chafed to get that timetable. Even though, when she possesses it, she has a big squeal and rips it up. Then Shark. She merely observes the days, sees my divisions, then quietly gets out a pencil and ruler, and sets about to timetable her own.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

There's the power of the blackbird

Didja hear the birds today? Didja? 

We're turning now on that angle of winter and spring and I know it with that blackbird song. Melodic and beautiful, it sings, behind us lie cold, grey, shrunken days! Ahead, long evenings, warm nights, bright mornings! 

Then listen to my fantasies. I want white lines about my eyes where my skin folds in from laughter. I want raspberries for breakfast and picnics of cream crackers and strawberry jam scooped from the boot of the car in a field. I want dirt on my feet, scratches on my legs, and my fingernails to break. I want to set out too late, under-prepared, over-ambitious, and without a map. I want to be dragged off hillsides scowling. I want my clothes to tear, my sandals to fall apart and my knickers to lose their elastic. I want to be caught short, wee in bushes, and forget to shave my armpits. I want to come home hungry with sun bristled shoulders that make me wince and I want to lose my wide brimmed hat. I want unwisdom, folly, raw stupidity and temporary bouts of insanity. I want to throw myself about, bring bruises and wounds home to lick. I want there to be hope yet, with my withered soul, my leathered heart, and my thick black sunglasses to hide stupid tears. I want summer, from beginning to end, rain and sun, mist and fog, drizzle and downpour.

Then when autumn comes, I want to look back and say, there was my summer, lived.

A love of life in Tweet Me... when birdsong is music and honey might still be for tea

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Mapping it out

So yes, meanwhile, hello. Grit's day is a home education blog.

It is Story of our journey. Proof of something that happens when you don't send the kids to school.

Look at it this way. Home ed doesn't mean you have to put your alien bat monsters under the patio by Day Two. Your home ed approach won't (necessarily) end in court. The week need not conclude with you stretched out in the morgue. Even though this option sometimes feels preferable.

And I know that saying these things can be helpful. I see how Grit's day is occasionally passed round the home ed circuit like well-thumbed cheap porn. Especially when I say something rude, provocative, or super practical useful.

Useful stuff like, Just relax! Go with the kid flow! When the kid flow is against you, bite your knuckles, find strength where you can, and beat the crap out of Mr Fluffles the toy otter, or whatever proxy you keep for that purpose. Do not be ashamed of anger, frustration, and resentment. Go about the objective in another way.

See? Super useful wisdoms; empathy borne from practical experience.

In that vein, while I'm here, and if you're new, my advice is always the same. Find your local home ed groups. Suss them out. They probably divide into Godly, school-at-home, philosofikals and, increasingly, the educational services support company, bringing in tutors at a higher rate than you could supply them, and run at a profit.

Choose which suits your family or pass yourself around all groups, if they'll let you. And remember. Tribal allegiances are just the same in home ed land as at the school gates, only with added fury and the occasional madness. You'll meet people who make you feel sorry for the local authority staff, and you'll meet people you're itching to punch in the face.

Anyway, now I have laid out my territory in my helpful way, Grit's day serves another purpose. The most important to me. It exists because it is my damn strong arm righteous evidence, compiled for when the local authority woman demands sight of an education.

Na na na na na. No you're not coming in. No you're not seeing Squirrel, Tiger, or Shark, not unless they ask to see you. I'm showing our education this way. By a map of Scandinavia, from our fortnightly mapping group.

Otherwise, we're busy. Shark is off with her sub aqua buddies, slogging her way through maths, Latin, geography, camping and fish, with her eyes on university. Don't cross her unless you want your face tongue-lashed off with her particular brand of fish-based contempt.

Tiger is a bag of nervosa, barely unable to function in a crowd, so home ed hasn't changed her. Stay away, that's my advice. Unless you look like a horse. She is determined to thrash Shark with the Latin and enjoys the art, film studies and horse-end that the kind mama grudgingly pays for on a fortnightly basis. Better than mama is horse, horse, horse.

Squirrel is Squirrel. She has a pet rock and ignores me. She will ignore you as well. Along with the Latin that Lingua Latina tries to insert into her brain, the Astronomy I have paid for, and the Maths I insist on. She will ignore it all and pursue her own Squirrelly tendencies which probably include sorting gravel and sieving soil. One day it will all come good. Either that or no good.

So there. Grit's day is helpful, cheap, and always educational.

Monday, 25 February 2013

The evil hour I wasted on this

Wondering what Gove wants.

Frankly, this was horrible, trying to inhabit Gove's brain. If I want to squat in someone's brain, I'm jolly well going to choose someone with whom I feel more sympathies.

But there are strange things happening in the world of education! Not a week passes that I do not read of some tweak, change, realignment, shift of emphasis - not of the law - but to the supporting infrastructures of the law: guidance given to local authorities, priority of information published on government websites, recommendations issued to governing bodies, re-interpretations of legal responsibilities which conveniently miss out options, or simply provide misleading statements.

On the recent reading list of areas I'm watching for redefinitions, realignments and readjustments, are those affecting the worlds of traveller education, special educational needs, migrant schooling options and flexischooling.

Why these slipstreams of education? I'm assuming, for Gove, sly slide is easier than full-on challenging law as a means to shifting the ground of our beliefs. Changing statute is long-winded, time consuming, and potentially too upfront, pissing everyone off, while dangerously threatening prime goals of political life: stay in power to manoeuvre through Westminster on a route that changes the culture to your favour, forwards your agendas, yet avoids confrontation with the electorate.

By contrast, if you change the guidelines and reissue the recommendations, then at least no-one can complain that the guidelines and recommendations aren't being followed.

Then the other strategies. Use of the special adviser, for example.

I trust not the special adviser. It is a sly way of politicising the civil service, appointing unelected, unaccountable grey suits to key locations in the administration and, with Gove placing his chess pieces all around the board where they can work together to defend and attack on his behalf, means he can control in a hands-off manner, deny all knowledge of 'specific incidents', and adopt a position of disingenuous, well-I-never innocence.

But he's a Tory, so what he wants must surely be to position the man on the Clapham omnibus as believing he has control over various choices ahead in life; but those choices must be quietly defined and shaped to business advantage. Then we choose not of freedoms but only where we would like to put our money. Corporate A or Corporate B, from which choice, there must be no escape.

To that end, and in education, there must be other tactics, too. Reduce the power of local authorities. They are wildcards, choosing to stitch up deals with their own friends in local educational services when you would like them not to. From Gove's point of view, surely better to enrich your own social networks by delivering local suppliers into the hands of larger corporate bodies and putting the miserable consumer's money into the hands of your chums.

Placing those connecting wires from central government to local areas brings benefits, not least close touch on where the funding goes. Nationally, an economic situation can change rapidly, so to ride that out and gain maximum political benefit, you need to be in a position where you can respond swiftly: switch the cash off, divert it, redirect it and turn it back on at a moment's notice. So what if you're doing that in education? Better make education a payments by results market, with prompt hire-fire staffing, commodification of product, conveyor belt delivery, and controllable supply routes for goods and services.

In this there should be no escape for consumers; every parent is a consumer of their child's education. Get each and every one of us to pay for entry into the great educational endeavour. Home education is not an opt-out route, even though old hippies like Grit might like to think so. Gove needs to have us all drawn into a commercial system, where we pay for any curriculum we follow, where any engagement with e-learning is monitored to better target us with product, where we are manoeuvred into a registration system where individual choices can be tracked, and where all children of this educational enterprise are socialised into appropriate deference and compliance to authority, thinking they have no choice but to choose in the commercial options presented.

Gove's visit to China and Hong Kong a few years back was not insignificant in all this: routinely he has used those international statistics to whip up stories of how British students are failing once again compared to your average Asian 10-year old and how this demonstrates a need to change, an opportunity Britain must not fail to seize. But I hear it's only half the story. I'm told Hong Kong employers constantly bemoan the lack of creativity in their graduates, complaining how students are trained to repeat bullet points but not to think independently, or with any originality.

But Gove's stories are means to ends, too; I'm guessing they not only make the domestic market feel crap, that change is needed, but also to push Britain to international league tables where Gove would politically like to place them. He needs the status positioning of Brand UK English Schools in overseas markets. Competitive in those preferred countries where we would like to return to our universities a healthy stream of rich kids. (If only May hadn't gone about simultaneously trashing student income from China and India with her immigration reduction!)

Oops! I've suddenly had enough! My head's gone wobbly. It's time for me to be off, and find someone with a more interesting brain and the juvenile humour of a twelve-year old.

Here, have a picture of an owl in a notebook.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Never a day off?

Nope, not from home ed, not ever. It's a learning for life. Now, my little gritlets. Organise your own day and make your own cakes.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The nearly teens

The children are gone. One to the back of a horse; the others alongside their sleepover chum to a local conservation group to restore a path and a bog.

Leaving me free to kick my heels. For hours.

I walk about the house a bit. Then I make coffee. Then I put the laundry on. I don't mean wear the laundry, I mean stick it in the washing machine. Then I make another coffee, and wander about the house.

I think I may have the beginnings of a problem here.

Because now I ponder this - on this most momentous day, the day before all three of my children become teenagers - I consider how my life could change course.

To this point, I have been micro managed by children for years. I have been followed around by my three headed creatoids from the Planet BetaZeti for 12 years 364 days. They have argued over everything about me and my daily routine - what I cook, how I cook it, when I serve it; which cup, plate, bowl or spoon is to go where, and why it matters. Why I moved this piece of paper, where have I put it, why that is wrong, and why it should be put back on the floor.

But now, this last day before teens proper, with all my children gone, out the house, for hours, I am looking into my ahead years and thinking, Hey, my kids will be gone! With friends, pursuing interests in which I have no interest, gone doing worthy activities in a bog, and off and away.

Leaving me with no-one to complain about me, chide me, call me up, shout me down, spy on me, tell me off, shut me up or comment on how lunch is always a cheese sandwich and why having your mother wearing shoes like that is not appropriate.

Really, I should be pleased with this thought, when I will be parent to teens, taking them by taxi to their own weekend dates with their own peculiar kind. Then I shall reach that nirvana I have fantasised for; my years of teenage dropping off and picking up, otherwise left to arrange my own life, negotiate my own way, then meet up again to argue about lost keys, complain about lack of routines, disapprove of boyfriends and read out email threats from the maths tutor about missing exam work. How different life will be, to what is gone.

Then what comes next? Maybe a state of quiet household living will not be the dream it seems. When the children are gone, the house is quiet, I have made coffee, put the washing on, vacuumed the carpet? I will sit in my orderly child-free calm, not feeling composed, clear-minded and ready to do my own thing, but vaguely empty, aware that I am not doing anything interesting enough to be told off for it; waiting for my teenage children to come home to bother me, order me about, and tell me why those shoes I'm wearing are still not suitable for a woman my age.

What will become of me then? What can I do with myself? I cannot imagine myself adopting orphans or fostering blind kittens. I can only think I will have to mess up my remaining years in brilliant, bold style, hopefully with more extreme shoes than ever imagined, if only to bring about the arguments, reprimands and disapproval I have become so utterly accustomed to.

I went to pick up my conservationists early. This is what they did. The path and the bog.
 I would like to think they used only a pair of nail clippers and a sink plunger, but I doubt it. 
These days people trust my outdoors teenagers with real tools.

Friday, 22 February 2013


As usual, I haven't a clue what I'm doing. It doesn't seem to matter. Everyone figures out what role electrons play and what your nucleus gets up to on a Friday night when you're not looking. Then we all have fun buying up all the electrons in the universe and making a giant proton before going home to read about the ghost town of the elements. Such is the joy of home educating with Ellen McHenry. Honestly, I am in danger of stalking.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Change of tactic

We hit Cambridge.

Not literally. I didn't beat the walls with my fists or anything. These days, hitting Cambridge means buying tickets, picking up festival literature, and popping in on the Quentin Blake exhibition before making quick decisions about sports shoes and roller skates.

Anyway, those days of physically beating up the walls are long gone. I don't have three screaming toddlers to drag around England any more, a time that yes, I admit, did occasionally require me to burst a tsunami of frustrated mother vengeance upon an innocently bystanding length of wall.

These days are different. I have three quite grown up young ladies who I trust can follow their own interests independently and responsibly, without needing my constant supervision or constant parental chiding. So my preferred modus operandi these days is to take Tiger, Shark and Squirrel to improving places, cheerily say, Meet me back at the entrance in two hours! then ignore them. Thus I can slope off to the coffee shop on my own or buy William Blake postcards without anyone looking, stuff like that.

Actually, I don't quite get rid of Tiger today. She hangs around, asking, How much longer are we going to spend standing up? Is it lunch time? When can I have cake? When are we going home? Why are you saying that? Do I have to? Where are you going? Can I come? Where are the toilets? What are you doing that for? Do I have to? etc etc etc.

I don't quite get rid of Squirrel, either. She follows me about alternatively reminding me that I owe her two pound fifty and the interest is rising daily, then demanding the camera to take photographs of things that don't fit into her pockets. Like death masks, Mesopotamia maps, and Ancient Greek pots.

Shark, also. She stays with me to supervise me for the most part, telling me off and explaining in some detail why I am quite the nuisance I am, and how the day would go much easier on everyone if only I did as I was told.

I need new motherly strategies for all of this, understandably.

I mean, I can't go about beating up walls anymore. But my goal is still to bring about a state of my young ladies where they are indeed responsible and resourceful and shove off when they are told, leaving me alone to do as I please, when I can buy two William Blake postcards without anyone saying, Why are you buying those? You owe me two pounds fifty-five, and Don't pick them up and handle them unless you are going to buy them, now hurry up and stop dawdling.

So I apologise to all the staff in the Fitzwilliam. Of course I know I am not allowed to take photographs in your museum! You don't need to keep telling me. And no, it is not because I do not understand your simple rule. I do understand it. Incidentally, now you got me started, no, I don't sympathise with it, it's there to protect copyright, it's nothing to do with preserving the artifacts, and anyway, there is a simple reason I keep taking photographs when I am not allowed to, and it is this.

When Tiger, Shark and Squirrel see me getting out the camera they know for sure another member of staff is about to head right over to me and tell me off.

If you are oh-so-nearly-aged-13, this is obviously a circumstance too humiliating for words. Thus if I wave the camera about, I can guarantee five minutes on my own while they all hide, wanting absolutely nothing to do with the criminal mother that they possess, and I can make a run for it.

Now enjoy these photos, the best ones of the day, moments before I was spotted and told off once again. And I shall reflect upon the lengths I have to go, in order to lose the kids and buy two William Blake postcards without anyone looking.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Someone trusted me with a weapon

Members of our local home ed group get together with one of our country's fine fencers to learn some basic etiquette when poking at each other with swords.

Man, I can tell you, when they put that weapon into my hands, the practice of aiming it at your own children is insanely satisfying.

Go on, find a local fencing club.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

In medias res

I am in the middle of an owl obsession. I'm all round eyes, mean stares and ripped apart mice. Yet if it would yield something! Ah me! The exquisite creative pain! Trapped by stroking leather, brushing suede, and fondling feathers.

But I must remember! This is not a blog of notebookery torture. This is a blog of home education achievement! And the education is immediate, whereas the owlery takes time.

Simple then, in our home educating household, while my head is working out about stitching feather to suede, I can chuck some Ten Ticks Website about, complain that no-one is reading Chemistry, then invite Tigger round and declare the day's education is concluding with Family Fun Film Night, aka Media Studies.

We watched The Artist.

That, people, is one clever, witty, sublimely layered picture. I loved every frame, every second, every line, and every moment. If you haven't watched it, do.

(Education is easily solved. Owl notebookeries, not so quick.)

Monday, 18 February 2013

Naturally, I'm with the geologist

Well I may be a bit thin on expressing an opinion via the old blog these days, but for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger the onslaught is relentless. Take, for example, IDS - not the irritable bowel syndrome, but our Secretary of State for Work and Pensions - and that's enough of a reason for you to pity Shark, Squirrel and Tiger.

Because IDS - not the irritating bowel syndrome - is in fine sneering fettle. Here he is, patronising geology graduates seeking to work in a professional museum environment via their volunteer work.

Warning of what's coming next
I apologise in advance. I am not yet grown up enough to refrain from sarcasm, personal invective and juvenile name calling.

Think of it all as my character weakness, and my inability to turn my failings into any productive action. (Unless you count marching round this house spitting venom at IDS as a positive outcome. At which point you can feel sorry for the little grits all over again.)

Volunteering in a Museum? Wot's that then, thinks IDS. Deposit of Culture? A place where communicative skills are needed in an environment where thoughtful interpretive skills are valued along with all-round perspectives of how society, artefact, history, geology and study combine. WTF is that? A place holding history and future in its hands? Museums and libraries, the distinguishing triumphs of civilised, thinking, caring societies?


What's the bleeding value of toiling in a poxy museum in exchange for your dole payout, hoping to turn your professional training and your 27,000 pounds educational debt into a fulfilling career where you can bring your expensively-acquired knowledge to the enrichment of all society?

Look here love, you could be spending your time usefully, clocking up your Poundland hours in a corporate high-street monolith, functioning entirely for someone else's profit and making a financial return to our corporate investors. Yes, you could be another powerless, mindless pawn pushed about in a labour market we contract and expand as market conditions dictate or as we can opportunistically stitch up behind the scenes with our donors to transfer your public money into our private hands.

Now here's your measly dole payment, payable only if you shut your mouth. Be bloody grateful for it. Who needs you gravel shovelling geologists anyway? Unless it's to build us a new road through an SSSI, sink us an oil pipeline across Africa or blow up the ice caps.

(Phew! As I said, I apologise. But I'm sure you'll be happy to know that, thanks to the presence of my blog, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are off the hook.)

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Angels and Owls

I am Busy. I have notebookery commissions from lovely people.

The sort of lovely people driven to urgent confessions and poetic expressions, who write billet doux they never send, snatch mementos and trophies of beloved, and adore another in anguish, pain, unhappiness, pleasure and joy, before committing their privacies to paper and stashing their secret confessions between their frilly knickers.

Those sort of people. They are the best sort of people. They set me hunting for angel feathers and articulated owls. And while I'm scavenging between the junk for the pure feather of a fallen angel or the wobbling joints of an owl, I find, perfectly singing the rhythm of my crooked house, a pair of crooked candles, both with fork handles.

 Life, fitting me well.

Saturday, 16 February 2013


Squirrel went out for a sleepover the other night. I'm told, when breakfast was kindly delivered to the table, her face fell at the sight of healthy oats. She then loudly announced, with an undertone of threat, 'We have cake. CAKE.'

I blame myself.

I have narrated the story of my primary school confusion. The teacher asks, What do we have for breakfast? To which the obliging class answered toast! cornflakes! porridge! And I shout CAKE.

I do not know whether it was wishful thinking, or whether I had been allowed cake that morning, so it became from that point my total goal, desire and object that every proper breakfast should involve cake.

Naturally, I have introduced this pleasure to the gritlets. And here they are, making CAKE. Some of which we will indeed save for breakfast.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Way to spend a Friday

Spend two hours with a bill.

Not like a bill strapped to my face or anything. I'm not taking part in a kinky ornithologist's porn movie you know.

Not bills headed Final Demand either.

Bills before Parliament. Go on, yawn now. Especially at The Children and Families Bill, clauses for Special Educational Needs.

This is just something that all good home educators have to do. Along with the educating, the cooking, house maintenance, visiting of educational centres, the laundry, picking out apple tree branches embedded in your child's forehead, removing staples from someone's hand and maintaining a constant stream of sleepovers to the end result that it looks like we're running a shelter for delinquents.

Because yes. The wording does suggest the local authority takes responsibility to screen all children, just in case they need special educational provision. Here it is. Number 22. It's caused a lot of fuss in my world.
22 Identifying children and young people with special educational needs
A local authority in England must exercise its functions with a view to securing
that it identifies all the children and young people in its area who have or may
have special educational needs.
With a view to securing? What language is that? Are they going to march all toddlers to a local designated testing point, where they'll be passed or failed according to a set of targets? Your child assessed by Acuvision. Or maybe every health visitor will grass you up to an educational services support company on whether your kid is chewing or sucking their alphabeti-spaghetti. And is this where the local authority outsources yet more record keeping to a private company (Capita)? But where's the money coming from to support national assessment? Or trained staff? What other parts of the law is this interacting with to change our landscape of choice? Who pays?

See? All these questions flow through the good home educating mind if we are to maintain the laws of freedom in this country, or at least before we're all knocked over together by a big tank called indifference driven by the general public.

It's a job in itself, deciding whether or not to get worked up about the wording of bills before parliament, and I haven't even started the proper work of writing a response or drafting an email.

Well, I just thought I would share this with you, because I don't have enough to do, what with scrutinising legislation before parliament, planning a chemistry session, booking tickets for a cunning little vixen, imposing on the little grits some Latin declensions, organising the fencing (must get chest measures), making a goth owl notebook, replying to 34 emails, taking Squirrel to her Astro club (must get cash), opening a letter from the bank, and offering misguided relationship advice to my broken hearted Big Brother sitting miserable and alone in Suffolk.

Hmm. Now I've written out my Friday to-do list, the idea of spending the day with a giant bill strapped to my face while I star in an ornithology porn movie is sounding strangely attractive.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Day of love

Go on then, I give in to the cliched and sentimental. For the breakfast delight of my three children I mug up three fruity breakfast buns, the carnations bought for me last week for running the Chemistry co-op even though I don't know what I'm doing, and a plateful of raspberries reduced to 20p in the late-night bucket.

Aww, Grit, you have a mushy heart after all.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

It's an option

The children go in their happy theatre group to Milton Keynes Theatre to watch the stage play of Goodnight Mr Tom.

I don't. At the eleventh hour I swap my ticket for hard cash. I go and buy a bottle of gin. I don't want to be blubbing in the theatre again. I'd rather do my blubbing in private.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Just when I think it's safe to be mean

You have to have a special armour wrapped around your heart as a mother. This is what I have learned.

As the mother of triplets, you need that armour plated with steel to at least a depth of 50mm. As an added precaution, twist some barbed wire round it, to let nothing come near.

If you failed to take due stronghold over yourself, you will know, one day, how you needed it, the day you witness the three people you love most in the world beating the crap out of each other and wishing the others were dead and never born. Then watch your unguarded heart ripped out, right there and then, danced upon by the spawn you are now sure were swapped for your own at birth.

Anyway. I don my armour plated heart daily. These days I have to, for the simplest of jobs and the most procedural of tasks.

Like today. Clearing-up-the-house day and shovelling-junk-into-sacks day. I must do this quickly and cleanly with precision timing. Before they catch me.

Truly, with my other concerns, we have run out of deskspace, shelfspace, floorspace, wallspace, airspace. Something must be done.

I embark on this task with all speed, my armour plating intact, my keen eyes seeing that trash, the junk, the piled-high refuse, the result of days spent footling. I must not look with my mind, nor regard what is bin-bound.

But there is always something that stops me, that prises open the chinks in my steel, is there not?

When that happens, when I pause, and see in my mind the sight and touch of child-made, then my brain is addled with soft fondness. All is lost! I must clear a proper space for homage of tiny-made gift of the Tiger child, the home-spun art which tugs at my soul and make me tenderly embrace all that is love.

Damn that baby woolly mammoth.

Bugger. Now I have to live with it until I come to my senses.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Sisterly advice

Big Brother Ghoul is fed up with Little Sister Living Death.

The problem, he says, is that I am so awfully positive! He is all She left me! How could she do that? There is nothing left for me in life!

Then I'm straight back there with, Think of this as an opportunity! And all Big Brother Ghoul wants to do, is bash me round the head with a wooden plank like we were kids again, then crawl away into a corner and die.

But, Big Brother Ghoul, look! I'm alive! Only on the outside, but it still counts, right? Yay me! So it figures that Grit's top ten tips must be good for something, so long as you add eat, sleep, take happy pills.

What Big Brother Ghoul needs to learn how to do, is to lie. He is too much in the way of truth and honesty. He needs to lie best to himself and thus he will keep the whole show going.

Lies are excellent because half of a lie is embedded in the horrible reality, but the other half is free to take shape and change according to circumstance. That is the bit you can make up as you go. It is your only freedom. Of course you don't have to believe your own lies. You know the fibs you tell yourself, of course you do. You're not an idiot! But retaining the capacity for delusion, for imagination, for fantasy, for exploration of all other, that is the special gift of the accomplished liar.

Think of it like this, like the butterfly, trapped in the mud. One wing is caught in the sticky dark goo and can't ever be free. But the other wing is beating and beating and, for the briefest of moments, you might imagine that the strength and power of that wing will lift the whole life free. You can believe it for the most fleeting of moments. That's the power of the lie. Better than the truth, better than the reality, I tell Big Brother Ghoul.

Big Brother Ghoul looks straight at me, like I am the mad one, then off he goes, to find a plank of wood.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Selling by bike

By 10am my legs are covered in tyre tracks and my fingers are covered in plasters, thanks to my ineptitude in strapping a plate rack to the front of a bicycle. My back end I have propped up on an easel because I forgot the stand. The easel I had to nick from the organisers.

Yes, it's the cycling craft stall. Peddling (oh how I am glad it is not literal) to a deserted bar where a group of crafters are selling delightful items to the discerning. Tables are not allowed. Bicycles only. Hence the plate rack, easel, and the Ikea seat I have duct-taped to the rear. It all nearly works, and much fondling of my knicker drawer notebooks is done.

Entirely worth it. The pain of the bike, and the pleasure of the sell.

Saturday, 9 February 2013


Go on then, I'll let you peek inside one. This one. S is for Secret. Fiddle with the clasp. There's no other way to get inside.

As you open it, lace spreads out, so you have to pick that fabric up, feel that texture between your fingers, and roll it back.

Just when you thought you were in! Ribbon, tied. See? Getting your fingers inside a Knicker Drawer Notebook is thrilling violation.

But there are secrets in those pages and behind that book.

Oops! I'm sorry, I think we've gone far enough. Cash, and it's yours.

You'll have to forgive me. For a woman in my position, craft is easier than prostitution.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Chemistry solution

Crikey! Those chemistry molecule building sets are expensive, aren't they? We can't afford those! Home educators don't get any financial help for this life you know!

Fortunately, I find one set in a charity shop (cost one pound) and a member of our Chemistry co-op brings along their Salter prize for the kid science fair (free).

But in the event, I note both sets are rejected. This morning I zipped to Scrapstore on the hoof between the second-hand furniture shop (another bookcase) and the Co-op (reduced bread) and equipped our session with plasticine and rigid plastic straws. They are totally preferred by our mini chemists thanks to the squishy tactile nature of the squeezy clay and the fun of building with straws.

Please, Chemists, do not pop my bubble and point out our faults. Consider instead how fantastically resourceful are we home educators (and broke).

Thursday, 7 February 2013

It's a steal

Feeling pleased with myself. And a bit guilty. The sort of mix which comes about as a result of doing something you know you shouldn't but you can't help yourself. Like chickpea theft from the upmarket tinned goods range at Lidl. One tin of chickpeas up! But that is bad, people, bad.

The contrary state of my soul is the upshot of a last-minute freebie offer where the kids go cheap and one goes free. All I have to do is incant simple magic words into the telephone (bogoff cheap kids free) and Whazam! Four tickets are ours!

I feel immediately pleased with myself. I spend a fiver and save fifteen. This is good indeed! But when we arrive, then I'm feeling guilty. The theatre's half empty, and here I am, skanking the system, getting us in cheap, going round the back door, and denying them the cash they need to keep alive. Orchestras around the land are begging for help in these hard economic times and what do I do? Strip the flesh from the bones.

Here they are. Milton Keynes City Orchestra. Pretty good, too. Playing tonight Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra plus a lot of strings and some big Russian piano. They deserve your support. They need your cash. Go on, put your hands in your pocket and support your local orchestra. They're worth it.

That wasn't very exciting after all, was it? I bet now you wish I had nicked a soft porn DVD and a bottle of Tizer from Lidl, don't you?

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Film Fun

We continue to enjoy Family Fun Film Night, obviously without Dig, and now once a fortnight because I can't get my act together any quicker and the thirty-year old TV only graces us with its working state on alternate weeks.

But like a stupid old donkey, I plod on with my resolutions. Even though the event usually ends up like this. Never mind! I'll keep going, until either me or the cathode ray tube expires.

Simply, I am resolved that the little gritlings leave my tender care having been directed to the best of my abilities towards the broader cultures of film, photography, book production, newsprint, and music, from folk to classical, opera to old ballad song sheets. I would be mortified to let Shark, Tiger and Squirrel depart as young women from this house and be ignorant of Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, or The Ballad of the Invincible Armada (1588).

On the film front, at least I am organised, thanks to LoveFilm, who have sorted me out something glorious. I am working my way through 100 best films a treat, and Laurence Olivier has never enjoyed such an airing since Wuthering Heights.

However, tonight is one of those nights where I tell the children to shove off and find something else to do. Big Brother Ghoul is here, and he does not want to watch a re-run of Henry V. Fortunately, he is also an ex-television engineer, so he mends the television so I can put on the age inappropriate No Country For Old Men.

What a brilliant film. The Coen Bros are just about my favourite, what with their dark observations, twisted worlds, fantastic visuals, and heartless psychopathic killers. Now I can look forward to watching it all over again when the little grits hit age 15.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


With the art teacher who I couldn't care less whether she's state sanctioned, criminally investigated, double checked, or damp-proofed against rot.

She's one of us, home educator, and meets with my approval. First for being passionate and committed about what she does, and second because she communicates that passion while bestowing a quiet calm upon a table filled with kids and paints.

After two hours with Cat the Artist, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger come away with inspiration and aspiration, which in no time at all sees them set about another piece of sliced fruit.

I pay her, of course I do, and I consider every penny worth it, if only to put into my child's life the significant other. This is the person from your child's psychology who influences them more than you, stupid parent, ever can. The significant other may communicate exactly the same as you, but the difference is, when you say it, the kids ignore you, and when the influential and role-modelling other says it, the kids fix on every syllable like Disciples to the Gospel of the Almighty.

Anyway, it's long been overdue for someone else to lead Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to contemplation of what GCSE Art could mean.

I spent the toddler years destroying my own house with buckets of artncraft, alternating between my control freakery and my utter resignation to the plate of soil we are now embarking on painting, because so what? At least it's not headed for the freezer like last time. But now we are older. Toddlerdom is long gone. I am repairing my house and beyond offering much advice with my mini artists, so it's time to fall into instructional order with the significant other.

Cat, then, leads by example with her quiet understated knowledge, her intuitive understanding of pencil and paint, and her deft handling of politics around a table full of kids without much elbow room or paint-pot space.

I know, from these quiet sessions over the coming year, we will benefit far more than another drawing to pin to the wall. With Cat to model what's hopefully before us in the studious years, we will be able to use her example to talk practicalities, both of Art in Life, and what it would mean should the GCSE arise: preparing sketchbooks, development of ideas, and (for Tiger), the answer cannot always be a horse.

So here it is today. Three cheers and a hip-hip-hooray. For Art, for the community of home ed sorting it out between ourselves, and for Cat, significant other.

Monday, 4 February 2013

And there are a lot of kids in one kitchen

It did cross my mind to invite Jerry Brotton over to our fortnightly History of Mapping group.

I thought he could help us out with a few globe problems and some map-related history questions, but I thought better of it. I doubt he'd come. I mean, we're probably not intellectual enough for him.

Look, here's South America made up in giant biscuits. The chocolate chips are the Andes, obviously. And the blue icing is meant to be the Amazon. I don't know about the rest. It started to get a bit hazy after the sultanas.

(Since we squish nine of us in one kitchen, he'd also have to stand on the stairs.)

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Whirlwind touring

Never meet people you only know from the Internet. That's my advice.

Well I obviously don't follow that nonsense. I'm constantly meeting people I only know from the Internet. How else am I to meet people?

Today we're meeting Rachel, straight from America, come all the way to the British Museum, just to see us!

Alright then, that's not strictly true. She might have some work-related intention here, but we march her round the BM regardless. So she hasn't slept for several days? SO WHAT. There is Egypt to see! The British nicked it. It's ours. Here it is. And the Greeks. And the Romans. Anglo Saxons? OVER HERE.

She crawls off eventually, not before we're frogmarched her to some more mummies.

But look, she's gone already! Now I must share my three favourite items with you.

An astrolabe, a mechanical dinner bell, and a pair of old shoes.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

The craft stall did alright

One of the best things about selling my delightful confections face-to-face is I get to meet the people who desire these books.

You are amazing, that is my conclusion. Your need for goth owls, your secret desires for edible paper, and your complete pottiness regarding the invisible paranormal following you to catch the number 34 bus utterly inspires me, and hopefully eggs me on to more delicious craft inventions.

Thank you for being completely individual, totally unique, and possibly just a bit bonkers.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Worn leather, knicker elastic, chains and fake diamonds

Preparation for craft stall.

I have to sublimate my anguished desires and frustrations somewhere, dammit. And I hate knitting.

I am bending my sisterly ear to all relationship difficulties, but even I know that I am not much use. I am not exactly brilliantly placed to offer relationship advice, either, if you look at the situation I live in.

But I keep saying to Big Brother Ghoul, you have to look on the funny side, because there has to be a funny side. Right? Yes, the woman's stamped on your broken heart, kicked you humiliated, tortured, beaten and powerless, but there has to be a funny side. Quite frankly, if there isn't a funny side to any situation, in all the pain and misery we humans inflict on each other, I'd be dead.

But I don't help. I don't help by recalling the morning we cremated our mother and, sat in the hearse, were held up by the dustmen.

I don't help by telling the story of the day we went to the psychologist and on the way home, I smashed up the car, sat in the riot van, and was served with a notice of prosecution.

I don't help by speaking the unspeakable, shrieking in panic if I touch vinegar in case my own neck throttles me, and I don't help by finding the funny side about the Victorian family murderer, the prison sentence and the doubtful parentage. Nothing helps.

Well, crafting a saucy notebook with knicker elastic and fake diamond sometimes does.