Sunday, 31 March 2013

Day off

Booked the griblets into build-your-own-robot session at the British Museum, then they called to say it had been cancelled.

Suddenly offered a day without their mother, the British Museum, Samsung, or a robot kicking off and making pointless demands of them, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger disappear to amuse themselves with teenage stuff, probably play the horse game that I see has now taken over their young developing brains.

I don't over-scrutinise their online time but, driven by a vague idea about parental responsibility, I ask what it is for, this horse game.

I am answered by a stare that mixes bewilderment with pity. How can I ask such a stupid question? I slope off. Maybe if it involves developing strategies for buying and selling horses it will come in handy one day when they're involved in high finance, or trying to reach rock-bottom price on a used battery down the local car boot trading floor.

I have my monthly craft stall coming up anyway, so am quietly grateful. I can blame Samsung, say typical of the British Museum, ignore the griblets, and spend my time stitching delightful new confections to lay before the feet of my customers; the bizarre, the bold, and the beautiful.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Deutsche Bank sees us alright

Forget what I said about the banks. Deutsche Bank is alright, isn't it? Apart from er, being a thieving bank and all. It is, on the other hand, splashing the cash by funding kid-friendly projects in my education world, particularly the very fine version of Romeo and Juliet that we see today at Shakespeare's Globe. I have to thank them for that, right? And the fact that this excellent performance was totally free to me, the little Grits, and a theatre audience filled with friends, being a demonstration of the Globe's educational programme, so cheers, Deutsche Bank, you bunch of arrogant thieves carrying a loveheart for Shakespeare. What you need to do now is pay for Romeo and Juliet to tour out of London and countrywide, pay outright for next year's education programme at the Globe, and give anyone who asks free season tickets to Globe land, for ever. I think that might just see us straight.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Good Friday

The gritlings push off to the local museum today, chum Tigger in tow, with the sole aim of extorting six Cadbury's chocolate eggs apiece from the old woman at the front desk. She probably thinks she's going to have a lovely time in the museum egg hunt.

Shamefully, we lost our annual pass to this local museum some time ago, but we are now unfortunately well known, so production of it seems no longer necessary. The little grits have visited this place so often they now treat the place like an extension of home, slamming back the entrance door, demanding to know where the chocolate stash is kept, and generally making a nuisance of themselves with other visitors. One time they came home outraged that a coach party had arrived to look round their turf. Their familiarity with the old telephone sets, the tram, and the printing press brings out their charmingly anti-social, ASBO sort of behaviour.

Good Friday brings it out especially, what with the brown lard overdose, but I am warning them that they should atone for it appropriately at some point. I am threatening them with a stint at dressing up and volunteering in the future as a way of saying sorry for what we did to the old woman when we were high on Cadbury's cocaine.

Anyway, while they are out the house for hours, it is a day off for me. There is only one thing to do. Finish stitching the locked heart I started before Valentine's Day.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

The endless round

Today - maybe yesterday, could be tomorrow - we host the monthly Chemistry co-op. We get out Professor Poliakoff, Ellen McHenry, and an ancient make-your-own salts kit.

There is no place for teachery-control in these sessions, I can tell you. It is mayhem from start to finish, stopping short only of bloodstains and broken arms, but requiring a spirit of resignation when you witness the fragrant apple (one small drop only!) tipped (three tablespoons) into the cornflour.

Indeed, the Chemistry Co-op is so routinely haphazard and shambolic that it appears completely normal when San enters the room to yell Has anyone lost a tooth? I just stood on one on the kitchen floor. No-one claims it. Maybe it is mine and I haven't had time to notice it yet.

But this is typical. Chemistry Co-op is the sort of frenetic event which explains why schools exist. We should really video it and stick it on Youtube, so any prospective home educators can see the domestic chaos you're in for. Forget the stylish interior with matching upholstery, that's my advice, unless you consider the Volcanic Food Event, the Exploding Eye Palaver and the Chemistry Co-op to be fitting design movements for your home ed household.

Apart from this chemical fun we have somehow managed to squeeze into the last few days, alongside the outside visits, a Reading Group, a Film Family Fun Night, a Latin lesson and an ice skating social. All I can say is that I am thankful that the latter was off site.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Introducing the kids to opera

Tonight, home ed outing to Milton Keynes Theatre for Welsh National Opera and The Cunning Little Vixen.

There can't surely be a better kid introduction to opera! Not counting The Magic Flute set in a caravan park. That was good, too.

But although it seems to me perfect material for encouraging an enjoyment of the operatic singalong, I have found this problem with volunteering to be the group ticket buyer for one of your local home ed tribes!

ATG Tickets make it shockingly easy and friendly for you, and you get the discount rates for booking ten or more seats, sure! Then, when you blithely say to your tribe Oh, don't forget it's the opera! the elders go all quiet and claim they are busy washing their hair, rearranging the bathwater, and growing their toenails, so they can't possibly come.

Well, you people missed a treat, of course you did. There were naked men and free beer and everything. And the staging, costumery, dragonfly dance and singalong was all superb too.

Now I know you home educating types are jolly enthusiastic about introducing the offspring to opera, so if it tours to a venue near you, of course it's worth the group rate tenner to see it!

Simply organise your group and go. Even if you have to sell on the spare tickets at the last minute to friends of friends, who then sell on the tickets to their friends who you have never seen, so you turf them out the tribal group, then apologise and glare at them like it is all their fault, then snatch the cash from their terrified fingers. WNO's The Cunning Little Vixen is totally worth it.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Middle class and ruthless

My mother would be PROUD.

I made it to THE MIDDLE CLASS.

What I failed to achieve by marriage, education, aligning my cultural norms with the preferred socio-economic group, I made it thanks to Barry Sheerman, the former chair of the Education select committee who says My home educating kind? We are not only middle class, we are RUTHLESS.

I'm cracking open the cava!

To celebrate the public reading of 'You can't drive education like a sports car' I get Shark, Squirrel and Tiger in the car and drive them over to Cambridge.

I'm driving a clapped out Citroen van, which demonstrates just how aligned I am to the 'right to private and family life', and how fast we aren't travelling while I concoct my next ruthless, middle class scheme to dangerously visit upon the heads of the vulnerable home educated children, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger.

That scheme, incidentally, is to march them round the Polar Museum, eat student-style at Gardenia, then go sit in King's College Chapel listening to Bach's St Matthew Passion.

Surely qualifies for middle class and ruthless, right?

My dangerous scheming works splendidly! Except for a few minor working-class problems, like failing to realise Bach's St Matthew Passion actually does last three hours on hard seats, and cheap five-pounds unsighted tickets means you can't see a damn thing about the choir except the back of a tenor's head. It also means having to grudgingly get a taxi to redeem the stranded van because I cannot read a park-and-ride timetable, and walking about Cambridge with a vegetarian hamburger from Gardenia stuffed in my handbag because Squirrel refused to eat the blasted thing so I threatened to serve it up for breakfast, then pride wouldn't let me part with it. APART FROM THAT. I am so totally delighted to be middle class and ruthless.

Frobisher's Rock. I became unreasonably excited about this geology and history combined

I started photographing any geology collection I could find from that point, although this is not really the main draw of the Polar Museum for the happy visitor. It is the letters, of course, from Scott's doomed attempt on the Antarctic. They are deeply moving. I may have had to suppress a quiet working-class sniffle.

Then three hours! On hard seats! With never a word of complaint from the little Grits! An attempt on the Antarctic clearly put an evening's sore bottom into perspective.

Here, have a snatch of the Passion, and let us all thank Barry Sheerman for our elevation.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Must be Monday

I swear we only do this fortnightly Mapping the World co-op for the shortbreads and fancies.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Ocean and Earth Day

I recommend, if you have children whose brains have been sucked out and replaced by fish, that you escort them annually down to the University of Southampton, National Oceanography Centre, for their Ocean and Earth Day. Here you may let the happy fry go free. Your fishy offspring can stretch their gills, flip their salty fins, and be off to explore the undercurrents of the deepest, darkest oceans.

Consequently, I do not see Shark, Tiger and Squirrel all day long.

Well, that is not strictly true. A packet of chocolate biscuits is on offer about tea time, bait to drag them out of the place. It works, dark chocolate luring them back like wandering fish seduced by a particularly tasty meal, but I suspect only because the place shuts up shop: Shark was thrown out of the tour round the aquarium, so there was nowhere else to go. In the first chocolate-biscuit-end-of-day assessment, I hear only universal grumbling that the fun ends at 4pm, and not at a proper time, like never.

I agree. Time is my only complaint. I think the Ocean and Earth day should go on at least until supper, because I had to listen to the ins and outs of the early-day closure injustice for another six hours.

It is a simple problem of logistics. A fishy-minded visitor cannot attend to everything between 10.30am and 4pm. Is that not a ridiculously short time to seduce us with your fishy wares? If you listen to the lectures about bubbles, rocks, diving and biology, then attempt to struggle round the stalls, pilot a submarine, do the quiz, watch the videos, make the ammonites, scoff lunch, see the ships, read the careers boards, ask questions of the engineers, no wonder there is not time to visit the aquarium.

I chose wisely. The lectures. On the basis that I could rest my arse for a good couple of hours, and adopt the face of one who has a scholarly approach to fish, while secretly hoping my brood return to me in an exhausted state clutching hand-made plaster ammonites and novelty fridge magnets.

Despite the complaints about time, our endless enemy, I can only thank the staff at the University of Southampton once again for allowing we fish-loving public to trample all over their nice clean Oceanography centre, leaving only footprints (plus a trail of trash and fingermarks on the door frame where they had to prise off Shark) and taking with us, only photographs.*

Shark, giving me that eye-rolling manoeuvre. 
I suppose I said something foolish, betraying my ignorance about tentacles.

* I jolly well hope so, anyway. But if I were you, Southampton Geology Staff, I would do an inventory of your rocks.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Southampton SeaCity Museum

Q: How is Southampton's SeaCity Museum?
A: The maritime history gallery? High on design, shallow on information.

Like, I was desperate to know more about The Oak Book. This is amazing! A book of council rules dating from 1300! Who doesn't want to know more about the shipping trade, local politics, and social interests of medieval Southampton? But no museum information helps me out. I stood in front of the thing questioning the fount of all wisdom, my ipad. Result. Then I went and collared the man at the desk. He confessed (after only three minutes interrogation and no thumb screws!) that if you're a visitor seeking knowledge in any depth or detail about Southampton's sea history, you'd be better off with the city archive service.

A: Titanic gallery upstairs? Excellent.

After my historical huftypufty, I start feeling better with the upstairs Titanic tour; it is excellent, with a visual narrative combining with individual stories and insights into the social setting of 1912. Dramatically, it is well designed, as you have to appear to cross the gangplank onto the fatal ship, then engage in deck life, before being sunk with the video. Your progress ends with the Titanic inquiry, for which you sit in a courtroom and pretend to be judge, jury, or speaker in the dock. By the time I'd finished, I felt wrung out and knew for sure that Leonardo DiCaprio was never on board.

A: Titanic gallery downstairs? Pleasing many masters.

Probably designed with National Curriculum History attainment targets in mind, 3.1, 4.2, 5.7 (2011). I pointed out a few choice items (film versions; plastic diver; question about a locked torch case) then left it, to go and drag Shark out of Gallery 1.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger do as they do in all museums (home educated child alert). It delights and frustrates me in equal measure. Every panel has to be read; information has to be copied into notebooks; artifacts have to be scrutinised; videos watched; audios attended to. It makes me hugely proud and simultaneously pissed off when, after one hour, they're still at the first gallery, when the place shuts before they've gone the whole round.

As usual, we were chased out the building by jangling keys.

Conclusion is yes, visit, at least for the Titanic. And, of course, for the overnight stay in the local Premier Inn where you can enjoy their delicious breakfast, including my favourite speciality - of which I have to secure at least three for my handbag - their leek and potato vegetarian sausages.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Cowper and Newton

Isn't local museum culture fantastic? Let's just hope the Human Performance Improvement Team never finds where they are, these mini timeholes of England.

Because once you're inside a local museum, I swear it becomes 1947. Open the door into the overheated front room-turned-giftshop, and here is invariably a gentlefolk of the shires - a Stanley or a Doreen - to welcome us home, like long-lost friends deceived by adventures of war. The warmth of the greeting only stops short of shoulder hugs and cheek kissing.

Once inside, there is all the agreeable fuss over the ticketing and the cash machine which doesn't work, then the faff to convert your ticket to an annual pass, and the problem of the receipt which won't print.

Fifteen minutes in, and we have yet to enjoy the discussion of How did you find us? Where did you park? What with market days and the road works which don't help anybody, do they? Then the best yet. Which exhibit can we recommend you simply must see? The old spoon or the napkin? Oh! Somewhere we have a guide! Where is the guide? I only put it here last week. Doreen, have you moved my guide?

To me, it's worth the five pounds entry fee (children go free) just to watch the extended front room-turned-giftshop drama. Keeping up with the pace, eh! It's always the same. We wait ten years for someone to come in, then nine of you come in at once!

Well I can reassure you, dear reader, the Cowper and Newton Museum does not disappoint. That's Cowper and Newton, by the way, who you may not know. Tsk. Come to gritsday and get yourself an education.

Cowper was a poet (appropriately insane at key points) who gave Wordsworth and Coleridge their best ideas. Where those Romantics went, Cowper went before. Talking to clouds, daffodils and oak trees, probably, but it must've kick-started something in the subconsciousness of his chums.

Oh yes, Cowper also wrote the poem of John Gilpin, the riotous narrative which became commercially successful, spawned tons of merchandise and pottery junk, and brought about a worship from a certain Mrs King. At the museum, you can see Cowper's fruit bowl, cribbage board, the blankie sewn for him by Mrs King (she'd be done for stalking) and his napkin; the one he used to wipe his greasy chops.

When you've had enough of Cowper, you can find out about Newton. He was Cowper's BFF and neighbour. A slave trader who got religion, gave up slave trading, and egged on William Wilberforce to abolish the business. He also wrote Amazing Grace, which no-one has failed to hear, anywhere, unless maybe you're living on North Sentinel Island. Look, it's even done over by boy bands. Students from Northampton Museum made a rather fine wooden slave ship in his honour.

When you're tired of both Cowper and Newton, you can visit the town's lace museum, and ogle at the prototype for an Ikea Glimma Tealt; the arrangement of four glass balls about a single candle flame to produce a focused point of light. My favourite item! It brought out my streak of super-mean, candles being the price they are.

The conclusion is, of course, you must fall down the timeholes of your nearby museums and, if you're ever going out of your way through Olney circa 1947, make sure you drop in and say hello to Stanley and Doreen in the splendidly local Cowper and Newton.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Playing to the adult agenda

Hang on a minute. I must hoik up my purple wrinkled stockings, adjust my old lady girdle smelling of wee, and pull on my battered felt hat (but only if it's the one where the moths breed), before I publicly decry the horror that is the Global Kids Fashion Show.

It is a thoroughly bad idea. A catwalk for kids is not made good by tacking on a charitable arm and a few august institutions. It looks like they are put there to disguise the tawdry intentions of the rest and give the whole show a gloss of sanctimonious worthiness. If you want to give to charity, then do it. Don't dirty the act. If you want to support youth projects, do so. Don't besmirch the cause.

But a catwalk fashion show backed by big bucks? If anything's playing to an adult agenda, it's this. I can't think what benefits can be brought to the cultural consciousness of your average seven year old by a fashion catwalk show.

Seriously, help me out here, because I can see only the end-of-financial-year balance sheets of luxury brands, the permanent consumption required by the international rag trade, satisfaction for label-obsessed mamas, a chance to foist on kids associated and unnecessary cosmetic products, more provocative advertising opportunities in an industry that already sexualises children, and a hook for the upcoming teenage market. They can now safely arrive at young adulthood with brand recognition, consumer loyalties, and 'facebook fashion likes' conveniently in place. Your identity, neatly defined by your consumer preferences: Let's start them young!

My general objection to the whole show starts from my simple observation. Children are more than capable of dressing themselves so you put your fingers over your eyes and demand they walk ten paces ahead of you. I don't need Jean Paul Gaultier dressing up the junior Grit like a sailor-hooker-renaissance-tart-inspired by Mondrian, thank you very much. Squirrel can do that for herself in clothing three sizes too small and with holes in the backside. Why is she now to suffer an additional layer of social judgement because the holes, well, they obviously aren't Tom Ford's?

Then there is the whole dressing up business of adults foisting their design ideas to their own kids. This, quite frankly, is creepy. Yes, I admit to forcing Squirrel into what I would call 'appropriate clothing' for the funeral and the Christmas carol service, but beyond that, no thanks. I'm not feeling any need to lay out clothing for her, or construct her choices in particular colour-coordinating ways, simply so I can feel good when I clap eyes on her wobbling down the stairs in a morning.

And the muck. If I want to see kids turned out, it is to dig holes in the soil, clamber up the quarry face, play hide and seek with mama in the ditch, go plonging in puddles, then work out the best climbing tree in the district. I want kid labels which allow the models to bring their own mud, sandblasting, bloodied knees, and rips down the left leg.

With all the stupidity of spending serious money on a kid's wardrobe! Frankly, I want not to do that. I would rather chuck a load of cash in the direction of your local charity bookshop. And if I've been brain-addled enough to have paid the equivalent of a weekly wage on Squirrel's trousers, I'm going to feel as if that's an investment I need to protect. At least for the next three weeks or until she grows out of it. What a pointless investment to make.

But there's another hidden dynamic. It's the maintenance. High class clothes need high class maintenance. They need ironing, folding, de-creasing, hanging, dry cleaning, sequin ajusting, de-wrinkling, laying flat, smoothing, petting, stroking. There must be this whole domestic fetishing thing for the tag hag. Oh dear. I am not the target market for kid's fashion, am I? I last ironed something in 2007. Clothing I possess which demands ceremony is on a hiding to nothing. And shall I confess I even get a particular thrill in treating things badly? Scrumple up that crepe MaxMara dress, then shove it in the wardrobe where it can be violated by the charity scum TopShop teeshirt?

Worst of all, absolutely worst and unforgivable - wrapped up in this pseudo language of encouraging kids to find their own style - is the crime that catwalk kid fashion commits.

We are removing that lovely thing in childhood - a child's lack of self awareness; their ability to project themselves without mediating themselves, without needing to see themselves always as others see them, without needing to be aware of what they wear, which in turn requires them to exert conscious control over how they walk, sit, move, and stand. Ask any woman. Self-conscious, body-conscious fashion clothing does exactly this: it inhibits, restrains, places requirements of movement upon the wearer and tells the body how to behave.

Look at what we do. We gave up jailing kids, then slapping them to discipline and punish to make them conform to an adult world view.  Now we're finding new ways to the same end. It's just that this trend comes with the label Gaultier Junior.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Angel, angel

See? I have come over all angelic. I have become very guardianship and protecting, enfolding in soft, feathery embrace.

Shut up! Grid has a cute side.


Okay then, it was a commission. Here's another one.

I will come out of it soon. Next will be pitchforks, filthy wings, bloodied noses and, in the absence of pmt, just my normal daily curse of snapped apart soul and blasted temper.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Pounding the pavements of Olney

Collar your local Blue Badge trained guide, fix your group, make a date, divvy the cost. Hey Presto! Local history you never knew before!

For our home ed crowd, Olney, town of Saxon/Dane agreements, medieval markets, cattle, pancakes, lace industry, home of Amazing Grace, place of cunning optical illusion done with a church spire, and an old shed called a Sulking Room.

These Blue Badgers are seriously well researched and not all of them are aged over 90. Every one we've followed has been brilliantly responsive to the group. Today, our mixed age kid-adult group gives rise to hot ash foot-warmers, inventions with candles, dead body street, gargoyles, potted history of the Quakers, a singsong, and a couple of cute horses.

History, out and about, all around us, living in custom and practice, and certainly not forgotten by the locals. Grudges and gratitudes, oppositions and allies, just the same in 2012 as in 1220.

Of course now we're all switched on, hiring our local trained up Blue Badgers for all around the towns.

Proving, as if it needed saying, that home ed history doesn't mean paying six pound fifty to sit in a hall and fill out a worksheet.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

After the flexischool ban

Strange forces are gathering in my world of education.

Not the mermaid on the toilet again! We kicked her out.

No, these forces are emanating from the political world in the form of steady drip, drip messages. Your child not in school - your child not educated. All children must be in school. Any child not in school is a child not accounted for.

But this sly restructuring to our fields of vision, to our understanding of education, is not being done through direct challenge to statute law. It's being done to how the law is interpreted; the guidelines issued from central government, the rules laid down and passed to local authorities, then commanded on to parents.

Take our recent flexischooling ban. The one where the Tory government just outlawed your hard-won negotiation to build an education for your child based on part-time attendance at school with one-to-one time elsewhere. Boom! Gone. Illegal overnight. As of last week, your flexischool arrangement is not allowed. Effected not through any change to law. But a 'defining of school attendance codes'.

Eh? This shift affects thousands of children whose parents have worked hard to achieve a personalised education for their child. But suddenly we have an insidious change wrought to our thinking about where education must effectively take place - school or home not both - and it's all coming from a school attendance code? It's all about the letter B?

Suspicious. What's the aim here? Where is the independent, informed analysis about this in the newspapers? Where is the commentary on the aims of Gove and Truss?

My bet is, the bleating from central government will be about funding. These are hard times with tough economic choices. But change to the interpretation of education law is not about funding, whatever they say. A deal could be stitched up to support flexischooling if the commitment was there: part-funds could be offered to schools, and that would be straightforward enough. So cash is the excuse, but the real reason is elsewhere.

Howabout, underlying this recent shift of education interpretation, is a shifted definition of what it is to be socialised.

Socialisation used to mean learning how to get along with other people in your community to get stuff done, but now socialisation is coming to mean something different - try conformity to a 'national vision', the adoption of particular forms of national values - where failure to subscribe to these aims is suspicious and alien.

But how to achieve this form of socialisation - of changing our expectations, cultures, and practices, to something akin to the new national identity - is a problem. Solution? We must work on the upcoming generations: bring together all children to central points where the correct interpretations can be taught.

This is usually where my brain takes a big kaboom. Because, educationally, Gove has built this rhetoric of diversity, choice, of maximum ranges of free schools and academies, where the language is all about freedom. This language seems to be so at odds with what I feel is happening in education - a tightening up of definitions from the centre, a hold over interpretation, a narrowing of acceptable practice, and a restriction on the practicalities of choice.

This is where I had a conversation with someone, and it was quite helpful. They said, Think of your educational landscape not as state schooling supplied free to all children, not as offering maximum choice for parents, not as a system rewarding intelligence, but actually as a regulated private market, whose dealings are opaque to the parent.

Imagine thousands of private schools dotted all over the country. They offer many types of educational provision. These private schools are run by educational suppliers. They operate independently with government approval, or they are part-funded by government.

Every child must be registered in their local area with an educational supplier, and every child must be signed up to one of the approved schemes on offer.

Each school is then accessible to a child in that region by several means - via allocation by a local body, via bursaries, via grants, or via scholarships. To apply for a place at a private school, you, the parent, must prove your residential status. If you are to apply for a grant, or expecting to support in part or in whole the school fees, then you must submit details of household income, your employment information, the taxation you paid and the benefits you received.

A market which contains many, many suppliers in competition with each other, which enforces administrative co-operation from parents, and yet which is managed centrally, has many advantages.

Presentation of your residency credentials, for example, prevents migrants from trying to drop their kids into a local school on a casual basis; the requirement of all parents to apply for an education grant or to provide information of their willingness to part-fund or totally support educational fees brings all citizens within the surveillance of the taxation and economic administration; and a regulation requiring all parents to register at a private school of whatever scheme ensures there is no opt-out, none at all.

They were describing the strange regulated world of private and state education in China. But heigh-ho, starting to look a lot like England.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Big Bang

So I messed up the Cambridge Science Festival dates! Again. The problem is, Where isn't there a science festival going on?

And I'd already applied for London Big Bang tickets last December.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger went there today. I didn't join them. I have not much of a science brain unless it is to go oooh and ahhh at infinite and impossible glories like stars and planets and rocks and soils.

But the absence of big grits meant I could interpret science in my own way, stroking my leather and purring over pink-edged hand-made papers and star-tangled transparent nets in the passionate purple of Bind me.

Friday, 15 March 2013

War Horse workshop, National Theatre

Is this man brave, or what? Give him a medal as big as a dustbin lid, and make it gold. He deserves it.

He leads a group of home ed kids with 48 broom handles and 12 balloons, says think about it, then shows how to combine those inanimate objects, give them life, and make a horse trot, gallop, quietly graze, and startle at noise.

A brilliant demonstration of War Horse puppetry, thanks to National Theatre Education.

And this, people, shows the difference. It's why your Key Stage workshop delivered by an edutainments officer sucks, and why a workshop given by a practitioner succeeds.

Someone who knows their subject inside out, is passionate about it, has explored their subject intellectually, practically, emotionally, and who wakes up in the morning having dreamed of it - let them communicate it to kids. Leave these inspiring people to express themselves, explain their ideas, demonstrate their reasoning, and show their approach, and the workshop is inevitably a triumph. We are forever changed to look at broom handles and balloons with a new and quiet awe.

Think on this, you education workshop makers. Don't define your session in terms of which National Curriculum attainment targets you can meet, then pass the delivery of the hours to the edutainments teaching staff, people who you chose because they are trained to shrink-wrap the workshop in leak-proof sealed plastic, deliver the subject they know only about in theory, then afterwards collect in the broken pencils and the defeated, dispirited souls.

Applause indeed for the National.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

It went that way

Okay, take a deep breath. I have to buy a new swim costume for Tiger and make sure it fits which is a 24-job in itself carrying a tricky compromise of no choice but black when she doesn't want black then I must transport an over-excited Squirrel to the stables to use the crumpled free lesson voucher I've been carrying around for eight months before it runs out next Monday and where I must once more suffer being mocked by horse then I must return to feed my tribal people their hearty lunchtime nourishment in the shape of two pizzas then drive to pick up Tigger to leg it over to Bedford and circle hopelessly around the main exit to Cambridge looking for an enormous swimming pool shaped like a pyramid which I always lose no matter how many times we visit then after the swim bring everyone home to throw emergency pasty on the table and not get it confused with the laundry before we must attend the wildlife group led by the woman who is touchingly affected by moles and butterflies and bees and cute bushes then remember to drop off Tigger and bring my own sweet enfants back to the nest where I can concoct hot supper chocolate and whine a bit about the exhausting routines of the home ed mama but boy if the truancy patrol stopped me in my tracks today I might just have had to run them over and throw their dead bodies in the back of the car because it's one of those days that just galloped by, non-stop.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Winter's Tale

The problem with teaching Shakespeare to a group of 13-year olds in a classroom is that it is all chest-constricting, high-alert stuff; you are caught between attempting to convey a passion you cannot possibly feel for your subject in this alien environment, while all your attention is focused on trying to thwart the next ambush from the kid who has filed his teeth, shaved his head, and is known locally as The Butcher.

The benefit of doing the opposite - of communicating something you love in your own home - is that you can do it surrounded by all the things which matter to you, like breakfast and books, and you can behave boldly and with a certain joy in the randomly directed experiment, and the enterprise becomes genuinely shared. But if you do get it wrong then you know your audience will forgive if you get out the chocolate.

Breakfast with The Winter's Tale, enacted by blueberries taking the role of the characters, mugs of chocolate becoming the dramatic unities, and a tablecloth we can scribble on.

Preparation for us to see the RSC version tonight at the theatre. Recommended. Both the Shakespeare play, and dumping school to relax and enjoy the endeavour for yourself.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013


Shark, Tiger and Squirrel attend a Latin lesson at Stowe School, one of the most expensive private schools in England.

No, honestly! I'm not making it up! 

Look, we really did smuggle in the snoffle-grobbling home educated stringlings, Shark, Tiger and Squirrel! Honest! 

I snapped a crafty photo of Stowe entrance hall.


Quite frankly, I couldn't believe we were let in the place, knowing how our snuff-grimbling family is one of the nether-dwelling wanglers, only half-a-rung up the social ladder above the stoat lickers and ferret sniffers.

But becoz I is a nice girl, I will draw a discreet veil over the lesson. Commentary would not be right. Even though I haz took a PGCE, haz tort, haz opinions, and woz put in the frame for a teeching job here in 1994. I will merely say that from this experience inside the hallowed halls, my snoffle-grobblers came out with sudden (and not entirely unexpected) grateful thankfulness for our own fortnightly Lingua Latina.

The only other comment to add is that my mother-in-law sent all her juniors to boarding school by persuading herself the reason was educational excellence, when in reality it was so that her offspring would mingle with the right sort of people. Boarding schools perform this social function admirably. As, indeed, does home education.

Here, have an opinion from 2010. It hasn't much changed. Classics should be taught in state maintained schools.

Monday, 11 March 2013

There was no need to frisk me for frogs on the way out

We enter a room which is festooned in skulls, bones, skin, and animal parts, and for a moment I think I might have strayed into a therapy room for the disturbed, where we are invited to share our fantasies regarding dead things and what we like to do with them, but no, it's an educational workshop at Whipsnade Zoo called Touch and Talk.


I feel a bit squeamish sticking my fingers up a dead oryx's nose. Why, I don't know, because I am happy enough to wrap myself in beaten and dyed animal skin. It doesn't make sense, does it? But leather is a fantastic material. I can't help it. I am addicted to it. I will even confess to sniffing it, deeply.

In my defence, sniffing is the one sure way to tell between leather and pleather. Plastics these days can be so very convincing! Real dead animal skin carries a smell.

Ahem. Well, like I said, it's actually not a therapy session where we confess our secret addictions to animal skin. It's an educational room, teaching us not to buy dead animal skins on holiday. Except for the skins of cows, goats, pigs, we can buy those, apparently. They're not a problem. It's the tigers. (Although I do find myself wondering where I can get hold of some cheetah.)

But then! I fall in love with a frog! I'm sure Mr Froggy isn't endangered! I want to touch him all over, stroke his little head and put him in my pocket and live with him forever and I promise I will never, ever, skin it. Well, not while it's alive, obviously.

We reassemble after lunch for the Working With Animals session. Following the fine tradition of all secondary school careers talks, there is my daughter, slumped over the desk, head on her folded arms, her vacant eyes staring into nothingness. I never worry. She will come to life if you shout Horse!

It may be the careers session, but we get onto the aspect of working with dead things pretty quickly.

We all liven up to some forensic analysis. Our group of mamas enters into the spirit of How did it die? with great enthusiasm. I feel like Hercule Poirot! We decide our hapless red kite victim was poisoned, shot at, stabbed, and had its neck broken. The chickens did it in the library.

Finally! Both workshops are done, and we can take ourselves off for a ramble round Whipsnade!

I don't go far. Forget what I said about the frog. I am in love with these mongooses now. I want to be a mongoose. It would be fantastic. You get to run about all day long, eat stuff, go to sleep, engage in hours of indiscriminate, naughty misbehaviour just for fun, and then you can start it all over again the next day. And no-one wants to spread out your little pelt in front of the fire to roll about on it. Sounds like a perfect life.