Friday, 31 May 2013

It was inevitable

Just to remind myself, the activities timetable is normal here, what with Tiger's windsurfing club sucking out cash from my bank account every Saturday morning, and Shark's sub-aqua club held every week (gratifyingly) at one of the poshest school pools round these parts, and then there's Woodcraft Folk, the drama group, the monthly woodland mob and the fortnightly Wildlife Watch, where we can all ohh and ahh at squirrels.

Speaking of which, it was Squirrel's Astro club tonight, where I fell asleep. I would like to pretend that no-one noticed, that I got away with it, but I cannot. It was a shockingly public nodding off, skirting the boundaries of snoring and grunting, and I can only say in my defence that if you lived the sort of week that I do (don't forget the laundry, note the dates for mapping/art/Latin/social, prepare for the craft stall and don't forget to put out the rubbish and pay the bills) that you too, becalmed by antihistamine, would drop away as soon as they switched off the lights to look at comets on the projector.

Thursday, 30 May 2013


Keepsake notebook commission, present for lady with the initial G who loves trees and leaves and stuff. Working at uncommon speed, have laid out six designs now in piles on all workroom surfaces: leather shapes in colour ranges, paper samples, metals, threads and fabrics. Completed one book straight off (unusual), inspired by leaf layering and light falls. Wandering aimlessly yesterday about the wooded hills obviously helped.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013


Wend a deviant way home.

Thanks to my crap sense of direction. I become hopelessly lost in the borderlands betwixt England and Wales. The SatNav finally breaks down after weeks of threatening, and refuses to turn on. It is a cruel blow, and I take it as horrible punishment for my long and casual disregard of her instructions to turn right. I am especially bitter because recently I have tried to be good by feeding her electricity juice all night long.

Truly, I am in a bereft condition without her to remind me how wrong I am going. Now I have only my own terrifying map skills to rely on and my new navigator to shout at (Shark, aged 13), a combination which I expect to end badly. I drift around hopelessly, waiting to bump into some sort of sign that would allow a B-road to lead me out of darkness and into light.

But look on the bright side. Isn't it true of life, that if the route you planned is taken away from you in a moment as subtle as a baby's breath, the route you're given can offer you so much more than you ever expected? So many unforeseen surprises and unanticipated delights await you! That's what I tell myself as we head off back into Wales because I cannot tell east from west.

But look! A couple of hours on and we find Ledbury, a lovely town with real museums! I was delighted to discover it. I conjure the old streets for the pleasure of the American viewer.


Charming, no? And the museum, like all local museums, helpfully describing their artifacts with barely any reference to context or age. They are just sad and bashed up old things we value. (Find me a person aged over 50 who does not approve of that.)

Thus I can recommend Ledbury, with its historic streets, ancient centre, and magnificent Painted Room, a real insight into aspirational interior design of the 16th century, and a treat if you are driving about the countryside trying not to reenter Wales.

More exciting than the battlesite of Mortimer's Cross. Like everyone else, I navigated towards that in vain.

However! My shonky directional skills redeem the day by leading me to Croft Ambrey iron age fort, hidden behind the National Trust's Croft Castle.

I would link to evocative and haunting imaginings of this dramatic hill-top site, but the descriptions seem to be mostly clinical reports of its dissection and excavations. Yet it is a site which provokes in me a thoughtful wondering of the people who lived here; I put that down to the rare atmosphere and quiet beauty of the place. Telling me, the SatNav can stay in the cupboard. Some discoveries are worth getting lost for.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Hay-on-Wye Lit. Fes.

Sadly, it was unavoidable. Ever since The Hat burst into the house last June, brimming with the latest noos from the chaterati. I thought, I simply must introduce my little grits to a proper middle-class mouthful, if only to elevate them from mama's vulgarities, gleaned from the gutters at roundabouts and junctions.

Reader, I have learned a few things. Take waterproofs, for one. Honestly, the weather should be given an ASBO, pissing on my middle-class aspirations. It ruined my fantasy, to wit: tottering the streets of winsome Hay-on-Wye in a delightful cream linen-and-silk Boden combo, clutching my Folio editions of classic nineteenth-century novellas translated into Latin.

Also, do not bother booking advance tickets for speakers, unless you are with the Friends, or your life depends upon seeing Author X (in which case, get psychiatric help). The booking office never posted my tickets, and you can buy them there anyway. The young woman at the box office with the extreme hair vaguely addressed my left ear when I complained they'd had a month to send me tickets and I'd paid one pound fifty for the significance of a stamp. There's lots of adminstration she murmured, looking spectacularly uninterested.

In fact, all the staff are a bit like that. The young man who heard my winge about the pointless wifi smiled charmingly from behind his ruffled hair and Aran sweater but similarly demonstrated complete indifference. After a while I began to suspect all the staff were English Literature students from Surrey finding something to do in their year off before they began the publishing internship with Random House.

That is the next thing to learn about the Hay Festival. It sounds rather obvious but the people who go there are from the middle class. This is not true in the home ed world where you can meet the hippie-alarming to the I am a doctor and my wife is two doctors at the same workshop on space rockets. So if you are looking for a festival that cuts vertically through UK society, then probably do not choose Hay. It is safe, predictable, comfortable, and non-threatening.

Which leads me to the questions given to the audience at the end of the speaker session. Well, I can imagine a middle-class fight breaking out over an aggressive statement about an apostrophe. I began to be caught up in the moment at one point where I had a half-arsed question to ask from a feminist perspective. I'm jolly glad I kept my mouth shut; I would have been shamefully upstaged from the Cartesian radical dualist perspective, which shows how it all quickly descends. (But I might go next year, just to see if I can ask a question from the covalently-bonded phenomenologically-placed epistemological perspective.)

Finally, you may as well leave all your ipods, ipads, satnavs and anything at home, because Hay-on-Wye has serious connection problems. It is like being in their nineteenth century. Evidence: Standing watching the drips patter off the awning, waiting for the next session, covertly listening to an elderly gentleman struggle with his mobile phone to have the following one-sided conversation: Hello, Dahlia, is that you? Is that you Dahlia? Oh dear oh dear oh dear, Dahlia? Are you there? Dahlia? I'm shortlisted for the Rathwarlinson-Buxtomony Prize and I was wondering if you could help me out with the communications for it. Oh dear. Are you there? Dahlia? Are you there?

Hay-on-Wye Lit. Fes. summed up in three words. Rain. Books. Yurts.

Monday, 27 May 2013

On the way...

Of course we have to see a field just outside Evesham en route to Hay-on-Wye.

Battlefields are my new enthusiasm.

That character streak, incidentally - the peculiar focused pursuit down any new randomly-selected rabbit hole of interest - I blame on Gritty Papa. Throughout a long and varied career he defused bombs, ran a chip shop, built a boat, did a stint inside, abandoned us, came home again, and variously became involved in theatre, birdwatching, engineering and bricklaying. Those were the highlights.

Anyway, I have to see Evesham. It is distinguished in that one of my historical boyfriends, as Shark flippantly calls them, was mortally wounded and dismembered here. Simon de Montfort, father of your English parliament. Shark may be right; I am a tiny bit in love with him, probably because he followed through in what he believed.

But the landscape looks idyllic now, doesn't it? Pathways trimmed by white blossoms and Queen Anne's lace (let's not call it cow parsley and prickly bush). Tiger kept fretting, of course, because Evesham battlefield is now on private land, and I'd already been thrown out a car parking slot by one of the villagers who claimed she needed the space 'to back into'. I didn't respond in a particularly generous tone, true, but Tiger has to toughen up on these matters. You can't go around the world being put off by people in uniform, people with desks, and village ladies with stern faces and shotguns.

Enough of all this. It's not getting us anywhere. A bit like the Evesham battlefield walk, when we had to turn round and retrace our steps. But at least I can say, we were there. You can read about it, here.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Not a tour of the car parks in St Albans

Joined the Battlefields Trust. Had to do it. We took the walk-and-talk round St Albans.

The tour was so brilliant, that stumping up the cash to join the soc was the least I could do to repay our guides. And they're right, dammit! We lose so many of these bare and brutal bloodfields to a shopping precinct and the M6, we need to ensure the remainders of these historic sites of triumph, struggle, death and glory don't all end up as another branch of Primark.

Here, come with us. Meet our guides. They are about to show us the main London-St Albans road, blocked to defend the town on the night of 22 May 1455. (Takes horse and cart and watch for a nasty right-hand turn ahead.)

Two thousand Lancastrians had arrived at St Albans, and they were defending the town. Three thousand Yorkists arrived to sit outside, camping here, and getting upset at this car park at Keyfields.

After negotiations failed, Richard Duke of York attacked. Fighting was heavy on all access roads into the town. But the young Warwick, aged 19 years, on the Yorkist side, spied a way in - an unguarded run down the ditch, up the bank, and through the back alleys into the centre of town. Here it is. The very spot.

I do not know whether to be proud or dismayed that I have parked the car on it. (If you look carefully, you can see the dent in the back of that silver Berlingo. I would just like to say, that was done to me. I am innocent.) Next, the Maltings Shopping Centre car park, to view the back of the building where Warwick burst his way through to the very centre of the town.

There, that small red-backed building. Imagine Warwick bursting through the wall! (Wattle and daub, obviously, not brick. He wasn't a Transformer or anything.)

Fighting moved to the town centre. Somerset, on the Lancastrian side, and arch-rival to Richard, was killed here. In the doorway of Connells estate agents. (I don't consider that a plug for them, incidentally.)

The triumphant Yorks finally raised the flag outside Boots the chemist. Our guides pause to say, dramatically, 'See that gutter? It ran with blood.'

Not a tour of car parks and shopping centres. The first Battle of St Albans kicked off the Wars of the Roses which in turn gave rise to Richard III, the Battle of Bosworth, the Tudor dynasty, and the recent discovery under yet another sodding car park.

All of which shows to me why we need local historians prepared to put in the foot slog, and why I feel the need to support the Battlefields Trust.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

I never knew what I was doing and thank goodness it's over

I know this resembles a bad reenactment of the evil overlords in Dr Who planning their final invasion of earth, but trust me, it is the last session of our 8-part chemistry co-op using Ellen McHenry's excellent introduction to The Elements.

Here the happy class of six is filling in the periodic table from memory, discussing whether the best way is via Sweden.

Next, all the kids lined up to do Chocolate Challenge. Basically this is, 'You recite the entire periodic table, row by row, and I give you a bar of chocolate'. Everyone did fantastically well, so you can make of that learning experience what you will. (But rest assured it will come in handy if the EWO, LEA, PCSO and all the PTB come a-knocking at the door.)

Obviously, now we have reached the end of our fortnightly fun, we have inquired about the services of a local Chemistry tutor to take this enthusiastic mini-class through to GCSE.

Well, that didn't get us anywhere; he wanted about five thousand pounds spread over fortnightly payments, preferably in used fivers tucked into a brown envelope.

I don't know what the going rate is for private tutors, but I am left with the distinct feeling that we need to find other ways to skin this cat, preferably ways which allow me to not remortgage the house. We might, for example, stay within our community.

Either that, or blunder on, an approach that I personally am unhappy about. Chemistry is definitely that subject to which I can apply the little knowledge/dangerous thing equation. As evidenced by the following example which, I am sad to say, has been an all too-routine occurrence in these chaotic chemistry co-ops:

Student (Holding up godknowswot, probably a lump of soil in a plastic cup): What would happen if we set it on fire?
Grit: I don't know! Let's give it a try!

Friday, 24 May 2013

Visiting the Royal Courts of Justice

Here's a bit of information I never knew before, with me being a day-tripping peasant of the shires and all; coming fresh and ruddy-faced into London with my shoes still crusted in sheep shit.

If you pass by The Royal Courts of Justice, you can go in, and do a tour of the building!

Well it was exciting news to me.

I bet you metropolitan types knew it already, you with your sueded kitten heels who know your way  round a wine bar menu. But it came as news here. The woman at the enquiry desk hands you a leaflet and tells you what to look at, and why. Like the painted room, for example, spruced up with some cash from English Heritage and now available for hire, probably if you have a few thousand quid to spend on your society wedding.

I found out this bit of information entirely accidentally, because we were part of a large gaggle of home ed people who had already booked both an educational tour of this gothic magnificence, plus a courtroom for the afternoon. Only here could we put the unforgiven Badman on trial and prosecute him for being a glove puppet of the loud-mouthed control-freaking Balls. (Just wishful thinking; the old grudges are the deepest.)

Okay then, the courtroom scene we re-enacted was called The Suffragettes (probably also still a running sore for some old Tories).

It was a great opportunity to explore another aspect of our heritage, so I happily recommend it. Both the tour and the courtroom drama. And if you find yourself in the swanky city and are passing The Royal Courts, simply take the self-guided tour. Swot up about the architecture beforehand, however, because the leaflet they give you is minimal and there's no booklet on sale to give you any further info.

Oh yes, there is one other issue. Getting past the airport-style security screening system before you go in. But we managed it, and Squirrel had three rocks, a pen knife, and a bicycle chain in her pocket.

Thursday, 23 May 2013


Squirrel was right. I have a secret agenda, of course I do.

It is my ongoing project to introduce my gritty offshoots to cultural studies - which can mean more or less anything you want - but for me must include film, politics, literature, music, enjoying myself doing what I like, nice leather-bound notebooks and, when I am old enough to have one, a tiny toy fox terrier with dainty paws I can hold and stroke lovingly.

This is one of the best things about children, the way you have the opportunity to bring up people who share your culture and community groups, and who have an understanding about your concerns about the world. Basically, people whose company you might enjoy.

This is not to say I want my mini grits to be identical in outlook to me, of course not, that would be absurd; if they had the same tastes as me, I would have to share my fine collection of handbags with them, which I am not prepared to do. I want enough of a difference that we can all have a good ding-dong over the kitchen table about who deserves the last slice of pie, before leaving the house with deep-seated grudges before going off to vote in all our different ways. I want to be a normal family, obviously. But broadly, I want us to have opinions we can share: we should know where each other is coming from, and understand the things which matter to each of us.

By-the-bye, it is this 'reproducing-a-culture' thing which for home educators, and probably many other minority groups, is often cast as a problem: maybe there is a fear that unless we are all made publicly accountable via our presence at school, with our allegiances, views and values on display, then we might be perpetuating undesirable, anti-social values in private.

In Britain I take the fear to be linked fundamentally to class, and naturally I wonder if people may resent one state, but not the other. Example: Lolling about the sofa eating pies while unemployed = bad. Sending the daughters to Roedean with the expectation of a career in Tatler = good.

But this is an awfully long way round of putting down in my home ed diary that - hot on the heels of the British Library Propaganda show - I deliberately sat the little grits down on the sofa to watch Stagecoach* (1939) with John Wayne. Specifically so we can talk about ways in which culture reproduces itself, whether film is a form of propaganda, and whether we should go and see The Lone Ranger at the cinema or wait for the dvd.

I feel it's important. I want to show my little grits where culture looks backwards to, for its sources, images and ideas. Which is cultural studies, if you like. And who cares whether or not they understand this stuff now. They'll grow into it. (I hope.)

Squirrel on Stagecoach: What is happening? What's wrong with her? Where did that baby come from?

* The lazy way out; if it's not Stagecoach, then the other way I can tackle the Wild West is to sit and read aloud the dreaded Leatherstocking Tales.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The British Library does alright with propaganda for the teens

Took Tiger, Shark, and Squirrel to the British Library for Propaganda: Power and Persuasion.

With some trepidation, admittedly.

How would my little gritties take to it? Like all British Library exhibitions it is not especially aimed at children. Worthy, weighty, document-heavy, it offers plenty of spotlit text to peer at, as you fumble around in a semi-darkened room crashing into people.

Worse, British Library exhibitions attract adults who like to tut. People who have higher scholarly purposes which could be fulfilled if only the rest of humanity didn't get in the way of the captions. Do not assume the academic types are child-friendly, as Tinkertop tips headlong into them, blinded by the sudden transition between spotlights and atmospheric pools of total darkness.

But I still take my little grits. I know it is never likely to amuse the children with a selection of interactive, button-jabbing delights - press here to animate your government message and see a pop-up Stalin with his spinning head - but I am forever optimistic that if there is a challenge, we intrepid explorers in the land of learning can rise to it.

Thankfully, the British Library more or less adopts the same approach. Given the subject - isn't propaganda, power, and persuasion about as wide an area as you can imagine? - the BL attempts to make it approachable, even from a Junior Grit's point of view.

To start us off, we get an easy-to-follow guide on how to create your own propaganda. It was extremely helpful to me as average parent instructing the national yoof, and I would recommend the beginning section alone to justify taking in your juniors, if only to teach them some techniques for spotting the spin from your average government minister.

The British Library then offers a selection of Alastair Campbell's talking heads to distance itself from a few opinions and raise a few issues. Inbetween is thrown at us an assortment of old posters, documents, paintings, and videos, navigating a way through a variety of contexts, from how to hate the Germans properly in WW2 to how to cross the road with Tufty the Squirrel in 1963.

This was my other nagging fear: would the Gritties Jnrs at their tender age of 13 take it all literally? Would they appreciate the contexts? Would they come out having failed to spot the meta-text, having bypassed the whole 'read between the lines' thing, to urge me to hate Germans and, by the way, I have totally failed Tufty Fluffytail's first law of motor traffic?

It is no small worry. My proto-teens still have their tender sensibilities intact: they have not yet reached the jaded and cynical, government-withered stage of my existence, with my blood now combined from vinegar, hydrochloric acid and caustic soda. I especially fretted about this in front of the Nazi propaganda video of how to identify a nasty Jew, and the USA's Norman Rockwell posters of homely dinners, dished up by a pink-cheeked grandma in her fresh white apron, showing sublimely how America has the answer to everything, and it is wholesome. Visuals like this remain impactful.

Me, I was grateful to be out in the fresh air after two hours; relentless persuasions on my deviant behaviours issued to me from self-assured authorities is a little wearing on my brain, even though I can still see the hilarity in some of the injunctions, such as the Protect and Survive posters of 1970s and 1980s Britain. When I looked around for the Gritties Jnrs, expecting them to be waiting glumly outside, they were still in the exhibition room, reading everything, listening to Alastair Campbell's head, and complaining when I dragged them out.

Verdict for your teens? On the way home, Squirrel narrowed her eyes at me and demanded to know what I was up to? Wasn't the home ed workshop enough? What was my secret intention?

So that suggests to me the British Library have somehow made Propaganda: Power and Persuasion accessible to your average anti-authoritarian 13-year old. Take them. They should do fine, and we all just have to ignore the tuts.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

A smack in the kisser with Hotel Chocolat

Will I do a product review?

Reader, I wrestled with my soul.

My soul wasn't up to it. I tried to bash the stupid soul around a bit, but it curled up all quiet and non-confrontational, then looked at me with its familiar expression of miserable resignation. It just wanted to be left alone.

I write back to Hotel Chocolat and let them decide.

I say, Are you sure you want me to review your chocolates? You should know my excellent advertising skills had me threatened with court action and that was after the ad agency asked me to clear my desk. And what is that name you've given to a box of chocolates? Sleeksters? WTF is that for a name on a praline fancy?

The PR lady says she couldn't give a toss, take them or leave them.

Maybe she didn't quite express it like that, but she conveyed a quiet confidence that I would adore her box of funny-name Sleeksters, which impressed me.

A package arrives promptly. Chocolates! By post! I immediately resolve to send chocolates by post myself, because it seems a very chi chi thing to do, and the sort of glamourous thing we ladies who lunch like to do. Chocolates like these are, apparently, designed to slip through your letter box on your special day! Well, nothing comes through our letter box ever since I positioned a chest of drawers in front of it. Postee has to knock. He checks the address several times before handing it over when I say the parcel is chocolates and it is for me. He looks doubtful. He probably thinks it is a replacement set of Tupperware lids.

I decide to have a ceremony about this upscale moment. I mean, it's not every day Hotel Chocolat posts me choccies. I place the package ceremoniously on my most classy nylon and polyester fur cushion cover.

But I think I need to sex it up a bit. If I am to be the type of upmarket lady who sends and receives chocolates by post yah, then brown cardboard isn't quite the presentational statement I want my chi chi Hotel Chocolat choccies to make! I think I should dangle my stocking over it.

I haven't got a stocking. I found a pop sock instead.

Then I do what we ladies do and make space for myself, by brewing a fine cup of coffee for my very finest tableware, and locking the door.

Time to open the parcel!

Oh wowowowow. At that point, right there, with all the little cards spilling out over the lovely black shiny parcel with the quirky cartoons I am instantly converted to the thrill of receiving a whole box of amazingly dainty chocolates by post. I think Sleeksters is an excellent name, even if it does sound like a brand of roller skates and even if the brown box was a bit underwhelming.

Let's go!

Five seconds later...

Yes! I have completely reviewed this dark selection of Sleeksters! They were delicious! Bravo Hotel Chocolat!

Um, I suppose you want tasting notes?

Er. I am sure I began observing buttery texture and firm shell balanced with silky caramel and delicate aroma with a smooth, lingering aftertaste. I think I sat on my tasting sheet by accident somewhere about the chili confection.

Which, incidentally, needed more chili to punch me properly in the mouth. And the sour cherry. I want the sour cherry to bite me back with its astringent deliciousness. More intensity needed on your cherry, and all the flavours where we upmarket chocolate ladies reach for our extremities. Make your dark, dark, and your light, light. That's what the art teacher told me, and it serves me good as a general rule of life, so you could apply it to your chocolate mixtures.

But the soft fudgy and truffly confections? Deliciously textured. Like licking a painting of a cloud. The champagne smoothie thing, beauteous. And the soft caramel thingys that look like bosoms? I want to live in their melty wondrousness forever.

Dear Hotel Chocolat. If you would like me to review, say another 500 boxes or so of your chocolates by post, just to check them out for palm oil and ethics and stuff, you know where I live. xx

Sleeksters! Possibly one of the bestest presents I could ever imagine receiving through the post, and even beats the Tupperware lids. My soul agrees with me. Send them to all your friends, now.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Outsider Art of Japan

Took the little grits to see the exhibition at the Wellcome, Outsider Art from Japan.

This is well worth - as you rush between trains at Euston and King's Cross - preserving an hour or two in your day to visit: stop, look, and wonder at the borderlands of obsessional madness and gifted creativity.

After five minutes in the company of the outsiders and their astonishingly complex and provocative art, I secretly want to be in their club, and long to count myself as one of the gang - if only I can get there by running a blog, forgetting about the audience, and let's not say it's the kid home ed record, I claim it is my driven madness to rearrange letters into wrods. Maybe they'll let me in?

The Gritlets - to whose child-sympathies the art immediately appeals and makes sense of all - emerge delighted, gawping open-mouthed at new pleasures to pursue with thread and sticky tape, and taking away loads of ideas for further scribblings, sewings and clay-making.

I leave, feeling not only that I want to be Outsider of Buckinghamshire but somehow curiously affirmed in my approach to art with the little grits, which is, more or less, do what you like. If your art needs a twisted coathanger and 2m of duct tape, so be it. I have worked on that art principle, more or less, since the little grits could stand up; the only rules have been a) tidy up after yourself (ignored) and b) if it is messy, do it outside or in the garage art shed (also ignored).

As an unexpected side effect, it renewed my contempt of the sacks-of-rubbish brigade. It doesn't take much wit or wisdom to put a sack of rubbish in a gallery and call it art, but it took hours of concentration with a needle and thread for Satoshi Morita to produce the beautiful Untitled.

Spellbound Me

Useful presents for Hecate.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Lazy Sunday

It is Lawnmower Day at our local museum.

I didn't go. Dig, who is home en route from his tours between Hong Kong to Brazil, took the little grits to enjoy this delightful event.

Understandably, given my propensity to the obsessional and eccentric, my love for people driven by a collecting passion such as Shiny teapots 1950-1952, and my delight in the child-like pursuit of old men as they fondle non-functioning mechanical organs and miniature train sets, I was a little jealous.

To my way of thinking, the eccentrics in this country are simply a wonderful part of what it is live in England today. (I can't count Wales, Scotland and N.Ireland simply because I do not know what you do with your passions, but down here in the home counties, we put ours in the shed then see what happens.)

You are probably not wondering what an old woman like me did with her Sunday off. I spent the day in a Suffolk pub.

For the benefit of the American reader, pubs in Suffolk are like sheds with beer pumps.

Honestly, it is not all vague. Here's my relevant reading.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Into how many parts can a Saturday split?

See the photographic evidence arraigned against me?

I upset everyone and take Tiger to her windsurfing club. We've been on the waiting list for two years. Two years! I'd completely forgotten about it. Then they call and tell me there's space, so bring her down if she's still interested.

You bet she is; Tiger has the sort of growling determination you might expect of an Olympic athlete driven to pursue victory and glory, except for Tiger's level it is more Can I stand on the board without falling in? and How much can I show my know-it-all sister that she does not have the world monopoly on water?

So yes, Saturday morning you can now find me at the windsurfing club, watching Tiger fiercely not fall in, and grip that mast like she might be holding on to the final sword of vengeance and justice.

But there is a problem. There always is, isn't there? Because of the stupid grip exerted from the local schooling institution on the Mondays-to-Fridays timetable, then any alternative child instruction in anything has to take place in evenings or weekends.

Frankly, my Saturdays are already chockabloc with dd activities.

Which means, for the forseeable future, I am going to have to lever off a couple of limbs to stay with Tiger here on her lake in Bedfordshire; I must deposit the other limbs with Shark in her lake in Bucks; and I can strew the remainder of my torso with Squirrel down at the quarry where the rockwatchers meet. My head I will leave on my own Saturday morning craft stall, where it can sell delightful leather-bound notebooks to all the passers by.

Friday, 17 May 2013


I went out in my new 1950s-style dress last night. I looked gorgeous. Seriously. All pinched in at the waist, tight bodice and full flare skirt. This boy I've seen for ages comes over, and I'm really thrilled, I'm really feeling great, because the first thing he says is, 'I love your dress'! Then he's asking questions about the fit, and the net, and the zip, and how it's cut, and I'm thinking, er ... is this normal? Then he asks about the wash cycle. And I think Oh. There goes another one.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

To improve and entertain, switch on the TV

Yes, it is true that instruction round here is done by sticking the kids in front of the TV. Tonight it is with the DVD combo, which takes 15 minutes of laboured button-pressing, accompanied by cursing and wheezing, to fire the damn pile of junk into life. But then! We are up and running!

I proudly press play on the latest film to arrive from lovefilm!*

Tonight in Film Family Fun Night, I am introducing my Grits Jnrs to culture: specifically the dark and shady practices of the press, and the ethics you'd expect to emerge from the relationships between publicists, criminals, and ruthless columnists with power to weild.

Yes, it's Sweet Smell of Success, one of my favourite films with a superb snapping dialogue, edgy camerawork, believable characterisation, and brilliant use of lighting to illustrate the murky world of the press and the depths to which we probably all would sink, given great gossip and a story.

I totally recommend it to your teens. We have Leveson Part 2 yet to come, and I have proto-citizens to educate. I can't think of a better story to illustrate the points to be discussed. And no-one comes out of it well.

Lovefilm is my most recent enthusiasm, and I recommend it too, unless I am the last person in the country to use the service (possible). I expect the romance will wear off. Maybe when they finally admit they can't supply me with Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierre Madre.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Bike solution

Day of up and down.

On the up, is the sunshine, breezing in on the back of the roll and clap of cloud and rain. Perfect, because it's the day when a home ed youth club is meeting up for a bike ride round a lake, over the other side of town.

On the down, finding a safe route to the meet point when we haven't got time to taxi two kids and one bike, then one kid and two bikes. I could say, Never mind! Take the A5 - it's got a dual carriageway - and if the police pick you up, tell them it's alright because in home education land, we take risks.

After some discussion about this specific bike transportation problem, we solve it to my great satisfaction. I put the bikes in the boot and I strap Tiger to the bonnet, shove Squirrel in the glove compartment, and tell Shark to run very quickly to catch us up if she falls off the roof.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

King Lear

King Lear at Shakespeare's Globe. This is a production on tour, so obviously I'm urging you to find where it is touring, then go and watch it. You get raw gratuitous violence, bitter family feuding, and a prolonged dose of royal stupidity.

Yes, I know. All of the above are available in your locality; you merely substitute Lear and the heath for the local bus shelter, the kiddy playground park, and your usual harvest of summer newspaper headlines, but this comes with fancy diddly-do language, dammit.

The production is of course, excellent, so you won't be disappointed. Joseph Marcell as Lear is wonderfully, believably, dotty. Bewildered by events he brings about for himself; unconscious of consequence; pitiable in his lost, and profound, confusion.

From my mama's point of view, it is endlessly rich in moral examples, thus perfect for family viewing. For example, to the Gritties Junior I can reinforce that point about age appropriateness. As in, Tiger, if you are going off the rails, do it when you are supposed to. Between ages 13-15. Then we have time to address it.

Of course I worry about this.

Being home educated, the little grits will misfoot themselves in the manner of their off-railing, and they will get it wrong, mess up their social interaction, and end up drinking cider down the back lane aged 36.

This will never do. Thus I am instructing them in age appropriateness. If you miss your off-railing violent and promiscuous anomie in the teenage years, then yes, you can have another crack in your middle years (age appropriate actions: violence against administration officers, inexplicable weekend disappearances) but if you miss it this time round, you must wait a long stretch, probably until you are aged after 70. Then it must take the form of push-up bras, micro skirts, and more poudre rouge than Dior has licence to manufacture (men, you may do this too).

Other moral examples abound. What happens when you piss off your sister; what happens when you lose the map that shows you the way ahead; what happens if you don't show due regard for your responsibilities.

Indeed, there is something for all the family to enjoy in King Lear. Especially for the over-50s mama, because Mad Tom gets his kit off, and reveals a rather fine semi-naked young man with a pleasing thigh caked in mud. I didn't notice that, obviously. Shark simply asked why I had that funny look on my face. She is not likely to recognise the sad drooling regret of the semi-ancient woman exiled in your own land, so I let it pass.

So yes, go see. Take the family. There wasn't as much comedy in it as I now hope for, especially after last year's Red Rose Chain brought in Pimp My Mobility Scooter and a glove puppet, but it was a great addition to a Shakespeare-dedicated summer. And for a better review of it, go over here.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Photoblog Newport Pagnell

Trek round Newport Pagnell with a Blue Badge trained guide.

Into this two-hour street pounding we squeeze an indepth tour of brick walls to plaques to window frames to lintels to the little path where the Puritan escaped.

I discover that Newport Pagnell is a charming little town; I almost find myself regretting I don't live there.

And it's ancient! Did you know that? It's not just a service station on the M1 you know.

But as you can see, I cannot put captions on the photos. I would do our Blue Badger out of a job.

I have jumbled them up as well.

And missed out half of them.

You will just have to take the town tour.  

I feel this is one of the most important gifts I can give Shark, Squirrel and Tiger.

A love of the built environment in your locality.

With all the discussion there needs to be about which buildings do you knock down? Which do you modify? And which do you say, Touch it at your peril.

If we don't take part in that debate, developers can do anything.

And they would, given half a chance.

The only thing that sometimes stands between the devastating lust for concrete infill and the way the river curls on its lazy way out of town is the wisdom and determination of people who know the history of the places they care about, who feel emotionally attached to the colours of brick, or who have fallen in love with the line of a roof.

But hopefully, in time, we can add Shark, Tiger and Squirrel to the voices of the awkward squads.