Sunday, 30 June 2013

Photoblog battle tour of Cropredy Bridge

Not a three-way sibling match between Shark, Squirrel and Tiger in a charming picture-postcard village in Oxfordshire! But a battle of the English Civil Wars, fought between the Parliamentarian army under Sir William Waller, and the Royalist army of King Charles, on 29 June 1644.

Yes, we're doing the battlefields walk!

Part of my agenda to be a nuisance even when I am dead. I want my junior grits to care enough about these fields, the history they hold, and the blood that was shed over them, to create a stink in 30 years time when a Chinese-backed development consortium wants to pour two tons of concrete over the site to create a multi-storey car park (next to the industrial estate, next to the M245 motorway).

Here, first take your view from the bridge at Copredy.

But don't think this is the end of it! The battlefield walk is not that straightforward, obviously. It takes only two minutes to walk from the pub to the bridge. Are you ready? Right, we're going over there.

Into that field. Except when the bulls are in it first. They can turn nasty. 

 Turn left.

 Across that crop field.

Through the wood.

And another field. Are you getting the lie of the land yet? The parliamentarians are down here and the royalists on the ridge.


If you stood at this point on 29 June 1644, you'd be trampled by Parliamentarians. (Time for extensive conversation about clay and dust.)

Now towards that ash tree.

The battle is decided here.

(And the ash tree is very beautiful.)

Off we go again!

Stop complaining it's the hottest day of the year and you're sure mama has hidden your sunhat. Remember, you're not covered in sweat and blood and wearing woollen trousers.

By that hedge.

(Detour: the Lady's Walk, a banked path created in Tudor times so the ladies could attend Church without their skirts becoming wet.)

Yay! You made it! Three hours later, back to Copredy. To the boundary stone, possibly 15thC.

Congratulations! But the next bit is easy! Know your bit of field history, and visit the Battlefields Trust.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Friday, 28 June 2013

Count them one, two, three

I have achievements. I need these right now, because I am sunk in the struggles of a miserable solitude, and have to tell myself that life is not a prison sentence in which I have another ten years to do before I can push the door open to the other side. Here are three achievements then, in no order of specialness.

1. Gave Shark away to the nonny-headed Woodcraft Folk.

I am so delighted they exist, those space cadets with their ever-optimistic blue skies. For Shark, they must be a welcome antidote to me, whose speciality is acerbic observation served with an extra squeeze of lemon juice. Poor girl. I want her to run about the outdoors with her happy days hippie chums.

This camp, she has been wanting for ages. It is the one where all the kids are set the challenge to feed themselves for the entire weekend. They hunt in packs, so if you are in the Thetford area, bring Tibbles indoors. Shark hasn't been making her bows and arrows for nothing.

(Not really. The leaders bung them thirty quid and drive them to the supermarket. I hear last year's solution to the mummy-isn't-here-to-cook-for-me problem was pan-fried frozen pizza.)

2. I went for a swim. With nobody with me. Not a Shark, Squirrel, or Tiger. On my own. Not a horrible experience. In fact, I felt it was improved about 100% by not having anyone with me. But at one moment while sunk in the pool, up to my neck in water, I felt a sudden feeling of loss, not having anyone wanting me to do anything for them, and no-one caring whether I was there or not. I began to wonder what I was for. I suppose if I were to drown, someone would eventually ask about supper or gaze in bewilderment at the laundry pile.

3. Second time this week to see the sparkling Mikron Theatre! This evening, Don't Shoot the Messenger, a play about the history of the postal service from the 1500s to the present day.

No small task, but the Mikron team made it thoroughly enjoyable, with jokes, stamp collecting, and singalong. Go and see it if you can, especially if you recently lost your village post office.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Everything teaches us something

Undermined my own market by running a workshop on notebookery. I show the juniors a straightforward bookbinding technique: the pamphlet stitch.

Everything teaches us something, doesn't it?

1. I am mean. I tell my audience, you need never buy an overpriced notebook from a pointless gift shop ever again. Ten minutes at home in preparation, and you have a perfect bag/pocket sized notebook; unique, stylish, made for the event, day, or hour!

My generous-sided brain whispers to me, don't forget to add, Support your local gift shop! Buy other stuff instead! (Well, it would, if they sold other stuff that wasn't overpriced tat shipped in from Shenzhen.)

2. I provoke for no good reason. Yes, let's all be guerilla artists!

Our journey books indeed look beguiling and inviting, hanging from railings and trees at the local park. When it is dry.

After a two-hour soaking they are completely sodden, all the fancy bits dropped off, and nothing more than another pain in the arse for the litter-picker, who works, incidentally, on the minimum wage.

3. I am impatient. I will never make a primary school teacher. After five minutes I find myself shouting inside my head For fuck's sake! It's not rocket science! It's just a bloody stitch! How have you managed to mangle it up like that? You should have watched my sodding demonstration shouldn't you?

Actually, I may have shouted some of those in reality. (Fortunately, no-one cried.)

4. I am shamed. After five minutes I give up the attempt to teach anyone how to make a ruddy journey book. It is craft mayhem with sharp needles. I sulk, guard the card, suspect the juniors of using too much string, and become impatient at the dropping of a piece of paper. I am a miserable little bastard, in fact. My journey book is crap.

And all their journey books turn out far, far, better than mine, with more imagination than I ever bring to the task.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Get an education at the pub

Took the kids to the pub.

I consider this an excellent education. The setting of The Black Horse introduces my tender offspring to the pitfalls of the adult world on a traditional working-class stage.

Here we can watch the unfolding of local dramas, observe how the consequences of family rivalries and loyalties spill out among communities, and see the passions of all us humans laid bare over a pint of beer and a 99p packet of pork scratchings.

Fortunately, Mikron Theatre is also using The Black Horse as a venue for their excellent revenge drama of jealousy and love, set down on the allotment. Bare-knuckle bee-keeping, suspicion, theft, skullduggery, and the brilliant ditty People are a Pain in the Neck.

We learn tons about the honey bee: the writing is first-rate, the acting superb - given that the audience is within kissing distance of the actors in the back room behind the bar - and the evening deliciously, wickedly entertaining.

Seriously, if you have not seen Mikron Theatre, you have missed an essential part of England's historic popular culture. Travelling theatre bringing a learning of life to the labouring mass. Find out where they are, and plan your evening at the boozer.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Skills set

There are many craft skills needed for notebookery besides the principles of bookbinding.

Leather work, for one. Stitchery and needlework skills. Paper craft. Jewellery making. Textile and materials knowledge. Above all is required a feeling of confidence in a design concept which a patient and meticulous character is well suited to carrying through; bringing everything together, at the end, to make the book and bag complete.

Some days, when all those skills are needed, they are absent, having fled the bloody scene at the first scattering of the purple bead box, and they do not return for the entire day. They are probably hiding in terror from the woman who claims to possess them.

She has become a troglodyte in an earlier stage of human evolution. Now she is growling in a corner covered in suede fluff, snarling at the leather punch which is broken. She has gummed her fingers together with leather glue, stabbed herself in the hand with a five inch needle and bled over the hand-made gold-flecked paper (a snip at one pound twenty a sheet). She has torn the silk thread paper she travelled all the way to London to acquire. All the promise of a delicate silver chain is destroyed under her clumsy handling and anyway she dropped the clasp which rolled under the paper drawer. Retrieving it, she gave herself a blow on the forehead and fell face forward into the ribbon box.

By the evening there is not much more than an assemblage of cut leather which isn't going anywhere, folded paper which doesn't fit anything, an uncomposed heap of book jewellery, a matted ball of embroidery thread, and inexplicable twigs all over the floor which could lead a viewer to the conclusion they have stepped into a bizarre reconstruction of a medieval hovel.

At other times, a little book magically appears in under two hours, and she looks at it amazed and wonders, where did that come from?

Monday, 24 June 2013

Creative space

Kids attend the puppet-making workshop with the local artist collective. They have been given unused office space to play in. It is something that happens round here. I recommend it.

The children cycle there. I drive the bike locks there. When I arrive, I narrate the entire bike locks story, with the sub-plot of the lost combination, which takes me a good ten minutes.

In retrospect, I rather like the comment that with my bike lock saga we must have fallen out of an Enid Blyton novel.

Next time I tell the story I am going to build in secret tunnel in a cave under the castle tower on the mountainside where we discover the kidnapping of a prisoner who is a Prince, but in our escape we fall into the clutches of the ruthless robbers. We must go through many adventures against unknown enemies in a raging storm with strange glowing metals, a dog and a sabotaged combination lock before heading for home on our bicycles, where we eat ice cream and enjoy lashings of lemonade.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Ends peacefully

Kids slept outside in the rain. I locked the door on them at 10pm and said No Way was I leaving a warm bed at 2am just because they were banging on the back door howling.

By the morning their bivouac looked like this.

Three people slept in there. Three! Well, until 1am, when I am told that a slug woke up Fizz by making sucking sounds, at which point they decided to decamp to the little wooden house at the bottom of the garden. On the minus side they get spiders, but on the plus side, it's dry.

By the way, just in case Social Services are inquiring, I didn't force the children to sleep outside. You can blame a natural madness of childhood, which my grown up rationalities simply fail to curb. Reasonings like The forecast is for it to chuck down have no impact when you have a fantasy of perfection in your mind.

But from then on, I did have things my way. I imposed a three-line whip to join the Buddhists and all their chums in the field for their multi-faith peace festival. It manages to be both anarchic but culturally affirming; fringe but mainstream; bizarre yet normal. The sort of thing that could happen if you let the Pagans take over Thought for Today.

For me, the event is as essential as sleeping in the garden under a wet plastic sheet. My year turns about such moments as these.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Full blown Saturday

Meanwhile, in this house of holes. The following list, suitable for a sort of round-up Saturday.

1. I am in the midst of an astonishingly ungrateful temperament, probably thanks to the fact I am metamorphosising into a lizard with my medical miseries, but my short temper is surprising, considering we have the lovely Fizz staying to sparkle up proceedings. Fizz, child of nature, walks barefoot, dresses in soil, and celebrates the moon. She is an antitode to all horrors in the world. I may have to kidnap her so she can live here forever.

On second thoughts, maybe not, since she is leading Shark, Tiger and Squirrel to the irredeemable with her call of the wild. This afternoon they set fire to the lawn while making nettle soup and pretending to cook a mammoth.

2. The hole in the office roof is mended. The roofer man came, and now someone just has to shovel the crap from the kitchen floor where it fell in some months ago. Maybe years. Never mind. After the last argument I made it a point of principle never to tidy up the office, and now it seems I must live with the consequences.

3. It was the Habitat and Woodland Management Youth Group this morning. I say the HWMYG because it sounds fancy-schmancy. It is just a bunch of teenagers crashing about the outdoors, sometimes equipped with dangerous tools, led by people you might trust to nurture wounded pigeons, but probably not closely monitor teenagers with hacksaws. (This, to me, is a plus.)

4. Tiger went to help backstage at the local drama group. That also sounds better than reality. She stands around looking helpless until someone in pity asks her to pick up a chair and move it two inches to the left.

5. I popped in at the Scouts jumble sale and emerged battered, clutching the series of Jean M. Auel's Earth's Children for 80p. It doesn't look like the sort of stuff I'll read, but it might be in the range for the gritlets when they are tired of Michelle Paver, Overlord of All. I suppose it is not written for teens, but so what. On a quick flip I couldn't see too many references to straddling and the paleolithic detail looked well researched, so it will do.

6. I resolved to learn the fighting jumble sale technique. I clearly don't have it; I have an ankle wound, arm bruise and sore rib. I will scour the local paper for more jumblies and get stuck in.

7. Regretfully I had to say no to the offer of a craft stall. Saturdays are full enough, and we already had a double booking which left me sending apologetic emails at 7am this morning.

8. I started the dreamcatching notebook, which I am liking very much. I have to make two, just in case someone buys it.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Photoblog Winslow

I am driven to be kind. Saving you petrol money and probably a plane journey to come and see Winslow, Buckinghamshire.

Here it is.

But William was born somewhere here. 
William Lowndes, son of Robert and Elizabeth, who travelled to London to seek his fortune.
 He became secretary to the Treasury, whipped the Bank of England into shape, 
and helped bring in the National Debt in order to pay for wars with France.
George Osborne can blame him for the mess we're in. It's all the fault of William Lowndes of Winslow. 

Winslow is the sort of small market town in England where, if we are honest, not much has happened.

In fact, the most exciting event could be King Offa handing over the entire lands of a couple of peasants and a pig, to the monastery in St Albans in 792.

Then there was the opening of a shop on the main road selling witch stuff. She sells pentangles and fairy dust.

And the Church! St Laurence Church. 
Apparently Laurence was tied to an iron grill over a fire and slowly roasted to death; 
a fate dealt to him after giving the Prefect of Rome a bit of lip in 258.

Oh yes! Winslow also boasts one of the hidden buildings of England. Properly it belongs in a curiosity book on the secret places squirreled along England's ancient highways and byways; places you would never find in any normal guide book. The keys are held at the estate agents, so don't forget to return them.

Keach's Meeting House. Seventeenth century Baptist chapel, and secret place for dissenters, the illegals of the time. 
Keach became a baptist preacher at Winslow, but he was bigger than the town (which in 1688 was not two peasants and a pig), 
so the church gave him Southwark instead. But they built and named this chapel after him. Nice.

The church, by the way, holds cloth from the coronation of George VI, 1936. I bet I am making a cloth historian happy now.

What else? Hmmm. There's the Lowndes manor house, which is private and we can't tour. Not apparently, like the good old days. With unnerving ability to home in on historic locations of England, I park the bashed up Grit mobile in front of it by accident.

We find pub history here too; pillory lane; wooden posts from the medieval market square; and bricks. Lots of bricks. The size of which matters at various times in England thanks to the brick tax of 1784.

Sadly, we can't blame Lowndes for that. He brought in the window tax instead.

That could be it for Winslow, although I should just mention the day truly belongs to our Blue Badger, a lady our home ed group regularly hires to tell us secrets about our own localities. She is wonderfully unruffled by everything home ed. Including the lovely Fizz, who arrives barefoot and painted in red soil.

Winslow. I can happily recommend it, if you are passing through. But probably not requiring a plane journey or an urgent drive along the M1.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

What they're all doing wrong

I hope all teachers employed in the schools of our 'leafy suburbs, rural market towns and seaside resorts' are reflecting mightily on their worthlessness today, as demanded by the law of our Failure Finding General, the Schools Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw.

Fortunately, he pops up on Radio 4 to help parents root them out, these dreadful teachers, warning the nation's mamas and papas - as they package up Tinkertop to get her pronto to Bash Street Juniors - that some of these useless members of school staff 'don't know what good is'. See? Some of these teachers you have so far relied upon in loco parentis have never seen good!

Thankfully, the government will save you all; they have strategies from their Olympian height of wisdom and central school planning. Send in good teachers by parachute. Make sure you clear the school playground of children, and keep your eyes open for the helicopters.

These highly paid fixers will come and show up these failures for what they are. Then they will deliver what is government certified as good.

I'm sure this will be greatly reassuring to all parents and the bad, bad, failing teachers. My bet is, the failures include that old stock of mature women in their mid-50s who have worked at the same school for 25 years; welcomed the kids of parents they remember teaching as kids themselves; who talk about their jobs in terms of local community, and who see their role as bringing warmth, encouragement and enjoyment to a child's school day (as far as ever possible while under the cosh). But, as all hard-working parents know, such meagre local ambition must be removed for the sake of UK global good.

Parents, this morning and every school morning, you can do your duty towards the great Wilshaw-Gove enterprise.

Simply remove all trust from your child's classroom teacher. Look suspiciously upon her. Those spectacles she wears are a sign of her degeneracy and show she is secretly bent on damaging your child in her care. Greet her in as frosty a manner as possible. Ask questions to trip her, then make much of her stumbling. Strive to make her feel worthless and guilty.

You may, if you are properly onboard this global race for public achievement, quietly consider how she can self criticise, a goal you may be able to assist in, if you stand her on a platform, hang a name-and-shame board about her neck and pour ink over her head.

Right. Got that out my miserable soul.

Did something far more positive, which made me feel joyous to be out the clutches of Wilshaw and sorry for all of you who are almost daily scarred by the scaly claws of good.

Took Tiger, Squirrel and Shark to a willow-weave and storytelling performance, organised by the wildlife watch team, all of whom bring fun, warmth, and gentle enjoyment to everything they offer. Lovely, and local. Which in my opinion, is not a bad ambition.