Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Wet Tent Art

Yeah, there was a camping downpour. Don't ask when. I lose myself with time even when I have a diary and a repeater alarm clock. Put me in a tent in a field and I'm timeless. But this moment I have a camera, a goal of musing through idleness, and vague recollections of Mondrian.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

College for home ed kids

You know how home ed goes, right? Sweat, tears, panic, fear, sleepless nights, and that piece of paper you ironed. The one when Tinkertop proved she could write. The one you keep as the Almighty Evidence, just in case the EWO calls round again.

But in dark moments of confusion and chaos, you might seek solace from your local group.

Fine. If you don't live in the exact area of the dysfunctional split where the grudge match is played out between the philosophical free rangers, the tutors-for-profit educational support services, the Evangelical Christians, the feral hippies in the wood, and the home schoolers who came up with the great idea for the timetable and the uniform.

But there's always online! Blogs, lists, forums, and email chat.

But the online world mirrors your face-to-face local group. Where you realise just how wide blown apart is the spectrum of home education. Cross-sectioned with dozens of learning approaches, a pile of different philosophies, thousands of uniquely strange kids, and all blasted with the prejudices, opinions, weaknesses and bizarre beliefs that you've come to expect from humanity.

If it didn't get mind-blowing enough, add the government's eternally changing statements, guidances, legislations, amendments, committee reports with the legal challenges, court cases, media reporting, comedic nonsense trotted out by the TES, and the opinion of your cousin Valerie who says now your kids won't ever learn how to socialise.

Home education? I bet you recognise it.

So the fact that sometimes you can just be given a bit of news straightforwardly comes somewhat as a relief.

Like for jaded old Grit, keen to hear the present situation on colleges for September 2013. Yes, despite what I may have heard, colleges can still accept home educated 14-16-year olds, the courses can be funded by a local education department, and the college does not need to act as if they were a school. The national pattern remains scattered, and if Tinkertop wants to poke her face in on a college course, you may have to educate your local admissions tutor who may be confused about their college responsibilities.


It's for updates like that I go to the HesFes talks. Without the HesFes talks, you could always go to places like here.

And don't start any arguments, now.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

The soul agreed it was worth it

Look, I know that I reassured my worn-out soul only days ago that I would stop dragging it about while I pursued adventure under the sticking-plaster title of education (when we all really know that I am a highly distractable character who can't sit still for more than ten minutes without the ADHD kicking in). But. I had my fingers crossed behind my back. 

By concession, I told the sulky soul how bad habits and routines are hard to break, so I would try again, but for now shut up. Knicker Drawers has been headhunted to appear at a Loveliness Festival 100 miles in that direction, so get in the car and stop grumbling.

The Loveliness Festival is exactly that. Lovely. Filled with lovely things and lovely people. Squirrel helped run the journey book activity at the stall, and showed me a part of her character I never knew existed before. 

For five hours she sat patiently explaining the concept of double-sided sticky tape to dozens of bewildered children. 

I can tell you, the handwriting and spelling of your average eight-year old is far, far better than mine. Pretty amazing, by anyone's standards. This shows, I think, how children are spending their time in school. On spelling and handwriting and not on footling with materials to see what they can do. 

Almost none of Squirrel's customers knew what double-sided sticky tape was, nor had any idea what it could be used for. (That included some of the adults, by the way.) I suppose you can be reassured or deflated by this observation. Your English education system is turning out people who can spell journey but wouldn't be able to survive in a crisis involving paper, string and leaves. 

But I like to feel that today, by our lovely presence at the lovely festival with the lovely books and the lovely activity, I helped inspire at least a few eight-year olds towards that fluid, unfathomable, directionless creativity; the activity which is otherwise disdained as that time-wasting, pointless, art and craft. 

Anyway, enough. It was huge fun, Squirrel earned herself a tenner, I sold books, the soul was glad they came along. If the Loveliness doesn't happen again next year, we shall probably cry. Here, have pictures.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

HesFes 2014

If you are one of the .0000000001% of the UK population right now sitting on the fence deciding about whether or not to attend HesFes 2014, then I can reassure you.

Ignore what I said about the hippies, and come along.

For loads more promising reasons than to see whether the kids you dump in a field set up an anarcho-syndicalist state, or whether Tinkertop will go instantly all Lord of the Flies and the management will be taking down the pig's head by Sunday.

Reasons like the talks, discussions, and grown-up sharing debatey stuff, which is going on all day long, formal and informal, organised and chaotic. Not just on the best hippie methods for cooking roadkill and stuff like that. But useful talks. Like educational options, Special Educational Needs, flexi-schooling, exam issues, virtual colleges, and even the bleedin' law - the very words which give us our strong-armed righteousness and a fine sense of virtue while we go about undermining the rest of society.

So yes. Parents considering or embarking on alternative forms of education, come to HesFes.

Not just for children. Or hippies.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Red Rose Chain Taming of the Shrew

Okay, so if you are about in Suffolk until the end of August, you must detour to see the theatre group Red Rose Chain perform Taming of the Shrew.

Yes, it's an odd play to choose. For us in the twenty-first century - who like to think we know about these things and have risen above them - it's a difficult play offering a deep and wide vein of misogyny with a dollop of domestic violence thrown in for fun. Performed in our enlightened times, it usually depends on the final movement to twist the play into another, more kinder frame of reference, and Red Rose Chain do achieve that here, suggesting Katharine the shrew is in with some covert deal to fleece the men who like to imagine they're in charge of women. It's a neat end spin that puts Katharine on a par with Petruchio, making them a perfect match.

But see it! I guarantee you will not see another one like it. It wallops by at a terrific pace with inspired turns of comedy that show real fresh, creative thinking. The approach brings in much physical comedy and combines lovely set pieces combining music and movement; none of the foolery undermines the play, which makes me think that if Shakespeare had use of bright purple elastic hot pants then yes, he probably would have enjoyed using them on his main character, too.

The cast are simply astonishing for the energy alone required to see it through. With puppets, washing, proper singing and purple hot pants, it's how outdoor summer family theatre should be, and a fully accessible version of a Shakespeare play that should at least get the juniors talking, so it's a huge bravo four times over from big Grit and the little grits.

Thank you, Red Rose Chain! It's worth staying alive to see them again next year.

(And no one even paid me to write this. That's how good it was.)

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The hippie guide

Hello from HesFes, the home educating festival, held annually in a field, where I am happy getting down with the hippies!

Actually, all types of people come to HesFes.

Exhibiting all sorts of behaviours.

Not just hippies.

In fact, I think hippies might be an unfair generalisation of the types of people who attend HesFes.

Why don't I offer a guide? After all, if you've never been here, I bet you're wondering, Could HesFes be for us? See? I am so very helpful! (And safely out the way.)

 Here it is then, Grit's (very dodgy but thankfully brief) guide to some of the lovely HesFes hippies!

The ultra-permissive.
A straight down-the-line liberal approach, taken as far as it can go. Parent bungs Tinkertop a sleeping bag, thirty quid, and bag of weed saying, Make it last the week. Actually, may not provide the sleeping bag. (You can always doss down with someone, somewhere.)

From the outside, this parenting style can appear, to the untrained eye, dangerously indistinguishable from the couldn'tgiveatoss approach. However, proponents of ultra-permissive will argue there are significant differences based on ideology. Feel free to come and shout about the distinctions while holding a wooden baton.

The attached.
Barely visible beneath piles of offspring. Wraps babies across chest, round ankles, papoosed on back. Has several toddlers dangling from necklaces. When not dreamy singing while staring into space, or discussing the miracle of the breast, can be found crawling about the floor making choo choo noises.

The free range.*
Demands Tinkertop sit calmly to consider endless personal-safety instructions suitable for all manner of everyday hazards (strangers, play equipment, parks, water cannon, breast enhancement surgery, kettles, food, plastic bags, cash machines, paper, sky), before suggesting Tinkertop (for whom it has all gone in one ear and out the other), should now go out to exercise her autonomy to play. Parent misguidedly thinks Tinkertop is now well-equipped to make a common-sense judgement if called upon by chums to combine a hosepipe with a cat.

(In my experience, a high incidence of this type of parent can be found at HesFes.)

The green.
A treasured heirloom from the sixties.Wears miles of rainbow-dyed organic cotton, has strange hair, talks earnestly of big pharma, one-world government, the practical problems of building cess pits, and travels about the country lanes of England in an old van with the exhaust dropping off. After two days, the sole child in their care is indivisible from a mud bath.

The spiritual guidance.
Uniquely bonkers, can be found tapping into the earth's energy flow while carefully avoiding setting themselves on fire with the open flames that become the womanly hearth. Tinkertop may have her own set of 500 healing crystals, talks chakras with ease, and can hold a lengthy discussion with a pine cone.

The welly.
Eminently sensible types carrying sun hats, wellington boots, jumpers, tee-shirts; seen hoicking large straw bags around, containing 20 litres of factor 50 sunscreen, 2 litres of insect repellent, spare hairbands, extra bottles of purified rehydration water, and two packs of sanitised handwipes because you never know. Child is nowhere to be seen, but is probably catching up on a little light George Eliot in the travelling library.

The disappeared.
Irresponsible type who dumps the kids, turns off the mobile phone by accident-on-purpose, and legs it to explore Stowmarket. I have no idea who this could be, because obviously, you can't find them, but let's all pray there's no emergency requiring the fire brigade, and anyway I have pitched the tent next to an earth mother welly type who is sure to have a plaster.

The authoritarian.
Control-freakery type parenting approach probably not found at HesFes.

The couldn'tgiveatoss.
One who, to all appearances, seems to have been driven to despair/madness with Tinkertop's outrageous ways. Ends the week by being banned from the camp site for ever and ever after telling the organisers to go pleasure themselves.

I think that might be it for now, or should be, before I get into trouble.

But, casual reader, do not think that home ed has a monopoly on these parenting styles! Yes, I know it looks like it when 500 hippies converge on a field, but you can find these parent-types in all ways of life, whether choosing home ed, the local comp, or dumping Tarquin as a boarder.

And you HesFessers are welcome, of course, to add your own observed types to the rich guide that is home ed life to be found camping in a field.

*Not to be confused with the business which supplies educational support services, probably requires the accountant to declare a loss and thus avoid paying tax and, basically, isn't free.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

It's just doable! (So let's not do it.)

This is one of those blog posts I really urge myself to read, because it contains words of wisdom.

For many months I have been deaf to wise words, but I note that it is only now I am beginning to hear them.

Admittedly, I find myself listening to wise words only when they have been dropped in a vat of water, thrashed ten times against a horse skin (horse not in it) and poured in a stopper-dropper craft bottle before selling to gullible idiots like me at twenty quid a pop.

I currently have this chronicness called puffyupandfalloffyitis the remedy for which the quack doctor (after securing my house and all its contents) has supplied to me. His thoughtful remedy is this: many splendidly large quantities of coloured pills the size of doorknobs to be swallowed throughout the day, supported by some self flagellation at times of your own choosing but it must be done with a fancy daisy.

Frankly, I am so tired of puffyupandfalloffyitis the bloke from the tyre shop could have told me my cure lies in balancing a chinchilla on my head while standing in a bucket of water at midnight and I would be asking him about his hourly rentals on chinchillas. Puffyupandfalloffyitis can get us sufferers down and desperate.

But the good quack doctor also said that leading a less stressful life can be helpful in my search for a final solution.

I recall that this has been told to my brain and body before!

Of course, then it was from one of those white-coated androids. My body and brain ignore such tellings, yes they do, because body and brain are about their important business with stuff like triplets, a Citroen Berlingo with a dent in it, a pile of dinner potatoes, and a great sense of responsibility to be bashed about like a hammer against a clock with an ultimatum.

But it is now these wise words should be attended to. Do less stuff. Do less stuff slower. Do less stuff slower and with more attention to the preparation and the mopping up. Do not overegg with wrangling thinking on the stuff which you must do slower while preparing and mopping up. Simply enjoy all the stuff just as you go.

In other words, body and brain, do not take the opportunity this week to poke the diary (let's say for the 34th September), and think Aha! I can fit into this day the workshop starting at 9am if I drive to Leicester at 2pm to join the talk at 4pm so we can do the play at 6pm and return at 10pm. If I wee in a bottle about junction 16 of the M1 I save the ten-minute stop at Newport Pagnell services, which makes it all just doable!

Frankly, body and brain, this sort of lifestyle should cease. It may be a contributory factor to your puffyupandfalloffyitis.

This camping trip should mark a turning point. And it will, body and brain, if you bother to read on. This trip, to the lovely Suffolk, with all the other hairy hippies in the happy fields, should remind you that idling and loafing are commendable activities. Footling and playing are goals in themselves. Staring at fields, skies, clouds and wavy grains, following whimsical distraction, surfing ideas, enjoying semi-random connections, so that one can begin thinking about plastic computer tables and drift away to imagining being a cuckoo dancing on a washing line, these are all truly worthwhile experiences.

Yes, body and brain. If you pay heed to my wise words, you may achieve your less stressful life.

Okay, only for the coming week. But then we will see if that indeed has any further impact on your horrible puffyupandfalloffyitis.

And know, body and brain, that whatever you choose to do, I resolve one summer to come blogless and shoeless in whatever state I find myself, to idle time away in the beautiful Suffolk countryside, staring at the sky and wondering if dancing cuckoos really do wear noisy pink tutus as they so indignantly claim.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Aim: Take the children camping.

Method: Squish into the interior of a metal bowl the following: four tents, including the pop-up tent which won't pop-down; two self inflating mattresses, one too short and one which won't breathe out; the bag containing the old inflatable mattresses and a foot pump because you never know and it will give the kids something to do while you thrash about with a mallet; mallet; four sleeping bags, except I haven't got one, so pack a duvet and a blanket; blankets, extra, just in case, plus woolly socks, wellington boots and sandals; hospital kit containing 5 varieties of medication, 2 litres of zinc oxide, a tub of vaseline, and three plasters; toothpaste; map because the bastard satnav broke down and never recovered; emergency contact numbers when the inevitable disaster happens at 3am; RAC card; all tickets, season passes, bits of stuff that end up lost in a field; talk of great adventure, even though we know everything is doomed from the start; unquenchable determination not to give in; smile, because at some point I might mean it; and kids. Don't forget the kids. It's their holiday, too.

Monday, 22 July 2013

What I call a triumph

Was dreading today, with its gruelling schedule. As it turned out, the day was not half so bad as I anticipated.

Isn't that the way? The overthinking, overfretting of seconds that loom ahead; when we reach the moment, it's like a nothing. But the fraction that slips by as a barely-recorded insignificance, then evolves to become the point life changed. Now there's no looking back.

Anyway, the gruelling schedule was to deliver Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, on time, at the British Library for a two-hour Sacred Texts workshop, then arrive at the British Museum for another assault on the Pompeii exhibition, before collecting tickets at the National Theatre for an evening performance of Othello.

When I'm stacking these activities up in the diary, sat at a cool desk under a skylight, it is all effortlessly easy. Slogging through heat-grimed London, where the Spanish-language group - a noisy gaggling mass of elbowing 14-year olds - casually knocks me into the gutter to be set upon by a taxi, twenty pigeons and an overheated Squirrel looking to vent some agro; the reality of a happy day in London should teach me a lesson. It just seems to be one I never learn.

But, surprisingly, it all went smoothly. The British Library educational workshops are first class; I assume so, anyway, as they kick the parents out. I slipped to the bookbinders in Victoria to pick up my delightful memory paper, then made it back in time to take the gritlets to the British Museum, where the magic card worked again and no-one kicked us out the Members Room at tea time.

And then Othello. It is a must see. Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lester are superb in the roles; Iago connived to make us laugh, sourly, regretfully, against better judgements, but still, I laughed; then for one terrible moment I thought it had all gone horribly wrong and Othello really had killed Desdemona. (Thank goodness she came on for the applause.) The military setting perfectly snapped the language in place, and the design of the whole reinforced the mood of a brutal, macho environment; an innocent Desdemona never could have stood against its power. Seeing theatre at its best would have justified the pain of the day. (Had there been any at all.)

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Not at the parade

Had a spectacular Grit collapse today of the sort that I do especially well, even though I say so myself.

Related, I suspect, to that party turn I can perform where my face swells up like a purple helium balloon then my skin drops off.

I was forced to cancel the craft stall I had booked, where I was hoping to sell my new jazz number. Anyway, it is one good reason for not telling anyone where I will be, because there is a high probability, I won't.

But the elegantly supine Grit meant Dig (who is fortunately at home en route for HK via South Korea) had to ferry about the Gritties Juniors to today's events. To wit: parade of giant puppets where they are proudly (I hope) holding aloft the giant faces they have spent the last six Mondays composing, plus the Hat's party bash by the lake, where there were guaranteed to be choirs and guitars.

So I have no pictures on a day that should have been busting with them. I did, however, capture the view of the jasmine from the hammock.*

I can tell you, I am a crappy person to lose health. I do none of that brave to the last sort of dignity and composure. Absolutely not. I am kicking and screaming my way into this next new phase of my death-in-life.

*The hammock wot I made from an old football goal net and two chunks of tree because I am too mean to buy one. And I bet you did not know there is quite a bit of geometry to get right in a hammock, did you? Get it wrong and the bastard hammock pitches you face forward into the brambly bush. I got Squirrel to test it for me the second time round.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

The punch up stays the same across the years

Huzzah! The English Heritage multiperiod history weekend!

I fully appreciate it's not just about leaving the accountancy office on a Friday to spend the weekend dressed up as a Roman soldier.

I bet that's only part of the attraction. I know serious research emerges from this crossover world of reenactment societies, amateur historians, and specialists in European footwear 1519-1599 (military styles only). I fully appreciate their endeavours (speaking as an enthusiastic amateur inquirer after bookbinding materials 1068-1485).

But there's always one thing which is fun to watch, whatever the motive for coming along to the English Heritage weekend in Northamptonshire. The punch up of blokes in a field.

But we cannot linger! We dash off at the end sharpish. I have tickets to see the punch up at the deconsecrated church in Manchester via the National Theatre Live Screening of Macbeth. We can't miss this significant event, not even for a Tudor punch up. But I remain deeply glad that we made it this year to the FoH. 2013 wouldn't have been properly conducted without it. Thank you, English Heritage!

Friday, 19 July 2013

As you like it

Spend an evening in the fine company of Illyria Theatre with their spirited performance of As You Like It.

So I shall get the critical comment out the way. The first scenes need exploiting to make the opening sparkle, bring physicality to the fore, and seize every opportunity for Illyria's anarchic style of playfulness. Take Orlando, falling in love at first sight, struck dumb as he sees Rosalind. By then I should have relished this moment of his freeze-burn capture, understood his idea of love was hopelessly unrealistic, and sympathised with his predicament, knowing that love is as much a weakness as a strength.

Over the slow start, there's everything you can expect: enjoyably silly moments of physical comedy, clever use of costume, energetic performances, and music. The stage was used well, and the minimal stage furniture cleverly employed as screen, ladder, tree, and stairway for a cloud.

The interaction between Phoebe and Ganymede was well played, as was the melancholy Jacques. But my favourite moment was the comic sadness of what it is to love; the spurned lover Sylvius describes his torment in a style which descends from tearful sorrowing into a full-blown blubbering and howling.

And all outdoors on a perfectly clear summer evening!

If only to take advantage of fine weather and the pleasure of your picnic with an outdoor theatre, it's worth booking a ticket on one of their tour dates (take your own chair).

Thursday, 18 July 2013

A right time for everything

Had a to-do list as long as both arms of a long-armed gibbon.

Crushed by my own ennui, I accomplished not one item from the list, all day long. Even though some items are urgent and I have had plenty, plenty of time.

Instead! I made a notebook inspired by 1920s jazz.

Small compensation, but I shall call it achievement.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Next time, take water, take hat

Dump the kids with chums. Their plan is, go across that field, turn right at the tree, cross another field, reach the river, and have fun. I approve. A river is a perfect accompaniment to a heatwave.

Four hours later, I think, I wonder where they are? 

I go looking. It is damn hot out here. Probably over 30 degrees. Baking, in fact. I regret leaving my water in the car. Don't do that. Don't leave your water in the car then set out to walk across a very big field.

Or your hat. You need your hat, too.

 Actually I may die before I reach the river.

I think I am smouldering.

Aha! The tree! It has shade. I pass out here for five minutes and consider drinking my own wee.

This is like the outback. That tree stump could be a sheep skull.

Just one more field. Is that an oasis? (I may be hallucinating.)

 I am on the border of incineration by the time I find the river.


Dog! (Not ours.)

Apart from Shark who, out of her natural habitat of the river, resembles a particularly glum Eeyore, a Tiger (with hat, plenty of water, and a cheese sandwich) who says I deserve to keel over and die if I am stupid enough not to carry water, and a Squirrel who greets me with an excoriating comment when she sees me collapse with heat exhaustion, I can see only one problem.

I have to walk back.