Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Heavy Horse Show, where help never comes

Tear over to Stonham Barns in Suffolk because Tiger wants to.

I deny the kid has me wrapped round her fingers. I deny it completely.

But she says she might see a Suffolk Punch! Do you know how rare these breeds are? Once they were everywhere - every field, paddock, farm, and probably in your front room. So obviously we have to go.

Only I draw the line at her entreaties that we get an actual horse. NO WAY. I am too mean to lodge the beast in stables and, apart from Dig's office, we have nowhere to put it. The back garden is where I fantasise I might grow an actual flower, one day, maybe when I am retired.

I consider that if we come to Stonham Barns to see them, that might be enough.

Unfortunately (for me), I am not enamoured by horses. They are big and scary and might eat me. Consequently, this is as close as I come to the event before I turn round and go and hide in the car for three hours, praying it would end.*

But I am a woman who must find good in everything! Even the condition of horse phobia in a field.

It was worth it. Not only for Tiger's horse satisfaction, but for the copy of Newspapers in Suffolk Part II from 1801 to 1825 by Pip and Joy Wright, which I bought at the car boot sale just before I hid in the car.

This little book of local history is fascinating. Here, have a cutting from the Suffolk Chronicle 23 June 1810 to show how life in Suffolk probably never changes, one year to the next:
A Quack Doctor has stationed himself, for these three weeks past, at the Bull public-house, at Bacton, in this county, and excites among the 'great vulgar and the small', more interest than usually accompanies the exercise of such effrontery and imposture. He is attended every day by 100 patients, or more, some of whom travel even in post-chaises, and many in one horse carriages to receive his filthy remedies, to be imposed upon by his medical jargon, and benefited by his drunken inspirations - He makes, we understand, no charges, but, by working upon the credulous imaginations of his patients, he often wrings from the wretched, as a gift, that mite which is wanted to purchase them bread. Why sleep the parish stocks? Do not these persons, whose business it is to stop this fraud, know that by tacitly permitting, they become parties in the imposture?

*To the person parked next to me. When you glanced in, please be reassured. I was not dead. I had merely nodded off.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Vole wrangling, Notebook selling, Smalltown celebrating

So many grand achievements in this one small day! Squirrel weighed her first vole; I sold note books, a load of wands and some provocative pegs; and we all trooped down to the local arts house to hear Ben Bradstock and Eric Thompson celebrate Smalltown's history through story and song.

Satisfying days always shut me up.

Friday, 27 September 2013

No competition from the NHM

Chemistry afternoon chez Grit!

But I hear there is a big do at the Natural History Museum and the sub-branch at Tring. Real scientists are there! With stuff!

Damn. It is too late to cancel Grit's Chemistry afternoon. I have Peepah coming round and if I cancel, we will be lost. Even if, being in Peepah's company for Chemistry, it is like the blind leading the blind.*

So, Mich, this is what you missed.

Staring into water, while Peepah and Grit sadly shook their heads and wished it was gin.

Being thoughtful.
(We like to imagine. She spends most of her time gazing vacantly when I get out the Chemistry books.)

Card game. We changed the rules as we went along. No-one could do it anyway.

Going ooh and aah at Peepah's dolly chemistry set.

Piling up books so we look industrious and scholarly for the photographs.

Looking at something on a plate.

Aha! Squirrel redeems the day with a bag of filter papers and a felt tip!

Finally doing the Magic Tree grow-your-own-crystal kit bought at the charity shop in 2009 and left on the shelf in daddy's office ever since. The moment was right.

* Tiger says watching Grit & Peepah is WORSE, much WORSE, than watching a couple of blind people crash into walls, because the blind can count how many walls they have actually crashed into.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Call me Stringy Midden, Bottle Red Devil, Angel's Curse, and Piper's Piss

Spotter's walk, taken with ID botany guides, back-up flora books, home ed kids and dog.

I am totally inept at plant identification, messing up my pinnate with my pappus and my adaxial with my areole. I am, however, completely captivated by lovely, lovely botany words and would go live in a flower just to hear the gentle passers-by murmur Shepherd's Purse and Enchanter's Nightshade. I want those names, I want them all, and then some more; even where they don't exist, they should. What's in your neighbourhood? Old lady's bonnet, Creeping lady's tresses, Sow thistle, or Brandy bottle.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

We read Doyle all day

Well yes, the home ed triumphs.

I am sure there have been many. Last night Squirrel attended her Astronomy course with chum Monster, today we did nothing but prepare for this month's reading group by slogging through The Hound of the Baskervilles, and at some point I managed to post the Chemistry to the invisible tutor who posts it all back, marked in friendly green rather than teacherly red.

You can see how the hours move here, inexorably, exam-wise.

Just as well. It is helping impose some sort of weekly pattern and routine about the Grit existence, and makes the reason to get out of bed and wear clothes.

Otherwise, in the idle hours when I am not embarked on matters scholarly, household, administrative, I am making awkward expressions from pegs.

Soon all will become clear, no doubt.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Apparently they cook cake

Wander round St Albans while Shark, Squirrel and Tiger attend their new teen social group.

Basically, apart from the cooking that goes on here weekly, it looks like an anarcho-syndicalist party of teens who meet in a hut.

Be wary of them, that's all I'm saying, because one day they might be in your local government, where some of them have dodgy ideas about how to spend your taxes. (On municipal fish tanks.)

Anyway, parents can stay or go. I went. I fantasised about using the unaccompanied hours by escaping St Albans altogether, maybe travelling to London on my own.* Then I bought a book about political theory in a charity shop.


I think there should be pictures. In the absence of my afternoon in St Albans, have yesterday's bones book, suited to a radiographer.

*Such stuff makes my most pleasant of day dreams. (I am a person of meagre ambitions.)

Monday, 23 September 2013

Back in the classroom...

...there is cake. River cake, to be precise. The happy geography group is tasked with describing River Icing Sugar from source to mouth by labelling the parts using a selection of this year's sanctioned edexcel words.

(Of course it needed their imagination! I'm not frikkin employed by Maison Blanc.)

But we did other stuff too, 'cos we is smug bastard home educators; we play games with our geography, run our river down the back lane, and write our erosion knowledge while working in pairs, groups or all alone, just as the fancy takes us.

I suppose the point of this post is, take heart if you are pulling Tinkertop out of school; you can probably do no worse with your geography class of one or six than teech did with 36 and the kid fondly known as Harry the Violent. (And who knows, your approach might even be better.)

Sunday, 22 September 2013

It is not a fish corpse, it is a pink dolphin

It's that time of year again.

When we local inhabitants of Smalltown perform our annual ritual.

We decorate our front gardens with home-made models. Then we all troop round, meeting the neighbours, signing each other's petitions, sharing gossip about the local council, and expressing our wonder at the well-made constructions of Worzel Gummidge, Bill and Ben, and Postman Pat.

Then we have tea and cakes in the community orchard.

It's a local event for local people.

It all went off reasonably well.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger engaged in the enterprise with their usual enthusiasm. It is such an opportunity to show to our neighbours the contributions of the home educated children who live here! Tiger stuck two bits of cardboard onto my extendable ceiling duster, called it a toucan, and shoved it in the hedge where fortunately no-one could see it.

Squirrel spent several hours minutely painting paper butterflies, then hung them in a tree. I spent a good while hunting. After she pointed them out to me, I photographed them using the camera's helpful double-zoom function.

 And then there was Shark's contribution to the entertainment. She carefully laid it on the doorstep.

I looked at it, and hopefully asked, was the bloodied corpse of a dolphin stabbed by a spear part of her campaign to encourage all the happy passers-by to double-check their tuna tins for the dolphin-friendly logo?

'No', she answered, looking at me as if I was demented. 'It is a pink dolphin.'

Oh. I looked at it again, in a new light!

Trying for all the world not to see a fish corpse lolling against the door, laid out on a blood-splattered ocean.

I failed, but I kept that to myself, and said it was very nice. It is too, if you repeat to yourself that it is not a fish corpse, it is a pink dolphin.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

When's the release of Titus Andronicus II?

Took Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to the light-hearted romantic comedy that is Titus Andronicus.

Only joking!

Titus Andronicus is Shakespeare's revenge-fuelled blood-and-gore fest. Entrails, severed limbs, bloodied heads, and piles of corpses. With rape. And the eating of one's offspring in a delicious pie.

I did pause before taking my 13-year old gritties jnrs to see this one, true, because I am a parent who feels a responsibility towards the delicacies of my children.

I don't want to give them any more ideas about murder, mayhem or pyrotechnics than they already have. But I also set myself this ridiculous challenge. To see every Shakespeare play before they finish statutory education to age 16*.

But Shakespeare helped, with the winning direction of Michael Fentiman, who finds the jokes, the absurdities, and the moments of now-I-am-laughing (even though I shouldn't).

I loved the intimacy of the Andronicus family seated round the breakfast table, half clad in jimmie jams and bringing to the dissection of the fly all the horrible foreboding of what is to come. I loved the pitch-perfect Andronicus in all his movements, tapping the silver bowl to bleed the boys, later dressed like a waitress so we can be disgusted but against ourselves laughing at the vengeful dish he's serving. I loved all of Aaron, who was so delightfully, wickedly, stage villain, yet touchingly a father.

In the final moment, we watched Andronicus Junior, silently upon the stage, menacingly hold both babe and pie slicer. He looked from one to the other, and so did we. Lifted from our genre of horror films where endings of unfinished business are always left hanging to begin the crowd-pulling sequel, I inevitably thought ahead to the start point of Titus Andronicus II when the junior is a full-grown general determined to complete the blood-grudge begun by some new casual cause.

Afterwards, out in the bright sunlight, I cautiously asked questions of Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, to check whether I had sent them mad, unhinged their heads, or dented their tender souls. I do not think so. Helping was the fact that all the actors stood up for afterwards while we applauded, and we toured the costume exhibition to discover how many laundry loads the running wardrobe team must do after the final dinner scene. (For cleaning of blood and pie: all dinner jackets plus 12 loads of industrial size washing; 6 baskets for hand-washing; 4 baskets of shoes.)

For now, I am glad we went, and I can only recommend it to other hardy teens and their parents. But if my delicate children at some point turn bonkers, we will all know the reason why.

*I have sadly missed the moments to grab tickets for either Tennant as Richard II or Hiddleston as Coriolanus, so if anyone has four tickets they would charitably like to donate to the gritty cause, please feel free.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Le Nozze di Figaro

Here we are again at the Royal Opera House, this time for the matinee performance of Le Nozze di Figaro.

Okay, so the scene is not all perfect. I mean, I'm not wearing a hip-stroking green silk dress that rustles when I walk, and neither am in black sueded kitten heels, nor holding a pre-show glass of up-market champagne delivered to my fragrant, fingernail-buffed hand by a gentleman you wish could be yours.

For such a package of delight, I have to close my eyes and pretend. Because this performance of Figaro is the school performance, so remove the green silk and gentleman, and instead drop in Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, bunches of home educators, and 500 other kids assorted from near and far primary and secondary.

Well, all things considered, I ain't complaining as I position Shark, Squirrel and Tiger in their seats in the stalls at a price-per-backside about the same cost as the bus fare in and out of town.

Thanks are entirely due to the Royal Opera House who welcome small parties of home educators alongside large school groups. Simply put yourself on a mailing list and follow instructions.

Thank you, Royal Opera House, thank you a million times for helping bring up my offspring with access to world-class singalong, supported by world-class staging, sets, costume, and direction.

And you never know; you could have Tiger one day painting your back drop.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Book for the quotation

Within the infant rind of this weak flower
Poison hath residence and medicine power:
For this, being smelt, with that part cheers each part;
Being tasted, slays all senses with the heart.
Two such opposed kings encamp them still
In man as well as herbs, grace and rude will;
And where the worser is predominant,
Full soon the canker death eats up that plant.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Film Family Fun with madness on the blasted heath

Before I press play, mama says be grateful, because look, some families are worse than ours.

(But don't risk it, pushing me on that chemistry assignment date. I'll end up screaming naked in the rain, rolling about the local rec talking to your fluffy camel.)

Anyway. This week's Film Family Fun is the RSC production of King Lear with Ian McKellen. 

You can watch it here, if you have pressing deadlines or are trying to get out of making dinner. Call it an education round at Grit's.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

No. And if you come at me with a needle, I want another nurse

We are all debating the niqab.

No, is my short answer to Shark's questions. I don't like to see it because I like friendly smiles and the pleasure of seeing a face in my social dealings. How does putting a screen over a face facilitate the social moment for me?

I want to see your facial lines wrinkle, know what impact I'm having on you, and judge whether I'm pissing you off already. Veiling a face goes against all the cues I have learned in my social world. Incidentally, I do not want to unlearn those cues, nor say to my daughters Shark, Squirrel and Tiger that these social cues do not matter. Culturally, they do. I want them to continue mattering.

While I've got the keyboard under my control, I don't like what the niqab says about men. They can be their own champions and defenders, no doubt, but I do not like the suggestion that men cannot be trusted to walk down the street without wanting to leap upon all unveiled women. Screening a female face from the male, suggesting that a female-male interaction is nothing more than code for sex is, frankly, depressing. When I pick up the car from the annual service and discuss the changing of the brake fluid with Gordon, I do not want to be forced to think we are having a covert game of hide-and-seek little willy.

So, no. The niqab removes nuance; it creates an unfair platform where you can see mine but won't show me yours; it's insulting to the men in my life; assumes my cultural coding is worth less than yours; and rejects a long tradition in England of showing a face alongside the oath you state, the belief you declare, the vow you make, and the promise you give.

Women should not don the niqab to give evidence in court. Faces should not be veiled in the nurse's office, nor when sticking needles in my arse or arm. Girls should not be veiled in schools. Nor when taking exams, having the third attempt at your driving test, nor serving me at the grocer's.

Tell me, sure, that we should remember the woman behind the veil. Fine. Let me see the face and then I'll smile back.

Monday, 16 September 2013

That Chemistry IGCSE?

I'd like to say, at this point, in early days, before the solution blows up in my face and ignites my eyebrows, that Chemistry IGCSE by post? It's all going brilliantly!

Of course it is not.

We have barely started, and you should hear the howling. You probably can, sitting quietly in Ullapool, sipping your Earl Grey, wondering vaguely, Why are the windows rattling? That is Tiger, voicing her consternation that I am now demanding from her the completion of Topic 2, Principles of Chemistry, with a Bit of Diffusion.

With all this hullabaloo, you would be forgiven, truly, for imagining how I had threatened eternal imprisonment unless she (and her sisters) solve all the riddles of the universe with this broken comb and that mouldy plum stone. And I want your assignment in writing; use your own blood.

Now, I am all one for going with the child-led flow, but I ain't going with the flow on this one. Going with the flow would mean lying down on the floor and giving up altogether. Writing three sentences and choosing from a column whether a couple of statements are true or false does not, in my mind, constitute hard work.

Thus, I have become Mean Mummy. I think you home educators should know this is possible; how even the hippy, free-thinking hair, autonomous-leaning Grit has a line at the front door, over which you do not cross en route to your next social engagement (many, this is home ed) unless I receive by next Monday, 4.40pm, Topic 2, Principles of Chemistry, with a Bit of Diffusion.

Writ in your own blood, or mine.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Hands-on copy editing

Looking around the web for insurance. Just in case someone trips up! A horror I will certainly bring about by one of my frilly Knicker Drawer Note Books.

The unfortunate, innocent, injured party is never able to work again.

Then know the horrors and disasters I can bring on!

Maybe someone cooks with my cook's notebook. Or attempts actual time travel, using my notebook with the dismembered clock bits sewn on the cover. Maybe someone very reasonably eats one of my notebooks. Or uses the one with the aeroplane charm for flight, launching themselves out the bedroom window.

Hundreds of people could take me to court! Thousands!

But I find I can be insured against claims involving hospitalisation, harm, and distress. Not, however, psychological scars caused by any words used in my books.

Words? I cannot be insured against them in my crafty business.

I consider the harm I can do with words - to the word themselves, and to other people using my bad, evil, crafty, emotional game-playing words, or my slap-in-the-face blasphemies. Then I am comforted with this.

Copy-editing or proofreading. A hands-on therapy where the therapist will be touching the patient.

I suddenly recall my time spent copy-editing and proofreading; I regretfully realise that I could have defined my job as word therapy and, thus being insured, might have been able to strangle the author and get away with it.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Steampunk Asylum, Lincoln

Join Steampunk fun in Lincoln.

Honestly, I may not be attired in full goggles and corset, but the Grit spirit fits snug in with this delightfully bizarre pottage of English eccentrics. 

Who could not fall in love with Tea Duelling? Biscuit dunking sublimated from warfare. It should be adopted by the UN.

Or howabout the races, where lead boots are an obvious advantage?

Or a costume line up? (The restrained and modest attires.)

But of course I couldn't photograph Steampunks all day long; I had business to research. I am plotting those Time Travelling Knicker Drawer Note Books right now. And whether I should make my own corset.

I can see only one problem about my intentions here. The day with the wonderful Steampunks flipped out Tiger's mind mechanism. She was truly destabilised; we almost had a major freak-out by ye olde tea shoppe.

Grown men and women simply must not dress weird and behave in this silly manner!

I tell her, But you have been living with your mother all this time. Did you notice nothing about her?

We had to take her into Lincoln Cathedral* for a calm down.

We reversed roles then, because while Lincoln Cathedral calmed down Tiger, it almost certainly blew my mind. It is one of the most amazing, eye-punching buildings I have walked in, and I have been in a few, from the opera house up the Amazon to the great hall of the people in China. It was all anyone could do to stop me running about naked laughing in hysteria.

Lincoln Cathedral, you are beautiful, and a testament to the wonderful skills of humankind. If I could afford to pay for all the repairs to your lovely flying buttresses, I would do so in an instant.

*Go and visit, I insist. Wear your corset.