Thursday, 31 October 2013

Autonomous hallows

Come in from my notebooking lair to be surprised how the kids have been so deftly all over the melons, pumpkins and coconuts. They've even managed to set up the mantlepiece like an altar. Am checking for Tiddles, but looks like those sessions I am pleased to call Religious Instruction have finally paid off.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Off with the KnickerDrawers

Stall at the uber trendy Best Made Local craft! spectacular!

I was most impressed by the blacksmith on the stall next to me, sporting Raybans and stripy tee-shirt. If you passed her in the street you'd swear she didn't have enough weight behind her almost-zero size to raise a salad bowl, let alone bash hot metal in a forge while swinging a hammer over an anvil.

But after a long day spent in the company of this amazingly crafty lot I am more convinced than ever that my destiny is standing behind stalls selling my handmade beauties to the most wonderful of people. My delightful notebooks bring the stories out of them all, and that's the best of it. I heard tales of secret affairs and sewing patterns, Roman bones and camper vans, sweet teeth and wild places.

Inspiration for another KnickerDrawer NoteBook, every one.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Just get us there on time

Take the kids to the volunteer coppicing group, doing their bit for the habitats at the local environmental centre.

If the organiser says go then I can usually turn up at short notice with a car full of willing volunteers, lured on by the thrilling dangers of long-handled pruning shears and maybe the sight of someone else's blood.

At the go this weekend, it is no trouble finding the workforce. We have two extra bodies on sleepover.

I don't have enough spare seats in the car, but I note how easy it is to coax any extra bodies into the boot. I only have to offer one ginger nut and in they go, hanging on to an old folding chair and a stinking pair of muddy wellington boots.

If only they were this biddable when it came to a maths worksheet.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Fly-by Ashridge

Double-quick march round Ashridge, woodland estate that holds deer and my complete phobia about getting lost (again). But I have to do this walk, even at the speed of a 747. I have begun to panic that with the many duties and responsibilities I am now misguidedly shouldering, I may miss footling about in autumn altogether.

(In case anyone suspects home ed vandalism on the mushroom, it had already been uprooted.)

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Preaching to the converted

I think it's a fear adults have. 
But maybe the entire school-choosing population should heave a sigh of relief. I mean, we home educators have been carrying forward the whole nature-experience and practical-skills learning thing for years, what with bat boxes and ditch digging; defiantly calling all this mud and wood an education.

Maybe too, the entire venture should be campaigning for longer school holidays, greater opportunities to footle about with den-building, less kid-tick-box-supervision all round, and also for protection of the green belt.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Who is this Julian Fellowes talking twaddle?

Took Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to the National Theatre's birthday celebrations; the encore screening of Hamlet on stage with the accomplished Rory Kinnear.

Admittedly, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger were the only children I saw in the evening audience (who averaged an age of maybe 76).

And yes, we happened to sit in front of the two other youngish ladies in the audience who, when I earwigged into their chat, turned out to be junior staff English teachers, who happily told each other that 'kids would never have the patience to sit through stuff like this'.

I thought calling Hamlet 'stuff' was a bit ungracious, so I repeated that tid-bit to Tiger, where she went all 'let's go and hunt them down and give them a talking to'.

Yes, think a month in traction and a broken nose, but anyway, regarding that love and thrill of a  Shakespeare play, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger feel it, every bit.

They simply love, love, love, watching Shakespeare. The plots are familiar stories; the characters like old friends who come round to entertain. I can listen in to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger while they confidently talk across the plays, making comparisons to lead characters and linking sub-plots in a way I never could, not even after a university degree in the stuff

And for all this Shakespeare worship, the glory belongs not to them, nor to an elite education* (although I can dream).

My children are not chosen ones nor gifted in the noddles - unless it is in pressing the buttons on a sibling and standing back to watch the explosion - and I cannot even say they are educated to an especially high level (although I will claim so when the EWO comes round). They are simply ordinary kids brung up to love stuff. **

The glory, if there is any, is all belonging to the playwright, pulling us crowds in with the blood, cheesy romance, intrigues, prat-falls, snappy one-liners, lewd suggestions and a drama where you never have to wait more than ten minutes before a plot twist comes along.

And the language. Let us applaud that amazing language, twisting and turning, leaping and diving, stuffed full with metaphors, tricks, shadows, echoes, rhythms and let's all spot the moral guiding lights. What ho!

It's like Shark says. You don't have to understand all the words to know what's going on. You can just enjoy listening. And you can see when someone's going to stab someone, or do that disgusting kissing thing.

So Mr Fellowes, you have got your Shakespeare all arse about face.

We don't have to be scholars from Eton to recognise a satisfying play, nor come from a posh class who understand the lingo, nor claim a family lineage back to Edward III in order to appreciate the nuance. We don't have to be protected and patronised with simplified versions, nor given safely edited shows to spare our midden-soaked minds from having to think and wonder.

We smelly unrules with our badlands education can enjoy the originals, thanks. We can stand for a fiver in the pit at the Globe. We can fetch up at the local Cineworld and enjoy a great play like Hamlet for under a tenner.

So keep your Fellowes' Romeo and Juliet. And I can speak for Shark, Tiger and Squirrel when I tell you they'll willingly give it a miss, to go and see the one with the funny language instead.

*As evidence of their educational ungiftedness and their astonishingly talentless abilities, they are totally crap at maths and still struggle over basic percentages. One day it will all come right, mark my words, when they want 25% discount on a must-have handbag.

**And let's be honest. There are times when only their mother could love 'em.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Makes six coastlines

Recipe for edible clay:

1 1/2 cup sugar
1 1/3 cup shortening
1 cup cocoa powder
4 eggs
4 cups flour 

Mix ingredients in order. If the dough is sticky, add more flour. 

Go on, throw it about a bit; it's not fatal. In my experience it doesn't matter what quantities you fuss over; you simply need a dough the kids can work by hand and with tools. 

Divide into balls and have your geography lesson shape their lumps into a coastline. Or a map of South America. Or Africa. Or mountains and valleys. Or anything.

Bake at 375 F for 10-12 minutes or until done. Any fule no how icing sugar makes great rivers. Seas. Estuaries. Ports. Reservoirs...

Thursday, 17 October 2013

All Darcy'd up

We did it! We completed the marathon viewing of Pride and Prejudice.

Not surprisingly, by the end of six costumed BBC hours, I am indeed come over all socially aspirational.

Life chez Grit is going up in the world, despite our modest assets; we still have three daughters to dispose of and I must set my sights a little higher for each of them; better than, say, a gentleman who deals drugs or owns a pit bull.

Therefore! I have decided to improve our social status and outlook!

For the house, I shall take my design ideas from Pemberley. Easy! We already own half a dozen candelabra thanks to my industrious efforts down the car boot! Never mind that I cannot afford to put candles in them, they look full of intention scattered about the drawing room.

Anyway, to Pemberley. I particularly liked the flaming torches placed along the driveway. I am going to do that. Admittedly, our front garden path is a bit shorter than theirs (less than two meters), but I think I can fit in a couple of carriage illuminations on either side of the concrete. I bet I could do it with a rag soaked in petrol and tied to the end of a broom handle stuck in a plant pot.

Then I rather liked their large sitting rooms. Again, I cannot do anything about the actual size of our front room, apart from knock a hole in the wall, which I will consider, but I could squeeze in at least another couple of old heritage family-heirloom sofas, requisitioned from Help the Aged. 

Then the girls. I must socially improve them all. (This is a little tricky.) I will first have a go at the wardrobes, maybe with a long-term view to wrestle from Squirrel's grubby mitts her torn jeans and mouldy t-shirt, and then I will have a bash at the manners. Ladies, I will say, the belching and farting must stop. I will lead by example.

And Dig! What of him? He must be my own Mr Darcy! (I haven't got any other candidate for the job.) He must be improved along with the rest of us. I shall shout at him viciously that I shall never marry him again ever, then hose him down in the garden. This may have the desired effect. Nothing else has worked, so I may as well give it a go.

Well, if you read this far, you may wonder what we are doing inflicting on ourselves a density of P&P in the first place.

We have a book group on Thursday with our set text, obviously, as Pride and Prejudice.

Thus I am bringing my girls up in the traditional scholarly manner of English Literature students worldwide: to be able to talk confidently at length about the themes, characterisation and plot; build grand incomprehensible theories about literature and society on the basis of one novel; and quote exhaustively in petty detail to condescendingly exclude all non-knowers and innocent readers, without ever having read the book.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Pride and Prejudice

We are very much socially improving! We are to begin a marathon session of the BBC's 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice!

I confess. I do not know whether I am looking forward to it or not.

I become emotionally affected by romance plots which is awkward for all concerned. I must discreetly put my fingers over my eyes at the kiss.

But it is a necessary Austen to know, by any means, is it not? And I have young ladies to consider. One day I will set them free in the world of English-shires culture, bound for middle-class dinner parties, and I would hate for them to miss out on what constitutes canon England.

Anyway, now I have writ it on our scholarly kitchen timetable. It is there as P&P so I cannot get out of it. Although by referring to it as Postage and Packing I am making a good start. I could tell the children that it means we all stand in the Post Office queue today and tomorrow waiting to be served.

But worse than my feeble deception would be that we have agreed to go round to someone else's house to watch it, and I cannot betray them now. They might hurt me if I go all Little Weed at the last moment and claim we have to stand in the PO queue.

The reason, by the way, that we have to see it at their house is simple. Their TV is miles better than ours.


Like a cinema screen with lights and sound and popcorn.


Sorry. I forgot to push back the rood screen which hides the tellybox bought in 1895 and is in the corner where it is handy to shove all the junk including, on occasions, one of a selection of non-working vacuum cleaners.

There! It is like watching a video at the local museum.

But P&P! You know the one, yes? With Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. He of the duck-pond shirt and she of the sidelong simper. I bet you saw it the first time round.

We are breaking the six-hour P&P down into two screenings, today and tomorrow, which means I shift our Film Family Fun Night because otherwise Coriolanus will be slap bang in the middle of Episodes 3 and 4. Then Shark, Squirrel and Tiger will misremember the plot of P&P and, at some future dinner party engagement - because let's face it, that's all I'm doing this for - they will ask awkward questions about what happened to the Roman general who comes in half-way through, slaughters everyone then Darcy throws himself in a lake and isn't that an odd book to write?

Now I have written all of the above, I think I am quite looking forward to the opportunity to improve our sense and sensibilities of English culture in the country shires. It is 30 years since I read the book and, like most other middle-aged women of middle-England, I could grab a discreet eyeful of a bloke in a wet shirt holding a riding crop in a provocative way and I shall not complain, not at 3 in the afternoon, that much is certain.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Monday, 14 October 2013

Off to the coast!

Yes, geography is ongoing, as always. But in home ed land, geography must be very practical, and experience-based, otherwise we aren't doing it.

Oh dear. Chapter 2 is coastal features.

We haven't got a coast. And it's an awful long drive to one.

Instead! We have a local river! We can make the coast come to us!

(Be prepared to use your imagination. A LOT.)

Task: Imagine you are very, very tiny. Create a river from source to mouth. 
You have 45 minutes to do that because it's going to rain. 
The Grit parent will meanwhile come along and give you challenges, like a national policy to build a power station, 
or a local demand that soft engineering is installed, or a controversial decision to give all the coast to the RSPB. 
Stuff like that. 
Then you must tell the complete story of your river and coastline features to all the group.
(p.s. water may flow uphill for the purposes of this activity.)

Shark immediately sets about making a delta and a salt marsh.

 Squirrel makes a volcanic island barely able to stay above the water

Monster digs a limestone cave

And Tiger builds all of Cambridgeshire, complete with drainage ditches that look like claw marks.

Industry wants to colonise Shark's salt marsh (the plastic cone), which she negotiates very well by examining water flows, run-off, industrial waste, and installs a person who comes round and takes water readings to ensure the eco system (the green foam) is able to maintain its SSSI status. Well done, Shark!

Squirrel spends most of her time defending her island against the sea. 
She doesn't move from this defensive position for quite some time. I can, so I am told, go away with my power station 
and plans for national development for her island because it is not up for grabs. It is a private island, now clear off.

 Monster incorporates agricultural land, an industrial complex, a beach, settlement, roads and everything.

As I said, we have to use our imagination. A lot.

 Tiger creates an impressive deep-water harbour with heavy-duty coastline engineering, plus industrial units, power plants, high-rise settlements and road infrastructure but says no to off-shore wind power and I am not arguing. She has become threatening with Cambridgeshire and is ordering everyone off her county or else.

This is Lincoln and don't you forget it.

There! Off we go home happy from our morning's study, before it tips down. And I think I shall count this as another triumph for an active interpretation of a Geography IGCSE syllabus, coastal features.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Dragon and sword

Flayed dragon hide, shiny silver armour, smouldering sword, and everything! Honestly, the roads I travel, creating these hand-crafted works of art. 
I hope you're writing inside them all the truths of the family skeletons, alongside your moments of laughter, passionate secrets, embarrassing foibles, private weaknesses and bitter regrets.

Just don't let the children find it all before you're gone, that's my advice. Give them some of your words to discover, and make them feel you're still around.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Another trip to the orchard

Am thinking that I could easily find a career now as a gang master, rounding up those triplet labourers, paying them next to nothing, promising only to feed them, then locking them in the cellar.

Actually, sounds like just what happens now. Except that Squirrel puts herself in the cellar voluntarily.

Friday, 11 October 2013


Waste valuable day light, itching to smash things up. Not because Aunty Dee is making a flying visit and I must excavate the cellar (again), a place where Squirrel is now routinely gone to haunt, nor because I stab my finger (again) with the leather needle while stitching the divine item below...

No, it is because I am trying to do something for my marketing, and I am told I must set up a Facebook page for Knicker Drawer Note Books.

But I hate Facebook, pure and simple. If I could stab it, bash it, hurt it with skewers and throw it from the top floor of a building into a fast-moving river below where certain death awaits, then I would do that, oh yes I would.

Tsk, says Dig (en route to Slovakia). He says I have not got the hang of FB.

I should ignore him. It seems to me he is constantly wasting his life checking FB for pictures of dinners that are anticipated by other people. I note he has never put up a picture of the dinner I serve him.

Anyway, that is by-the-bye. Facebook, so Dig says, helps people find you. I don't want people to find me, I answer. I want them to find Knicker Drawer Note Books. Incidentally, FB won't let me use that name. Pass another skewer.

Well, after a lot of thrashing about, stomping, cursing, and pointing at the monitor screen on my laptop while yelling rude words, I have achieved something. Although I'm not sure what, and don't hold your breath for the pictures of dinner.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Reflection, anticipation

One of those days where my plans all collapse.

These days, having my plans collapse effects little more than a gentle wave of relief around the house. Now we have a fortnightly timetable from which we must hoik out a chemistry assignment, a completed physics worksheet, and a finished Latin homework in neatest handwriting. Meanwhile, I have another photo album to stitch.

We all feel quietly glad for the sudden given hours we can freely go about our various studies.

This is the difference, I am discovering, with age. When the children were aged three, frankly it felt like being trapped in a life sentence. A day of collapsed planning meant I'd better pull something out of my pocket pretty sharpish - maybe a walking-talking fish or a harp-playing kangaroo - otherwise my nerves would be flayed out like raw wires come tea-time.

Now the offspring are aged thirteen, on exam courses and with a timetable, I find myself looking at them taking more control over what they do with a quiet independence. Hopefully they will pursue what matters to them through college or other FE option, and create that adult place where they want to be.

And then what? In years to come (if I am still alive), I plan to maintain a neat and tidy parlour, of the type that ladies keep, should the vicar call.

Possibly that, or go on week-long benders and hook up with easy men. I have not yet decided which.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013


Drive what feels like a million miles across England because I promised.

(Memo to self: stop doing that promise thing.)

Boardwise, for those lucky enough not to know about it, is a total be-all and end-all for windsurf gear in the UK, and Tiger knows about it, thanks to her windsurf instructress.

Worse, I have promised to take Tiger to this surfboard nirvana, so we can look at boards together, and I can make a plan to sell my body down the canal to pay for one. Either that or send Dig off pimping in Singapore. Either state will do, because I cannot find another option out of this foolish condition.

That condition is called, by the way, encouraging the children in bizarre and misguided enterprises, like one day becoming a windsurf instructor and travelling around the world selling your windsurf skills. If only we hadn't met someone who does exactly that, and looked like they maybe had taken a day out from heaven to be with us, life for me would still be calm and untroubled.

Perhaps I will say that is the gift I am giving to my children. Not a windsurfing board, but a pursuit of your visions and fantasies, and then working out either a way to pay for them, or for them to pay for themselves.

Anyhow, here is nirvana.

Just think! I grew up with the hobbies of watching TV, window-shopping, tormenting the Jack Russell, and my father had a vague ambition that I might become a nurse. Or a civil servant.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Star crossings

I discover I am not the only one!

This comes as a relief, given the time I spend in fringe cultures. We attend a public meeting, called by a local user of the arts centre for those affected (code: the trustees have pissed everyone off).

Yes, if you have concerns or complaints about the way a charity is managed, then write to the Charity Commission. Anyone can do that, whether your concerns are valid or can be acted upon, it's still within your powers.

Enough of that. Have lovely pictures of a photo album-styled book for a star-crossed lover.