Thursday, 28 November 2013

Thursdays probably drive me to it

Had a minor breakdown last Thursday (denting and crumpling variety), and only now got round to remembering it.

But I would just like to say, it bothered nobody much at all, which is how I want it. All good friends went into efficient auto parent-teacher mode, taking Shark, Squirrel and Tiger off me and commanding me to put my feet up: within hours Peepah had the juniors away to the afternoon's STEM lecture, then fed them, wrapped them up warm, and took them on a stargazing night at Bedford Observatory.

Within a day I was back to normal. Well, normal enough to read To Kill a Mockingbird before going round to San's house to watch Gregory Peck in the film of the same.

See? An education in life goes on as normal. Home ed need not stop because the parent-teacher starts the day flat out on the floor, snivelling. There are people who help, truly help, with big hearts and practical hands.

I am not repeating the same crumpling today, but I note that it is Thursday, and I did manage to wangle events well enough to get Dig to take the little grits off me yet again. They went to the Galapagos while I stayed in Jamaica.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Quiet day list

I feel some sort of checklist is in order. Admittedly because another day passes when I haven't got a clue what is happening (gone notebooking) and I feel a list may help me deal with my control issues.

Shark. Has seriously fallen behind her sisters in Chemistry assignments posted weekly to Sam. If I ask her if she has any pages to post for Chemistry or Physics, she gives me a fixed stare and says in a firm voice that she is doing it. I am not sure what doing it means when it looks like reading a book on the sofa, but I console myself with the knowledge that Shark is one force of nature who will do what is necessary to get where she wants to go, in her own time and her own way. No threats, nor hufty-pufty parenty pressure will have any impact on her. Her handwriting is, however, appalling, and I am giving her merry hell for it.

Squirrel. Behaving oddly, so everything is normal. She has become inscrutably teenagery of late, shrugging indifferently at me and hanging out mostly in the cellar, having taken up residence with her computer in a pair of old cane chairs that I strapped together in the woeful hope that from this act would emerge some sort of chaise longue. At the time, I rather fancied bringing a touch of eighteenth century aristocratic glamour to my interior design. In the cold light of day, it looks like someone strapped a couple of old cane chairs together in the cellar and a Squirrel sat in them. Anyway, she is quiet and producing the filled in Latin worksheets, so I'm not disturbing her.

Tiger. Gloating, with a vengeance. She is up to date on Chemistry, Latin, Geography, Horse Knowledge, and Goading her sisters, and has enthusiastically begun making a model of a 4-foot horse from willow withies, wire, clingfilm, tissue paper and an electronic circuit so that it glows. It must have articulating legs and a tail apparently, or the whole thing is rubbish. She has worked hard on the knees (do horses have knees?) and shows me the tail proudly. I say nothing except It is very good etc etc etc. I know better than to confront her about anything. She shares this characteristic with her sisters: a quiet determination to pursue some inner driving need, for which they have taught me, better not thwart it.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Antony and Cleopatra at the RSC

See Antony and Cleopatra at Stratford with the RSC. This is in keeping with the gritty agenda to equip Shark, Squirrel and Tiger with an education of all the world, via Shakespeare.

I'm brave. The Guardian saw the best of things, the Independent didn't bother reviewing the play, and it had an 'utter dud' comment from Charles Spencer of the Daily Telegraph. Makes me wonder what axe he has to grind.

But it would be ungenerous to wonder about that axe. Or pick out, say, the sentence Jonathan Cake, who I always think of as Jonathan Beefcake because of the rippling musculature which he so often seems touchingly anxious to show off, since - for a maidenly Grit - grabbing an eyeful of the adorably handsome Jonathan Cake's rippling musculature was a particularly uplifting moment, and one worth cherishing; maybe she has gone over that scene in her mind a few times, couldn't say.

But could Charles be upset at how this Ant&Cleo is placed all wrong? Not in Egypt but Haiti? Eighteenth century at that, black vs white, French vs slaves.

Agreed, it is odd, but this open-minded family approached it as if it was a good idea - Julius Caesar was set in Africa, and that worked brilliantly. And it provided an opportunity for this lot of smug bastard home educators to swot up on eighteenth-century Haiti, so who's complaining?

Okay, after doing that, I didn't feel the parallels stood up to a great deal of scrutiny, so I stuck to wittering on to the kids about colonialism and how setting it under the French rule made for a great costume opportunity, what with gold dangly epaulets and tight britches.

The performance itself was sound but somehow not exceptional; Cleo was all sex rather than politics, Ant was a great swaggering, winking creation from Stringfellows, and Octavius was appropriately cold-hearted, insincere, and downright mean.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger liked it, gave it 8/10, but I have a feeling it's one which will fade into Grit's middle grey, except for Chukwudi Iwuji, the way it was set in eighteenth-century Haiti, and Jonathan Cake's rippling musculature.

But I'm glad they set it in a hot country. Howabout Aboriginal Australia, say in the middle of a hot, hot summer, just as Jonathan Cake has to go native?

Monday, 25 November 2013

The promise of art leads me to penury

Take Tiger to join a London-based home ed art group.

These particular creatives (organised, dedicated, 100% focused - if you see them working their way round the V&A, do not approach or attempt to distract them from great arty purpose), are to be found this month in the bowels of the British Museum, holding to ransom a Japanese woodblock expert for four hours, extracting from her all knowledge of Japanese woodblock printing techniques until she squeals*.

They are proper wrong 'uns, this home ed art lot.

They are leading me into bad, bad ways, I can tell you that. Within a couple of hours of Tiger finishing printing her Japanese bird I am come over all Amaazzing ooh ooh oh! Look at that birch plywood! then I'm off over here ogling Japanese Vinyl and Hosho Pads, feeling an urgent need for a 'Fancy Leather Dabber Shiny', and totting up an order for a stack of wood and some carvers.

Expect another art route to ruin.

*Workshop availability probably tied into the British Museum's present exhibition, Shunga: Japanese Art, which, no, I am not taking the gritlets to see. I couldn't face the lengthy explanations of what he is doing with that stork.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Everybody's happy

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger go here.

I was effusive with my thank you's, mostly because the organiser didn't have us down on the list (even though I was holding the tickets) and still let us in, but partly because the very kind and generous staff and remarkably handsome young man were removing the children from me for a five-hour block.

Five hours! This allows me to hang around the Member's Room and pick up men.

I did do, too! Okay, it was Dig, flying in from Hong Kong en route to Morocco. The Member's Room is an ideal place to put him on a sofa and pour coffee into his face, while I can read a book about Anthropology in Latin America to research for a notebook commission.

All in all then, no bad day.

I think there's a film from it, somewhere.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

What's on your list?

I first assumed the Meeks were home educators (outdoor education wing, survivalist tendencies, possibly militant Jesus set, because who else is going to build the shelters come judgement day?) but then I found out they were safely in the bosom of normality, so unlike several thousand alternative educators living off-grid or dragging the kids round the Atlantic, their activities can be happily endorsed by the Daily Mail.

Their list got us started early anyway, planning the happy family goals for 2014.

We can ignore Tiger's, because they all include horses, and I can feel my hives starting up badly.

Shark pips up that we all should have a go at weaselling, and next time not in daddy's office. Then she says 2014 has to be the year for whale watching or else. Apparently I promised it for 2009 and what happened then?

I say I rather fancy glamping. Or a stay in a yurt. I will not put on the list the 2013 triumphs, like being carted off to A&E in the back of an ambulance, receiving yet another Notice of Prosecution, or having the hamster die. (Or was that 2012?)

I will put onto the family list a visit to Spurn Head at Hull, some Peak District rock scrambling, an ill-advised watery pursuit, and yet another bash at hearing the nightingale sing in a wood in the dark. Bastards.

Apparently I am not allowed to add goals like Teach Yourself Maths to GCSE Level. That, according to Squirrel, can only remain the stuff of hopeless aspiration.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Popular culture? Fail.

I told the kids they had to prepare themselves. We are going to watch Dr Who and his 50th anniversary programme.

They stared, blankly. No-one has ever watched Dr Who in this house. We don't turn on the TV for a start. No one knows how.

But this is a big cultural event, I insisted. Everyone, all over the world is watching! I distinctly remember growing up with Patrick Troughton, my favourite. Intense, with a touch of the unpredictables. I gave up at Sylvester McCoy.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger looked at me piteously, like they are meeting one of the afflicted. But they have not yet developed subtle avoidance techniques to duties and obligations, like exiting the room, sharpish. So I plan to figure out how the TV works, then sit them in front it with a packet of ginger nuts, quick as a flash.

I had my arguments ready. I said, As home educated children, it behoves you to recognise and partake of popular culture. Without knowing society's significant cultural moments, the signs, systems and semiotics, people might think you, my poor home educated child, are excluded! People may receive the erroneous impression that you are out of touch, unable to take part in society, unaware of everyday common normalities!

'I know all about Dr Who' snapped Squirrel impatiently. 'It is that man who plays Richard II.'

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Perfect for bibliophiles

I have a new love, and it is this. BibliOdyssey. Obscure, off-beat, eclectic. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Shark said keying an Audi is okay, but posting dead fish? Definitely not.

One of the bits that make up this grit is determination to bust ignorance about home ed.

Yes, it's like getting all argumentative because someone on the internet is wrong, but I can still do my bit for this community, and that is through ordinary information.

Politics is not how I want to give my time. How draining is politics?! Blimey, last month I went nose-to-nose in a local arts argy-bargy and I'd done my bit after the first round. It seems to me, in all local politics, you must chuck into the bottomless pit your days, your emotional reserves, your intellectual time, and a chunk of your sanity. Be a stronger person than me to keep your perspective.

But home ed politics? Turf wars, big egos sitting aloft on moral clouds, unpredictable bedfellows and a basic lack of trust - two weeks with this lot and you might even sympathise with the local authority. Nope, I can't be in home ed's political thick. Get involved in everyone's problems, and everyone hates you anyway. It ain't for me, which is why I remain grateful to those who persist in it, what ever their forms.

But I still want to help, right? So I show any passer-by how home education works for us. We don't do school at home; we don't do autonomy, and we do both of these in any one week. We mix anything and everything, living and learning, label it how you want, and I make sure I unchain the kids from the radiators once a day at least.

So this is one big reason why I keep grit's day going. To show home ed as normal, to show what my kids do, where we go for the S word, and to indicate some of the rich resources around - for which you don't need to pay teachers, you don't need to sit Tinkertop in a classroom, and you don't need a CRB-checked leader with a teaching certificate. Home ed can be anything your child needs or wants. It can be exhilarating, and it can be the worst decision you ever made. On the same day. And sometimes in the same moment.

So it depresses me hugely to see articles like this. The report Richard Garner refers to explicitly excludes home educated children. But would you know it from this article? Doesn't this article, raising that image of kids out of school, just ask you to consider we're all swilling round in the same pot of uneducated, anti-social delinquency?

A disregard to factual accuracy, the ignorant mixing of school and education, the dramatic language of prey and abuse stalking the text. That just made the issues of we 'out-of-schoolers' a little less clear. It made my life a little harder. It made it a little more hazardous for Shark to walk alone to the secondhand bookshop next Monday morning. It made our culture a little less tolerant, a little less understanding, and maybe a little less forgiving.

Worse, this article rides on the back of a greater, unseen force. Yes, there are politics afoot in the world of home ed, and there are people gunning for us; they are pressing to put those registrations in place, they want the monitoring to be there, they're looking for another job in Ofsted. The idea of home ed - as the invisibles, the unmonitored, the unknowns, the unaccountables, the cruel abusers of the preyed upon - it all adds up to an easy target where something must be done. And articles like this always take us closer to that event, simply by spreading ignorance.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Monday, 18 November 2013

Only three years behind

Lucky we keep up with popular culture!

Because in this up-to-the-minute gritty household we are now hugely enjoying Sherlock, updated by Moffat, Gatiss and co., and procured on DVD from LoveFilm in great batches of satisfying episodes.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are happily pointing out to me the many references to the original stories, from pig poking to globe spinning. They love it, and so do I. A totally recommended way to spend 90 minutes. Looking forward to the next instalments.

(But please someone give me a nudge when it starts.)

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The problem with seasides

Is the car filled with stolen beach that we then must proudly display on every surface in every room until the Hippie Mama has a big squeal on finding the egg cases floating in my sandwich box balanced on the toilet lid.

I am not to touch them, apparently. And neither should I think for one second about moving the dried out salty ones waiting to be examined and now resting on my antique carriage box in the hallway.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Titchwell marsh to Hunstanton cliff

Example of managed retreat and old rocks. Perfect. Especially for budding geologists, beach explorers, and the 1960s educated hippie mama who thinks that seeing, touching, feeling, smelling (and eating the gravel if necessary) is all a fitter education for the juniors than staring forlornly at page 32 of a secondhand geography text book.

(Plus, big plus, while the two boilers at home are still not working, there is a hot shower to be had at the King's Lynn Premier Inn.)

Friday, 15 November 2013

A load of seals and some spit

Take a boat trip round Blakeney, north Norfolk. We are not here to watch 500 cwt of seal blubber flop about on beaches with white fluffy seal pups, oh no we're not. We're here to observe the development of a sand and shingle coastal feature aka a spit.

Cute huh?

Go during the school term, that's my strong advice.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Richard II bringing out my jealous streak

Obviously I take the Gritty Juniors to Cineworld to catch an eyeful of Shakespeare's beautifully versed Richard II, today screened live by the RSC, with the key kingly role played by a Time Lord.

A visit like this, to a Shakespeare play, one on our hit-list, hardly merits a mention in the Gritty blog.

However, what I would just like to mention is that our neighbour - she who clomps about in 3-inch platform boots and does up her hair in a Winehouse bee-hive - she was much quicker off the mark than me, and managed to acquire for herself and her coterie actual tickets for bottoms-on-seats at the theatre.

When her tickets - in an envelope helpfully stamped RSC - plopped on the mat in our shared house, I thought about nicking them. I thought, if I steamed open the envelope, how many tickets would I find? A lucky four? Then I could pinch them with ease! I could pretend her precious tickety package never arrived, and I could doll up my hair and roll off to Stratford pretending all the while that Shark, Tiger and Squirrel are not actually my children, they are fans of a Time Lord. Like me.

That set of events did pass through my mind, yes, several times, while I mulled over the consequences, looking enviously at that envelope, holding it, with all its promise of actual eyeballing stage-side seats.

But this is my point. Because, let's face it, the neighbour with the beehive hair and platform boots has shown zero interest in Shakespearean history dramas until this point. Until right now, when there is a willowy Time Lord to fret over and ogle at, musing where is his Tardis and what's under his Jesus robe?

And I do not know whether to be grateful to the Time Lord for this circumstance, or not.

Because he is doing a good thing. By getting up into the gear of a white Jesus-lookalike frock and glittery gold nail varnish this particular charismatic Time Lord is obviously bringing to a lot of people (including my beehived neighbour) the whole Shakespeare representation of medieval kingship thing. And who knows where that might lead? There might be thousands of people turned on to Shakespeare right here and now, even though they really went to see a televisual Time Lord and not a weak and feeble Richard II.

But then he is doing a bad thing. I don't want Shakespeare to be made over with too many lovely leading idols. Because if she with the beehives and platforms suddenly gets turned on to histories, comedies, tragedies and problems, then I am certainly in competition for those seats, all those desirable seats, but I will be just as slow as last time! And then what will happen? I'll just have to take a chance and nick her tickets.

Monday, 11 November 2013

I have had enough now

Okay, so I have booked a couple of overnight respite stays, well away from my own house.

There is nothing odd about that is there? Running away from your own environment? Not when you know how I am being gaslighted by non-functioning electrical items. I know what they are about. Ganging up on me and waiting until I become properly unstable before tipping me over the edge.

You see, I am not dreaming it. As fortune has made it so, from the three boilers we run across this house, two are now refusing to do anything. One is in league with the ring main and stares at me silently and sullenly, like a horror movie only worse, while the other threatens me with growling noises, before chewing up 3amp and 2amp fuses and spitting out the remains over the carpet. The third boiler works. It is just in a place we don't talk about and is connected to a sink no-one wants to see.

Now as things stand, I have no heating, no hot water, no working sockets in half the house and three smelly children. But! I have an engineer coming! Yes, hopefully sometime before the apocalypse. He will undoubtedly want to suck out the contents of my bank account before confiding in me the news It's broken, love and You need a part for that.

Let us all pray it is not the boiler man who electrocuted himself last time.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

And this

I think about this problem logically. I ask myself, what are the properties of water?

Apart from dripping into buckets I have strategically placed now in four locations under the plumbing. Apart from that. Water can travel a long way between the leak and the paddling pool on the cellar floor. And water conducts electricity!

Shark tuts at me and tells me that pure water does not do this; impurities conduct electricity, and that is why I should never plunge exposed wires into dirty washing up water.

But that would explain my ring main problem, would it not? If the rat chewed the cable, as rats are wont to do, then the plumbing dripped and travelled and the fuse blew on my ring main.

I am minded to take an evening course in electrical doodahs. I think I quite have the aptitude for this.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Mostly, I stare at this

Drink it in, as I do, with your eyes, enjoying every luxurious moment, this enormous grey metal panel on the wall with all the fuses and the big switch that goes THWANG. It is a delight, is it not, when everything electrical turns off across eight rooms and you can add the heating into that moment of joy.

I stare at it all a very long while, tempting buttons when I am not blaspheming and setting about the entire thing with a broom handle.

After lengthy consideration, I pronounce the fault is at 'the ring main'. This I can do with some authority because it is helpfully written above the fuse that keeps tripping. Anyway, for some light relief, I also stare at this.

I will try my hand at most things without a handy bloke, but there is no good, no good at all to come with me having a bash at electrical jiggerypokery. Until very recently I assumed electricity was tipped into the walls where it stays until you trap it with plugs. And make sure the little switches are turned off at night because the power can leak out of holes. Or not, in our house.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Impasse at Fiddleford Manor

It has a roof.

A very fine roof, since no-one's looking.

I don't know why, but we have a major family fall out here, perhaps caused by the fact our excursion is over and we all are bound home, or possibly because she has elbows, or maybe the five-hour journey and the way the rain is tipping down, then the Great Expectations story disk ended with three hours to go, or perhaps because I unwisely tell everyone our next stop is Hungerford when the mass slaughter changed British firearms law in the 1980s. I distinctly remember it because I coincidentally drove to Hungerford that very week to interview a marketing manager at a software company.

At everyone's sullen and miserable face I regret it all, because no-one at this moment needs to know about these damaged bits of our humanities; we need to know what ancient, settled places remarkably exist in these areas of outstanding natural beauty, still here, still standing, because we all care. If only we could see it through the drizzle.

And I have no idea what caused the argument in the first place except she has elbows, but only I really looked at the roof.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The erosion continues

We have to walk this bit of the south coast path quickly, before it too falls into the sea. 

Here then, our intrepid iGCSE Geography group walking Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door. I make everyone chant five rocks from Portland Cement to Softy Chalk then we prove how we can put one foot in front of the other and stop to squint an eye through a hill-measuring thingy I bought off the internet for a tenner. Squirrel spends hours in her favourite rock-staring posture and I write elegiac poetry on pebbles, thankful in my heart for England's beautiful coast and another educational excuse to get here.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

There was indeed a visitor centre

Return to Chesil Beach, this time with focus (study tombolo formation and waves), but mostly (for me at least) thankful for the visitor centre, which I don't recall from last time, but I am sure is much improved. I make a fuss about everything in an attention-seeking manner, mostly for the benefit of superly handsome man serving me coffee. It is a tactic which doesn't get me anywhere, of course not, it just makes me sound like a proper annoying old bat, from which you'd think I'd learn. But I never do. Anyway, apart from old woman behaviour a la Dick Emery, there is, at Chesil Beach, a warm and welcoming visitor centre, a billion pebbles sorted by size, and a right fierce wind where we can spend all our time playing.

A combination which I find strangely satisfying.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Coastal engineering

Let's call it that, yes, let's call this day A Study of Coastal Engineering (hard or soft) for a Geography IGCSE curriculum.

Otherwise, the day might look suspiciously like enjoying a walk along part of England's south coast path, exploring mud, playing in Lyme Regis, adding to Shark's seaweed collection, and picking apart the beach at Charmouth to find pyritised ammonites. And that doesn't sound like a Geography syllabus at all, at all.

Monday, 4 November 2013


We must visit Stourhead, obviously, after hearing gardener Alan Power's lyrics on the Radio 4 Eddie Mair Show.

Believe it or not, in Stourhead, it's all autumn, autumn, autumn.

And people photographing autumn, those twitchers of trees.

Don't forget the temples, too.

Fortunately! Alongside the many talents of this household, we have an informal training in eighteenth-century garden design! This is a benefit of living near enough to Stowe that we visit for their National Trust tea parties, wee in their bushes, and have our ball confiscated from us in 2003, but you can never say I hold a grudge.

Stourhead. I recommend a visit, if you like autumn, belonging to the Eddie Mair club, the lyrics of Alan Power, or temples.